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.

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls Helicopter Collision Avoidance

Incident/accident statistics indicate a need to place additional emphasis on the exchange of control of an aircraft by pilots. Numerous accidents have occurred due to a lack of communication or misunderstanding as to who actually had control of the aircraft, particularly between students and flight instructors. Establishing the following procedure during initial training ensures the formation of a habit pattern that should stay with students throughout their flying careers. They are more likely to relinquish control willingly and promptly when instructed to do so during flight training.

During flight training, there must always be a clear understanding between the student and the flight instructor of who has control of the aircraft. [Figure 1-8] Prior to flight, a briefing should be conducted that includes the procedure for the exchange of flight controls. A positive three-step process in the exchange of flight controls between pilots is a proven procedure and one that is strongly recommended. During this procedure, a visual check is recommended to see that the other person actually has the flight controls. When returning the controls to the instructor, the student should follow the same procedure the instructor used when giving control to the student. There should never be any doubt as to who is flying the aircraft.
Figure 1-8. There should never been any doubt about who is flying the helicopter.

CFIs should always guard the controls and be prepared to take control of the aircraft. When necessary, the instructor should take the controls and calmly announce, “I have the flight controls.” If an instructor allows a student to remain on the controls, the instructor may not have full and effective control of the aircraft. Anxious students can be incredibly strong and usually exhibit reactions inappropriate to the situation. If a recovery is necessary, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by having the student on the controls and needing to fight for control of the aircraft. Students should never be allowed to exceed the flight instructor’s limits. Flight instructors should not exceed their own ability to perceive a problem, decide upon a course of action, and physically react within their ability to fly the aircraft.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

See and Avoid Helicopter Collision Avoidance

Figure 1-7. Collision avoidance, both in the air and on the ground, is one of the most basic responsibilities of a pilot flying in visual conditions.
As discussed in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, the CFI must ensure from the start of flight training that the student develops the habit of maintaining airspace surveillance at all times. [Figure 1-7] If a student believes the instructor assumes all responsibility for scanning and collision avoidance procedures, he or she will not develop the habit of maintaining the constant vigilance essential to safety. Establish scan areas and communication practices for keeping the aircraft cleared as outlined in the AIM, paragraphs 4-4-15 and 8-8-6c. For example, “Clear left? Cleared left. Turning left.” should be verbalized in conjunction with the actual scanning. In addition to clearing left and right, a helicopter pilot must also clear directly above and below since the helicopter has the ability of climbing and descending vertically. This ability has resulted in helicopters climbing directly into overhead hangar doors and power lines. Any observed tendency of a student to enter flight maneuvers without first making a careful check for other air traffic must be corrected immediately. In addition to the statistic quoted above, recent studies of midair collisions determined that:
  • Most of the aircraft involved in collisions are engaged in recreational flying, and not on any type of flight plan.
  • Most midair collisions occur in VFR weather conditions during weekend daylight hours.
  • The vast majority of accidents occurred at or near no towered airports and at altitudes below 1,000 feet.
  • Pilots of all experience levels were involved in midair collisions, from pilots on their first solo ride to 20,000-hour veterans.
  • Most collisions occur in daylight with visibility greater than three miles.
It is imperative to introduce 14 CFR sections 91.113, Right of- Way Rules: Except Water Operations,” for the “see and avoid” concept immediately to the student. Practice the “see and avoid” concept at all times regardless of whether the training is conducted under VFR or instrument flight rules (IFR). A CFI and student can review the FAA’s suggestions for how to contribute to professional flying and reduce the odds of being involved in a midair collision, at Other references that contain collision avoidance information for both the CFI and student are AC 90-48, Pilot’s Role in Collision Avoidance; FAA-H-8083-25, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge; and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) (all as revised) located online at

Helicopter Collision Avoidance

While pilots often believe that having a CFI on board minimizes the possibility of a midair collision (MAC), FAA research reveals that flight instructors were on board the aircraft in 37 percent of the accidents studied.
From a collision perspective, flight training is one of the most dangerous missions—an especially frightening fact, considering that flight instructors comprise less than 10 percent of the pilot population.

