By following the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding operating limits and procedures and periodic maintenance and inspections, many system and equipment failures can be eliminated. Certain malfunctions or failures can be traced to some error on the part of the pilot; therefore, appropriate flying techniques and use of threat and error management may help to prevent an emergency.
Antitorque System Failure
Antitorque failure usually falls into one of two categories. One is failure of the power drive portion of the tail rotor disk resulting in a complete loss of antitorque. The other category covers mechanical control failures prohibiting the pilot from changing or controlling tail rotor thrust even though the tail rotor may still be providing antitorque thrust.
Tail rotor drive system failures include driveshaft failures, tail rotor gearbox failures, or a complete loss of the tail rotor itself. In any of these cases, the loss of antitorque normally results in an immediate spinning of the helicopter’s nose. The helicopter spins to the right in a counterclockwise rotor disk and to the left in a clockwise system. This discussion is for a helicopter with a counterclockwise rotor disk. The severity of the spin is proportionate to the amount of power being used and the airspeed. An antitorque failure with a high-power setting at a low airspeed results in a severe spinning to the right. At low power settings and high airspeeds, the spin is less severe. High airspeeds tend to streamline the helicopter and keep it from spinning.
If a tail rotor failure occurs, power must be reduced in order to reduce main rotor torque. The techniques differ depending on whether the helicopter is in flight or in a hover, but ultimately require an autorotation. If a complete tail rotor failure occurs while hovering, enter a hovering autorotation by rolling off the throttle. If the failure occurs in forward flight, enter a normal autorotation by lowering the collective and rolling off the throttle. If the helicopter has enough forward airspeed (close to cruising speed) when the failure occurs, and depending on the helicopter design, the vertical stabilizer may provide enough directional control to allow the pilot to maneuver the helicopter to a more desirable landing sight. Applying slight cyclic control opposite the direction of yaw compensates for some of the yaw. This helps in directional control, but also increases drag. Care must be taken not to lose too much forward airspeed because the streamlining effect diminishes as airspeed is reduced. Also, more altitude is required to accelerate to the correct airspeed if an autorotation is entered at a low airspeed.
The throttle or power lever on some helicopters is not located on the collective and readily available. Faced with the loss of antitorque, the pilot of these models may need to achieve forward flight and let the vertical fin stop the yawing rotation. With speed and altitude, the pilot will have the time to set up for an autorotative approach and set the power control to idle or off as the situation dictates. At low altitudes, the pilot may not be able to reduce the power setting and enter the autorotation before impact.
A mechanical control failure limits or prevents control of tail rotor thrust and is usually caused by a stuck or broken control rod or cable. While the tail rotor is still producing antitorque thrust, it cannot be controlled by the pilot. The amount of antitorque depends on the position at which the controls jam or fail. Once again, the techniques differ depending on the amount of tail rotor thrust, but an autorotation is generally not required.
The specific manufacturer’s procedures should always be followed. The following is a generalized description of procedures when more specific procedures are not provided.
Landing—Stuck Left Pedal
A stuck left pedal (high power setting), which might be experienced during takeoff or climb conditions, results in the left yaw of the helicopter nose when power is reduced. Rolling off the throttle and entering an autorotation only makes matters worse. The landing profile for a stuck left pedal is best described as a normal-to-steep approach angle to arrive approximately 2–3 feet landing gear height above the intended landing area as translational lift is lost. The steeper angle allows for a lower power setting during the approach and ensures that the nose remains to the right.
Upon reaching the intended touchdown area and at the appropriate landing gear height, increase the collective smoothly to align the nose with the landing direction and cushion the landing. A small amount of forward cyclic is helpful to stop the nose from continuing to the right and directs the aircraft forward and down to the surface. In certain wind conditions, the nose of the helicopter may remain to the left with zero to near zero groundspeed above the intended touchdown point. If the helicopter is not turning, simply lower the helicopter to the surface. If the nose of the helicopter is turning to the right and continues beyond the landing heading, roll the throttle toward flight idle, which is the amount necessary to stop the turn while landing. Flight idle is an engine rpm in flight at a given altitude with the throttle set to the minimum, or idle, position. The flight idling rpm typically increase with an increase in altitude. If the helicopter is beginning to turn left, the pilot should be able to make the landing prior to the turn rate becoming excessive. However, if the turn rate begins to increase prior to the landing, simply add power to make a go-around and return for another landing.
Landing—Stuck Neutral or Right Pedal
The landing profile for a stuck neutral or a stuck right pedal is a low-power approach terminating with a running or roll-on landing. The approach profile can best be described as a shallow to normal approach angle to arrive approximately 2–3 feet landing gear height above the intended landing area with a minimum airspeed for directional control. The minimum airspeed is one that keeps the nose from continuing to yaw to the right.
Upon reaching the intended touchdown area and at the appropriate landing gear height, reduce the throttle as necessary to overcome the yaw effect if the nose of the helicopter remains to the right of the landing heading. The amount of throttle reduction will vary based on power applied and winds. The higher the power setting used to cushion the landing, the more the throttle reduction will be. A coordinated throttle reduction and increased collective will result in a very smooth touchdown with some forward groundspeed. If the nose of the helicopter is to the left of the landing heading, a slight increase in collective or aft cyclic may be used to align the nose for touchdown. The decision to land or go around has to be made prior to any throttle reduction. Using airspeeds slightly above translational lift may be helpful to ensure that the nose does not continue yawing to the right. If a go-around is required, increasing the collective too much or too rapidly with airspeeds below translational lift may cause a rapid spinning to the right.
Once the helicopter has landed and is sliding/rolling to a stop, the heading can be controlled with a combination of collective, cyclic and throttle. To turn the nose to the right, raise the collective or apply aft cyclic. The throttle may be increased as well if it is not in the full open position. To turn the nose to the left, lower the collective or apply forward cyclic. The throttle may be decreased as well if it is not already at flight idle.