Flight Safety Practices
A major component of the FAA’s mission is to improve the nation’s aviation safety record by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education. The goal to reduce the number of accidents in the ever increasingly populated airways means safe flight practices are an important element of flight instruction. It is the CFI’s responsibility to incorporate flight safety into the program of training.
Do not become complacent about safety while instructing. The CFI must always be vigilant about safety and must instill a safety-first attitude in the student. According to statistics from Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Five-Year Comparative U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Trends, the ratio of instructional/training-related accidents to total accidents in the United States has increased more than 18 percent between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2006. Interestingly enough though, the total number of helicopter flight hours has increased by 37 percent, while the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours has drastically decreased—by 42 percent in the same time period. The entire U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Statistic – Summary Report can be found at www.rotor.com.
Accidents happen quickly during flight instruction, as this recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report reveals:
During a training flight, a helicopter collided with terrain. Weather was visual flight rules (VFR) with no flight plan filed. This was the CFI’s first instructional flight with this student. They conducted the preflight inspection of the helicopter together, started up, and departed for the practice area.
Once the student had a general understanding of the controls, they did an approach that terminated in a hover. The CFI set up the helicopter for a slight right quartering headwind to compensate for translating tendencies, then allowed the student to manipulate the controls. During hover, the helicopter exhibited pendulum action that is common for new students learning to hover. During one of the right lateral oscillations, the helicopter unexpectedly lost altitude. The right skid contacted the ground, and the helicopter rolled over onto its right side. Within seconds, it ignited. Both pilots exited immediately.
Since the helicopter and engine had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight, the accident might have been prevented by:
- Maintaining a proper skid height during instruction at all times.
- Stopping the lateral and aft movement sooner.
- Restricting hovering flight to later lessons after the student has gained some insight and appreciation of the control responsiveness and sensitivity of the helicopter.
The CFI also should have stayed on the controls longer to give the student more time to become familiar with them. The CFI violated the building block principle of simple to complex. The student had no experience to build upon. Helicopter students learn best by beginning in the air where there is a greater margin of error and then learning to fly closer to the ground.
Accident data at the NTSB offer CFIs excellent scenario material for safety discussions. Updated daily and located at www.ntsb.gov, descriptions of more than 140,000 aviation accidents can be searched by a variety of factors, such as date or aircraft category.
During the entire training program, CFIs should emphasize safe operation of the aircraft. The student must be introduced to and completely understand the flight characteristics of the type helicopter being flown. Loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE), dynamic rollover (DRO), and the meaning of and how to interpret the height velocity diagram are three topics of discussion for continuous review. By virtue of its many moving parts, the helicopter presents numerous hazards. [Figure 1-5] It is the responsibility of the CFI to teach safe operating practices in and around the aircraft.
A CFI should draw to the attention of the student the hazards that include, but are not limited to the following:
- For single rotor helicopters, students should be taught from the beginning that it is preferred to approach and exit the helicopter from the sides but that the forward quarter is acceptable. If approaching or exiting a helicopter that is on a slope, always exit on the downward side to avoid contact with the rotor blades. Limited access to the near aft portion of the fuselage is acceptable for some helicopters, such as the BO-105 and BK-117, in which the tail rotor has been elevated and loading is in the rear of the fuselage. CFIs should advise students to always consult with the pilot or trained personnel before going aft of the cockpit doors. This instills in the students the preferred direction to enter and exit the rotor disk area so the pilot can maintain eye contact with personnel around the aircraft. During preflight, the CFI should teach students to do a proper walk-around before moving any control surfaces to ensure that nothing is in the way of the main or tail rotor blades.
- Always avoid the tail rotor by approaching from the sides. The rotor disk should be tipped so the students understand just how low the main rotor blades may dip in winds and as a result of exaggerated control movements.
- Hands and fingers can be pinched by rotor hubs and hinges during preflight and postflight inspections.
- Main and tail rotor blades pose significant hazards for those unaccustomed to being around helicopters during ground operations.
- Any moving blade is dangerous and can cause injury or damage while under power or during the start up and coast down periods after engine power has been removed.
- Wind or a control input can easily cause slow moving blades to droop or flex, reducing clearance for people standing underneath the rotor disk.
- If the helicopter must be moved from the hangar, students should be cautioned on the hazards of having a piece of machinery raised off the surface and the correct methods of raising and lowering the aircraft. Since helicopters may be taller than an equal size airplane; the student should be taught to ensure plenty of vertical clearance for the aircraft as it is moved. Trip hazards, such as ground wires, should be explained as to requirements, storage, and attachment at end of flights.
- The movement of the helicopter for flight should include preplanning to prevent the hangar from filling with grass, dirt, and excessive wind in the facility. The direction of the wind and airflow around the building should be considered before selecting a takeoff point for the helicopter.
- Jewelry, especially rings, should be removed before preflight and postflight to ensure that they will not be caught on any fasteners or sharp objects. Loose clothing should be secured, and objects in pockets should be removed if the pockets cannot be fastened.
In hover flight, the CFI should emphasize the hazards that rotor wash presents to persons or light aircraft nearby. Dust and debris cause eye injuries and vortices damage light aircraft. A tail rotor is another source of significant hazard because it is out of sight of the pilot. Instructors should ensure the student is aware of the requirement to keep the tail rotor area cleared. Hazards such as those listed above are but a few of the hazards unique to the helicopter. The observant CFI identifies potential hazards during the lesson, corrects the deficiency immediately with an explanation, and develops them as teaching points.