Instructional Hazards

Flying a helicopter offers a different set of physical and mental challenges for a student. The stress of learning how to fly is coupled with the physical demands of flying the helicopter. The constant vibration of the aircraft, as well as the continually need to make control inputs to “fly” the aircraft, make helicopter flight a more physically and mentally strenuous type of flying. The vibration, noise, and stress can lead to fatigue, which can have a detrimental effect upon the ability of the student not only to fly a helicopter but to absorb instruction. To combat this hazard, limit the length of the lesson to less than an hour until the student becomes accustomed to the demands of this type of flying. For further discussion of medical factors associated with flying, refer to the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

As shown in Figure 1-6, the CFI must remain vigilant when the student has control of the helicopter because the student’s knee may get in the way of the cyclic movement. The student’s size cannot be changed, but it is the CFI’s responsibility to teach the student to be aware of how their size may affect the flight controls input.
Figure 1-6. Robinson Helicopter R-22.

The instructor should always ensure that all of the flight controls are unencumbered. Students are so focused on the task at hand when learning to fly and often times will unknowingly obstruct the flight controls. For example, water bottles, clothing and cameras can get stuck under the collective levers preventing movement, or anti-torque pedals can get blocked from movement by the students boot or shoe.

Another potential instructional hazard stems from the ability of helicopter rotor blades to strike the terrain or objects in a 360° arc. This unique capability of the helicopter must be stressed when teaching a student who is transitioning from fixed-wing aircraft. A fixed-wing pilot is accustomed only to the idea that one wing will hit if the aircraft is banked too far. If teaching someone who is transitioning from airplanes, the CFI needs to stress to the student the speed of the rotor and its close proximity to the ground.

Helicopter Hazards

During the entire training program, CFIs should emphasize safe operation of the aircraft. The student must be introduced to and completely understand the flight characteristics of the type helicopter being flown. Loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE), dynamic rollover (DRO), and the meaning of and how to interpret the height velocity diagram are three topics of discussion for continuous review. By virtue of its many moving parts, the helicopter presents numerous hazards. [Figure 1-5] It is the responsibility of the CFI to teach safe operating practices in and around the aircraft.

Figure 1-5. Safe operating procedures in and around the helicopter.

A CFI should draw to the attention of the student the hazards that include, but are not limited to the following:

        For single rotor helicopters, students should be taught from the beginning that it is preferred to approach and exit the helicopter from the sides but that the forward quarter is acceptable. If approaching or exiting a helicopter that is on a slope, always exit on the downward side to avoid contact with the rotor blades. Limited access to the near aft portion of the fuselage is acceptable for some helicopters, such as the BO-105 and BK-117, in which the tail rotor has been elevated and loading is in the rear of the fuselage. CFIs should advise students to always consult with the pilot or trained personnel before going aft of the cockpit doors. This instills in the students the preferred direction to enter and exit the rotor disk area so the pilot can maintain eye contact with personnel around the aircraft. During preflight, the CFI should teach students to do a proper walk-around before moving any control surfaces to ensure that nothing is in the way of the main or tail rotor blades.

        Always avoid the tail rotor by approaching from the sides. The rotor disk should be tipped so the students understand just how low the main rotor blades may dip in winds and as a result of exaggerated control movements.

        Hands and fingers can be pinched by rotor hubs and hinges during preflight and postflight inspections.

        Main and tail rotor blades pose significant hazards for those unaccustomed to being around helicopters during ground operations.

        Any moving blade is dangerous and can cause injury or damage while under power or during the start up and coast down periods after engine power has been removed.

        Wind or a control input can easily cause slow moving blades to droop or flex, reducing clearance for people standing underneath the rotor disk.

        If the helicopter must be moved from the hangar, students should be cautioned on the hazards of having a piece of machinery raised off the surface and the correct methods of raising and lowering the aircraft. Since helicopters may be taller than an equal size airplane; the student should be taught to ensure plenty of vertical clearance for the aircraft as it is moved. Trip hazards, such as ground wires, should be explained as to requirements, storage, and attachment at end of flights.

