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Victoria’s Black Saturday


Russia’s Aerobatic Comeback kid

Fighting hell on earth

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cover feature: hell on earth Black Saturday will be scorched into the annals of Australia’s history as the deadliest bushfires ever experienced in the state of Victoria. At the forefront of the heroic fight against the ravaging flames was Victoria’s State Aircraft Unit. LEIGH NEIL reports from the frontline.



aspiring judas In the ruggedly spectacular Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island, extreme mountain-flying skills are the

Wayne Rigg captured this shot of one of Erickson’s Aircranes working on a fire front during the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, Australia.

norm as the appropriately named “Judas Tahr” program enlists helicopters, technology and the wild animals themselves in an ongoing effort to slash the numbers of feral Himalayan Tahr.


R66 Unveiled! The wraps were finally taken off one of the industry’s worst kept secrets – Robinson’s turbine-powered R66 – at a preview event staged at the company’s headquarters in Torrance, California. ALEX MLADENOV was there for this long-awaited world industry event.


Mi-34 – Russia’s Aerobatic Comeback Kid Two decades after the type’s first flight, an order for 20 Mil Mi-34s for the Omsk Aviation College, might bring


Russia’s only light single helicopter back to life for training, aerobatics, law enforcement and air taxi applications.

regular features


From the Editor


Industry update


subscription Form


The opening shot


all helicopters autorotate the same, right? One of the most important skills to possess as a pilot of a single engine helicopter is the ability to perform a


successful autorotation after an engine failure. Eurosafety’s Glen White provides an insight into flying the AS350


without an engine.

safety – Complacency


flight training – Teaching Situational Awareness


eye on east europe – Battle for Russia


personal profile – Aaron Fitzgerald



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from the editor


ell another Heli Expo is over and my

investigators should be able to resolve what

feet are finally returning to normal.

happened and prevent a recurrence. As an

It was a big show and it seems the

ex-investigator, I was somewhat bemused at

helicopter market, in general, is weathering

the conversations and theories flying around

the downturn. Tourism operators are

the internet associated with this accident.

reporting about a 30% downturn but other

Why have an investigation? It seems

segments appear to be holding up. The

everyone already knows what happened! I

recession may even provide manufacturers

know and appreciate it is human nature to

such as Eurocopter some respite in trying to

speculate but it does no-one, and I mean

meet the order backlog. Will it stay this way

no-one, any good. It feeds those who would

or join much of the rest of the economy and

rather work on innuendo than fact, provides

CEO Neville (Ned) Dawson

take a dive. Too hard to say I think, but with

no succor to those left behind, and can end

oil promising a rebound and other mining

up causing a lot of effort going into areas

PUBLISHER Cathy Horton

interests starting to make a slow (albeit very

that have little or nothing to do with the

slow) come back, maybe this will be more

accident. This is not to say that some of

of a much needed slowdown rather than an

the theories may be right, but then, there

industry disaster. We can but hope.

will be a bunch that will be wrong. The S-92

By Mark Ogden

EDITOR Mark Ogden deputy editor Rob Neil european editor Alexander Mladenov sub editor Leigh Neil legal EDITOR Robert Van de Vuurst safety editor Phil Croucher technical EDITOR Chris Smallhorn I TALIAN CORRESPONDENT Damiano Gualdoni proofreader Barbara McIntosh PRINTING GEON

One aspect of the show that did concern

is a huge leap in many technologies, and if

me though was the cost of attending for

there is an inherent problem not envisaged

exhibitors. After expending significant

by the designers, then I am sure the

amounts on a booth, then airfares,

investigators will find the problem and fixes

accommodation, meals and just being

will be found.

there exhibitors are then faced with the

Let’s not forget about the early teething

costs imposed within the hall in setting

problems with aircraft like the Airbus or even

up, supporting and then taking down the

the later problems discovered on the Boeing

booths. I totally agree and understand that

737 rudder. We work in an industry where

it needs to be a profitable exercise for HAI

the slightest and usually totally unexpected

but care needs to be taken that the costs

event can have significant consequences.

don’t become such that (again in this time

No manufacturer intentionally puts machines

of tight money) companies just can’t afford

out there that have inherent problems. And

to attend. Heli Expo is too important in

let’s not forget the fairly rigorous certification

bringing manufacturers, service providers

process new aircraft go through these days.

and customers together to be diminished

Yet even with all these safeguards, we will

by becoming unaffordable. Having said

still discover those things that just weren’t

that, the show was a big success and it was

thought of either in the design phase or in

good catching up with those I usually only

use, and these things can raise their heads

see at the show!

years after the aircraft enters service (again,

We recently had the loss of a Cougar S-92 off Canada. Our thoughts go out to those impacted by this tragedy; the families of

consider the B737 rudder problem that took 10 years to figure out). So until the investigators have determined

those lost, the friends and acquaintances

the likely circumstances that contributed to

and to the people who design, build and

the loss of this aircraft, professionals in the

operate the helicopter who also feel the

industry should keep their public comments

loss. Fortunately one person survived and

a little more restrained.

the wreckage is recoverable so that the

Anyway, enjoy the read and fly safe! n

EDITORIAL ADDRESS Oceania Group Intl PO Box 37 978, Parnell Auckland, New Zealand PHONE: + 64 21 757 747 FAX: + 64 9 528 3172 EMAIL info@oceaniamediagroup.com WEBSITE www.heliopsmag.com


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industry update First Fleet FastFin

Three Year Contract for Bristow Bristow is providing helicopter support for CNR International, flying workers to and from the Tiffany platform situated in the Central North Sea, 150 miles northeast of Aberdeen. The contract will run for three years, with two further one-year options, using Bristow’s fleet of new EC225s.

Wildcat Helicopters will become the first fleet customer to install and operate the BLR Aerospace FastFin System for the 212. Wildcat has purchased six FastFin Systems to enhance safety and performance for missions that range from aerial firefighting, rappelling and rescue hoisting, to heli-skiing and precision external load operations. The FastFin tail rotor enhancement and stability system gives an improvement to safety and productivity while reducing workload and fuel burn for helicopter operators. The patented system modifies the tail boom with Dual Tail Boom Strakes and a re-shaped vertical fin, optimizing airflow around the tail boom for dramatically improved handling and performance. A recently completed BLR flight test program shows that the 212 equipped with the FastFin System significantly out-performed standard configured 212s and other Bell medium helicopters in OGE, IGE, wind azimuth tolerance and hover stability. The FastFin is available for 212s and a range of UH-1 derivatives. It will soon be available for the 412. The 212 system is certified and ready for immediate delivery to customers in the US and Canada. EASA certification is pending.

Night Vision Conversions REB TECH has completed night vision conversions for Texas’ new EC145 and five AS350B2s. The EC145 STC was approved by the FAA and the aircraft has been placed in service for the state. Working in conjunction with Metro Aviation, the company provided the night vision-capable equipment and technical support to complete the five new aircraft. The night vision-capable aircraft include cockpit and cabin lighting systems, instrumentation, avionics and mission-related equipment for the EC145 and AS350s.

Your Bell. Our Windows. Perfect Fit. Aircraft AOG? Need windows? Tech-Tool Plastics has long-life, perfect-fit replacement windows in stock for most Bell helicopters. Your helicopter will be back in the air working for you like it should be.

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Zing Knows ™

Safety begins within the helicopter itself. Its complex components require constant monitoring and maintenance. And now it’s easier and more cost-effective. Honeywell’s Zing™ for Helicopters products provide diagnostic information required for optimum performance. Maintenance is now performed based on evidence of need. Reducing costs. Enhancing safety. Zing™ HUMS and Zing™ Test sensors and embedded diagnostic software monitor and communicate the health and maintenance needs of critical components. Zing™ Ware and Zing™ Services are software- and web-based programs that collect and analyze fleet-wide data for long-term reliability analysis. Honeywell Zing™. Now you know.

For more information visit our website at www.honeywell.com/MyAerospace or call 1-602-231-1238

industry update FAST Fill’in Simplex and AFS of Canada debuted the innovative FAST Bucket accessory line at Heli-Expo. FAST Fill’IN and FAST Fill Snorkel are the company’s two-powered fill options, providing operators with quick install powered-filling options that do not require any shell modifications and add as little as 23 lbs fully-installed. Self-fill times on these pumps range from 19 to 50 seconds, depending on FAST model. The units offer realistic field installs and removals in simple and efficient steps. FAST Foam is the new AFS foam injection system, also designed with field use in mind. The system is a quick-disconnect bag, and offers metered injection using the existing FAST cockpit controller. The FAST Foam also has quick-lock style couplings for easy filling and bleeding without spilling.

Bomba orders two AW139s The Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) has ordered two AW139s which will be used to perform fire fighting, search and rescue, land reconnaissance and general support duties. The contract also includes conversion training for aircrew and maintenance staff that will be undertaken prior to delivery of the aircraft in the first half of 2010. The AW139s will supplement the two AgustaWestland AW109 Powers that have been successfully operating with the Bomba since 2004.

New helicopter service center being built Eurocopter UK is building a new major helicopter service center at Kirkhill Commercial Park in Dyce, Aberdeen and will bring the most up-to-date helicopter support technology to one of the busiest off-shore oil and gas helicopter maintenance hubs in the world. The facility will be ideally placed to offer state-of-the-art logistical and technical support and flight simulator training for the UK’s main heliport for the offshore oil industry. The Eurocopter center will comprise a 10,000 sq ft logistics warehouse and 5,000 sq ft of offices as well as 5,360 sq ft of flight simulator accommodation, which will house Eurocopter’s first UK-based EC225 Flight Training Simulator. Work at the site will begin in April and it is expected that the facility will be completed by December this year. The center will occupy a 1.2 acre site at Knight Property Group’s Kirkhill Commercial Park.

industry update

AW139 training now in New Jersey AgustaWestland AW139 initial helicopter type rating and recurrent training is now available in Morristown, New Jersey. The FAA under part 142 approves the training programs. The program utilizes a newly-approved FAA and EASA-certified Level D AW139 full-flight simulator, located at CAE’s Northeast Training Center (NETC). The addition of the AW139 program in the North East United States dramatically increases the full-flight simulator capacity available for customers, and allows AgustaWestland to provide its growing customer base with Level D simulator training close to their home base. The simulator is configured with the upgraded 4-axis autopilot system, thereby utilizing the latest training technologies to improve safety, reduce pilot workload and lessen overall cost of AW139 ownership.

Tel-Tail Floodlights EC-145

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industry update S-76C++ sold to Shanghai Kingwing Sikorsky sold a civil S-76C++ to Shanghai Kingwing. It is the first sale of a Sikorsky product to Shanghai Kingwing of China. This aircraft is expected to fly in support of civil onshore rescue missions organized by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Delivery is planned for May 2009.

WE HEAR THAT A LOT. MX-Raid introduced L-3 has introduced the MX-RAid (Remote Aid) – a new service kit for remote diagnostic evaluations of fielded MX-Series EO/IR imaging turrets. This capability provides immediate access to an in-house factory technician who can diagnose actual system faults from afar.

Civil Mi-171’s to Iran

Revolutionary Performance for the Bell 206

Russia’s Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant has delivered two civil Mi-171’s to Iran. The Red Crescent Society, a nongovernment organization that carries

Pilots who fly Bell 206B or 206L helicopters with Dual Tailboom Strakes are astounded by the improved stability of flight.

out humanitarian missions, will operate the new aircraft. The Society has its own aviation department and

Enhanced wind azimuth operations and improved pedal margin combine to optimize your productivity. Dual Tailboom Strakes are FAA and EASA certified, and available for most Bell medium helicopters.

has extensive experience in operating Russian-built helicopters. The helicopters will be used for civil missions, search and rescue

Are you still flying without strakes? Wow.

operations and transportation of people injured in natural calamities.

Now EASA Certified

The contract will see a total of five Mi-171 helicopters delivered to the organization. Delivery of the second batch of three Mi-171 helicopters is due to take place at the end of February or beginning of March of this year.

www.BLRaerospace.com davemarone@BLRaerospace.com 425.353.6591

BLR P2 HO.indd 3

3/20/09 1:32 PM

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industry update DART’s Spacepod gains approval DART Aerospace has received Transport Canada’s approval of the DART Spacepod. FAA and EASA approvals are currently pending. With the DART Spacepod, operators can increase their stowing capability by 5.5 ft3 and 140 lbs per side. There is only 13 lbs per side increase installation net weight. This unit is approved on either or both sides, with no flight limitations. Additionally, this installation does double duty; it can stow equipment and it can also function as a working platform. Taking this application into consideration, a non-skid surface is applied for increased personal safety. The Spacepod can be easily installed and removed in the field or in the hangar. The forward-opening doors feature an automatic dooropener that damps door-swing and supports the door in the open position. The Hinge Modification Kit modifies the existing sliding door to make it compatible with the Spacepod. The sliding door is modified to a forward hinging configuration that is ideal for easy passenger loading. LH Spacepod is supplied with the Hinge Mod Kit, or the kit may be purchased and installed independently of the Spacepod for operators interested in an alternative to the OEM sliding door.

First AS365 for Gyeong Buk Fire Aviation Dept ASU Inc has completed the first AS365N3 for the Gyeong Buk Fire Aviation Department in South Korea, and following the installation the company completed pilot training of the Department’s pilots and associated aircrews. One of eight AS365N aircraft being operated by Fire Aviation Services within the country of South Korea, this aircraft will be utilized for conducting night SAR missions. The use of NVGs will greatly increase the Department’s capabilities, while enhancing overall operational safety and pilot situation awareness. ASU received US Department of State approval for the transfer of this technology to Korea.

Fuel tank gets Brazilian approval DART’s affiliated partner John Cameron Aviation has received Brazilian approval of their Auxiliary Side Locker Fuel Tank for the AS350 series, adding to the Australian CASA and Transport Canada approvals already received. The Auxiliary Side Locker Fuel Tank is easily installed into the left-hand side locker with minimal modification to the aircraft structure. The installation kit comes complete with its own gauge and pump, and can be swapped between helicopters. The Fuel Tank has a capacity of 34 gallons (129 liters) of usable fuel and is fully approved for all flight roles.

