Weather related helicopter crash

May I begin by wishing you all a very Happy New Year. It’s 11:27 UK time on the 6th January 2023. Congratulations to the UK Robinson helicopter fraternity for making the ‘no’ fatal accident eleven (11) year marker.

Truly an outstanding achievement by the owner/operators, pilots, office/reception staff, hangar/aircraft cleaners, engineers, flight instructors, Uncle Tom Cobley and all! I’m sure that Frank is looking down and questioning why other countries cannot operate the product as successfully.

I become progressively more nervous as the years go by as we aim to maintain this incredible achievement. I can only put this down to my perceived view of the tendency towards a developing risk of complacency.

With no fatal accidents in the last 11 years we potentially run the risk of taking the focus off of the prevention of accidents.

The pilot may increasingly feel a false sense of security and could feel saturated by flight safety information which they may now possibly consider as irrelevant and therefore … job done!

The job is never done and in fact it just gets harder to maintain the focus.

This is coupled with the fact that the helicopter is becoming ever more reliable which I have mentioned before. Aircraft reliability is a double edged sword:

  • The positive side of the improved reliability speaks for itself i.e. the pilot is less likely to be confronted by a system issue in flight, a caution or warning light etc.
  • The negative side is complacency as the pilot tends to have a less defensive attitude in their pre-flight check and flying.

When bacon was crispy and we had long hot summers, the helicopter was very much less reliable; the pilot conducted their pre-flight check expecting to find an issue.

When flying, the pilot was waiting for something to cause an increase in their heart rate! The attitude was to fly defensively, on the understanding that “If it can happen, it will happen”.


Fly defensively

Every time you fly then you should adopt this very healthy attitude and add it to your pre-flight check and flight planing. This should also include a refresher on the relevant “What to do if…’ sections of a flight manual or Pilots Operating Handbook (POH).

Have a plan ‘B’. Plan for an early decision to conduct a possible precautionary off airfield landing and practice for it.

Robinson Helicopters are particularly good at passing on issues that have caused problems in the past with their ‘safety tips’ in section 10 of the POH. Read them!

Learn from previous situations that have caused accidents in the past. Believe me, your accident will not be unique; it’s all been seen and done many times before so don’t be the one to reset the clock!

Every flight has the opportunity of raising inflight situations that will reduce the pilot’s spare capacity: temporarily unsure of their position, deteriorating weather conditions, passenger distraction etc.

All these situations are causes of loss of situational awareness and when dealing with one ‘out of the ordinary’ situation it is easy to forget to maintain awareness for other potential issues. The situation can then unravel very quickly.


Passenger distraction

The passenger distraction risk has been somewhat reduced in the Robinson product as RHC have had for sometime a very nice audio/com’s unit fitted to their aircraft to assist with the possible threat of passenger distractions.

The R44 has a pilot isolation selection, where the front left and rear passengers can carry on talking to each other or listening to auxiliary audio without distracting the pilot.

The R66 has multiple intercom functions:

  • The normal mode: all occupants hear incoming and outgoing radio communications, intercom and auxiliary audio.
  • The crew mode: the pilot and co-pilot are isolated from all other occupants. The crew does not hear rear seat intercom or auxiliary audio and the rear seat occupants do not hear crew or radio communications.
  • Pilot isolation mode: the pilot is isolated from all other occupants. The co-pilot is grouped with the rear seat occupants for intercom and auxiliary audio.

If a pilot wants to listen to music then do so …but from a comfy chair at home. it is not good captaincy when you are the pilot in command!


Talking about “pilot in command”

I think it is true to say that most general aviation pilots do not have clearly articulated criteria for determining proficiency. Generally speaking, pilot’s don't practice for proficiency. Proficient implies a thorough competence derived from training and practice.

The practice element can and should be included in your everyday flying …be precise, disciplined and accurate in your flying; give yourself a critique at the end of each flight, which should be sharp and crisp and not wet and woolly. 

The training element might be expensive but as they say: “If you think flight safety is expensive then wait until you have the accident”. The helicopter can be replaced but the lives lost cannot. 

Reject the possible positive mental feedback from a bad decision: “I survived It once so I know I have the skill to do it again”. Drinking milk every day does not give you nine (9) lives. 

Enjoy your 2023 flying and let’s make sure that we make the year 12 marker by flying as a sedulous student, as your license is nothing but a license to learn! 

Knowledge is Flight Safety Helping to Keep your RPM in the Green.



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