        The movement of the helicopter for flight should include preplanning to prevent the hangar from filling with grass, dirt, and excessive wind in the facility. The direction of the wind and airflow around the building should be considered before selecting a takeoff point for the helicopter.

        Jewelry, especially rings, should be removed before preflight and postflight to ensure that they will not be caught on any fasteners or sharp objects. Loose clothing should be secured, and objects in pockets should be removed if the pockets cannot be fastened.

In hover flight, the CFI should emphasize the hazards that rotor wash presents to persons or light aircraft nearby. Dust and debris cause eye injuries and vortices damage light aircraft. A tail rotor is another source of significant hazard because it is out of sight of the pilot. Instructors should ensure the student is aware of the requirement to keep the tail rotor area cleared. Hazards such as those listed above are but a few of the hazards unique to the helicopter. The observant CFI identifies potential hazards during the lesson, corrects the deficiency immediately with an explanation, and develops them as teaching points.

Helicopter Flight Safety Practices

A major component of the FAA’s mission is to improve the nation’s aviation safety record by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education. The goal to reduce the number of accidents in the ever increasingly populated airways means safe flight practices are an important element of flight instruction. It is the CFI’s responsibility to incorporate flight safety into the program of training.

Do not become complacent about safety while instructing. The CFI must always be vigilant about safety and must instill a safety-first attitude in the student. According to statistics from Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Five-Year Comparative U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Trends, the ratio of instructional/training-related accidents to total accidents in the United States has increased more than 18 percent between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2006. Interestingly enough though, the total number of helicopter flight hours has increased by 37 percent, while the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours has drastically decreased—by 42 percent in the same time period. The entire U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Statistic - Summary Report can be found at

Accidents happen quickly during flight instruction, as this recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report reveals:

During a training flight, a helicopter collided with terrain. Weather was visual flight rules (VFR) with no flight plan filed. This was the CFI’s first instructional flight with this student. They conducted the preflight inspection of the helicopter together, started up, and departed for the practice area.

Once the student had a general understanding of the controls, they did an approach that terminated in a hover. The CFI set up the helicopter for a slight right quartering headwind to compensate for translating tendencies, then allowed the student to manipulate the controls. During hover, the helicopter exhibited pendulum action that is common for new students learning to hover. During one of the right lateral oscillations, the helicopter unexpectedly lost altitude. The right skid contacted the ground, and the helicopter rolled over onto its right side. Within seconds, it ignited. Both pilots exited immediately.

Since the helicopter and engine had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight, the accident might have been prevented by:

        Maintaining a proper skid height during instruction at all times.

        Stopping the lateral and aft movement sooner.

        Restricting hovering flight to later lessons after the student has gained some insight and appreciation of the control responsiveness and sensitivity of the helicopter.

The CFI also should have stayed on the controls longer to give the student more time to become familiar with them. The CFI violated the building block principle of simple to complex. The student had no experience to build upon. Helicopter students learn best by beginning in the air where there is a greater margin of error and then learning to fly closer to the ground.

Accident data at the NTSB offer CFIs excellent scenario material for safety discussions. Updated daily and located at, descriptions of more than 140,000 aviation accidents can be searched by a variety of factors, such as date or aircraft category.

Helicopter Role of the Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI)

The FAA places full responsibility for student flight training on the shoulders of the CFI, who is the cornerstone of aviation safety. It is the job of the flight instructor to train the student in all the knowledge areas and teach the skills necessary for the student to operate safely and competently as a certificated pilot in the NAS. The training is not limited to airmanship skills, but includes pilot judgment and decision-making and good operating practices.

A pilot training program depends on the quality of the ground and flight instruction the student receives. A competent instructor must possess a thorough understanding of the learning process, knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching, and the ability to communicate effectively with the student. He or she uses a syllabus and teaching style that embodies the “building block” method of instruction. In this method, the student progresses from the unknown to the known via a course of instruction laid out in such a way that each new maneuver embodies the principals involved in the performance of maneuvers previously learned. Thus, with the introduction of each new subject, the student not only learns a new principle or technique, but also broadens his or her application of those principles or techniques previously learned.

