Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Airlines are Hiring Helicopter Pilots!

Is it time for a change of pace? There are programs sponsored by the airlines in which a commercial helicopter pilot can receive transition training and land an airline job...

We tend to favor competitive environments, as these spur increases in performance. The developing competition for a relatively scarce resource - a commercial pilot - has been brought on by the employment conditions created by employers. When Sully said (the airlines) should respect the profession, no one listened. "The life" of an airline pilot - especially one flying for a regional carrier - became less and less desirable. This was all made starkly apparent during the investigation into the Colgan Air crash near Wilkes Barre. Low wages and crash-pad life drove prospective candidates, especially rotor-pilots coming out of the military, into off-shore or HEMS jobs.
Perhaps the airline industry has passed the nadir; perhaps becoming an airline pilot will once again be a high-paying, respectable employment option. .As the airlines cherry-pick the best rotor-pilots - many of whom have and will continue to come from the ranks of HEMS - a predictable set of events will occur.

First, some HEMS companies will look to hire the very young and the very old. This has already started in at least one case.

We can imagine a conversation like this between two new-hire HEMS pilots.

"Hey, young fellow! When I started flying, you were in diapers."

"Oh yeah, Gramps? Well, when I finish flying, it'll be you in the diapers. As a matter of fact, you look pretty 'dependable' today!"

Barring restraint, and with bases out of service, some companies will hire any licensed warm body; pilots who are too new to get any other job or who have hit the age limit for part 121 flying, currently 65 years. These same companies will also seek to lower the hiring-requirements for anyone attempting to become a HEMS pilot. If the rules get in the way of making money, the first thing you do is change the rules.

Enter AMOA.

These developments will show up in the accident and error rate, and they will result in clinicians departing the HEMS industry after becoming dismayed at the lack of proficiency of the persons flying. (At least those clinicians who know what a lack of proficiency looks like.) Flying a single-pilot VFR helicopter to an accident scene at 3am is different than flying an airliner as a member of a flight crew. It's not necessarily harder, but it is different. It requires an entirely different set of interpersonal and aviation skills.

The transitioning rotor pilot will serve in the airlines as a co-pilot until his or her performance has been verified. A retiring airline pilot entering HEMS will be given 8 to 10 hours and a check ride before being cast loose upon the skies.

When you pay peanuts, you hire monkeys.

The members of many professions join together in associations to set standards for entry, professional development, and performance. Unlike doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers; pilots are unable or unwilling to form a true professional association with the legitimacy and power to set standards and conditions.

If you can't find a pilot with 3000 hours and an ATP willing to take your job at the salary offered, well, the simple answer is to lower the requirements. We witnessed that exact development ourselves between 1998 and 2004. As rotor-pilots explore other options, we will undoubtedly see more of the same.

But, at some point, insurance rates and astronomical lawsuits will drive the fix most strenuously avoided by the HEMS industry.

Wages will increase, perhaps to a point commensurate with generated-revenues.

After all, the airlines are hiring.

Monday, February 26, 2018

What is Your Tolerance for Turbulence?

A witness said survivors of the crash ran out of the helicopter screaming
Image courtesy Teddy Fujimoto and AZCentral.com
The question of the day...

What is Your Tolerance for Turbulence?

Is it a light tossing? Significant slams? Occasional loss of control? Are you more concerned with turbulence at altitude or near the surface? How much wind will you tolerate near mountainous terrain or large buildings?

Let's consider an event from 2002...