New Cable Cutters Kit DART’s subsidiary partner Apical Industries has added a Cable Cutters Kit to their expanding product line. FAA approval has been received – Transport Canada and EASA are pending. The Cable Cutters Kit provides a means of protecting the helicopter during a wire strike by providing the capability to cut a cable of wire before catastrophic damage occurs, and is designed to reduce the possibility of wire cable entering the cockpit while reducing the chance of flight control damage. The kit incorporates both upper and lower cutters each designed with highstrength cutting blades. The Apical cutter design was tested to verify the capability to cut a cable having a 14,000 lb tensile strength.

industry update IBF Gains STC

S-76D successful test flight

AFS has received an STC from Transport Canada for an Inlet Barrier Filter (IBF) system for the EC130 B4 and AS350 B3 with dual hydraulic systems installed. European EASA approval is also in process, extending the AFS IBF solution to more operators. AFS IBF’s are already in use by AS350 and EC130 operators worldwide, performing law enforcement, air medical, firefighting, newsgathering and utility missions.

Sikorsky has successfully completed the first flight of its S-76D The test flight that lasted 30 minutes consisted of maneuvering the prototype aircraft through taxi, hover, hover turns, and forward flight to 40 knots. Sikorsky Chief Test Pilot Greg Barnes and Pilot Mike Hardy conducted the test flight at Sikorsky’s Florida facility. The milestone culminated more than three years of design, development and testing of the first prototype aircraft. Among the S-76D helicopter’s features are all-composite, flawtolerant main rotor blades; an advanced Thales avionics system and autopilot; dual speed rotor with active vibration control; powerful Pratt & Whitney 210S engines; a quiet mode for enhanced public acceptance; and an optional Rotor Ice Protection System for all-weather capability. The S-76D is scheduled to enter production in 2010 and will also offer an increase in useful load and extended range performance versus the S-76C+ and S-76C++. Sikorsky already has approximately 100 delivery position agreements on the aircraft.

AW joint venture to India

Carson Approved

AgustaWestland and Tata Sons signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the formation of an Indian joint venture company that will establish a final assembly line for the AW119 in India. The joint venture company will be responsible for final assembly; completion and delivery to customers worldwide while AgustaWestland will retain responsibility for worldwide marketing and sales. The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery from the new facility in 2011 with production forecast to rise to 30 aircraft per year to meet worldwide demand. Additionally, AgustaWestland and Tata companies plan to explore additional commercial opportunities in India for AgustaWestland and the subsequent industrial co-operation.

FAA approval for a Vector-developed STC has been granted to Carson for a five-panel configuration of a Sagem Integrated Cockpit Display System (glass cockpit) for installation in the S-61. The S-61 configuration includes five Active Matrix Light Crystal Display AMLCD 10-inch displays and integrates Primary Flight Instruments, Engine Instruments/Caution Advisory System and other Multifunction Display system functions including moving maps, enhanced vision (when linked to a camera) and a Terrain Obstacle Proximity System. An updated digital fuel indicating system, dedicated 6 inch AMLCD displaying Caution advisory information, dual solid state AHRS system, cargo hook and fire tank parameters are also part of the aircraft modification and upgrade.

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industry update Police EC135s funded by The Home Office The Home Office has funding for the purchase of six new police EC135s through a 2009/10 ÂŁ5 million capital grant for air support, as part of the first joint procurement by six UK police forces. The grant will also provide enhanced state-of-the-art mission equipment. The Police Air Support Units in Suffolk, Cheshire, North Wales, Cleveland, Midlands and Chilterns will each receive a new EC135P2i. The helicopters will be used by up to a total of 18 neighboring police forces as part of regional consortia.

Turbomeca to engine the Ka-226T Turbomeca has signed contracts with Russian Helicopters, Kamov and with Helicopter Services Company for the development and serial engine production of the Arrius 2G1 to be installed on the Ka-226T. At this time Russia is experiencing a need for light helicopters capable of multiple missions, such as transport, EMS, aerial work and surveillance. The technology of double coaxial counter-rotating rotors, developed by Kamov, is unique in the world. The new Arrius 2G1 engine has been tailored to fit the power-pack flying the Kamov Ka-226T. This new variant is a derivative engine from the existing Arrius 2, which was qualified 10 years ago. The demands for such missions encompass MedEvac, along with law enforcement, pipeline surveillance, border-patrol, including flying in hot and high geographical conditions. The certification of the Ka-226T/Arrius 2G1 is expected for end of 2010.

2 more Enstroms in India Enstrom and Monarch Aviation have sold two more 480Bs to India. The first helicopter was sold to Mr Ashok Sawhny, CEO of Monarch International, and will be used by Monarch as a demonstrator as well as for commercial use. The silver and red helicopter is equipped with a factory air-conditioner for the hot Indian climate, as well as leather seats for VIP luxury. The second helicopter was sold to Orissa Stevedores and will be used for corporate transport.

351 Airport Road, Box 10/Bldg. 500 Decatur, Texas 76234 Phone: (940) 627-0626 Fax: (940) 627-0894 www.unitedrotorcraft.com FAA Repair Station UX9R241Y




Stunning photo gallery Latest News & Updates helicopters/parts for sale Positions vacant amazing threads free downloads

industry update New air medical services base

LAH and Erickson training for Long Lining Los Angeles Helicopter will be working with Erickson to train selected pilots in Vertical Reference and Long Line flying.

Tech-Tool windows for EC Helicopter window manufacturer Tech-Tool Plastics

Omniflight has opened a new air

has expanded its Eurocopter product line, recently

medical services base in Houston

earning STC’s on new windows for the EC120 and

associated with HCA Houston, which is

EC130. Transport Canada and EASA approval of the

a comprehensive network of hospitals,

windows is pending. Also pending is FAA approval of

diagnostic imaging facilities, cancer care

new windows for EC145. The new EC120/130 windows

programs, emergency care centers and

are available as standard or crack-resistant, and in

outpatient surgery facilities throughout

clear or optional tints.

Greater Houston. The Houston base will be located on the campus of HCA affiliated The Women’s Hospital of Texas. The base will be home to one BK117

Kaman’s water cannon Kaman is developing an innovative, powerful water

designed to handle critical care inter-

cannon that will deliver water directly to the source of

including a contingent from Europe to

facility transports within a 150-mile

a fire. The cannon will shoot water from the front of the

the LAH Vertical Reference and Long

radius. It is configured into a critical-care

KMax, enabling more direct, effective coverage when

Line course beginning early April.

cabin with an intensive care setting.

fighting fires in high rises or private homes, for example.

Erickson will be sending three pilots,

Letter of intent between Walt Guard and Pegasus Pegasus has signed a letter of intent with Walt Guard Technology for the exclusive distribution of its products including the PH200PJ Helicopter in Taiwan. The letter of intent outlines a four year distribution agreement whereby Walt Guard Technology will distribute 50 assembled PH200PJs in the first two years and 150 fully certified machines in the second and third years to the civilian, industrial and military markets in Taiwan. In addition, Walt Guard Technology will have the first right of refusal to manufacture the helicopter in Taiwan. Pegasus now has agreements in place to distribute a total of 655 PH200PJs over the next four years in China, Brazil, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.


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Chuck Aaron inverted in the Red Bull BO105 over Crystal Spring Reservoir, during the Hiller Aviation Museum Vertical Challenge Airshow. 19


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By Phil Croucher

Complacency I recall once asking a Chief Pilot how his pilots were performing in terms of accidents, incidents and CRM issues. He reported that, while things were generally fine, he was mystified that many small errors were being made. These were skill–based errors, or the kind of things that happen when people have become complacent – typically after about thirty minutes.

skill-based task is automatic and does not require conscious thought. A pilot with several thousand hours, for example, will instinctively allow for wind and all its potential effects on a helicopter’s flight. The mental processing for the task is thoroughly internalized and part of the muscle memory of the body. A good example of skill-based behavior is the way an experienced long-liner can gage just how much power is being used by the positioning of his arm, rather than by looking at the instruments. Automatic or skill-based behavior is generally considered to be less prone to error, or, put another way, the most reliable type of behavior, because it provides very early feedback to correct a situation. When you are very familiar with a task and are interrupted (a major problem for engineers!), you have to start thinking in a way you are not used to when the task is resumed, and that is when errors might rear their ugly heads. The classic example for a pilot of out-of-sequence behavior concerns the rotor blades on a Bell 206. If the passengers arrive late, after the pre-flight check has been completed, you typically tie the blades down while waiting for them and forget to undo them before you start the engine! A less experienced pilot, on the other hand, without such an instinctive feel and automatic sequence of action may have to rely on procedures. In other words, the mental processing relies consciously on rules such as “if the nose pitches up, apply forward cyclic.” If the rules are followed, he will be successful. If they are not, he will fail. Although the processing is still internalized (meaning that it is in long term memory), it is a slower process and more sequential, relying on cues (the nose pitching up) that trigger a prescribed sequence of reactions, rather than the intuitive prompting he will eventually gain. Because an element of conscious control and lower reliability begins to creep in, it follows that the rules should be precise and not assume a minimum level of knowledge to be properly understood and applied. One example of a rule-based error concerns the DC-10 that had an engine fall off the wing shortly after takeoff. In the simulator afterwards, it was found that the pilot had applied the correct nose-up pitch, but had less been applied, he might have been able to keep the aircraft flying (albeit very close to buildings!) rather than crashing. Or, say, an engine catches fire shortly after takeoff – in a large transport aircraft, the rules say that the fuel should be dumped before landing because it will be too heavy, but fire will burn through the wing quicker than you can do that. Far better, maybe, to break the rules and land heavy, possibly only bending the gear instead of losing or wrecking the complete aircraft. Knowledge-based tasks are those for which there is no guidance other than that person’s knowledge, so there is almost complete conscious control. Thinking on your feet requires considerable mental effort, and the

resulting responses will be correspondingly slower, aside from the need to review them constantly in order to assess their impact. Humans do not perform very well in such situations. People who apply previous experience from an outside source to cope with a current task provide good examples of knowledge-based task failure, such as an aeroplane pilot caught in a Vortex Ring scenario who instinctively pulls power to get out of the situation, lacking the special training that would make him aware that that response only makes things worse. If, therefore, skill-based behavior is the most reliable and pilots are making skill-based errors, how many rule- and knowledge-based errors are being made? Quite a lot more, I suspect! This situation will become worse as pilots with several thousand hours continue retiring. With the duty hour regulations that just weren’t around when those pilots gained that experience, it will be some time before their replacements gain enough skill-based routines to reduce errors to the minimum. The optimal level of alertness for routine tasks is higher than that normally required. You are prone to errors at the skill-based level when you are preoccupied, tired, or otherwise distracted, so you need to be consciously aware of your actions. Keep alert enough to sustain your attention, and maintain your currency – over 80% of general aviation accidents can be put down to skill-based errors, where pilots are not flying properly, and currency is an issue. Automation does not help! Modification of skill-based learning requires it to be re-learned at a deep level, so experienced pilots are more affected. Rule-based errors can be minimized by following the rules rather than doing things “the way we do it round here”, which is something that instructors can help with by not passing on bad habits. Also, make sure that you use the right rules for the right task. Don’t apply the start sequence of one helicopter to another! Use the checklist! It’s worth noting, however, that being overly rule-based can mean losing the broader aspects of situational awareness, or the big picture, leading to a mis-diagnosis that will have the same result, even if you apply the right actions. Try not to ignore the evidence from your instruments. The pilots in the Airbus that ran out of fuel near the Azores assumed a computer error when the oil temperature indication was low. In fact, it was fuel gushing out that was doing the cooling! Then they used the wrong checklist. To combat knowledge-based errors, don’t deal with too much data at one time, because short-term memory is limited to handling between five and seven pieces of data and you might become selective in your attention to various parts of the task. Unless you use memory tricks to retain that data, write it down! Finally, do not ignore feedback that does not support your expectations. Keep your mind alert and flexible! n


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flight training


By Mark Ogden

Teaching Situational Awareness Can situational awareness be taught? It has been a widely held belief that one either “has” or “doesn’t have” situational awareness (SA) so very little effort has gone into teaching it. If that belief is incorrect, how can SA be taught effectively?

n area in which I have noticed substantial variation between student pilots, whether they be ab-initio or experienced pilots moving to a new type, is their level of situational awareness. Situational awareness often determines how fast a pilot will react and adapt, the amount of information they will retain and how safe they will be. An aviator without a consistently high level of situational awareness is heading for trouble. Much of our training is focused at the technical level – things such as pressure, speed and power – and little formal effort goes into “teaching” situational awareness. So what is it? There are various definitions, but Wikipedia concisely describes situational awareness as “a perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future”. In essence, it is knowing where you are in time and space and projecting that forward to the near future. In aviation there is a further, vital element that cannot be overlooked; having an appreciation of where other traffic is and where it is going. So can situational awareness be taught? While I believe that it can be taught, there are people who, for some reason, never seem to “get it” and, while they generally handle the cockpit environment satisfactorily, they remain unable to fully assimilate what is happening around them, what is going to happen and, just as importantly, what others are doing. Good SA requires a constant Minkowskian fourdimensional picture in a pilot’s head; an ongoing awareness of their position, other traffic’s position and an accurate prediction of how those will change over time. One of the first principles in establishing situational awareness is effective prior planning so there is a mental model established of what a flight may look like under both normal and emergency conditions. At least if the unexpected then occurs in flight, the pilot has a good appreciation of where the aircraft is in relation to airports, fields and other traffic. Instruction should therefore

emphasize the role of prior planning. Spatial appreciation needs to start from the earliest lessons. We teach look-out but also we need to “look-in” and the workload can be cranked up as experience is gained. Teaching should commence from very early in the teaching sequence and in-flight questions such as: How’s the engine running? How’s the oil pressure? or What’s the next event? These questions will help a student form the habit of constantly noting and retaining information not only about what is happening right now, but also what is coming up. The circuit is a good place to introduce and develop this. In the helicopter world, I can’t emphasize too strongly the need to train students in a formal and disciplined system of lookout (all clear ahead, above, below, left and right) that will get the student methodically searching for traffic and obstructions. As the student gains experience and the physical act of flying becomes more a sub-conscious set of motor actions, it’s time to start introducing questions such as Where’s that traffic? Where will that traffic be when we are at ...? It is a good idea to have the student point out traffic while still in the circuit, then work it up as the exercises move to the training area and eventually into instrument flying and nav-aid training. A kneeboard is sometimes needed to assist with remembering call-signs and positions, but this all helps to develop the required habits. It is important to include thorough training in navigational SA. With the introduction of technology such as GPS, it often seems that the need to know where the aircraft is and where it is going is diminished, when, after all, the information needed is right there on a screen! The problem with that attitude is that if the technology fails or provides information that is wrong, the pilot is still responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft and needs to possess the skills and attributes necessary to recover safely. So don’t let students rely too heavily on aids such as GPS. Make sure they always know their location, even if only approximately. Despite the foregoing comment, students also need to be encouraged to utilize all the facilities and aids available. In other words, they need to learn to communicate within a crew environment and with external agencies such as air traffic control. Plentiful and accurate information is vital to maintaining SA, as that information is the material with which the pilot builds the mental model. More on situational awareness in the next issue. n