Insistence on correct techniques and procedures from the beginning of training by the CFI ensures the student develops proper habit patterns. Any deficiencies in maneuvers or techniques must immediately be emphasized and corrected. A CFI serves as a role model for the student who observes the flying habits of his or her flight instructor during flight instruction, as well as when the instructor conducts other pilot operations. Thus, the CFI becomes a model of flying proficiency for the student who, consciously or unconsciously, attempts to imitate the instructor. The CFI’s advocacy and description of safety practices mean little to a student if the instructor does not demonstrate them consistently. For this reason, CFIs must observe recognized safety practices, as well as regulations during all flight operations.

An appropriately rated CFI is responsible for training the pilot applicant to acceptable standards in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers included in the tasks within the appropriate PTS. Because of the impact of their teaching activities in developing safe, proficient pilots, flight instructors should exhibit a high level of knowledge, skill, and the ability to impart that knowledge and skill to students.

Additionally, the flight instructor must certify that the applicant is able to perform safely as a pilot and is competent to pass the required practical test. Throughout the applicant’s training, the CFI is responsible for emphasizing the performance of effective visual scanning, collision avoidance, and runway incursion avoidance procedures.

Anyone who enrolls in a pilot training program commits considerable time, effort, and expense to earn a pilot certificate. Many times an individual judges the effectiveness of the flight instructor and the success of the pilot training program based on his or her ability to pass the requisite FAA practical test. A truly professional flight instructor stresses to the student that practical tests are a sampling of pilot ability compressed into a short period of time. The goal of a CFI is to train the “total” pilot.

Helicopter Role of the Examiner

The subject of the PTS also offers the CFI an opportunity to discuss the role of the examiner who plays an important role in the FAA’s mission of promoting aviation safety by administering FAA practical tests for pilot and flight instructor certificates and associated ratings. To satisfy the need for pilot testing and certification services, the FAA delegates certain of these responsibilities to private individuals who are not FAA employees.

Appointed in accordance with 14 CFR section 183.23, a designated pilot examiner (DPE) is an individual who meets the qualification requirements of the Pilot Examiner’s Handbook, Order 8710.3, and who:

        Is technically qualified.

        Holds all pertinent category, class, and type ratings for each aircraft related to their designation.

        Meets requirements of 14 CFR part 61, sections 61.56, 61.57, and 61.58, as appropriate.

        Is current and qualified to act as pilot in command (PIC) of each aircraft for which they are authorized.

        Maintains at least a third-class medical certificate if required.

        Maintains a current flight instructor certificate, if required.

Designated to perform specific pilot certification tasks on behalf of the FAA, a DPE may charge a reasonable fee. Generally, a DPE’s authority is limited to accepting applications and conducting practical tests leading to the issuance of specific pilot certificates and/or ratings. The majority of FAA practical tests at the private and commercial pilot level are administered by DPEs, following FAA provided test standards.

DPE candidates must have good industry reputations for professionalism, integrity, a demonstrated willingness to serve the public, and adhere to FAA policies and procedures in certification matters. The FAA expects the DPE to administer practical tests with the same degree of professionalism, using the same methods, procedures, and standards as an FAA aviation safety inspector (ASI).

Helicopter FAA Reference Material

The reference materials described below, as revised, can be used by the CFI to assemble a handout for the student. An example of such a handout can be found in Appendix A.

        Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25)—provides essential knowledge for pilots as they progress through pilot training. Useful to beginning pilots, as well as those pursuing more advanced certificates.

        Helicopter Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-21)—designed as a technical manual for applicants who are preparing for their private, commercial, or flight instructor pilot certificates with a helicopter class rating. The handbook contains detailed coverage of aerodynamics, flight controls, systems, performance, flight maneuvers, emergencies, and ADM specific to helicopter flight, which makes it a valuable training aid. Helicopters are rotorcraft as are gyroplanes. Gyroplanes and helicopters are the two classes of aircraft in the rotorcraft category. Therefore, to differentiate between the classes of aircraft with different skill requirements, the FAA issues rotorcraft helicopter ratings or rotorcraft gyroplane ratings.