"The medevac helicopter lifted off the hospital's rooftop helipad at night. The pilot made a right pedal turn to the northwest, facing a building that extended above the height of the helipad by approximately 10-feet. The paramedic said that when the helicopter was about 20-feet above the helipad, and while he was programming the GPS receiver, a "sudden gust" of wind push the helicopter from directly behind. He was not alerted to anything unusual until he looked up and noticed the helicopter's close proximity to a 16-floor brick building, located at the northern corner of the heliport, which extended above the height of the helipad by 4 floors. The paramedic yelled, "building, building, building!" to alert the pilot. The pilot then made a rapid right cyclic input to avoid hitting the building, but the helicopter struck the building and fell about 13 floors to ground level. The paramedic did not see or hear any warning lights, horns or unusual noises, and was not aware of any mechanical problems with the helicopter. A police officer who flew two missions in the local area prior to the accident said the wind speed at 500 feet agl was at least 25 knots and gusting from the south/southwest. He stood on the primary helipad after the accident and said mechanical turbulence from the building was evident. An FAA inspector who also stood on the rooftop helipad after the accident said the wind gusts were about 20-30 knots from the southwest and they swirled around the heliport. Review of the helicopter flight manual revealed, "Directional controllability during take-off and landing is assured for flight condition with crosswind components up to 17 [knots]." (added - do you know the conditions under which that number was derived?)

Here's another bit from a later event,

On March 6, 2015, at 2310 central standard time, an Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopter) EC-130-B4 ... struck the edge of a hospital building and impacted its parking lot during a visual approach to the St Louis University Hospital elevated rooftop helipad (MO55), St Louis, Missouri. During the approach, the helicopter experienced a loss of directional control and entered an uncontrolled descent. The helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire. The commercial pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter was operated under Title 14 CFR Part 91 as an air medical positioning flight that was operating on a company flight plan. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight was returning to MO55 after it had been refueled at the operator’s base in St. Louis, Missouri.

The flight’s first approach and landing at MO55 was to drop off a medic, nurse, and a patient. During the approach, the pilot reported to the flight nurse and medic that winds were gusting to 25 knots. The flight nurse stated that helicopter was yawing quite a bit and there was a noticeable roll side to side during landing. The helicopter landed without incident during the first approach and landing. The flight then departed to obtain fuel at the operator’s base and then departed to return to MO55, to pick up the medic and flight nurse.The accident occurred during the return’s approach for landing at MO55.

Does your General Operations Manual provide your pilots clear and unambiguous
guidance to be followed upon encountering turbulence? Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures?
If not, what are you waiting for?

And here is yet another comment in the media regarding a crash for which the investigation is ongoing.

"More than 20 first responders had to hike to the downed helicopter from an area only accessible with certain vehicles. Emergency crews then had to wait for strong winds to quiet before they could lift passengers out of the canyon."
In this event, a bystander reported gusts to 50 miles per hour on the upper rim of the canyon.

Here is a bit of text from "Skybrary" on turbulence.

"Air moving over or around high ground may create turbulence in the lee of the terrain feature. This may produce violent and, for smaller aircraft, potentially uncontrollable effects resulting in pitch and/or roll to extreme positions"

Of course, we don't ever want to fly our helicopters into "uncontrollable" conditions. Do we? The question is; how close to uncontrollable should we get? The answer is not in the rotorcraft flight manual. The manufacturer wants to sell you an aircraft, not talk you out of it. The answer is also most-likely not coming from your company. They leave a decision like this up to you the pilot - and to a lesser extent the medical team. "Tribal knowledge" has been offered as guidance. Or perhaps we should ask ourselves "what would the other guys do?"

Here's the problem with that idea... What if the other guys are out flying because we are? What if we are all waiting for the first crew to say "stop!"

I humbly offer a bit of advice. If at any time you feel that turbulence is putting you at risk for loss of control and unplanned contact with an obstacle,...

Knock it off!

"The pilot reported that he performed his approach into the wind. On short final he could feel periodic gusts of wind. The pilot executed the standard approach to the helipad and the helicopter encountered another gust that picked the helicopter's nose up as it was moving over the pad. He maneuvered the helicopter to center it over the pad when he heard a sound like "metal on metal as if the tail rotor had hit something a couple times." The pilot felt no initial feedback in the controls, he felt the helicopter yaw to the left, and the helicopter continued to yaw to the left with his full application of right pedal. He lowered the collective and rolled off the throttle to enter a hovering autorotation and attempted to land it as level as possible. The helicopter landed hard. The operator reported substantial ground damage occurred to the tail rotor gearbox and tail rotor blades and a review of images revealed damage to the tail boom. A nearby fence and light were reported to be damaged. The operator's accident report indicated that there were no mechanical malfunctions with the helicopter.

