Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Introduction to the Helicopter

Walking the student through a preflight provides an excellent opportunity to introduce or review the main components of the helicopter. [Figure 2-1] Refer the student to the Helicopter Flying Handbook for in-depth information on the rotor systems, landing gear, and flight controls. During the discussion, the CFI should demonstrate how to enter and exit the helicopter properly while the rotors are turning. This is also a good time to explain or review:
Figure 2-1. A CFI provides an overview of the helicopter to introduce the main components and discuss how to enter and exit a helicopter properly.

  • General helicopter hazards, such as main and tail rotor blades. A simple demonstration of how low main rotor blades can droop is possible by manually pulling down on the tip of a static blade. In aircraft equipped with retractable droop stops, the CFI must explain that actual droop can be greater once the stops retract with greater rotor revolutions per minute (rpm). Ensure that all demonstrations comply with restrictions found in the appropriate rotorcraft flight manual.
  • Emergency egress.
  • Foreign object damage (FOD) hazards associated with items, such as hats, jackets, and loose paperwork.
  • Seat belt use at all times during flight.
  • Proper wear and use of the headset.
  • Proper sitting posture and position of the hands and feet.
  • Positive exchange of controls procedures and acknowledgments.
  • The see-and-avoid concept.
  • The clock method of reporting aircraft and other hazards to flight to the other crewmember.
  • The need for clothing suitable for the location and weather. It is always good practice to have sufficient clothing for walking back to the starting point. Helicopters can readily take a pilot far beyond populated areas. The pilot should always have enough resources to survive or to wait for a repair crew to arrive, in case of emergency. (Please refer to Chapter 12, Helicopter Emergencies.)
  • Suitable eye protection, such as good sunglasses to protect the eyes from harmful rays that produce cataracts in later years. Helicopters admit much more sunlight than almost any other aircraft, due to the bigger bubble or cockpit Plexiglas area and chin window areas. Additionally, many helicopters fly with the doors off in warmer climates, thereby exposing the student’s eyes to much more radiation.
  • Seat and pedal adjustment in the helicopter to achieve full control travel.
  • Headset and commonly used noise-canceling microphone function, so that the headset and microphone can be properly fitted and adjusted. The student should know how to adjust the volume of the headset and be able to understand the instructor and radios through the headset. If a voice-activated intercom is installed, the student should be taught what the squelch control function does and how to adjust it when necessary. Headsets not utilized should be disconnected and stowed away to prevent unwanted noise and reduce the risk of FOD. Also, loose items such as seatbelts, bags, jackets, hats, and flight publications should be stowed.
  • Controls and buttons located on the cyclic and collective. Most of this preflight instruction should be done in as quiet a location as possible before engine start. After engine start, student perceptions will probably be overloaded quickly with new experiences and sensations from their first helicopter flight. Effective instruction would have the ground instructor bringing the class out to the helicopter after every lesson to have them locate, examine, and describe the function of each part described in that lesson. The students should be able to explain the relationship between a component of the helicopter and the aerodynamics requiring that component.
The importance of good pre-briefings can never be overstated. In almost every case, if the student does not learn from the briefing what is expected and the contents of the flight lesson for that day before going to the helicopter, then that student will not learn after getting into and starting the helicopter. Instructors forget that the new student pilot is constantly barraged by new information. Newly experiencing the sights, sounds, vibrations, and other sensory inputs of helicopter flight, the beginning student has great difficulty understanding and remembering what the instructor says. If the instructor merely reinforces what the student learned in the classroom, the student is more likely to recall the instructions and procedures for the maneuvers amid the new experiences.

Likewise, during the pre-briefing, the student should be introduced to the flying area. The time required for a review of the chart to be used depends on the experience level of the student and when charts and maps were taught during the training. The instructor should also remember that the student may not remember as well if the student is always on the flight controls. The instructor may need to relieve the student of the flight controls for a few moments near each boundary marker or checkpoint for the student to have time to fully absorb the view and relate the sight to the chart or map being used.

If the student has airplane experience, the instructor should be aware of negative transfer of airplane skills to helicopter flying. The first flight should set the stage for the remainder of the flight course. A shorter flight is always better than a long flight. If the student becomes warm or hot, the likelihood of airsickness is greater. Some students have an aversion to heights, which can be overcome by determination and gradual exposure.

The instructor has the duty always to give the student just enough—just enough encouragement, or just enough challenge for that stage of training, or just enough critique—for the student to learn but not to discourage. The instructor should always have enough understanding of the student’s progress to discuss the student’s problems and explain how or why the error is occurring and what corrective or different action to take to have a better outcome. Especially on the ground, the instructor should always strive for the student to comprehend, not just remember and perform by rote memorization.

Helicopter Risk Management

The FAA is committed to reducing the number of helicopter accidents and promoting risk management as an important component of flight training. The objective of risk management is to provide a proper balance between risk and opportunity. Two elements define risk management: hazard and risk. Hazard is a real or perceived condition, event, or circumstance that a pilot encounters. Risk is how the pilot views the potential impact of the hazard.

