Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Advisory circular for Helicopter Air Ambulance Operations Published...

From the FAA advisory circular...

The term Emergency Medical Service/Helicopter (EMS/H or HEMS) is obsolete. It is being replaced with HAA because, though a critical life and death medical emergency may exist, air ambulance flights are not operated as an emergency. Pilots and operator management personnel should not make flight decisions based on the condition of the patient, but rather upon the safety of the flight.

Does someone in government actually think that our accident rate can be reduced with a name change? While substantive changes are being made, you can call what we do whatever you want - it will not change the acuity of the bleeding and battered persons who lie on the cot next to us. 

This ain't no taxi ride pal...

While a new and inexperienced  HEMS pilot might worry about the condition of the patient, a much more likely scenario is a pilot and crew worrying about how many flights their base has performed - and if they are going to lose their jobs  It's too bad we've forgotten how dangerous it is to constantly harp on volume.

Click here to download the AC as a pdf.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On Machoism...

I have always thought of (and discussed) machoism from a certain perspective. But it has different personas. Here is a comment from a post I wrote on a facebook string.

One of our problems is that we are assumed to have the experience for all the different environments we operate in, or perhaps it's left to "tribal knowledge" (a check-airman's actual words during a message exchange on this topic a couple years back) to prepare us. Landing on, in, and among high-rise buildings is akin to mountain flying. No one in HEMS addresses wind or turbulence limits - it's up to the pilot. And if "all the other guys do it" then I should be able to do it too, right? I now realize that this attitude (I can do it if they can do it) is another form of the hazardous attitude "Machoism."

While attempting a landing at the Medical University of South Carolina's helipad on top of a parking garage, downwind of an airfoil shaped tower (The Ashley River Tower), I realized that the vortices off the building were putting me at the limits of aircraft control.

Image courtesy Vertical Magazine

The thought went through my mind...all the other guys would be able to do this...

I decided that what I was doing and thinking was stupid. It was self-induced pressure to live up to an image. I aborted the approach and went to an airport. The patient went by ground.

Sometimes old pilots try to be bold pilots...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Eagle Med helicopter crashes in Oklahoma

One person has died. The news report indicates four crashes within this company since 2010....

This is the second fatal HEMS crash in a week. Stand by for increased regulatory pressure and government oversight. Hopefully the survivors from last evenings mishap can offer insight into what happened.

Click here for more...

For a historical perspective on the problem, click here...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reflecting on Loss of Power...

 Losing an engine at that point would result in a very rapid decrease in rotor rpm, and a rapid descent to who-knows-what kind of forced landing area. It would be a lot different than pushing the collective down from level slow-cruise at one thousand feet above the threshold of a big beautiful runway. An excerpt from a post on ready-thinking

Over the last few days, I have been doing some hard thinking about what it will mean to lose power from the single engine in the helicopter I fly. Notwithstanding the high reliability and statistically insignificant risk of failure, engines DO fail and when we only have one, it puts us in a bad situation. I have taken to slightly longer hover checks (to let it quit if it wants to while I am near the ground), and climb-outs at max-continuous power and best-climb speed. Altitude and speed are good when the whining stops.

I spoke with Alex Myers, a young pilot-friend about the failure he experienced in a 333 trainer in Saudi Arabia. He noticed a change in engine sound, took the controls, and said, "now what did you do?" to his student. The student didn't do it - a nut on a pressure line came loose. Alex says "everything slows down and time stretches" as he is doing his first-ever real-live no-crap auto to the surface. He had just cleared a built up area and was over flat open terrain. They were lucky. 

Not everyone is so lucky.

Fellow pilot Juan Terraza told me about his two engine failures. In both cases the problem was the same thing, a nut securing a pressure line vibrates loose, a pressure signal is lost, and the engine spools down. Juan said both problems occurred after making a power adjustment, and advised against moving the collective during climb-out until at a safe altitude for autorotation. So after my hover checks are complete, I make one smooth increase in power to the line and leave the collective still until level off. 

Bad fuel will ruin our day as well...

I continue to consider and announce forced-landing areas, for both arrivals and departures. But I know there will be some situations where a forced landing will be difficult if not deadly. It might be good to start looking at rooftop helipads on hospitals as higher-risk propositions, with some additional forethought on escape paths and forced landing areas. It might even be worth considering to begin an approach to a point in space adjacent to a rooftop pad, sliding over the pad as the approach terminates. If the engine burps, farts, or coughs - down-collective to maintain rotor rpm and fly clear...

I find myself reflecting on the amount of time I spend in the avoid-area of the height-velocity chart - that is the combination of altitude (low) and airspeed (slow) from which an autorotation will not end well. A wire strike is more likely than an engine failure, but there are some areas where a wire strike is unlikely - like on approach to a rooftop helipad. If we know that we are into the wind, and won't hit wires, perhaps a super-slow approach (200 feet per minute rate-of-descent) isn't the best way...

(One cannot land a single engine-helicopter on a rooftop hospital-helipad in the city of Boston. Recent events perhaps bear out the logic of this restriction).

When you read about someone perishing - someone of a similar age and with lots of experience - by all accounts a good and safe pilot - it brings on the hard thinking...

May it not happen to you.

Or me.

Please add your thoughts on this in a comment...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

ARCH helicopter crashes near SLU, pilot dead

Image credit: KTRS
ST. LOUIS – (KTRS) The pilot of a medical helicopter is dead following a fiery crash Friday night near the helipad of St. Louis University Hospital, a fire department spokesman said. Shortly after 11 p.m., authorities said the pilot of a helicopter from ARCH Air Medical Services was heading back to the hospital 

Click here for more...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pressure Relief Valves...

A flight request came across the radio. The young new pilot checked the weather computer, found numbers that looked good, and accepted the flight. As the crew walked outside they looked up at a low ominous ceiling. The nurse looked at him, and back at the sky. She could read his mind. He had accepted a flight, and he was having second thoughts. But he had just said that the weather was good and that they could go.

In an even, friendly voice she said, "it's okay to change your mind, if you don't think the weather is good enough we don't have to go. There won't be any trouble."  

He spoke into his radio, "Communications, this is Lifeflight. We are unable to respond for weather." 

If you are a HEMS crew member, be advised. Your pilot is under pressure.

It's a normal fact of life, and he or she is not unique in this regard. You are under pressure too - but his or her pressure can hurt you, whereas few crew members have ever hurt or killed a pilot.

Airbus Helicopters Drops EC from Designations...

The only constant is change. Do you remember France's Aerospatiale and Germany's MBB, and then Eurocopter and the ECs. In 2016 the "EC" will be E-xtinct.

It's interesting when a bystander asks me what company made the helicopter I am flying. Do we say, MBB for an old BK? Aerospatiale for an old Dauphin or Astar? Eurocopter for an EC-145? Or do we simply use the current nomenclature?

Click here for story...courtesy Flight Global

German HEMS in the news...Hospital employee killed by tail rotor...

Man walks into helicopter tail rotor...click here for more.


If we want to effect change, we have to step into the arena. Thanks to all who volunteered time and energy to support NEMSPA's goal of a zero accident rate in HEMS. HEMS pilots, we are working at this but we can't do it alone. Will you join us?

Neal Jacob, Shelby Dunagon, Kurt Williams, Randy Mains, Dan Foulds

Kurt Williams, Dave Conboy, Miles Dunagan, Rick Ruff, Dan Foulds

Col. (retired) Jim Viola, stopping by for a visit. 


Halo Flight Looking Sharp and Ready to Respond...

Image courtesy Doris Kirkwood Young via ASTNA