Probable Cause and Findings
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from the ground obstacle during the landing with gusting winds present."

Are you performing operations near an obstructed confined area or a perilous pinnacle? Are you getting your butt handed to you?

Go to a big flat airport with few obstacles and greater chances for stable flowing winds. That's where manufacturers test for controllability. Give yourself the same benefits that the test pilots get.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thank you for stopping by...

Each of us has an obligation to pass on what we have learned, as others
passed knowledge and experience on to us.

Greetings friends and Happy New Year!

In the spirit of new beginnings, I am henceforth going to focus on writing for Vertical 911 with the help of my friend and editor Elan Head.  The frequency of posts here will likely decrease since getting paid for writing is more fun. I never received a penny for any of this, yet it has been the most rewarding experience imaginable. I recommend blogging to anyone - and anyone has stories to tell. And it's free! On occasion, I spoke truth to power - and that was refreshing. I have had strangers walk up to me at conferences, look me in the eye, and thank me for this blog.

Free and Priceless!

I want to thank each of you who have stopped by to visit HelicopterEMS.com, and especially those of you who took the time to comment - and in some cases - to contribute to the blog.  When I began this project it was a natural progression from visiting Lyn Burks' bulletin board at "JustHelicopters.com"  and discussing helicopter topics there. I was an active HEMS pilot, had time on my hands, and things to say. Blogger offered a platform for that discussion. I remember exclaiming to my flight-nurse wife Jeanne that two hundred people had visited the blog! That number now approaches a quarter of a million. It has been a ton of fun!

I hope that you who have visited, and you who visit anew have or will derive some enjoyment from the thoughts of a common helicopter pilot. When I started, Air Methods was a middling-sized outfit, Omniflight was in ascension, OCC's were a new development, and crashes were all too common. Somewhere along the way, I began to think that maybe one person with a keyboard could affect the number of fatal crashes we experience in HEMS.

Crazy right?

HEMS doesn't pay much, but there is a great view from the office. At Beaufort Memorial
with the Green Machine - she's been there and done that and got a new tail.I was
thinking of her when I wrote "Out of Sight but Never Out of Mind-Tail Rotor Tales"

On the last USHST conference call, a speaker talked about the personal side of safety education and outreach. What I took away from his comments is that we have to make an emotional connection - as well as a cognitive one - with the people who climb in helicopters and decide how to operate them. I think that is the key, and rather than differentiating the people who have crashed and killed themselves and others, I think it's best to relate to them as personally as possible: To understand their humanity, their strengths and weaknesses, and what might have led them to disaster. Once we relate to crash victims, to "see their side of the story," then perhaps we are in a better position to understand when we might be on the path to a fatal-end ourselves. Rather than beating people over the head with a litany of criticisms and mandates, we should "nudge" flight teams in the right direction; toward safety and success and long life.

Life is Good, right?

From my time spent on this blog I got to be involved with NEMSPA. I got to meet Josh Henke and Krista Haugen and Jonathan Godfrey, and Kurt and Miles and Bill. And maybe I got to meet you. I  got to present at several AMTCs, and perhaps I was able to make HEMS just a little bit better.

My most fervent desire was for us to experience a complete year without anyone being killed. And we - make that YOU - did it. And we could do it again if we set our minds to the task.
I certainly hope so - because there isn't anyone on earth I admire more than a HEMS flight-team. We are blessed to have people who walk out to a helicopter at 3am and launch into a night sky to help others. We should do everything possible to ensure their success.

I wish you every success and hope you will check out my columns in Vertical 911. If there is something you want to talk about or want me to write about, let me or Elan know. She is my editor and counselor and coach. Meeting her made this all better.

Best wishes for 2018 and beyond


In "Ejection Decision" I wrote about a flight with Jill and Don. That's Don
on the right. Fast with a tube and fun to fly with...