Pre-Flight Inspections

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 damage.

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? WRONG!!!

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 successful flight.

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, LLC.

Orv Neisingh

Sho-Me Helicopters, LLC