Helicopter Instrument Procedures (Part One)

Helicopter Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) Certification

It is very important that pilots be familiar with the IFR requirements for their particular helicopter. Within the same make, model, and series of helicopter, variations in the installed avionics may change the required equipment or the level of augmentation for a particular operation. The Automatic Flight Control System/Autopilot/Flight Director (AFCS/AP/FD) equipment installed in IFR helicopters can be very complex. For some helicopters, the AFCS/AP/ FD complexity requires formal training in order for the pilot(s) to obtain and maintain a high level of knowledge of system operation, limitations, failure indications, and reversionary modes. For a helicopter to be certified to conduct operations in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), it must meet the design and installation requirements of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 27, Appendix B (Normal Category) and Part 29, Appendix B (Transport Category), which is in addition to the visual flight rule (VFR) requirements.

These requirements are broken down into the following categories: flight and navigation equipment, miscellaneous requirements, stability, helicopter flight manual limitations, operations specifications, and minimum equipment list (MEL).

Secrets of Instrument Approaches and DeparturesFlight Literacy Recommends

Rod Machado's Secrets of Instrument Approaches and Departures – If you’re an active IFR pilot or preparing for an IPC or even your ATP or IFR rating, then this interactive course is for you. Why? Because the IFR pilot’s weakest link is approach and departure knowledge as it relates to instrument charts.

Flight and Navigation Equipment

The basic installed flight and navigation equipment for helicopter IFR operations is listed under 14 CFR Part 29, § 29.1303, with amendments and additions in Appendix B of 14 CFR Parts 27 and 29 under which they are certified. The list includes:

  • Clock
  • Airspeed indicator
  • Sensitive altimeter (A “sensitive” altimeter relates to the instrument’s displayed change in altitude over its range. For “Copter” Category (CAT) II operations, the scale must be in 20-foot intervals.) adjustable for barometric pressure.
  • Magnetic direction indicator
  • Free-air temperature indicator
  • Rate-of-climb (vertical speed) indicator
  • Magnetic gyroscopic direction indicator
  • Stand-by bank and pitch (attitude) indicator
  • Non-tumbling gyroscopic bank and pitch (attitude) indicator • Speed warning device (if required by 14 CFR Part 29)

Miscellaneous Requirements

  • Overvoltage disconnect
  • Instrument power source indicator
  • Adequate ice protection of IFR systems
  • Alternate static source (single-pilot configuration)
  • Thunderstorm lights (transport category helicopters)

Stabilization and Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS)

Helicopter manufacturers normally use a combination of a stabilization and/or AFCS in order to meet the IFR stability requirements of 14 CFR Parts 27 and 29. These systems include:

  • Aerodynamic surfaces, which impart some stability or control capability that generally is not found in the basic VFR configuration.
  • Trim systems provide a cyclic centering effect. These systems typically involve a magnetic brake/spring device and may be controlled by a four-way switch on the cyclic. This system requires “hands on” flying of the helicopter.
  • Stability Augmentation Systems (SAS) provide short-term rate damping control inputs to increase helicopter stability. Like trim systems, SAS requires “hands-on” flying.
  • Attitude Retention Systems (ATT) return the helicopter to a selected attitude after a disturbance. Changes in attitude can be accomplished usually through a four- way “beep” switch or by actuating a “force trim” switch on the cyclic, which sets the desired attitude manually. Attitude retention may be a SAS function or may be the basic “hands off” autopilot function.
  • Autopilot Systems (APs) provide for “hands off” flight along specified lateral and vertical paths. The functional modes may include heading, altitude, vertical speed, navigation tracking, and approach. APs typically have a control panel for mode selection and indication of mode status. APs may or may not be installed with an associated FD. APs typically control the helicopter about the roll and pitch axes (cyclic control) but may also include yaw axis (pedal control) and collective control servos.
  • Flight Directors (FDs) provide visual guidance to the pilot to fly selected lateral and vertical modes of operation. The visual guidance is typically provided by a “single cue,” commonly known as a “vee bar,” which provides the indicated attitude to fly and is superimposed on the attitude indicator. Other FDs may use a “two cue” presentation known as a “cross pointer system.” These two presentations only provide attitude information. A third system, known as a “three cue” system, provides information to position the collective as well as attitude (roll and pitch) cues. The collective control cue system identifies and cues the pilot what collective control inputs to use when path errors are produced or when airspeed errors exceed preset values. The three-cue system pitch command provides the required cues to control airspeed when flying an approach with vertical guidance at speeds slower than the best-rate-of-climb (BROC) speed. The pilot manipulates the helicopter’s controls to satisfy these commands, yielding the desired flightpath or may couple the autopilot to the FD to fly along the desired flightpath. Typically, FD mode control and indication are shared with the autopilot. Pilots must be aware of the mode of operation of the augmentation systems and the control logic and functions in use. For example, on an instrument landing system (ILS) approach and using the three-cue mode (lateral, vertical, and collective cues), the FD collective cue responds to glideslope deviation, while the horizontal bar cue of the “crosspointer” responds to airspeed deviations. However, the same system when operated in the two-cue mode on an ILS, the FD horizontal bar cue responds to glideslope deviations. The need to be aware of the FD mode of operation is particularly significant when operating using two pilots.

Pilots should have an established set of procedures and responsibilities for the control of FD/AP modes for the various phases of flight. Not only does a full understanding of the system modes provide for a higher degree of accuracy in control of the helicopter, it is the basis for crew identification of a faulty system.

Flight Literacy Recommends

Rod Machado's Instrument Pilot's Handbook -Flight Literacy recommends Rod Machado's products because he takes what is normally dry and tedious and transforms it with his characteristic humor, helping to keep you engaged and to retain the information longer. (see all of Rod Machado's Products).