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R By Alexander Mladenov

Battle for Russia

ussia is proving to be a lucrative

with the local industry to design improved

new market for Western aircraft

versions of their existing models and develop

manufacturers, as was highlighted at a

new rotorcraft types and technologies. For

press conference at this year’s Heli-Expo. As

example, AgustaWestland is particularly

the Russian Helicopter Industry Association

interested in Russia’s unique know-how

tried to raise interest in its annual HeliRussia

in design and operation of rotorcraft ice

exhibition – scheduled for 23-24 May 2009

protection systems. In addition to capitalising

– Eurocopter and AgustaWestland entered

on the significant design and engineering

into an odd indirect competition with each

experience available in Russia, the Europeans

other, each espousing its own successes and

hope to take advantage of the considerably

ambitious plans for the development of the

lower labour costs in the region.

Russian market using Russian engineering talent and manufacturing resources. Both companies made it clear that they see

Of the Western helicopter sales in Russia, AgustaWestland currently trails Eurocopter. However, it has now established a joint

huge potential for sales in Russia despite the

venture with the Russian state-owned

economic downturn, because the majority

company Oboronprom for the final assembly

of the fleets operated by Russian civil and

of the AW139 in a newly-built facility in Panki

parapublic operators is obsolete and needs

near Moscow, and for sales of the type.

replacement in the near future. Importantly

The first Russian AW139s are expected to

(for Western manufacturers), indigenous

be completed 2011. Oboronprom holds a

Russian light and medium helicopters are not

controlling stake in Russian Helicopters,

among the best products available and thus

which is Russia’s “monopolist” in the

these are the sectors with the biggest market

development and manufacture of both


military and civil helicopters.

Analysts predict a market in Russia for

Meanwhile, Eurocopter has implemented

approximately 450–500 new helicopters

a strategy of aggressive marketing combined

between 2009 and 2015 and Eurocopter

with opening increasing numbers of service

and AgustaWestland seem committed

centres in important locations such as

to capturing as much of it as possible

Moscow and other regions where its models

– competing vigorously against US

are well represented. There are now around

manufacturers and the local industry. There

70 Eurocopter helicopters of various models

is a plethora of new local designs but for a

in Russia but the infrastructure to support

number of reasons (a lack of development

them is still regarded as insufficient and

and certification funding, insufficient

there is much room for improvement in this

customer demand and insufficient production

area. Along these lines, Eurocopter’s vice

capacity) the market in Russia and the CIS

president of sales and customer relations

republics for helicopters with gross weights

for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Olivier

between 6,000 lb-14,000 lb is likely to be

Michalon, has promised a surprise at the

dominated by the European manufacturers.

upcoming HeliRussia exhibition and talked of

AgustaWestland’s vice president of civil sales

a significant cooperative agreement with the

for Europe and the Caspian Sea region,

Russian helicopter industry on the design and

Angelo Raimondi, has openly stated his

development of new rotorcraft technologies,

company’s desire to capture 50 percent of

although the subject of the expected

the Western helicopter market in Russia.

agreement is still confidential.

At the same time, both AgustaWestland and Eurocopter are hoping to join forces


n the East European aviation scene, it was announced at this year’s HeliExpo that the Polish operator, Aircom

SP, would become the launch customer for the certificated version of the Schweizer S-434 light single helicopter (based on the S-333) with delivery expected in 2011. Aircom SP will use the new S-434 for gas pipeline and electrical powerline patrol–tasks that the company currently undertakes with a pair of S-333s while it uses an S-300C mainly for flight training. n


Black Saturday will be scorched into the annals of Australia’s history as the deadliest bushfires ever experienced in the state of Victoria. More than 170 lives were lost, thousands of homes were destroyed and vast tracts of land were decimated. But the heroic efforts of those involved in the battle against the flames saved countless other lives and structures. At the forefront of that fight, was Victoria’s State Aircraft Unit. story by Leigh Neil photos by Wayne Rigg – State Aircraft Unit

c ov er feature

“Elvis” – Helitack 341, an Erickson S64F Aircrane – drops on a fire edge at the Drummond Nth Fire, Victoria on 22nd January 2009.


ictoria has a long history of large and destructive bushfires. The long hot summers, parched bush-covered landscape, prevalent summer thunderstorms and strong winds create conditions that make large-scale bushfires almost inevitable. In addition to the naturally


occurring threat, fires are regularly sparked by human causes such as barbecues, cigarettes and in some cases, even arson. As a result, when it comes to wildfires, Victoria is probably one of the best-prepared and organized regions anywhere on the planet. The population has lived with the reality

of regular bushfires their whole lives, with almost every family having a wellconsidered and practical “fire-plan�, and the state authorities are immensely experienced at coping with the blazes. Despite this, Saturday 7 February 2009 saw loss and devastation on a scale that ensured the date would be known

By the beginning of February, Victoria was a tinderbox suffering under an intense heatwave that saw temperatures hovering in the mid to high 40s (celsius), relative humidity under 10%, and high winds that at times exceeded 100 km/h.

“Malcolm” – Helitack 342, picks up water from the Maroondah Dam at the Maroondah/Yarra Fire Complex.

forever in Australian history as “Black Saturday”. Most of the world have seen media images of this disaster but a news-hour sound bite does little to portray the desperation, courage, skill and horror that are inevitably part and parcel of battling wildfires on this scale. Desiccated by a drought that has

persisted for more than ten years, by the beginning of February Victoria was a tinderbox suffering under an intense heat wave that saw temperatures hovering in the mid to high 40s (celsius), relative humidity under 10% and high winds that, at times, exceeded 100 km/h. The fire danger

was recognized as extreme and all agencies were on high alert, poised for the first hint of fire. By early afternoon on the 7th, several fires were already burning and a major fire had ignited in the Kilmore East area, burning a 30 km swathe to the southeast under the impetus of the strong norwest wind.


HeliTack 348 was one of two Coulson S61s that DSE had on contract for the season. 348 was equipped with a longline and bucket and its sister ship with a belly tank. 348 is seen here fighting the Kilmore Fire near Reedy Creek.

As serious as this situation was, it was nothing compared to what a change in the weather was about to unleash. The long and narrow swathe of the Kilmore fire suddenly became a wide fire-front when a 90-degree wind-change from norwest through to southwest occurred, and the vast span of flames now traveled rapidly to the east. Merging with the Murrindindi mill fire, this blaze developed into the Kilmore East–Murrindindi fire complex, the most damaging and deadly of all the February fire outbreaks. It was this blaze that tore through the Kinglake area and virtually erased the town of Maryville from the map. At least 159 people were killed in this complex of


fires, with 34 confirmed fatalities in Maryville alone. The complex burnt a total area of more than six hundred thousand acres. Viewed against the backdrop of this immense tragedy are the people, machines and organizations that battled valiantly to safeguard all they could from the conflagration. Many lives have been lost to major fires in the state in past years. In 1851, one blaze swept an unbelievable 11 million acres (approximately 5 million hectares) – 25% of the area of the state of Victoria – and claimed 12 human lives. Twelve more died in 1898, 60 in 1926, and 71 lives were lost in January of 1939, in fires that peaked on the appallingly appropriate date of Friday

13th. Deaths have occurred in at least 17 separate fire seasons since 1851. With a history such as this, it’s no surprise that Victoria boasts a State Aircraft Unit (SAU) – a highly structured, well-organized state agency with responsibility for utilizing aircraft in fire suppression and fire management activities. The rural fire threat in Victoria is the responsibility of two separate agencies, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). In simple terms, the DSE has responsibility for the state forest, national park and protected public lands, while the CFA oversees the private property, country towns,

This picture shows just how close the Black Saturday fires came to the outskirts of the township of Wandong. It made it halfway across the football/ sports oval before being contained.

Fire rips through the bush at the Drummond Nth Fire, letting nothing get in its way.

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settlements and built up areas. The SAU was officially set up in 2001 and was born from an agreement between the two agencies, signed in 2000, recognizing that effectiveness and efficiency demanded a single, coordinated approach to the use of aviation resources in the fight against bushfires. In a sparsely populated state that covers a vast area, firefighting resources are limited and it is paramount that they are utilized as efficiently as possible. The SAU takes its personnel from both the CFA and DSE and ensures common standards and training are in place, as well as bearing responsibility for the procurement of all aviation resources required by

both agencies. It is, effectively, a “onestop-shop” for the state’s firefighting aviation needs – and procures the aircraft from a variety of sources. Bryan Rees is the Manager, Aviation Training and Safety for the Sate Aircraft Unit and has a career-long background in forest firefighting. He has been involved in the development of aviation as a firefighting resource since the 1970s and is a highly experienced helicopter crewman and air attack supervisor. Despite his extensive experience, Rees was shocked by the speed and scale of the Black Saturday fires. In the aftermath of the fires – perhaps inevitably – criticism has been aired about a supposed lack of preparedness

but Rees is probably better placed to comment than anyone, and his opinion is clear. He is convinced that both the state and the populace went into February as well prepared as anyone could have foreseen to be necessary. “I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the sheer scale of the damage and outcomes that eventuated,” he said. “We were already wellresourced, and even with more resources I don’t think we would have been able to do much more.” He makes the powerful point that air resources are only as effective as the ground-forces they are supporting, and that effective oversight and control is one of the limiting factors in the use of air assets.


top left: The Reedy Creek area of the Kilmore fire saw a lot of air operations. Here McDermott’s 214B works to stop the advancing fire front. top right: Heli Harvest’s Mil 8 drops on a fire edge in the Melbourne water catchment area east of Maroondah Dam.

After many years of fine-tuning its aviation operations, the SAU has a well-established “two-tier” format for deploying its aircraft. The fleet of “bombers” is controlled and directed by air-attack supervisors, who ride in dedicated aircraft that do not participate in water dropping. The SAU divides helicopters into heavy, medium and light types, with firebombing duty carried out only by the type-1 and -2 (heavy and medium) types. The light type-3 helicopters are used solely for transport, communication and airattack platform duties. On the morning of Black Saturday, there was a total of 55 aircraft on the SAU’s 15-minute standby, including 37 tactical machines. Twenty-five of those were rotary-wing, with 13 bombers and 12 air-attack helicopters ready to go. The machines operating as bombers on Black Saturday included three Erickson Aircranes, two Sikorsky S61s, one Bell 214B, five Bell 212s, one Bell 205 and a BK117, while the light helicopters were a mix of Bell


Jet-rangers, Long-rangers and AS350 Squirrels. As Rees points out, Victoria prefers not to use the light machines as airattack platforms when sufficient heavies are available for firebombing. There is a limit to how many aircraft can safely operate on a fire scene, so it makes good sense for all aircraft dropping water to be as large and efficient as possible. For example, one S-64 Aircrane can drop as much in a single load as up to nine or ten light helicopters, while avoiding the congestion above the fire that those machines would create. This frees up the light helos to provide dedicated and focused direction and supervision, which is crucial in maintaining safety over the fire and maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. The air attack supervisor aboard the smaller helicopter is responsible for selecting the targets for the bombers, which means prioritizing from among a variety of options. In extreme circumstances, this can also mean a

tragic dilemma for the supervisor. It is not difficult to envisage a scenario where several homes in close proximity are under immediate and dire threat, many with families still in residence. With a limited number of bombers available in the crucial seconds during which decisions must be made, how difficult it must be to determine which homes are most likely to be saved by the firebombing aircraft! It is even harder to imagine the anguish of having to watch the consequences of those tactical choices. One air-attack supervisor expressed the frustration of having to watch the firefighters and civilians struggling to protect and defend houses, only to have the buildings ignite anyway, nullifying their efforts and making it necessary to simply abandon that house and move on to the next one. Wayne Rigg is an air-attack supervisor (AAS) with the State Aircraft Unit and has accumulated 14 years experience as a firefighter with the CFA before becoming an

AAS about four years ago. This is a typical background for an AAS, as the task obviously requires extensive and comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of fires and firefighting. Rigg was on duty in Ballarat during Black Saturday and, like everyone else, was dreading any fire events occurring in his local area. The fire-threat conditions were so extreme that only the previous day, the SAU had circulated warnings that a real likelihood existed of aircraft being unable to fly due to the severe winds and intense heat. Rigg says that in his entire career, he has never seen a worse day in terms of fire weather. Fortunate to have no fires in the Ballarat area during Black Saturday, he joined a team in the Kinglake area on Saturday evening and was aghast at the devastation he saw there, rating it as one of the most enduring impressions he retains from the day. “Flying over and directing air attacks, while seeing the complete devastation,” he recalls, “was gut-wrenching – just unbelievable. I’ve never seen a nuclear bomb site, but

to me, the scene looked like huge areas had been nuked.” He described how vast areas of thick bush and forest had been reduced to a few tall scorched tree trunks, standing like sparse matchsticks in a blackened desert. He found the sight of the remains of Kinglake even worse – an entire settlement razed to the ground. Directing operations gave Rigg the opportunity to observe what he feels is the other most striking factor of the disaster – the commitment and dedication to an insane task-load by the ground crews. “Seeing what they had been through and accomplished on Saturday before I even arrived on the scene, then doing exactly the same again on Sunday, and for days afterwards – I still find that just incredible!” The SAU has a comprehensive repertoire of tactics for suppressing fires, including the use of highly trained rappelling teams. Ground forces rappel from helicopters into the fire area with their equipment, enabling

The Kilmore fire destroyed everything in its path including these houses. The town of Marysville was nearly wiped from the map. This was the view the morning after Black Saturday.

