Spring is here and the Helicopter flying bug is biting hard.
I awoke this morning to a beautiful golden sunrise, the birds
chirping in the trees, calm winds, and my helicopter warm in its
hangar, not 200 feet from my back door. What a day to fly! The
winds were expected to pick up by late morning so the rush was
on to get ready and go. My wife Sheila was anxious for a helicopter
run to the local EAA meeting for breakfast so we donned our flight
outfits and went out to the hangar.
The temptation is sometimes there to just push the helicopter
out and go flying but training and discipline grab me by the scruff
of the neck and force me to ignore the rush and get out the pre-flight
check list. I have found over the years that I have been flying
and providing helicopter flight instruction in both Experimental
and Certified helicopters, that sometimes things crack, shift,
move, or break while we are flying. The goal of the pre-flight
inspection is to discover anything that could impair the safety
of the intended flight.
Every one of us that flies helicopters has a pre-flight inspection
check list that we religiously follow, or should follow. I teach
my students that the preflight inspection is the most important
part of any flight. You may be the best helicopter pilot in the
world but if some critical component breaks you will find yourself
heading for terra firma when you least expect it.
The pre-flight inspection begins with a very thorough knowledge
of the helicopter that we are going to be flying. If we do not
know how the systems work we will be less likely to know what
to look for when we are inspecting the ship. We also need to insure
that the components of the helicopter fall within the time life
limits set by the manufacturer of the parts. For example, if hoses
and belts are beyond their life limits, they may be unfit to reliably
perform the job that you are trusting on them do. A split coolant
line spraying antifreeze or an oil line dripping oil onto a hot
exhaust pipe has caused more than one liquid-cooled helicopter
to burn to the ground.
If there is a properly tested and proven change or upgrade to
your power train that improves the safety of your helicopter,
donít think that the worst cannot happen to your ship. Bite the
bullet and change out the part to insure that you do not end up
loosing your helicopter by trying to save the price of the upgrade.
Not every after market product is an improvement, be sure that
the parts that you use have a safety record that meets your demands.
I view helicopters as very safe flying machines. Unlike our fixed
wing brethren, we are able to set our ships down in a clear area
not much bigger than the machine itself and walk away from it.
Several years back I trained a student in Batten Rouge, LA in
his Rotorway 162F. Following our training he took his Private
Pilot check ride and became a certificated helicopter pilot.
One beautiful Saturday morning he was flying over a wooded area
with his 9 year old son as his passenger. All at once the engine
revved and the rotor RPM needle headed south. He immediately entered
an autorotation and found a small clearing in the forest canopy
that he could reach. With a near vertical flare to stop all forward
airspeed he set the helicopter gently onto the ground with no
Upon inspection it was determined that several bolts had come
loose and allowed his non-factory drive belt to disconnect from
the main rotor drive. In retrospect he felt that a thorough preflight
of that part of his drive system would have given him an indication
that things were loosening up before they actually came apart.
There is not enough room in a year long subscription to Experimental
Helicopter to list all of the reasons that have caused emergency
autos in experimental helicopters but most of the time the in-flight
failure could have been prevented by a thorough pre-flight inspection
of the aircraft prior to getting in and lifting off.
If the pilot expects to find nothing wrong with the helicopter
then that is usually what he sees during his/her pre-flight inspection.
I know that there is always the potential of finding something
that isnít right so I look for that one thing that is trying to
hide from me. We can become accustomed to not seeing a crack in
the frame or other component for so many inspections that when
a crack does occur we may not really be looking for it.
Once the helicopter is thoroughly inspected prior to flight,
we can relax and enjoy the flight with a high degree of confidence
in our machines.
Over the years I have instructed in many certified and experimental
helicopters and have taken photos of a number of items that my
students and I have discovered during our pre-flight inspections.
Many of those photos are included in the Hints and Tips area of
this web site. Take a close look at them and realize that these
are actual failures that were found prior to further flight during
pre and post flight inspections. Similar failures could be discovered
on your next preflight.
It is important to remember that any item can fail and it is
our job as PIC (Pilot In Command) to check out everything that
we can to insure that all systems are at 100% and airworthy.
Once you have determined that the helicopter is ready to fly,
you wheel it out to the helipad and hop in, and go flying, right?
I give every one of my students a PRE-BOARDING check list that
includes many of the items that have caused serious problems upon
lift off, landing, or during the course of the flight. Checking
these items will insure that you are ready to safely lift off
and depart. These items that we check EVERY TIME WE BOARD the
helicopter include, but are not limited to:
Covers off, rotor blades untied, ground handling wheels off,
skids clear of obstructions(grass clumps, roots, tie downs, etc)
fuel caps installed and tight, all panels are secure, area in
and around helicopter is clear of loose objects, obstacles and
persons, tail rotor area clear for any turns and for backing up,
both stabilizers are secure, grab the stinger and see if you can
move it laterally while inspecting the mounting bolts and brackets.
By following these simple procedures you will have an increased
level of confidence in your helicopter and will enjoy flying it
knowing that you have done all that you can to insure a safe and
Orv Neisingh is an FAA Certified Flight Instructor and provides
helicopter flight training at the customersí location or at his
training facility in West Plains, Missouri. He will travel anywhere
in the US to train or transition you into your own helicopter.
He also provides maintenance training, ground schooling, rigging
and computer balancing of the rotor system if needed while he
is providing your flight training. Orv and Sheila own Sho-Me Helicopters,
Sho-Me Helicopters, LLC