We can do better than this

The likelihood that you will make a poor landing is directly proportional to the number and significance of the people witnessing the event.Helicopters can be landed and should be landed smoothly on the exact spot intended.
We have all made those landings that we would have loved to have had a do over, or at least had a valid reason,(excuse) for the landing that occurred.
I watched, what was probably a low time pilot, attempting to land a Robinson R-44 in a gusty cross wind a few months back.Almost everything about the pilots approach to land and landing were wrong. The fact that the landing was completed with the aircraft intact indicated some small measure of ability and good luck.
The landing of choice was a low hover to a slow run on to the grass near the fuel pit.I know very well why this type of landing was chosen and had it been performed with some degree of precision ,I would not have been as alarmed.
Unfortunately, the landing had been a stab at the ground with a sideways drift that looked a lot like the beginning of a dynamic roll over.The landing gear, dry ground and perhaps my quick request for help from the almighty may have prevented an ugly scene. The airport’s fuel tanks and my 22 million dollar helicopter were going to be the first point of contact for the R-44, had it turned itself into a ditch witch, parts slinging piece of junk.
I remember a flight instructor about 30 years ago debriefing a slow run on landing I had performed to cheat a gusty wind that was not working so good for me in the hover.
“A run on landing is for wheeled aircraft and is an emergency procedure for skid equipped helicopters” he told me. I was just starting to form the b in “but” when the instructor cut me off. “Don’t do it”. “Work, at getting the helicopter to the spot you want”.”Your next gusty wind landing may be to a tight pinnacle on a rocky mountain top” “You try that slide it on approach to a landing under those conditions and you’ll be rolling down that mountain in pieces. ” I’ll piss on your grave if you die pulling a stunt like that Keith.” ” Do you understand me?”
I assured my instructor that I had clearly grasped his instruction, noting, that it had not been a subtle point that I might have otherwise missed.
I have never forgotten that advice.
I have done check rides where the reverse of a run on landing was a required maneuver and my reluctance to perform that maneuver almost got me a fail on the check ride.
The FAA at the time, insisted on a running takeoff during the check ride. I can do the maneuver and have, under certain circumstances when flying helicopters with wheels rather than skids. With a skid equipped helicopter I can see no reason other than in some life threatening emergency, to make a running takeoff
I had told the FAA check pilot, that unless he requested the maneuver be performed as an emergency procedure I could not justify a take off under those conditions. My comment was not well received to say the least. The running takeoff was part of the check ride and a refusal was akin to an unsatisfactory result,which would end the check ride. Further more ,the retest would include but not be limited to, this same maneuver being performed satisfactorily or we would be looking at another pink slip.
I attempted an explanation as we sat at idle on the grass. “Sir, there is no condition other than an emergency that would require or allow a pilot to make a running takeoff unless some parameter of weight and density altitude were about to be exceeded beyond the performance limitation of the aircraft”.
In simpler terms, if the helicopter is too damned heavy to hover and take off then, it can not legally get airborne using any other technique such as a running takeoff or perhaps waiting for the wind to exceed translational lift velocity.
We settled on calling the maneuver a coordination exercise, allowing that it was not be used for normal flight.
I don’t know if the maneuver is still required by the FAA or not, on check rides and if it is, it needs to replaced, along with the steep approach to a pinnacle landing and the even more ridiculous max performance take off in a confined area. Beyond ab initio instruction and the required FAA check rides, I have never seen either of these methods of landing and take off used or taught by any of the helicopter companies I have worked at over the past 34 years . Now why is that ?

About Heligypsy

Has it really been forty three years flying helicopters all over the world? I guess its time to share some stories, I hope you enjoy my adventures.
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9 Responses to We can do better than this

  1. mlanger says:

    I did a running takeoff in my R22 once. I was within weight limitations, but definitely heavy. I was departing Grand Canyon airport, which sits at 6300 feet, and it was a late summer afternoon with temperatures probably in the 80s.

    Fortunately, the pad where I was parked was adjacent to the ramp area, which was nice and smooth. I was able to get the helicopter quite light on the skids, but the low rotor RPM horn was screaming. On a Robinson, the low rotor warning system activates at 97% RPM. Flight is theoretically possible at 80% + 1% per thousand feet of density altitude, so the horn didn’t bother me much as I made my takeoff “roll.”

    The guy sitting next to me with his bag (that definitely weighed more than the 10 pounds he told me it weighed) was a former helicopter CFI working with me at one of the tour operations. He had lots of complements for me when the horn shut up and we climbed out. It was then that I realized I’d made a maneuver he probably wouldn’t have made. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

    I was a bit concerned about landing 20 miles to the south at an airport with an even higher elevation (6700 feet), but either the wind or 20 minutes of fuel burn helped me out. No need for a running landing.