“I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the sheer scale of the damage and outcomes that eventuated. We were already well-resourced, and even with more resources I don’t think we would have been able to do much more.” Bryan Rees, Manager, Aviation Training and Safety for the State Aviation Unit


9,000 litres of water heads toward the fire line below as “Elvis” delivers yet another load of water onto the Drummond North fire.

them to fight the fire from strategically significant locations that would be inaccessible by ground transportation. This method requires intensive training of dedicated personnel, and Victoria has been using rappel teams since trials were first undertaken in 1964, and an autonomous program was established in 1985. The use of helicopters in firefighting is firmly entrenched in Victoria and goes back much further, with rotary wing assets being a part of normal operations since an RAAF Sikorsky S51 was first used in 1949. Rees describes the SAU as “very much a helicopterfocused department” for a number of the agencies’ fire and land management


operations, although fixed wing assets are also used extensively. A point made frequently by people interviewed for this article was that only ground crews can put out fires. Aircraft can slow down or contain their spread and protect certain areas, but only by breaking open countless smoldering stumps, and digging out innumerable burning roots can fires be effectively quashed. The extreme nature of the threat to life posed by Black Saturday’s fires did not allow the use of all the SAU’s methods. Right from the beginning, it was firebombing that was the mainstay of the operation. Bryan Rees stresses that the SAU was as prepared

as humanly possible for events as they unfolded, and as the scale of the threat became apparent, the aircraft were focused on firebombing as the most effective weapon in the agencies’ arsenal for the protection of life and property, which is their paramount objective. The SAU refuses to compromise on safety or effectiveness, but on Black Saturday, dousing the fire became a secondary consideration to the attempt to save lives and property. A major proportion of the SAU’s effort goes into the strategic positioning of aircraft, refueling sites and refilling areas in order to maximize the effectiveness of the firebombing operation. It is fortunate for the SAU that there is a wealth of experience, expertise and equipment available to it. As helicopters have become established at the forefront of large-scale firefighting operations, many companies have set up specialist firefighting units. One such company is Canada’s Coulson Aircrane Ltd, which moved into aviation in 1985 and is now North America’s largest commercial operator of the Sikorsky S-61. The company bases two of its machines in Victoria for each fire season (C-FMAY and C-FCLM this year), with the crews rotating from their Canadian base – and the busy aircraft each accumulates around 2,500 flight hours a year. Working on firefighting operations in both global hemispheres gives the crews immense currency and competence – vital in the hazardous conditions experienced over bushfires. Classified as a type-1 (heavy) machine, the S-61’s 22,000 lb maximum weight means it can deliver around four tonnes of water in a single load. Both of the Coulson Sikorskys are able to use either standard or Hi-flow Bambi-buckets, but one of the machines is fitted with a belly-tank of Coulson’s own design, the “Coulson Fireboss 4000”. This tank has a 4,000-liter capacity and is ideal for work in more open areas, while the longline and bucket set-up used on the second machine is the preferred choice for operations in hilly and heavily forested areas, where its ability to drop the bucket into a stream through the forest canopy is regularly necessary. Canadian Rob James is one of Coulson’s pilots – now in his 15th year with the company and on his second

Helitack 401, a Bell214B – operated by McDermott Aviation drops its water on a fire in the Reedy Creek area of the Kilmore Fire on Sunday the 8th of February 2009.

There is a limit to how many aircraft can safely

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operate on a fire scene, so it makes good sense for all aircraft dropping water to be as large and efficient as possible. i.e, one S-64 Aircrane can drop as much in a single load as up to nine or ten light helicopters

Firebird 307 & Firebird 316 on the ground at Kilmore Airbase (Assumption College Oval) waiting for the next flare up.

Scenes of total destruction from the air – Houses in the Kinglake area destroyed by fires on Black Saturday (Photo taken Sunday 8th of February 2009)


The firefighter’s view as one of Kestrel’s Bell 212s lines up on the fireline.

After the fire front has passed DSE crews inspect a house that miraculously survived during the Drummond Nth fire.

“Flying over and directing air attacks, while seeing the complete devastation was gut-wrenching – just unbelievable. I’ve never seen a nuclear bomb site, but to me, the scene looked like huge areas had been nuked.”


A Helicorp 212 about to dump its snorkel into the lake for a load of water.

Fire tears through the bush at the Drummond Nth fire – scenes like these are what Air Attack Supervisors often face when first arriving at a going fire. Decisions need to be made in conjunction with operations and the ground crews as to what the priorities for aircraft are, and how they can be most effective.

Australian attachment. On Black Saturday, he commenced duty west of Melbourne and, after attending one small fire in the morning, flew the belly tank-equipped “Helitac 347” to the south of Kinglake in the afternoon. He makes an interesting comparison between the Australian fires and the North American fires he battles at home. “Where I come from, you don’t have the same density of people living full-time in the bush. In Canada, there are scattered dwellings, mainly holiday homes and such, but here, there are numerous substantial houses set in the bush. Back home, water’s not an issue either, but over here, you could have to travel 15 miles. The fuel loading here is

much higher too. Our trees are heavier and denser - but slower burning, so we don’t have the same heat intensity or speed of the fire-front that you get with the lighter, easier burning bush here.” James described the fire conditions where he was on Black Saturday as a “one-in-50-year event”, with ambient air temperatures of 47–48 degrees Celsius, relative humidity of only three or four percent and wind speeds of more than 80 km/h. He believes that during the first two days of the crisis, the fire was the fastest-traveling he has ever seen and he personally noted fires spotting eight to ten kilometers ahead of the main front. With around 29 years’ experience flying helicopters

on fire control in areas as diverse as Canada, the USA, Greece and Australia, James certainly has the background to validate his descriptions and opinions. He says it can be difficult to quantify the speed of a fire because the actual flame front in a “fast” fire can be only 20 km/h. The fire actually spreads much faster though, because the “spotting” ahead of the fire-front can spread the blaze at the speed of the wind. Also, in such an intensely hot fire as this, the radiant heat is so extreme that trees and buildings can ignite without being in direct contact with the flames – effectively allowing the fire to “jump” across the landscape. Larger even than the S-61s are


Helitack 347, Coulson Aircrane’s tank equipped S61N drops its load on spot fire in the Reedy Creek area of the Kilmore Fire.

the Erickson S-64 Air-Cranes, three of which flew in Victoria on Black Saturday. These ungainly looking machines can carry a massive 10,000 liters of water or foam-mix in tanks fitted to the cargo area. The Air-Cranes’ tanks are fitted with high-tech, microprocessor controlled doors, giving a selection of eight different coverage options. Helicorp Pty Ltd, an Australian company that is part of Toll Holdings, and is the Australian partner to Erickson Air-Crane, operated all three


Air-Cranes. Its firefighting fleet also includes Bell 205 and 212 bombers, along with Bell 206 LongRangers in the supervision role – and on Saturday, Helicorp had a total of nine machines working over the fire. Their first call-out came at 12.30 pm and within minutes, two Helicorp Bell-206 LongRangers were airborne in the air attack role and the three Aircranes were joined in the bombing task by three Bell-212s and a Bell-205. It’s not just the firefighting

helicopters that are a mixed bag – the pilots, engineers and crews come from all around the world. While the majority of crews are Canadian or American, reflecting the source of the machines and their operating companies’ headquarters, personnel from Australia and New Zealand are numerous and there is even a Greek woman flying in Victoria. Both bombers and air attack platforms operate at low level, with the air attack machines frequently

Only ground crews can put out fires. Aircraft can slow down or contain their spread and protect certain areas, but only by breaking open countless smoldering stumps, and digging out innumerable burning roots can fires be effectively quashed.

The BK117 is commonly used in Victoria and here Kestrel’s HeliTack 334 is seen filling up out of a collar tank.

forced below their preferred level of around 500–1,000 ft AGL because of visibility requirements. Accordingly, the pilots must cope with a mix of extreme challenges when engaged on fire-ops –some obvious and some less so. As any pilot can imagine, the visibility degradation in smoke and haze is a given. Combine it with the extreme turbulence in the superheated and violently disturbed air mass over the fire, and the result is a flight environment that few would wish to experience. Not only does the smoke reduce visibility, but also its varying thickness and roiling movement creates difficulties in perception of distance and motion. If a hot summer day can create thermal turbulence to challenge a pilot, imagine the buffeting experienced by these crews flying over terrain burning at several hundred degrees. The extreme thermal activity also generates its own winds, further confusing and complicating the pilots’ task, and on rare occasions, aircraft were forced to put down until strong winds and the extreme turbulence abated. Debris is thrown into the air above the fires and can travel great distances from the actual seat of the fire. Not only ash, but also burning embers of substantial size, and even small branches, can crowd the air above and around the fires and the bombers and air-attack platforms all have to fly through this debris. In the conditions experienced on Black Saturday the

wind and fire-generated thermals were sufficiently strong that spot fires ignited by the debris were springing up (called “spotting”) a full 10 to 15 km ahead of the fire-front. Wires are a constant danger due to the low-level nature of the work and at least one wire-strike occurrence was recorded on Black Saturday, although it did not cause the loss of the aircraft. Locating suitable water-sources in the arid landscape is a constant challenge for the pilots, and air attack supervisors and the wire-danger (along with the inevitable close proximity of structures and people) is one of the reasons that swimming pools are never used as water supplies. Fortunately for all involved, the location of the worst fires was in reasonably close proximity to a number of dams, giving good access to a supply of water for the bombers. When the fires occur in Victoria’s higher country, there can be very little water accessible within close flying range. With good water close by, a typical Black Saturday sortie involved a three-minute turn-around, which is considered an efficient operation. For water-bombers to be truly effective, a three or four minute turn-around is ideal. All the many hazards must be dealt with on a constant and extended basis, while the bombing drops demand precision and concentration well beyond that required for most helicopter operations. While figures have yet to be collated for the total number of drops conducted, or the

number of liters dropped, it is not difficult to gauge the scale of the operation. Six heavy machines and six mediums, each on average, dropping a load every three to five minutes, equates to well over half a million liters each hour. Roger DeSouza is Helicorp’s chief pilot and was involved on operations during the fires. Echoing Rees’s comments, he lists the primary objectives of fire suppression as saving lives, saving assets and saving livestock. When asked what the single most significant operational factor in fire fighting is, he was very clear. “The biggest hazard we face is flying at very low level in reduced visibility in smoke, and in an extremely unstable and turbulent atmosphere.” He then pointed out another less obvious danger – that of engine flameouts – due to a large fire’s ability to strip the oxygen from the air around the flames. According to DeSouza, the winds experienced by his pilots on Saturday were regularly gusting to 45 kts, with occasional gusts around the 60-kt mark. He also believes that the massive devastation was almost inevitable once the fires had started and the weather played its tricks. “If we’d had another thousand Air-Cranes we couldn’t have saved all the properties that were burned,” he asserted. “The bushfires are so incredibly intense and fast-moving you can’t react fast enough to save everything.” Ray Cronin owns Kestrel Aviation,


As one of Helicorp’s Bell 212s sits idle at the helibase waiting for the next call, its sister ship is on its way to make a difference.

a busy local helicopter training organization that supplied three Bell-212s, a BK-117 and a fixed-wing C172 reconnaissance aircraft to the firefighting fleet. Ray has logged over 10,000 hours and has a wide generalaviation background, with work as a CAA Flight Service Officer, charter pilot and instructor to his credit. He has been operating helicopters commercially since 1981 and founded Kestrel in 1984. Kestrel’s medium firefighting machines are equipped with their own tracking system, in addition to the standard system used by the Victorian State Government. They also boast the rappel system, and the company is another mainstay of the aviation support for the SAU. Cronin said that by early January, the calm start to the fire season had encouraged hopes of a quiet season for the firefighters. However, by early February, there was no doubt that fire danger was extreme and the company was in a state of high readiness and had brought in two extra pilots and engineers to supplement the normal rota of crews on standby. Cronin ranks Black Saturday’s conditions as the most extreme the Kestrel crews have ever experienced. One of his crew members described the event as being full of contradictions – such as experiencing the satisfaction of saving individual houses, only to awake


the next day to hear of the loss of hundreds. Kestrel’s helicopters flew nearly 400 hours and dropped over 2,500 loads of water, suffering only a single very minor serviceability issue – a siren speaker, which was promptly replaced. Cronin is justifiably proud of his company and staff, and says, “It is the unseen contributions that deserve mention, such as the engineers who at times work through the night under lights to keep the machines in the air. Without this level of cooperation we could not achieve such a sound result.” He credits their performance to excellent planning, dedication to task, good decision-making, great support and teamwork from everyone involved. Despite the hazards these hard working crews face – or perhaps because of them – most manage to retain a somewhat dry and slightly black sense of humor, in much the same way that many combat pilots cope with the situations they find themselves facing. According to Ray Cronin, one laconic Kestrel pilot described the intense noise of a full-blown bushfire as being loud enough to hear over the “gentle pitter-patter” of his fully laden Bell 212! Helicorp’s DeSouza also sees a really positive side to the work, and he has a smile in his voice when he describes the rewards of doing hard work that salvages some good out of a

terrible situation. He tells how people find ways to show their appreciation: “I was out on an operation and saw this couple on the ground, holding a big cardboard sign. I couldn’t see it the first time around, but when we flew back over they held it up to us and it just said, simply, ‘You Rock’. It makes you smile when you see that, and feel even better about what you’re doing.” DeSouza then went on to describe how his pilots had been advised to avoid a particular ground-station if they could, unless they were feeling lonely. Apparently any helicopter pilot landing there was being mobbed and kissed by virtually every person on the ground! As Black Saturday drew to a close, fires still raged throughout the state and the SAU began to draw on resources from elsewhere, enabling it to expand the scope of the battle against the fires. New Zealand company Heli-Harvest Ltd dispatched its Mi-8 and five-man crew to assist, while further Air-Cranes, Bell 212s and type 3 machines swelled the ranks of machines attacking the fires. The ground crews being supported by the helicopters also found their numbers growing, as firefighters from around Australia and overseas joined with the Victorians in the struggle. Weeks after the bushfires hit the headlines, with the fires substantially under control, the heavy toll taken

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Kestrel Aviation’s Bell 212 lets its load go during one of hundreds of drops it completed during the course of the Victoria Fire operations.

