Main Drive Shaft or Clutch Failure
The main drive shaft, located between the engine and the main rotor transmission, provides engine power to the main rotor transmission. In some helicopters, particularly those with piston engines, a drive belt is used instead of a drive shaft. A failure of the drive shaft clutch or belt has the same effect as an engine failure because power is no longer provided to the main rotor and an autorotation must be initiated. There are a few differences, however, that need to be taken into consideration. If the drive shaft or belt breaks, the lack of any load on the engine results in an overspeed. In this case, the throttle must be closed in order to prevent any further damage. In some helicopters, the tail rotor drive system continues to be powered by the engine even if the main drive shaft breaks. In this case, when the engine unloads, a tail rotor overspeed can result. If this happens, close the throttle immediately and enter an autorotation. The pilot must be knowledgeable of the specific helicopter’s system and failure modes.
Pilots should keep in mind that when there is any suspected mechanical malfunction, first and foremost they should always attempt to maintain rotor rpm. If the rotor rpm is at the normal indication with normal power settings, an instrument failure might be occurring, and it would be best to fly the helicopter to a safe landing area. If the rotor rpm is in fact decreasing or low, then there is a drive line failure.
Many helicopters incorporate the use of hydraulic actuators to overcome high control forces. A hydraulic system consists of actuators, also called servos, on each flight control; a pump, which is usually driven by the main rotor transmission; and a reservoir to store the hydraulic fluid. A switch in the cockpit can turn the system off, although it is left on during normal conditions. A pressure indicator in the cockpit may be installed to monitor the system.
An impending hydraulic failure can be recognized by a grinding or howling noise from the pump or actuators, increased control forces and feedback, and limited control movement. The required corrective action is stated in detail in the RFM. In most cases, airspeed needs to be reduced in order to reduce control forces. The hydraulic switch and circuit breaker should be checked and recycled. If hydraulic power is not restored, make a shallow approach to a running or roll-on landing. This technique is used because it requires less control force and pilot workload. Additionally, the hydraulic system should be disabled by placing the switch in the off position. The reason for this is to prevent an inadvertent restoration of hydraulic power, which may lead to overcontrolling near the ground.
In those helicopters in which the control forces are so high that they cannot be moved without hydraulic assistance, two or more independent hydraulic systems are installed. Some helicopters use hydraulic accumulators to store pressure that can be used for a short time while in an emergency if the hydraulic pump fails. This gives enough time to land the helicopter with normal control.
Governor or Fuel Control Failure
Governors and fuel control units automatically adjust engine power to maintain rotor rpm when the collective pitch is changed. If the governor or fuel control unit fails, any change in collective pitch requires manual adjustment of the throttle to maintain correct rpm. In the event of a high side failure, the engine and rotor rpm tend to increase above the normal range due to the engine being commanded to put out too much power. If the rpm cannot be reduced and controlled with the throttle, close the throttle and enter an autorotation. If the failure is on the low side, the engine output is allowed to go below the collective and normal rpm may not be attainable, even if the throttle is manually controlled. In this case, the collective has to be lowered to maintain rotor rpm. A running or roll-on landing may be performed if the engine can maintain sufficient rotor rpm. If there is insufficient power, enter an autorotation. As stated previously in this chapter, before responding to any type of mechanical failure, pilots should confirm that rotor rpm is not responding to flight control inputs. If the rotor rpm can be maintained in the green operating range, the failure is in the instrument, and not mechanical.
With the many rotating parts found in helicopters, some vibration is inherent. A pilot needs to understand the cause and effect of helicopter vibrations because abnormal vibrations cause premature component wear and may even result in structural failure. With experience, a pilot learns what vibrations are normal and those that are abnormal and can then decide whether continued flight is safe or not. Helicopter vibrations are categorized into low, medium, or high frequency.
Low-frequency vibrations (100–500 cycles per minute) usually originate from the main rotor disk. The main rotor operational range, depending on the helicopter, is usually between 320 and 500 rpm. A rotor blade that is out of track or balance will cause a cycle to occur with every rotation. The vibration may be felt through the controls, the airframe, or a combination of both. The vibration may also have a definite direction of push or thrust. It may be vertical, lateral, horizontal, or even a combination of these. Normally, the direction of the vibration can be determined by concentrating on the feel of the vibration, which may push a pilot up and down, backwards and forwards, or in the case of a blade being out of phase, from side to side. The direction of the vibration and whether it is felt in the controls or the airframe is important information for the mechanic when he or she troubleshoots the source. Out-of-track or out-of-balance main rotor blades, damaged blades, worn bearings, dampers out of adjustment, or worn parts are possible causes of low frequency vibrations.
Medium- and High-Frequency Vibrations
Medium-frequency vibrations (1,000–2,000 cycles per minute) range between the low frequencies of the main rotor (100–500 cycles per minute) and the high frequencies (2,100 cycles per minute or higher) of the engine and tail rotor. Depending on the helicopter, medium-frequency vibration sources may be engine and transmission cooling fans, and accessories such as air conditioner compressors, or driveline components. Medium-frequency vibrations are felt through the entire airframe, and prolonged exposure to the vibrations will result in greater pilot fatigue.
Most tail rotor vibrations fall into the high-frequency range (2,100 cycles per minute or higher) and can be felt through the tail rotor pedals as long as there are no hydraulic actuators to dampen out the vibration. This vibration is felt by the pilot through his or her feet, which are usually “put to sleep” by the vibration. The tail rotor operates at approximately a 6:1 ratio with the main rotor, meaning for every one rotation of the main rotor the tail rotor rotates 6 times. A main rotor operating rpm of 350 means the tail rotor rpm would be 2,100 rpm. Any imbalance in the tail rotor disk is very harmful as it can cause cracks to develop and rivets to work loose. Piston engines usually produce a normal amount of high-frequency vibration, which is aggravated by engine malfunctions, such as spark plug fouling, incorrect magneto timing, carburetor icing and/or incorrect fuel/air mixture. Vibrations in turbine engines are often difficult to detect as these engines operate at a very high rpm. Turbine engine vibration can be at 30,000 rpm internally, but common transmission speeds are in the 1,000 to 3,000 rpm range for the output shaft. The vibrations in turbine engines may be short lived as the engine disintegrates rapidly when damaged due to high rpm and the forces present.
Tracking and Balance
Modern equipment used for tracking and balancing the main and tail rotor blades can also be used to detect other vibrations in the helicopter. These systems use accelerometers mounted around the helicopter to detect the direction, frequency, and intensity of the vibration. The built-in software can then analyze the information, pinpoint the origin of the vibration, and suggest the corrective action.
The use of a system such as a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) provides the operator the ability to record engine and transmission performance and provide rotor track and balance. This system has been around for over 30 years and is now becoming more affordable, more capable, and more commonplace in the rotorcraft industry.