    In hindsight, with the uncertainty of landing ahead of me, I probably should have made my friend leave his heavy bag behind.

    Would I use a running takeoff again? Under the right conditions and if I knew there was no expected power issues at the LZ, then yes. On smooth pavement only, though. Would I use a running landing when I didn’t have to? No.

    I would not use a running landing to “cheat” in a crosswind. If I couldn’t land with a crosswind, I’d point into the wind. I dealt with some nasty crosswind set downs at the Grand Canyon in a Long Ranger, which has pretty crappy tail rotor authority. In fact, I nearly lost control due to LTE right over the landing pad once when the Long Ranger’s anti-torque pedals weren’t as responsive as my little R22’s. I can’t tell you how ugly that would have been. That experience really took away any complacency I had about crosswind landings.

    It’s experience — including bad experiences — that make us better pilots. With luck, the pilot you watched almost ball up his helicopter that day realized what he was doing wrong and he won’t do it again. With luck, it scared him. There’s nothing like a good scare to teach you a lesson.

  2. I don’t have much time in the R-22 but I wonder which weight limitation you were within?
    Would the performance chart for an in ground effect hover at that density altitude and weight have indicated that hover flight would be possible?
    If the answer is yes ,you are legal. If the performance chart indicates that you can not hover then you are not legal to takeoff.
    I am sure you know all this and I only mention the obvious to point out one thing. If you perform a running takeoff you are almost always doing so outside of normal flight operations.This means that you are flying contrary to the flight manual.If anything goes wrong,you are sitting with the tape recorder on the desk talking to the NTSB.The NTSB has the benefit of time and hindsight and if you have loaded and flown a helicopter beyond what the flight manual says can be done you too are done.
    I have performed running takeoffs in piston powered helicopters flying Ag ships off a pasture but I certainly knew that I was over gross for that density altitude. The difference there being that had the ability to jettison my load and I suppose the evidence of my over weight departure. That was along time ago.

  3. dodo says:

    I’m currently a cfi and no, a running takeoff is not a required maneuver. A steep approach is required, but it may be done anywhere. A confined area OR a pinnacle landing is required, but it’s not specified that it also has to be a steep approach. Likewise, a max performance takeoff is required, though it may be demonstrated anywhere. Usually, the examiners like to combine the maneuvers to shorten their trip. That is, steep approach to a confined area followed by a max performance takeoff. That’s two less maneuvers to be done in the pattern. We tell our students not to do a max takeoff from a confined area unless the obstacles call for it. If there’s enough room for a normal takeoff, use it. “Why sit yourself in the dark of the diagram when you don’t need to?” the lecture goes.
    (So we know we’re talking the same thing, when I say max performance, I mean any takeoff where you’re using max takeoff power and maintaining ETL airspeed.)
    Now for my inexperienced pilot question, if I may. What’s so bad about a max performance takeoff from a confined area? Let me rephrase that, I know what’s so bad about it — high power, low altitude, deep inside the curve, obstacles — but I’m surprised that you find it so ridiculous, and that you’ve never (rarely?) had to perform this during your jobs. I’ve always been under the impression that it was a fairly “normal” practice for certain operations, such as EMS, logging, forestry, fire fighting. Sometimes, isn’t it just necessary? I can hear you say “if you find it necessary to do a max performance takeoff in order to clear obstacles, then you’ve landed in the wrong spot in the first place.” But sometimes the only spot available to get that job done is…well, the only spot available. Right?
    Otherwise, why learn a max performance takeoff at all? High density altitudes? Well, if you have enough power to hover, you should have enough power to climb once there’s translational lift.

    Just found your blog through Maria’s, and I’m glad about it. I’ll never get enough of hearing stories and lessons from experienced pilots. Thanks.
    Doug

  4. Doug, Thank You for your comments. A maximum performance takeoff as you define it utilizes both max takeoff power and ETL speed which we would agree is something in excess of ___ ?kts or mph across the rotor disc.
    No, I NEVER pull max takeoff power and create the relative wind over the rotor disc by increasing the forward speed and hoping, that the combination of max power and relative wind will allow me to get out of where ever I am.
    Can you guess why? What are you going to use to stop your advance when it becomes obvious that the max performance takeoff profile you have created is NOT going allow you to get out of the confined area that you are now about to be “confined” to?
    I look forward to hearing your answer.

  5. mlanger says:

    Keith: Just saw your comment. I was well within max gross weight for the aircraft. Was I able to hover? That’s a good question. I’d say I was — after all, I did get it light enough on the skids to allow unrestricted movement. Is that a hover?

    The conditions that day were perfect for a running takeoff — smooth surface, plenty of space for a takeoff roll, lots of room to safely abort with a running landing if necessary. (The taxiway was empty and 7000+ feet long!) I don’t think I would have attempted the maneuver in less optimal conditions.