“If we’d had another thousand Air-Cranes we couldn’t have saved all the properties that were burned. The bushfires are so incredibly intense and fast-moving you can’t react fast enough to save everything.”

by the disaster has still to be finally quantified. At least 173 people died in the fires, while a further 500 were injured and those numbers might grow as some people are still reported as missing. It is estimated that almost 900,000 acres (more than 400,000 hectares) of land has been ravaged and more than 3,500 structures (including more than 2,000 homes) have been destroyed, with thousands more damaged. The SAU’s Wayne Rigg said the fires were “without doubt, absolutely the worst fires I’ve ever seen.” He added that for weeks afterwards there were unchecked edges with regular breakaways springing up from them. A full four weeks after Black Saturday the SAU still had every available aircraft

actively employed fighting fires. As horrific as the devastation was, there is no doubt that without the heroic efforts of the dedicated fire-fighters, both on the ground and in the air, the tragic outcome would have been greater still. Without exception, every aviator HeliOps spoke to was quick to praise the personnel battling the inferno on the ground – in whose support the air operation was conducted. Also singled out for praise and appreciation were the hundreds of engineers and support staff, without whom the helicopters couldn’t have flown. HeliOps can only concur, adding its appreciation of and admiration for all those who participated in fighting the 2009 bushfires. It is a further testament to the skill and preparation of all involved that

not a single machine was lost during this disaster. An uncomfortable truth that Black Saturday and its aftermath made evident, is that no matter what preparations are made and what resources are available, Victoria will be a tinderbox waiting to ignite again next year…and the year after that. All Victorians should be incredibly thankful that they have the SAU, along with the myriad of aviation companies and agency personnel supporting it, ready and waiting to battle the next, inevitable, spate of fires. n HeliOps would like to thank Mike Reid, the pilots, the Air Attack Supervisors and the many other people who assisted with their knowledge, information, photographs and experience.


Aspiring Judas In the ruggedly spectacular Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island, extreme mountainflying skills are the norm as the appropriately named “Judas Tahr” program enlists helicopters, technology and the wild animals themselves in an ongoing effort to slash the numbers of feral Himalayan Tahr. story by Leigh Neil photos by ned dawson

A Tahr waits patiently to have its tracking collar fitted before being airlifted high into the Southern Alps.

Phil Wright is one of NZ’s most experienced shooters and is an integral part of the capture team.


imalayan tahr are an introduced species in New Zealand, originating in central Nepal and released by the government in 1904 for the purposes of establishing a recreational hunting resource. Unfortunately, by the mid twentieth century the animals had became sufficiently numerous to cause serious damage to the fragile native alpine flora, and in particular to the native snow tussock in Otago. The resulting government policy of extermination proved impractical (if not impossible) and expensive, while the monetary return from carcasses ceased to provide the incentive for


commercial hunting. So in 1994 the innovative “Judas Tahr” program was developed to control the numbers within the wild herds. New Zealand has a long history of using helicopters for the hunting and control of wild game. The legendary Tim Wallis (now Sir Tim) pioneered the use of helicopters to revolutionize the meat-hunting industry, originally with the venerable Bell 47s and Hillers, and for many years feral deer, chamois and tahr were either shot or live-captured from helicopters in what became a gold-rush style free-for-all. The pilots working through those years extended the boundaries of what was considered

possible with helicopters, developing techniques and attitudes that were paid for with the loss of a staggeringly large percentage of both machines and aircrew. The legacy of that “wild-west” period, though, is a highly skilled and professional pool of helicopter operators, knowledgeable about their machines, their prey and the intensely demanding terrain of the Southern Alps. That resource is crucial to the success of the “Judas Tahr” program, which was developed within the NZ Department of Conservation (DOC). The program is run by the Otago conservancy of the Department, with

It is no coincidence that pilots in the program tend to favor the diminutive “500� for its superb agility.

Hondelink says he only flys with pilots on tahr work who are highly skilled and experienced at animal control and who are extremely current in mountain flying.


As well as being DOC’s man on the ground, Paul Hondelink is credited with successfully developing the Judas program, and is seen here about to release a tahr at the base of Mt Aspiring.


As Paul and Steve remove the tahr from the net, Toby and Phil head off back into the mountains in search of more tahr.

responsibility for controlling tahr in two areas of mountainous terrain covering a total of 386,000 hectares (about 850,000 acres) and including the tall, photogenic peak of Mount Aspiring, popular with kiwi climbers. Paul Hondelink is DOC’s “man on the ground” – not only the key figure in developing the program – but also running the program for the department on a day-to-day basis. Paul is the Program Manager (Biodiversity Threats) for DOC at Wanaka and it was he who successfully developed the original Judas program on feral goat populations, subsequently adapting it to combat the tahr problem. So what exactly is the “Judas Tahr” program? Well, it relies on the natural herding behavior of the target animals and was first successfully utilized on wild goat populations. It involves the aerial capture of live animals, the fitting of radio collars, tracking and monitoring of the tahr regularly for a period and then using the collared “Judas” tahr to pinpoint the location of their herds for the ultimate

betrayal –destruction by shooting. The helicopters are an indispensable part of every stage of the operation and the “mount of choice” is the maneuvrable and compact MD 369 series, or Hughes 500 as it is still commonly known. With tahr operations being carried out in steep, mountainous terrain at up to 8,500 ft AMSL, there is a huge range of challenges faced by the aircrews involved, so the choice of helicopter takes many factors into account. It is no coincidence that pilots in the program tend to favor the diminutive “500”. Specific characteristics that suit the machines for the tahr control work include their superb agility necessary when chasing the flighty animals, and their quietness. Fitted with four-bladed tail rotors, the helicopters used in the program can approach within very close range of the animals before being detected. The low noise-signature also means they can systematically work both sides of a valley system, a luxury denied to noisier machines that can make only one effective pass within a

The small diameter of the 500’s mainrotor system allows them to work those crucial few feet closer to the steep alpine terrain, greatly increasing the effectiveness of the capture process.

Both methods of aerial capture involve flying exactly where any sane pilot knows it is better to avoid.


Capture involves either netting the animals or “bulldogging� them. Netting uses a firearm modified to discharge weights attached to a capture-net, whereas bulldogging involves the crewman leaping out of the chasing helicopter and wrestling the animal into submission.


valley before frightening the remaining animals into inaccessible cover. It is during the capture phase that the risks are highest. As tahr usually spend daylight hours high up in some of the most inaccessible, steep, rocky bluff systems it is necessary to force them to a flatter area suitable for capture. Capture involves either netting the animals or “bulldogging” them. Netting uses a firearm modified to discharge weights attached to a capture-net, whereas bulldogging involves the crewman leaping out of the chasing helicopter and wrestling the animal into submission. Because tahr are squat, powerful animals the larger adult tahr require netting which is probably simpler, but bulldogging is certainly more spectacular and adrenaline-charged. Both methods however, involve flying exactly where any sane pilot knows it is better to avoid. In order to force the animals down from their craggy havens, the pilot must maneuver his machine with the blade-tips in very close proximity to the steep rocky bluffs. The small diameter of the 500’s multi-blade main-rotor system allows

them to work those crucial few feet closer to the steep alpine terrain, greatly increasing the effectiveness of the capture process, and minimizing the risks to the crew-member leaping out to “bulldog” the tahr. That extra closeness to the ground also assists in scaring the animals out of cover and herding them to suitable capture sites. The tahr will often “plant”, or hunker down in crevices and caves and this necessitates the helicopter being virtually on top of them to flush them out and scare them into moving. The nature of the work is extremely hazardous and the precipitous terrain, ice and strong gusty winds mean that only highly experienced personnel (both pilots and shooters/crewmen) are employed in the program. Hondelink is adamant in his views on this. He praises the 500’s suitability for the task and remarks, when asked about his choice of operator and machine, “I only fly with pilots on tahr work who are highly skilled and experienced at animal control and who are extremely current in mountain flying.” Once the animals are caught, the crewman ties their legs and they are

top left: As Phil repacks the netgun Steve Spooner is about to land in the AS350 after releasing a group of tahr. top right: Up and away, a tahr heads for the hills after being released. bottom right: Toby gently lowers the underslung tahr onto the grass with the 500E.

opposite page top left: Because tahr are squat, powerful animals the larger adult tahr require netting which is probably simpler, but bulldogging is certainly more spectacular and adrenalinecharged. bottom left: The bright orange collar is distinctive on the judas tahr. bottom right: Five tahr fit snuggly into the back of the AS350.


The 500E is well suited to animal capture operations in the kiwi skies. Here Toby does a skid toe-in to pick up the photographer from the side of the mountain.

transported to an area where they are fitted with the battery-powered radiotransmitting collars, with a remarkably long useful operational life of four to five years. The collared, or “Judas”, tahr are then transported back into the mountains and released into areas with a known or suspected population of tahr. The Judas tahr then find and join the wild herds. Throughout the capture and release process great care is taken to minimize stress on the animals and only one animal has ever died during capture, with that death being prior to netting, apparently from heart failure. Hondelink has found that the netting/ bulldogging capture methods remain the most effective available, as the


sturdy tahr are sufficiently hardy and, provided the captured animals are turned over every 15 minutes or so, they seem to suffer no ill-effects. At times, an AS350 “Squirrel” or other light-medium helicopter can be used to transport the captured tahr from a mid-level, open-area “drop-zone” to a location for processing and release, but that is a relatively simple transport duty and allows the 500 to be more effectively utilized in the actual capture phase, duty for which the Squirrel would not be so well suited. The accumulated years of experience have shown Paul and the aircrews how to fine-tune their operation so that small efficiency-gains like this continue to

improve performance and efficiency. The next phase of the operation involves the tracking and culling of the feral herds. Rather than merely shooting the animals, as much data as possible is collected while the Judas tahr are with the herds. This enables a much more complete understanding of the Judas’ effectiveness, species’ behavior, traveling patterns, distribution and habits, all of which will enable more effective control and management in the longer term. Because of the need to minimize distractions to the shooter’s concentration, an additional observer is carried where possible to record this data. The shooters use shotguns loaded

The capture team at the end of the day, tahr relocated and job well done.

with buckshot for the destruction of the feral tahr, shooting directly from the (door-less) helicopter. A .308 cal’ rifle is also carried on destruction flights to satisfy animal welfare dictates, but the operators have found no need to use it, as if the tahr are out of reach of buckshot they are simply left for another time. The shooter’s job isn’t easy either, as tahr tend to scatter wildly when pursued, running and leaping with incredible agility over the broken, steep terrain. Regardless of the difficulty, around 70 % of feral tahr accompanying the Judas animals are shot during culling operations and this is classed as an extremely high success rate for airborne culling.

The helicopters are equipped with an Advanced Telemetry Systems (ATS) R2100 multi-frequency receiver and an externally mounted directional antenna in order to carry out the tracking. This is now quite elderly equipment, but has proved to be ideal for the rigors of airborne use, with the rugged durability that comes with the simpler, less complex older technology. As there can be several Judas tahr within the receiver’s range, it can be difficult for the pilots to find the ideal flight profile. If they fly too low they may fail to get a signal from animals between ridges, in crevices or behind rocks – too high and the receiver will be getting a confused jumble of signals

“With a full tank of fuel, a few jerry-cans in the back, two shooters and yourself, the aircraft weight is right up there! Despite the 500 being an agile machine with good power figures, it’s not all beer and skittles!”