Risk management is the method used to control, eliminate, or reduce the hazard to an acceptable level. The individual pilot is unique to risk management. An acceptable level of risk to one pilot may not necessarily be the same to another pilot. Unfortunately in many cases, the pilot perceives that his or her level of risk acceptability is actually greater than their capability, thereby taking on risk that is dangerous.

For example, prior to entering a helicopter, the CFI must establish his or her own limitations. How far is the CFI willing to allow the student to drift during a hover? Once personal limitations are established, the CFI must fly within them. The CFI should always ensure that the helicopter is never allowed to depart the instructor’s comfort zone and maneuvering limitations. In reality, the instructor is observing the maneuvering of the helicopter and monitoring the control movements by sight or feel. The helicopter instructor has to be very familiar with that particular helicopter and it’s responses to control inputs and winds, especially at a hover with a wing with airspeed of 400+ knots flying while at 3 feet landing gear height above the surface. A split second delay in correcting an errant control input can be disastrous.

References and resources for risk management include:
  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, FAA-H-8083-25
  • Pilot risk management brochures located at (brochures include tips for teaching practical risk management) [Figure 1-9]
  • Risk Management Handbook, FAA-H-8083-2
Figure 1-9. Brochure available from the FAA website for teaching practical risk management.
 Since the DPE evaluates the applicant’s ability to use good ADM procedures in order to evaluate risks throughout the practical test, it is important the CFI incorporates risk management into the flight lessons as soon as possible. The scenarios should be realistic and within the capabilities of the helicopter used for the practical test.

To teach risk management, CFIs must understand system safety flight training occurs in three phases. First, there are the traditional aircraft control maneuvers. In order to apply critical thinking skills, the student must first have a high degree of confidence in their ability to fly the aircraft. Basic airmanship skill is the priority during this phase of flight training. The CFI accepts the responsibility of risk management until the student is able to accept more tasking.

In the second phase, the CFI teaches the student how to identify hazards, manage risk, and use all available resources to make each flight as safe as possible. This can be accomplished through scenarios that emphasize the skill sets being taught. For example, the CFI could inform the student that they were going to do some photography in the mountains for a survey. The instructor could give the student two temperatures and one elevation for the areas. Then, the instructor would assist the student in reviewing the performance charts for the two temperatures and have the student determine the differences in helicopter performance with those temperatures and how to determine any maneuvering restrictions from those temperatures. “Does the lack of OGE hover restrict anything?” could be one question. Then hopefully, the CFI and student would fly up to some point for the student to have a safe and real-life experience of the difference in aircraft performance in higher temperatures and higher density altitudes.

In the third phase, as the student is completing the course of training, the instructor should begin exposing the student to practical scenarios of helicopter flight and enable the student to discern the hazards associated with each profile. Using the “simple to complex” method at all times, the student is introduced to scenarios demanding focus on several safety of-flight issues. [Figure 1-10]

Figure 1-10. An example of a system safety process an instructor could use in flight training.
The CFI must present the subject of risk management as it relates to helicopter operations for the level of instruction being presented. For example, a new helicopter student has different requirements from those of a prospective commercial Emergency Medical Services (EMS) pilot.

Helicopter Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM)

According to data presented at the 2005 International Helicopter Safety Symposium, the helicopter accident rate is 30 percent higher than the general aviation (GA) accident rate. Reducing this rate is an industry wide goal and the CFI plays an important role in reaching it by stressing single-pilot resource management (SRM) and risk management during flight training.

As discussed in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook and the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, SRM is the art and science of managing all resources (both onboard the aircraft and from outside sources) available to a single pilot (prior and during flight) to ensure the successful outcome of the flight. SRM grew out of the airline industry’s crew resource management (CRM) training for flight crews that was launched in an effort to reduce human factors-related aircraft accidents. SRM is the effective use of all available resources: human, hardware, and information to ensure a safe flight. The CFI must keep in mind that SRM is not a single task; it is a set of skill competencies that must be evident in all tasks. Aviation resource management charges the flight instructor with the responsibility of teaching the student a safety mindset that enhances his or her decision-making skills.

SRM depends upon teaching the student higher order thinking skills (HOTS) as discussed in Chapter 2 of the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook. HOTS are taught from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. To teach HOTS effectively involves strategies and methods that includ
  • Using problem-based learning (PBL) instruction,
  • Authentic problems,
  • Student-centered learning,
  • Active learning,
  • Cooperative learning, and
  • Customized instruction to meet the individual learner’s needs.
These strategies engage the student in some form of mental activity, have the student examine that mental activity and select the best solution, and challenge the student to explore other ways to accomplish the task or the problem.

Student understanding of risk management and judgment is enhanced when the instructor includes the student in all preflight practices and procedures, as the instructor shares the logic behind decisions whether to fly or not to fly. If the instructor uses the performance charts every time before flying to ensure sufficient power, control authority, and lift is available, then the student will probably acquire that habit. If the instructor always prompts the student to call for a weather, NOTAMS, and TFR briefing, then the student will learn proper preflight planning techniques. If the instructor determines what the student wants to be able to do with the helicopter, then the instructor can makes plans to ensure that the hazards inherent to those operations are covered completely and emphasized during training.