    I can’t say I recall reading ANYWHERE that I’m not allowed to take off without being able to hover. After all, isn’t that why they teach us running takeoffs? Or am I missing something? And sounding like a complete idiot in the process?

    I think this all goes back to being trained by inexperienced pilots. After all, most of my CFIs had far fewer than 1000 hours in flight time and NO real-life experience. They teach us maneuvers because we’ll be tested on them. They’re vague about why or when we should use them.

    Your reply to Doug’s comment illustrates this. I was once taught how to do a max performance takeoff out of a dry cattle tank. Imagine a pond surrounded by earth berms and trees buy dry at the bottom. We did a confined space landing in one during my commercial training. It was a hot day and my CFI used our departure as an example of climbing out at max power, using forward speed to increase lift. The problem with this (in hindsight) is that if we were unable to complete the maneuver, we would have been in the trees. At the time, that thought never occurred to me. After all, I trusted my CFI. I didn’t think he’d ever put us in danger. And maybe he didn’t. But my memory of the event makes it seem pretty iffy. Would I do it again? I guess it depends on the actual conditions. It did clearly teach me the benefit of forward airspeed when climbing out. Maybe that was the only lesson I was supposed to take away. Maybe we weren’t really at maximum power. It’s hard to remember things that happened 8 or 9 years ago.

    Anyway, I’ve probably just made myself look stupider than ever. But, at the same time, I believe we do need to learn and practice non-standard maneuvers that we might need someday. It’s so important to learn the capabilities of an aircraft that you fly all the time. I don’t think pushing gently on the envelope in controlled situations is something we should avoid doing at all costs. I think it’s part of the learning process that makes us better pilots.

    Am I wrong?

  6. “Learn from the mistakes of others because you will never live long enough to make them all yourself”
    I am quoting a Canadian safety periodical.
    Find in any flight manual for any helicopter the performance chart for a running take off. Find the limitations for a running takeoff.If the manufacturer does not list anything about that maneuver that should tell you something. A running landing can be found in the “emergency” procedures for some helicopters.
    Yes I have performed a running takeoff but try and imagine that in your last Part 135 ride you were too heavy to hover for some reason. Would you have performed a running takeoff on that checkride? I am thinking. No,LOL.

  7. dodo says:

    Okay, here I go. I’ll probably sound exactly like the less-than-1000hr pilot Maria learned from, so be it.
    To try to answer your question point-blank, if I need to slow myself from 20-ish kts airspeed, I’ll give aft cyclic, maintain my power, establish a hover, and descend straight down. That’s assuming it doesn’t take all my power just to maintain a 3-ft hover.

    I DID run out of room once with a student. We didn’t get our profile established soon enough, and we weren’t going to clear our trees. I stopped moving forward and brought us down to a hover, we moved to the same starting position and did it right this time. I didn’t have to “overboost” while keeping a slow descent rate. We were near sea level, with a fair wind. (That doesn’t mean I feel okay about the experience.)

    If I put myself in a situation where my max takeoff power is only enough to maintain a low hover, and the only way I’ll climb higher is with enough airspeed, then I’m in trouble. I’ll stop my advance and either enter a vortex ring or give myself low rpm trying to stay out of it. This is the scenario I was getting at when I mentioned high density altitude.

    There must be confined area takeoffs everyday. I’m left with thinking either A) a vertical takeoff at max power to clear the obstacles, or B) using less than max power, with ETL.
    On the flip side, are you saying you’re okay with a max performance takeoff that doesn’t involve obstacles? (but then why do one?)

    I may have gone down completely the wrong track, but this is what made sense. Hopefully you won’t be blindsiding me with something that makes me question ALL my of my training. But, if that’s what it takes… Maria’s right, almost all of my coworkers are below 1000 hrs. I’ve known from the beginning that this was blind-leading-the-blind. I’m at a well established school with many experienced (real-world) pilots at the top. I’ve always hoped (and still mostly believe) that their oversight is what keeps us from becoming complete fools due to our inexperience.

  8. I think you found your best answer. You are at an established school with many experienced real world pilots at the top. I hope they are at least as approachable as I am.Most pilots share their experience willingly.
    I am not going to attempt to write a lesson plan. I would suggest you ask one of the other experienced pilots what a customer such as say,the U.S.F.S. expects you to do when flying their people to a helipad on a tree covered mountain top.
    If you let this pilot talk you through the whole process from weight and balance ,performance charts and technique you should see what I am talking about at the end of the discussion.
    You might be surprised, as an example to find out that we “flight plan ” to an OGE hover at the helipad altitude.
    I am sure it will all make sense after your discussion. You have experienced people at your finger tips. Now might be a good time to pick their brains. You’ll never get a better chance.

  9. Maria says:

    No more blog posts, Keith?

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