With a track record now stretching over 15 years, the fact that the program has not suffered the loss of a single machine, despite the challenging operational conditions, says much about the wisdom of choosing both crews and aircraft best suited to the task.

from a number of collars. Over time the pilots have developed the skill to optimize their search patterns for the best results, and they are pleased with the performance of the equipment. It is capable of finding animals under rocks and in little caves, animals that have been washed away in floods or lost in avalanches – and has even located collars under a foot of gravel in riverbeds. Flying on the tracking and culling phase has its own difficulties. Because the animals can be found up to 8,500 ft AMSL, pilots and crew have to be on the ball. The late Dennis Edgerton was one of the first pilots to work with Hondelink on the Judas program and some time ago he commented with typical understatement, “With a full tank of fuel, a few jerry-cans in the back, two shooters and yourself, the aircraft weight is right up there! Despite the 500 being an agile machine with good power figures, it’s not all beer and skittles!” Additionally, working with a directional aerial means into-wind operation is often not possible. Toby

Wallis (son of Sir Tim) now runs Alpine Helicopters, one of the companies carrying out the flight operations for the program, and along with Harvey Hutton of Backcountry Helicopters, has also been involved with the Judas tahr program from the very beginning. Despite the numerous complications inherent in flying on tahr operations, Wallis comments that the presence of three crewmembers does make the workload manageable and the flying enjoyable. He is impressed with the success of the program so far and makes the point that it has achieved one of its main goals, preventing the spread of feral tahr into the National Parks. As a pilot involved in every aspect of the program, he rates the work as 95% successful, an approximation that Paul Hondelink readily agrees with. The helicopters operated by Wallis and Hutton have had performance upgrades that provide the extra power necessary to fulfil their role effectively. The extra power enables rapid height changes at the higher operational levels and means that the third crewmember















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above: The mountains and lakes of the Southern Alps rank as some of the most impressive countryside in NZ. left: Once the tahr are found the fun part is trying to herd them out into a clear area where they can be netted or bulldogged.

can comfortably be carried. The reliability of the 500 is well-proven in the New Zealand mountains; the rugged aircraft copes well with the extremes of temperature and has the stability to deal with the vicious turbulence often encountered in the high mountains. With a track record now stretching over 15 years, the fact that the program has not suffered the

loss of a single machine, despite the challenging operational conditions, says much about the wisdom of choosing both crews and aircraft best suited to the task. The prime motivation behind the DOC program is compliance with the Himalayan Tahr control plan, 1993. This document determines the maximum desired level of tahr density

in the various areas for which DOC has responsibility and necessitates the control of tahr. So the finding and shooting of animals is a fundamental aspect in determining the success of the program. A review of the first five-year period from 1994 to 1999, showed that a total of 169 tahr were shot out of a total of 244 animals seen accompanying the Judas tahr.


Considering the difficulties inherent in shooting these animals, that figure can be considered a marked success. The Judas tahr themselves are not shot during a cull until they have operated as a Judas for four years. After this period they are shot and the collars retrieved, enabling repair and the fitment of new batteries before being fitted to new Judas animals. Until the four years have elapsed the Judas animal is left alive to seek out and join a new herd of feral tahr, multiplying the effectiveness and efficiency of the program. The gains provided by the program can be quantified by comparing the cost-per-animal for destruction under this method, with the costs under the previous system of “search and destroy” without the use of Judas techniques. Cost savings of 16.5% and 30.7% were calculated in the two areas for which the Otago conservancy is responsible, and a massive reduction of 52% was calculated for one area, taking into consideration the complementary use of Judas and other aerial operations. Even these figures don’t give the whole picture of just how effective Hondelink’s program is. It must be borne in mind that the Judas program is specifically targeted at areas where the animal density is so low that traditional search and destroy operations are relatively ineffective. Tahr numbers in the Southern Exclusion Zone are already extremely low, thanks to this program, but Hondelink is still aiming to reduce them further. Extermination may not be possible, but his Judas program is definitely providing the closest result to it. In all, 106 Judas tahr have been collared and released back into the controlled areas, and now about 15 years into the program, Judas tahr levels are maintained at around 20 Judas animals in each of the two controlled areas, with a total of about 15 shot and replaced on schedule each year. Neither Wallis nor Hondelink have any doubts as to the effectiveness of what they are doing, and there is certainly no reason to believe that the program will not run for many years more. Undeniably, the entire program relies on the availability of the highly skilled pilots and shooters, dedicated DOC personnel and the incredible versatility of the agile light helicopters that carry

them into the mountains to hunt the stocky invaders. Paul Hellebreker is the department’s area manager in Wanaka, from where the program is run, and he sums up the benefits succinctly. “It’s extremely cost-effective. We’ve been getting really good long-term results, and we’re always looking to continuously improve the program.” Cheap, effective and consistent.

What more could any government department want? For pilots like Wallis and Hutton it’s just a bonus that, in pursuit of their aims, DOC has provided an opportunity for them to employ their considerable talents and versatile machines in engaging in one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding helicopter operations out there. n

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photos by alex mladenov

The wraps were finally taken off one of the industry’s worst kept secrets – Robinson’s turbine-powered R66 – at a preview event staged at the company’s headquarters in Torrance, California. ALEX MLADENOV was there for this long-awaited world helicopter industry event.

From 2011, Robinson expects the R66 is to become its biggest revenue earner, even though it expects to sell fewer R66s than R44s.


he R66, which was on display at Heli Expo, is well on its way towards FAA certification. The R66 is referred to as an “affordable entry-level turbine helicopter” and can probably be fairly described as a “better R44, powered by a turbine engine”. The Rolls-Royce RR300-powered R66 bears a strong external resemblance to the R44 and has the distinction of being the first turbine model designed by Frank Robinson. Frank is striving to get the new helicopter to the market as rapidly as possible in view of the significant demand for it. With certification expected in late 2009 or early 2010, the R66 will be manufactured on a new production line in the existing manufacturing facility in Torrance alongside the R44. From 2011,


Robinson expects the R66 is to become its biggest revenue earner, even though it expects to sell fewer R66s than R44s. The unveiling of the R66 involved both prototypes. The second prototype (N266RH) – a brand-new machine that had made its first flight only six days before the event, was available for a close examination by the gathered audience, while the first prototype (N466R) provided them with a demonstration flight. Robinson revealed few hard facts about the R66 at the preview, publishing only its external dimensions and the engine’s power rating in its presentation. No performance or weight data was announced and the company has still not announced a predicted price for the new helicopter. Frank Robinson has said only that the R66’s

price will be somewhere between that of the R44 Raven II and the Bell’s Model 206 JetRanger; most likely it will be less than $US1 million. Various aviation publications that have published unofficial performance figures for the R66 have estimated empty weights of around 1,270 lb (compared to 1,442 lb for the R44) and a useful load of 1,300 lb – or 300 lb more than the R44 Raven II. Despite the strong interest and desire by existing Robinson owners, dealers and operators to place orders for the new machine, Frank Robinson is not willing to accept any deposits until the R66 achieves its type certificate. The R66’s design incorporates the characteristic “simplicity” that has been a trademark feature of all previous Robinson helicopters and retains such

familiar features as the T-bar cyclic, “six-pack” analogue flight and engine instruments instead of the integrated glass cockpit, and hydro-pneumatic engine controls instead of the FADEC that is increasingly prevalent elsewhere. The high degree of Robinson family design commonality will undoubtedly assist those pilots transitioning from the R44 to the R66. The R66 features a main rotor blade with a chord slightly wider than that of the R44. The main rotor is the same diameter as the R44’s but sits on a rotor mast that is slightly higher. The cabin is about eight inches wider than the 44 and has an additional narrow seat in the back. While it will be a cozy atmosphere for the passengers, the pilots will enjoy wider seats and more leg-room. The second R66 featured the same interior planned for the production machines. The airframe features a good-sized baggage compartment underneath the engine, which is capable of accommodating a set of golf clubs. The Rolls Royce RR300 engine of the R66 is a scaled down development of the well-known Model 250, featuring a simplified design using a single-stage centrifugal compressor and no axial stages. It is rated at 270 hp for takeoff with a maximum continuous rating

of 225 hp (compared to 225 and 205 hp respectively for the piston-engined R44). Fuel consumption for the R66 is quoted at 23 gallons an hour and it has a fuel tank capacity of 75 gallons – the R44 burns around 15 gallons an hour and has a total fuel capacity of 48.9 gallons. Thus, both helicopters have approximately the same maximum flight endurance of around three hours. The fuel system of the R66 has been designed to meet the latest crashworthiness requirements. Initially, the R66 will be offered with a TBO of 2,000 hours for the airframe, engine and other major components. Eventually, this is expected to increase to 2,200 hours – the same as the R44. The first R66 prototype made its maiden flight in late 2007 – initially powered by the Rolls-Royce Model 250 and later switching to the initial version of the RR300. In 2008 it flew around 70 hours, including 25 hours powered by the certificated RR300. With its affordable price and low operating costs, the backing of the many Robinson dealers around the world, and the significant brand-loyalty of Robinson owners and operators everywhere, the R66 undoubtedly represents a serious challenge to the manufacturers of other light singleengine helicopters. n

Robinson revealed few hard facts at the preview – no performance or weight data was announced or a predicted price for the new helicopter.



Russia’s Aerobatic Comeback Kid Two decades after the type’s first flight, an order for 20 Mil Mi-34s for the Omsk Aviation College, might bring Russia’s only light single helicopter back to life for training, aerobatics, law enforcement and air taxi applications. STORY & photos by ALEX MLADENOV

Difficult Birth The 1.5-tonne, single-engine Mi-34 had an uneasy development and production history and few of the original examples currently remain in service. Conceived originally as a light yet high-performance training and sport machine, at the time of its first flight in November 1986, the Mi-34 was the smallest rotorcraft that the Mil Design Bureau had yet produced. In the Soviet era, the piston-powered Mi-34 was expected to be produced in large numbers for the DOSAAF paramilitary sport and flight training organization with the eventual aim of becoming the local equivalent of the Robinson R-44. This never happened as the development and testing effort was notably protracted; the helicopter’s design was simply too complex for such a light utility helicopter. Its design specification included requirements to be capable of complex aerobatic maneuvers at high angular rates and high g-loadings. As a consequence, the


airframe and rotor system had very low times between overhaul (TBO) when compared to the Mi-34’s non-aerobatic utility counterparts in the West.

Production The Mi-34 entered production in 1993 at the Progress company in Arsenyev (in Russia’s far east near the city of Vladivostok). Its marketing and further design and development were the responsibility of Mil Light Helicopters SCH, a joint venture formed by Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant (Mil MHP), Progress, Perm Motors and others. Russia’s state-approved civil aviation development plan for the period between 1992 and 2000, called for the production of 425 Mi-34s. This never happened due to the demise of DOSAAF, the helicopter’s main prospective customer. In the end, the launch operator for the Mi-34 was the Moscow City Police, which, in September 1994, received the first of its three Mi-34P

(P for Patrol) helicopters outfitted for patrol and traffic control missions. Bashkir Airlines was another early customer, which ordered six examples for gas pipeline patrol but these were permanently grounded upon reaching their 300-hour TBO limit. A number of other Mi-34s were exported – one to Bosnia for military pilot training, eight to Nigeria and others to Kazakhstan but these have also been grounded due to TBO issues. In 1995, the Mi-34 received its type certificate from Russia’s Interstate Committee Aviation Register, with helicopter, engine and noise certificates to AP-27 airworthiness standards – equivalent to US FAR-27; the certificated version was designated Mi-34C. There is no doubt that the original versions of the Mi-34 – both noncertified and certified – were market failures, with the expected huge orders from state customers failing to materialize. Unfortunately, the Mil Light Helicopter SCH joint venture

It certainly appears that the Mi-34 in its both non-certified and certified original versions proved to be nothing more than a market failure as the appeared to do little more than provide opportunities for its managers to take big loans and disappear overnight with the money – none of which has been recovered. In 2001, the last serious marketing effort to sell the Mi-34UT to the Russian Air Force for military pilot training proved fruitless; the Air Force preferred the Kazan Helicopters Ansat. Attempts to sell the Mi-34UT to the Omsk Aviation College for training civil helicopter pilots also failed. With no sales reported after 2002, production of the Mi-34 at Progress ceased after just 22 examples had been completed. Attempts to gain certification, establish export partnerships and set up a support center in Brasilia also proved unsuccessful as were the efforts to certificate the Mi-34C in USA, Australia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Aerobatic design features From the very beginning, the Mi-34 was conceived as a high performance

light helicopter specialized for training and international competition flying. It was only in the early/mid1990s that it began to be marketed as a multi-purpose and affordable light rotorcraft well suited to Russia’s specific operating conditions. It was the first Soviet/Russian helicopter to perform a loop and other complex aerobatic maneuvers such as rotation around the main rotor axis at a rate of up to 120 degrees a second (demonstrated in both forward and backward flight), a 360-degree roll around the longitudinal axis, tailslide and flying backwards at a maximum speed of 75 knots (140 km/h). The Mi-34 is rated for up to 3-g maneuvering and the maximum rate of rotation around the main rotor axis is an impressive 155 degrees a second. The Mi-34’s remarkable aerobatics capabilities derive from the combination of its rotor system, and M-14V26 piston engine, which has some important advantages over a

expected huge orders from state customers failed to materialize.

TOP LEFT: A few of the original Mi34s were used in the utility support role.

OPPOSITE PAGE: The T-tail was a very distinctive MD500 look to the Mi34.


Restarting the production line and restoring the broken supply chain is going to be a costly exercise – estimated at no less than $US20 million.

For the size of the Mi34 it had a relatively decent sized cabin.

turboshaft, such a response time only half that of a turbine. The engine is installed at the aircraft’s centre of gravity and represents around one third of helicopter’s weight. This combination of engine’s weight and its position in the airframe minimises its moment of inertia (angular mass) when the helicopter performs aerobatic maneuvers and turns around the three axes at high angular rates. The Mi-34’s flight control system is manual and not hydraulically assisted. As Mil MHP test pilot Sergey Barkov (the most experienced Mi-34 pilot in the world and perhaps the only one currently rated to perform aerobatics on the Mi-34) commented, “cyclic control forces are considerably higher than those in helicopters with hydraulic control systems, but they are still bearable.” He added that the helicopter has a fairly natural response to the pilot’s commands, which he considers to be a very useful feature when the helicopter is employed for initial pilot training. With no suitable lightweight moderntechnology engine as an alternative, the Mi-34 uses the same venerable M-14 nine-cylinder radial that powers the Yakovlev and Sukhoi fixed-wing trainers and aerobatic aircraft, as well as the Ka-26 light twin helicopter. The M-14 is an extremely reliable engine but has a relatively low TBO of only 600 hours. Installed sideways in Mi-34’s centre fuselage, the M-14V26 version of


the engine is rated at 325 hp (242 kW). In the 1990s, there were plans to develop a 350 hp (261 kW) Textron Lycoming TIO-540-powered version of the Mi-34 (Mi-34L) but this didn’t eventuate. Similarly, neither did a proposed Mi-34A turbine derivative that would have used the 450 shp (336 kW) Rolls-Royce (Allison) 250-C20R turboshaft engine. Another prospective Mi-34 derivative – promoted under the Mi-34M (Mi-34VAZ) designation – was to be powered by two VAZ-430 rotary piston engines (Wankel type) each of 230 hp (117.5 kW) but this also remained a paper project. The Mi-34’s 176-litre fuel system is capable of inverted flight and the aircraft burns around 68 liters an hour in cruise flight at 1,640 ft (500 m). The Mi-34’s riveted fuselage is a pod and boom design of light metal alloy. It has conventional fixed skids on arched support tubes. The semi-articulated rotor system (33 ft [10 m] in diameter) has four composite blades utilizing flapping and cyclic pitch hinges with natural flexing in the lead/lag plane. The blades are attached to the rotor head by means of flexible steel straps. The tail rotor is installed on the starboard side and has two composite blades; the tailfin has a pronounced sweepback and small unswept T-shaped tailplane. The four-door cabin seats a pilot and three passengers; in the training role, the helicopter can be equipped with

dual controls and features basic VFR instrumentation and equipment.