        Instrument Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-15)—designed for use by instrument flight instructors and pilots preparing for instrument rating tests, this handbook is a valuable training aid for CFIs as it includes basic reference material for knowledge testing and instrument flight training. [Figure 1-4]

Figure 1-4. The Instrument Flying Handbook is one of many training aids provided by the FAA Airman Testing Standards Branch.


        Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2)— provides tools to help pilots determine and assess each situation for the safest possible flight with the least amount of risk. This handbook presents methods pilots can use to manage the workloads associated with each phase of flight, resulting in a safer, more enjoyable, and less stressful experience for both themselves and their passengers.

        Advanced Avionics Handbook (FAA-H-8083-6)—provides general aviation users with comprehensive information on the advanced avionics equipment available in technically advanced aircraft.

        Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)—Chapter 10 of the AIM includes items that specifically pertain to helicopter operations. The AIM also provides the aviation community with basic flight information and Air Traffic Control (ATC) procedures for use in the National Air Space (NAS) of the United States. It also contains items of interest to pilots concerning health/medical facts, factors affecting flight safety, etc.

        Airport/Facility Directory—containing information on public and joint use airports, communications, navigation aids, instrument landing systems, very high frequency (VHF) Omni range navigation system (VOR) receiver checkpoints, preferred routes, Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS)/Weather Service telephone numbers, Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) frequencies, part-time surface areas, and various other pertinent special notices essential to air navigation, the directory is now available in digital format at

        Practical Test Standards—the Rotorcraft (Helicopter and Gyroplane) PTS establishes the standards for pilot certification practical tests for the rotorcraft category, helicopter, and gyroplane classes. FAA inspectors and designated pilot examiners (DPEs) conduct practical tests in compliance with these standards. Flight instructors and applicants should find these standards helpful during training and when preparing for the practical test. More detailed information can be found at Refer the new student to page 3 of the PTS which provides a list of references used to compile the standards under which he or she is tested. This list identifies the publications that describe the various tasks that need to be mastered prior to the test. While explaining the PTS, be sure to review the Rotorcraft Practical Test Prerequisites.


An applicant for the Rotorcraft Practical Test is required by 14 CFR part 61 to:

1.       Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. (If there is a doubt, use Advisory Circular (AC) 60-28, English Language Skill Standards.)

2.       Have passed the appropriate pilot knowledge test since the beginning of the 24th month before the month in which the practical test is completed.

3.       Have satisfactorily accomplished the required training and obtained the aeronautical experience prescribed.

4.       Possess a current Medical Certificate.

5.       Have an endorsement from an authorized instructor certifying that the applicant has received and logged training time within 60 days preceding the date of application.

6.       Also have an endorsement certifying that the applicant has demonstrated satisfactory knowledge of the subject areas in which the applicant was deficient on the airman knowledge test.

The Federal Aviation Administration - Role

It is imperative that a new student be introduced and become familiar with the role of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in aviation. For the new student, this includes introducing him or her to the parts and subparts of 14 CFR that relate to flight training and pilot certification. To be included are pertinent handbooks, the PTS, and any references the CFI determines to be valuable to the student pilot learning experience. For transitioning pilots, the PTS for the helicopter is a key reference. The student should also be introduced to the Knowledge Test Guides that can be found at

An online session at the FAA website provides the CFI with an opportunity to introduce the new student and/or transitioning pilot to the many resources now available around the clock. The site has easy-to-access handbooks, regulations, standards, manuals, references, and even online courses. With the advent of the Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (IACRA), the FAA can process airman certification documents via the Internet, interfacing with multiple FAA national databases to validate data and verify specific fields. IACRA automatically ensures applicants meet regulatory and policy requirements and forwards the FAA Form 8710-1 application and test results to the FAA Airmen Certification Branch. [Figure 1-3] While many younger students interface easily with the Internet, a CFI trains pilots of all ages. Ensuring the student is comfortable using the FAA’s Internet resources is part of a good training program.


Figure 1-3. IACRA processes applications for airman certification via the Internet and automatically ensures applicants meet regulatory and policy requirements through programming rules and data validation.