Mi-34 revival At HeliRussia-2008, Mil MHP unveiled and promoted two new Mi-34 derivatives powered by new, more powerful piston and turboshaft engines. Despite its failure to sell in significant numbers in the past, the basic design was sound. To restart the production line at Progress and restore the broken supply chain will undoubtedly be a costly exercise with a figure of at least US $20 million being estimated. Mil MHP’s optimistic plans call for the first newly-produced Mi-34s to be rolled out in 2010. The re-launch of the Mi-34 is being supported by Russia’s federal program of general aviation development but it will require a motivated and highly-competent head designer to overcome a number of development challenges – not to mention brave investors prepared to accept the risk of bringing a new product to a market in which Robinson’s R-44 is currently the undisputed leader. The new versions promoted at HeliRussia-2008 by Mil MHP are designated Mi-34SM and Mi-34AS (piston and turbine engines respectively); both retain the Mi-34C’s maximum take-off weight of 3,197lb (1,450kg). The turbine Mi-34AS is intended to compete

It will need a motivated and highly competent head designer to overcome a number of development challenges as well as brave investors ready to bear the risk of bringing a new product to a market where the R44 is considered to be the indisputable leader.

For a Russian built machine the cockpit layout was actually very well designed.

against Eurocopter’s EC120 and is being offered (mainly in VIP and utility configurations) to prospective customers from state-owned organizations and law enforcement customers in Russia. The basic design of the Mi-34C will be lightened by some 176 lb (80 kg) when adopted for the Mi-34SM/AS variants thanks to the removal of surplus equipment and outdated avionics; this also promises to lower the price tag by around US$180,000. The turbine-powered Mi-34AS will be offered in four-passenger VIP configuration and a Russian-supplied glass cockpit certified for single-pilot operation. The turboshaft engine will be housed in a pod above the fuselage to maximise space in the cabin and allow for a cargo compartment that the piston-powered Mi-34 lacks.

It is intended that the Mi-34AS will feature a Turbomeca Arrius 2F turboshaft rated at 450–500 shp (335– 372kW); the same engine as used in the EC120. However, there are also the options of either the newly-developed Russian VK-450Kh, or the Ukrainian AI-450 engines, both of which are rated at 450 shp (335kW). Either of these would be considerably cheaper than the Arrius 2F and would lower the Mi-34AS’s price tag. However, neither is yet in mass production, which would delay their use in the Mi-34AS. With the AI-450, the Mi-34 would have a cruise speed of 127 knots (235 km/h) and maximum speed of 140 kt (260 km/h). It would also have a considerably higher OGE hovering ceiling than the original Mi-34C – 13,202 ft (4,025 m) as opposed to the original’s 3,280 ft (1,000 m).

The piston-powered Mi-34SM derivative will introduce the new M-9FV engine rated at 375 shp (279 kW). The increased power rating over the earlier M-14V26 will give the -SM a cruise speed of 106 kt (195 km/h) and OGE hovering ceiling of 4,510 ft (1,375 m). According to Mil MHP sources, the main challenge they face is to increase the current 350-hour TBOs of the Mi-34’s main components. Initially, TBO will be increased to 600 hours and ultimately, is expected to reach 2,500 hours, which will make the new generation Mi-34 derivatives comparable to their Western competitors. The extremely low TBO is a particularly weak point of the Mi-34 because it makes its maintenance prohibitively costly when compared


In the event that production commences at a low-rate, a pistonengined Mi-34SM with baseline equipment is expected to sell for around US$450,000; significant production rates would reduce the selling price to around $350,000$400,000. However, current estimates by Vladimir Ivchenko – based on quotes provided from vendors – indicate that the unit price would be in the region of US$600,000.

Mi-34 for commercial pilot training

to a helicopter like the R44. Vladimir Ivchenko, who is a flight test engineer involved into the Mi-34 program noted in Russia’s Helicopter Industry magazine that a lightened Mi-34C with a 2,200-hour TBO, and priced at around US$320,000 could have the same direct operating costs as those of the R-44 – around US$150 a hour. Mil MHP’s Chief Designer Anatoliy Belov believes that their affordable price and outstanding flight performance will make the new-generation Mi-34 variants worthy competitors to comparable light Western helicopters such as the Robinson R44 and EC120 (it is worth noting that the R44 is currently selling very well in Russia). Belov claims that the Mi-34SM will have more range than the R-44 (610 km vs 535 km – including a 30-min

reserve), and the Mi-34AS will be faster and have a higher IGE ceiling than the EC120 – 127 kt (235 km/h) vs 113 kt (210 km/h), and 13,202 ft (4,025 m) vs 10,955 ft (3,340 m) respectively. Mil’s own market forecasts indicate a total demand for between 350 and 400 Mi-34s by 2017 – more or less evenly split between the turbine and piston-powered derivatives. The local Russian market alone is expected to account for up to 150 Mi-34AS/SMs, some 70 of which are expected to go to government and parapublic customers – a market sector in which there is no Western competition. Another 40-45 examples are expected to be bought by established and new operators for a variety of commercial uses, with 15–20 more expected to be sold for sport and recreation purposes.

P er f o r ma nce The Mi-34C’s maximum gross weight is 3,197 lb (1,450 kg) though initially it was certified at 2,980 lb (1,350 kg). Normal take-off weight is 2,822 lb (1,280 kg) and empty weight is 2,229lb (1,010kg); the maximum payload is 528 lb (240 kg). On an external sling, the Mi-34C can carry up to 660 lb (300 kg). Range is 200 nm (371 km) with a 564 lb (256 kg) payload and maximum fuel at a cruise speed of 97 kt (180 km/h) at 1,640 ft (500 m). Maximum flight endurance at 1,640 ft (500 m) and cruise speed of 97 kt (180km/h) is 2 hours and 19 minutes. Maximum speed is 119 kt (220 km/h). Service ceiling is 14,760 ft (4,500 m), while OGE hovering ceiling is 2,624 ft (800 m) and IGE hovering ceiling is 4,920 ft (1,500 m) at maximum takeoff weight in ISA conditions.


In July 2008, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency (known as Rosaviation) placed an order for 20 Mil Mi-34s to be procured from Russian Helicopters holding company. These helicopters will join the Omsk Aviation College fleet to be used for initial and basic training of commercial pilots; however, no delivery schedule has been revealed so far. Omsk Aviation College is Russia’s only rotary-wing training school; its training course for commercial helicopter pilots takes three years to complete! The college has been experiencing major problems in training new pilots, as its main training type – the Mil Mi-8 – is notoriously obsolete and fuelthirsty. Only five airworthy Mi-8s were available at any one time in 2007 and 2008. To satisfy the considerable growth of both domestic and overseas operations, and a corresponding strong demand for new civil pilots in Russia, the company has been hiring ex-military helicopter aircrews. But in 2007, only 27 newlytrained pilots are reported to have graduated from the Omsk Aviation College, each averaging total flying times of only around 60 hours. Despite such insignificant flying hours compared to Western helicopter industry training standards, there is serious competition among large helicopter operators like UTair and Gazpromavia to hire the newlygraduated pilots. The order for new Mi-34SMs, which are much more economical and feature extended airframe and powerplant overhaul intervals, will allow increases in both the number of pilots that the state-owned college can train, and the number of flying hours available to each of them. n


One of the most important skills to possess as a pilot of a single engine helicopter is the ability to perform a successful autorotation after an engine failure. This skill set cannot be obtained by simple study, but must be practiced to a point where the actions taken in the helicopter become muscle memory or a motor skill. The Eurocopter AS350 AStar has become one of the most widely used aircraft in the world and the chances are that at one point or another most pilots will operate this airframe in their career. Eurosafety’s Glen White provides an insight into flying

ned dawson

the AS350 without an engine.

The Auto The variables that must be addressed during an autorotative descent require the pilot more to feel the proper action as opposed to methodically address each individual action. If you were to write out each thought, control input, and adjustment from the time the engine reduced in power to the 15 seconds later when the helicopter is safely on the ground, it would fill a page. To develop this mental and physical skill-set, helicopter pilots need to be armed with the proper knowledge of the aerodynamics of their specific model of helicopter. The basic principles to execute an engine-off landing hold true in all models of helicopters. Airspeed, rotor RPM (RRPM), flare and cushion are all manipulated in order to land the aircraft safely. Each type of helicopter, however, has differing techniques and parameters to achieve that landing without substantial damage to the airframe or persons on board. The flare height of 40 ft in a Robinson R22 would


not work well in an Agusta A119 which requires a 150 ft flare height. Pilots develop their autorotational mental and muscle memory in the aircraft they first learn to fly. Since most of the autorotations performed by a pilot in his or her career occur when first learning to fly, it is this helicopter’s autorotational characteristics with which they are most comfortable. This pilot then often goes on to teach engine-off procedures for approximately another 800 hours of his or her career. These ingrained preconceptions of how an autorotation is flown are the most important aspects to address when any pilot transfers helicopter types. As pilots fly different helicopters, it is important that they mentally address the actual need to change. When learning a new model, pilots sit in ground school and are taught all the parameters of that helicopter’s autorotational profile. So the proper numbers are now in their thought process. But then take that same pilot

and place him or her in the cockpit of the helicopter and roll the engine off. Even though they have been taught the proper actions, there is a mental wrestling match being performed during the maneuver between the previously learned motor skill and the new numbers and “picture” they need to acquire. Sometimes, when under pressure, the pilot will subconsciously search for the familiar and apply incorrect information or technique to a situation. Acknowledging this pitfall helps to greatly increase the speed at which the pilot gains proficiency in the new model.

AStar The Eurocopter AS350 AStar or Écureuil is one of the most widely used helicopters in the world and the chances are that at some point in their career most pilots will operate this airframe. When performed correctly, the autorotational characteristics of the AS350 are very mild. When performed incorrectly

the same maneuver can be far more dramatic. The first item to address in any helicopter, particularly the AS350, is to ensure that autorotational RPM is correctly set. At least 50% of all our clients’ AStars have the RPM set too low. The procedure to check the NR in the AS350 is very simple and outlined in section 8 of the rotorcraft flight manual (RFM). The method to perform this test and the chart to plot the results are located under a variant of the wording, depending on the model of AS350, of “Low pitch stop setting”. The RFM includes a test sheet which can be copied and taken in the helicopter to record the parameters. This test is more easily performed when the helicopter is very light. In a heavier ship, the proper NR will be closer to the upper limit of the range and will require more vigilance to not overspeed the rotor. The test requires the helicopter be flown to a predetermined pressure altitude, (the RFM recommends below 5,000 ft) and at this altitude the outside air temperature is noted. The helicopter is then flown to a higher altitude, generally greater than 500 ft above the predetermined test altitude, to allow the establishment of a steady state autorotation when passing the test altitude. While leaving the fuel flow control lever (FFCL) or throttle in the flight position, the pilot then lowers the collective to the low pitch stop, ensuring the NR does not exceed the red line at 430 RPM (424 in earlier models of AS350). If the collective needs to be adjusted to stop an overspeed, the test is over and the down stop bolt needs to be adjusted after the flight. If the RRPM is within the allowed range (360 to 430 (424)), the airspeed is adjusted to 65 kts. As the helicopter passes through the test altitude the NR is noted and the data collected is plotted on the chart in Section 8 of the RFM. The RRPM is then corrected by adjusting the down stop bolt located under the floor of the aircraft cabin. One turn of the bolt is approximately 10 RRPM. So then the obvious question is, “Why are so many AS350’s autorotational RPM set too low”? The answer is quite simple. When the pilot lowers the collective and enters autorotation the

FFCL or throttle is still in the flight position. If the down stop bolt is set too high, or in other words if the collective is set too high of a pitch, the RRPM would decrease if the engine were not in the flight position. Since the FFCL or throttle is in the flight position NR cannot decrease below equivalent engine speed. So many operators think, “Well, it’s in the green – that’s good enough”. But it’s the engine that is driving the NR into the green range, not the airflow through the rotor. The proper autorotational RRPM must be set slightly higher than the operational (driven) RRPM. With NR correctly adjusted, the aircraft is now set up to allow the pilot to perform an autorotation, either

The variables that must be addressed during an autorotative descent require the pilot more to feel the proper action as opposed to methodically address each individual action.

Graphs such as these give a pilot a good indication of where you should be operating and where you shouldnt.

actual or simulated, with the RRPM required to safely land the helicopter. As in any helicopter, the collective is lowered to achieve autorotation and keep the RRPM in the green arc. A low RRPM horn sounds if the NR drops below 360 (335 in earlier models) and in the AS350B2 onwards, a high RRPM horn is activated above 410.