Helicopter Practical Flight Instructor Strategies

As discussed in Chapter 8 of the Aviation Instructor Handbook, certificated flight instructors (CFIs) should remember they are a role model for the student. The flight instructor should demonstrate good aviation air sense and practices at all times.

For the helicopter CFI, this means:

        Before the flight—discuss the procedures for the exchange of controls, establish scan areas for clearing the aircraft, and establish who is responsible for initiating immediate action in an emergency.

        During flight—prioritize the tasks of aviating, navigating, and communicating. Instill the importance of “see and avoid” and utilizing aircraft lighting to be more visible in certain flight conditions.

        During landing—conduct stabilized approaches, maintain proper angle and desired rate of closure on final. Use aeronautical decision-making (ADM) to demonstrate good judgment for go-arounds, wake turbulence avoidance, traffic, and terrain avoidance.

        Always—remember that safety is paramount.

Flight instructors have the responsibility of producing the safest pilots possible. For that reason, CFIs should tirelessly encourage each student to learn as much as he or she is capable of and keep raising the bar toward the ultimate goal. When introducing lesson tasks, flight instructors should introduce the student to the Practical Test Standards (PTS) and discuss that the minimum acceptable standards for passing a given maneuver are stated therein. The CFI must stress to the student that these are only the minimum standards and that he or she should strive for much higher performance.

The PTS is not a teaching tool. It is a testing tool. The overall focus of flight training should be on learning, which includes gaining an understanding of why the standards exist and how they were determined. [Figure 1-2] Use the PTS as a training aid. Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) does require specific training for the PTS endorsements, but this should not be presented to the student at the end of the training. The CFI should take into consideration all of the necessary training and strategically plan that training so the student has time to practice and prepare. It is the ultimate goal of the CFI to produce the safest, most competent pilot from his or her course of instruction and take pride in knowing that the student not only passed the test standards but exceeds those standards when conducting any and all helicopter procedures, on the ground or in the air.

Figure 1-2. Practical Test Standards.

Purpose of Helicopter Flight Training

It is the helicopter instructor’s responsibility to discuss the overall purpose of flight training with the student. Explain that the goal of flight training is the acquisition and honing of basic airmanship skills that provide the student with:

        An understanding of the principles of flight.

        The ability to safely operate a helicopter with competence and precision both on the ground and in the air.

        The knowledge required to exercise sound judgment when making decisions affecting operational safety and efficiency.


Ensure the student understands that a helicopter operates in a three-dimensional environment and requires specific skills to control the aircraft:

        Coordination—the ability to use the hands and feet together subconsciously and in the proper relationship to produce desired results in the helicopter control.

        Control touch—to develop the ability to sense and evaluate the varying pressures and resistance of the control surfaces and/or the instructor’s input transmitted through the cockpit flight controls and apply inputs in response to those pressures.

        Timing—the application of muscular coordination at the proper instant to make maneuvering flight a constant smooth process.

        Mental comprehension of aerodynamic state, power required versus power available, and hazards present.

Keep in mind that an accomplished pilot demonstrates the ability to assess a situation quickly and accurately and to determine the correct procedure to be followed under the circumstance; to analyze accurately the probable results of a given set of circumstances or of a proposed procedure; to exercise care and due regard for safety; to gauge accurately the performance of the aircraft; and to recognize personal limitations and limitations of the aircraft and avoid approaching the critical points of each. The development of airmanship skills requires effort and dedication on the part of both the student and the flight instructor. It begins with the first training flight when the instructor encourages proper habit formation by introducing and modeling safe operating practices.

While every aircraft has its own particular flight characteristics, the purpose of primary and intermediate flight training is not to learn how to fly a particular make and model of helicopter; it is to develop skills and safe habits that are transferable to any helicopter. [Figure 1-1] Basic airmanship skills serve as a firm foundation for this. Acquiring necessary airmanship skills during training and demonstrating these skills by flying with precision and safe flying habits allows the pilot to transition easily to more complex helicopters. Remember, the goal of flight training is to become a safe and competent pilot, and that passing required tests for pilot certification is only the first step toward this goal.

Figure 1-1 As part of flight training, a pilot instructs a student on proper techniques for landing at an airport.