Control The rotorcraft flight manuals recommend an airspeed of 65 kts for all the AS350 variants with the exception of the EC130B4 which recommends a Vy of 70 kts minus 1 kt per 1,000 ft. Although the RFM does not publish an extended glide path procedure, the standard procedure of increasing KIAS and decreasing NR within limits works the same in the AS350 as with other makes of helicopter. These recommended airspeeds work very well if held consistently to the flare height. The speed carried at the flare substantially affects the RRPM inertia build and the descent rate once in the flare. The RRPM inertia difference for airspeeds of either 65 kts or 60 kts is dramatic. The problem is that the majority of pilots will have a tendency to slightly decrease their airspeed (usually 5 kts) at approximately 200 ft above the ground as the sight picture of the earth’s


As we flare higher the pilot will need to be more vigilant of collective input toward the bottom end of the autorotation, but will have a shorter ground run. As we flare lower (65 ft minimum) the greater the work load and the longer the ground run will result.

surface comes rushing at them rapidly. As the horizon is rising up the screen, there is an unintended easing back of the cyclic to subconsciously maintain the sight picture. The fix for this is very simple – maintain a 70 kts airspeed. This helps the autorotation in two areas. First, if the pilot inadvertently decreases the airspeed by 5 kts prior to the flare, the aircraft is still at the recommended airspeed. If the airspeed is held at 70 kts to the flare there is still the needed inertia. Second, most AS350 airspeed indicators do not have a 65 kts tick – there is a 60 and a 70 kt line. So holding the airspeed on the 70 kts marking is easier than holding it in a blank space. During the manipulation of the airspeed the aircraft is maneuvered into the wind and a landing area is chosen. If a turn is needed, the AS350 (like many other makes of helicopters), the airspeed tends to decrease and the RRPM increases. Adjustment of the collective and pitch attitude is needed


during the turn. A trick to stay ahead of the RRPM is by feeling the pressure felt between you and your seat. If the pressure increases (indicating an increase in G-force) the RRPM would increase. As this pressure is felt, raise the collective – this will keep you ahead of the NR needs. Once the pressure decreases, lower the collective to prevent an under-speed of the NR.

Flare The flare portion of the autorotation is initiated to decrease the helicopter’s forward airspeed and increase rotor inertia. The time needed to decelerate the aircraft is accomplished through the height of the flare. If the flare is initiated too low, because of the high descent rate the aircraft will make hard contact with the ground if a dramatic pitch pull is not introduced. This dramatic pitch pull consumes RRPM rapidly and since the aircraft has not been given time to slow in forward airspeed must either be landed with

the high forward speed or must be held off the ground as deceleration occurs. Because a large amount of the inertia was consumed to rapidly arrest the rate of descent in the low flare, the needed RRPM may not be available. The civilian AS350 RFM emergency procedures recommend a flare height of 65 ft in all variants except the EC130B4 which recommends a flare height of 70 ft. The flare height dramatically affects the RRPM at touchdown and the speed at which the helicopter is traveling at ground contact. Due to their prior experience in smaller helicopters, many pilots feel this initial flare height is too high, and the tendency is for the pilot to flare lower than ideal. If a low flare is made in the AS350 models, the bottom end of the auto becomes very dramatic and results in an increase in ground travel at touchdown. The military AS350 RFM recommends a flare height of 120 ft. When the Australian Defense Force upgraded their AS350B airframes to the AS350BA

for roles in the Australian Army Aviation Corps and Royal Australian Navy there was concern regarding autorotational performance with a focus on minimum run on speed. Between May 1998 and August 1998 testing was performed on the autorotational characteristics of the AS350BA and published in a report by Major AJ (Barney) Langley, AAAvn and Captain CGY Breeden, RAEME. The results from this testing indicated the least amount of collective was required at the landing phase of the autorotation with a flare height of 100 ft. The testing also showed that at flare heights above 100 ft the collective management at the bottom of the autorotation became more difficult. When the flares were lowered to 80 and 65 ft the tendency was for the pilot to have to rush to get the aircraft through the flare and leveling portions of the autorotation. Utilizing this information in the operation of the AStar models we can conclude that the proper recommended flare height should be between 65 and 100 ft. As we flare higher the pilot will need to be more vigilant of

collective input toward the bottom end of the autorotation, but will have a shorter ground run. As we flare lower (65 ft minimum) the greater the work load and the longer the ground run will result. The amount of flare needed depends on many aspects including wind, temperature, altitude and available area for the ground run. The rate at which the flare is introduced will affect the speed at which the RRPM increases and reduces the rate of descent. When the flare is introduced higher above the ground, time is available to adjust the flare attitude at a slower rate in order to establish a controlled increase in RRPM, and to decrease the descent rate. If the flare is introduced at a lower height above the surface, the control input must be more rapid in order to build the RRPM to the needed inertia (while maintaining RRPM within limits) and rapidly reduce the descent rate. Atmospheric wind speed will affect the amount of flare needed to build RRPM. The stronger the wind, the less flare is needed to achieve proper RRPM. To provide for the perfect flare angle,

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A trick to stay ahead of the RRPM is by feeling the pressure felt between you and your seat. If the pressure increases (indicating an increase in G-force) the RRPM would increase.

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Depending on the amount of flare established, the pilot’s seat will vary in height above the surface when this tail height is achieved. As the helicopter is leveled, a small amount of collective input is used.

the NR gauge is utilized. The flare is initiated until an angle is reached which creates a slow rise in NR, while the aircraft continues to descend. If the NR remains stationary or drops, then the flare is at too low an angle or the induced rate of the flare is too slow. If the NR rises rapidly or needs to be controlled with the collective, the flare is at too great an angle or the induced rate of the flare is too rapid. Control inputs during the flare should not be thought of as one steady movement, but rather a series of movements used to find the proper flare angle. Once this flare angle is found, it is held until the level is initiated. During the descent, if the RRPM is adjusted properly, a small amount of collective is needed to maintain the NR in the green range of the gauge. To achieve the ideal flare/RRPM conditions, this small amount of collective is lowered simultaneously during the flare entry. This creates a build in the NR without ballooning the


aircraft and provides for more collective during touchdown. To be able to achieve this perfect flare angle the RRPM needs to be rigged properly, or this rise in RPM cannot be accomplished without ballooning the aircraft. This occurs because when the NR autorotational RRPM is set low (the collective down stop bolt has the collective resting at too high of a position). It is the same as checking in too much collective during the auto and not releasing it. During an actual engine failure the RRPM created during the flare becomes even more important, since the landing area generally is smaller and/or the terrain is rough. The goal during the flare in an actual engine failure would be to bring the RRPM to the red line to allow for more inertia for landing. During autorotational training, repeatedly taking the RRPM to the red line would eventually cause an overspeed. The goal during training should be to comfortably take the RRPM

into the yellow range of the gauge to induce the mind-set of RRPM increase.

Level The approximate distance between the pilot’s seat and the tail of the aircraft is 30 feet. When the flare is initiated the pilot must be cognizant of the amount of helicopter that is now closer to the ground. The leveling of the helicopter occurs when the tail of the aircraft is between 5 and 15 feet above the surface. Depending on the amount of flare established, the pilot’s seat will vary in height above the surface when this tail height is achieved. As the helicopter is leveled, a small amount of collective input is used. Because the transmission is tilted 3 degrees forward, if the helicopter is landed with the skids level, the aircraft will accelerate during touchdown. The proper attitude for touchdown is landing on the heels of the skids without dragging the stinger on the ground. The stinger on the AS350

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Like any skill, it takes study and practice to achieve and maintain proficiency. The 15 seconds between engine failure and ground contact leave little room for analysis, and requires the pilot to have a strong muscle memory of the proper actions.

models is designed to be able to make repeated ground contact without damage to the aircraft as long as the contact is not severe. The stinger on the EC130B4 is more pliable and designed to bend when ground contact is direct, in order to protect the fiberglass construction of the fenestron keel. During autorotational training, hard contact with the stinger on the EC130B4 should be avoided. A common misconception is that when conducting the collective pull, or cushion, it is one steady raising of the collective. Generally the collective increase is slow at first, and then varies with touchdown. Much like the collective being manipulated inconsistently during a normal landing, the collective must also be adjusted as needed to make an autorotational landing (just usually in the opposite direction). As the helicopter descends to the surface, the collective is manipulated to provide a smooth and slow touchdown. Once full contact is made with the


ground (the skids are now level), the cyclic is displaced slightly aft and the collective is lowered to help decelerate the aircraft. Care must be taken when lowering the collective not to adjust the pitch too rapidly. When the collective is lowered, friction between the helicopter and the surface increases – thereby increasing deceleration. Since the entire cabin of the AS350 (excluding the EC130B4) is forward of the front crosstube, the aircraft can pitch over – particularly if the landing is made on soft ground.

Power Recovery The unfortunate reality in our industry today is that most autorotational training is conducted to a power recovery. This ingrains incorrect muscle memory for the procedures just prior to ground contact and provides for no guidance on the actual landing of the helicopter. When a pilot performs repeated power recovery autorotations a muscle memory is developed, that when the collective

is introduced at level, the power from the engine is being reapplied. This application of collective during a power recovery is constant and only increases to a low pitch since power from the engine is now turning the rotors. With this muscle memory during an actual engine failure or during a training full down autorotation, the pilot will have a tendency to not apply proper collective and make a hard impact.

Conclusion Like any skill, it takes study and practice to achieve and maintain proficiency. The 15 seconds between engine failure and ground contact leave little room for analysis, and requires the pilot to have a strong muscle memory of the proper actions. Just as when flying the aircraft in any other profile we can look down at our hands and they seem to move without any conscious thought process. We need to also develop these skills for our autorotational landings. Either that, or we have 15 seconds to figure it out! n

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personal profile

Aaron Fitzgerald ENG & Charter Pilot los Angeles, California

Adamant he has one of the best jobs in the world, Aaron gets to fly a variety of helicopters on a variety of tasks and in one of the United States’s best regions – Southern California.

What flying are you presently doing? I fly the NOTAR for Summit delivering environmental and geological monitors. Our contract is within a big contract and the project has trained environmentalists, geologists and paleontologists that we fly out to supervise the crew where they work. So I’m delivering personnel to every one of those power sites out in the forest. How long have you been flying? I’ve only been on this particular job and only been flying MD500’s for less than a year. I’ve been flying for 15 years overall doing a variety of different things but I’m kind of new to the 500 platform, and new to this particular mission. So what have you flown in the past? Mostly the Squirrel, Twin Squirrel. Jet Ranger, Long Ranger platforms. I’ve had a little bit of Gazelle time, but mostly the Squirrels. How many flight hours do you have? 4500 hours, not much compared to the rest of these guys out here on the project. What peaked your interest in helicopters? I have always been interested in helicopters and I am still fascinated by them today. On almost every flight that I make today, there is at least one moment where I smile and say, “This is my JOB!” What sort of qualifications do you have? I have a CPL, Rotorcraft–Helicopter, and that’s it. I do a lot of job-specific training, such as type re-currency, vertical reference, mountain flying and things like that, but I have always had just the basic license. What challenges have you come across that you’ve had to overcome? My challenges have probably been the same as most civilian pilots, lack of money in the training


phase, followed by the challenge of trying to get that first job as a pilot. But really, I love flying helicopters so much that none of it seemed all that insurmountable. What jobs have you been a part of so far? I have been extremely lucky in the opportunities that have come my way. I have flown a diverse lot of jobs. Today my main focus is the aerial production company that I started a few years back (Airborne Images, Inc) and that keeps me very busy on various film and television projects. The bulk of the work we do involves providing High Definition television footage for documentary-type programs. Those projects take us all over North America. I still do a lot of flying for other companies as well, for instance, right now I am flying in support of this large power line construction project in the mountains above Los Angeles. In the past I have been lucky enough to fly a news helicopter as a Pilotreporter. I have flown aerial support for a lot of different types of motor racing, including the Baja 500, NASCAR, Moto GP, Indycar, American Le Mans Series and offshore Powerboat racing. I have also done a lot of flying for the Red Bull Air Force skydive demonstration team. I fly for a company that has a Department of Defense contract so I have flown offshore on sonar test flights in areas of the Pacific Ocean that most civilians never get to see. I have even made landings on oil tankers at sea. Next week I am going to San Francisco to shoot a big new television show, so there is always something new and exciting. What plans do you have for the future of your career? Specifically, I have no plans for my future. I do however have a few irons in the fire as far as future projects go. I have a television show about aviation in development and several new ventures in various stages, but no solidly mapped vision of my future in aviation. I want to be involved in work that is fun and profitable and that benefits our industry. One of my goals

is to introduce our capabilities to new clients and industries that haven’t traditionally used helicopter support. We all have to do this if we want to expand the helicopter business in new directions and broaden our customer base. In short, I can tell you that I plan to fly helicopters as often as I can for as long as possible. What previous employment have you had? I flew for a news station in Los Angeles for around eight years, both as a pilot-reporter and a camera operator-reporter. I have flown for several companies that I continue to fly for today, such as Angel City Air, National Helicopters, Summit Helicopters, Briles Wing and Helicopter, and of course, my own company, Airborne Images. Interestingly, all of my employment as a pilot has been for Los Angeles-based companies that compete against each other, so keeping my mouth shut is a key element to the equation! Have you been in any dangerous situations where you’ve learnt something important? Like anyone who flies a lot, I have certainly scared myself a few times and each time I came away with the resolve to never repeat that particular mistake. I think that as you become a more experienced pilot you learn to recognize the chain of events that could lead to an accident long before you get yourself in trouble. The goal, of course is to use your experience to help keep you out of dangerous flying situations in the first place. What advice would you give to pilots seeking a career? My advice to an upcoming pilot would be all the usual things like work hard and have a good attitude, but also to remember to enjoy the job every day. Don’t get too focused on some other job that you wish you had instead of the one right in front of you. Make the flying job that you have right now the best you can and have fun doing it. You’ll be flying the big machines sooner than you think. n

Profile for HeliOps Magazine

HeliOps Issue 59  

Mi-34 - Comeback Kid, Victoria's Black Saturday, Aspiring Judas.

HeliOps Issue 59  

Mi-34 - Comeback Kid, Victoria's Black Saturday, Aspiring Judas.

Profile for heliops