Friday, January 4, 2013

Environmental Flight

A couple of decades ago, I was a B/3/160 pilot who got sent to Desert Storm. At the time I went over, I had a couple of thousand hours, and had a wide range of flight experience. I was also an NVG IP. I was pretty comfortable flying in any environment. Then I had my first flight across the desert at night with NVGs on. It was so dark that seeing the ground was barely possible at 100 feet, and impossible at 300 feet - the bottom of our normal profile (300 to 500 AGL). The guy I was flying with said - "welcome to the sandbox, we do it a little different here; 100 feet and 100 knots." Each time I let altitude increase, I would lose the ground, and then it was very very had to push the thrust control down to find it again. It was a new environment, and I needed training in it to be comfortable and more importantly, proficient. Recently I flew some HEMS shifts near the toe of the Appalachian's in Alabama. A guy at another base was turning flights down with good ceiling and visibility, so as the new guy in the area I called him to see what was up. He told me that the flights he was refusing were to his northeast, in the mountains, and the wind that day would make the turbulence worse than what he was comfortable with. Fair enough. I have been mountain trained (years ago), and have ferried aircraft across the mounains frequently, but this was a new environment, with new hazards and new things to think about. I mentioned environmental flight training, specific to mountains, to a company instructor. He replied that as experienced pilots, we "at this stage of our careers" are assumed to be experienced enough to get by in any environment. This begs the question of why I am forced to demonstrate proficiency at flying a traffic pattern once a year, but am assumed to have enough experience to prepare me for whatever else nature throws my way. Now we have had two mishaps in a short time span, in which cold temps and visible moisture were likely a factor. I can't help wondering if the parties involved were up to speed on flight in the cold weather environment. I myself was finishing up a ferry flight from PA to SC recently, and as I neared my destination, I noticed the OAT at 2 degrees and had a rain shower on top of the destination. I have flown SPIFR into ice, and it only takes once to have the short hairs on the back of the neck standing up when conditions are ripe. The regulatory distinction that allows VFR helicopters to fly to the point of "known" icing versus the IFR pilot's duty to avoid "forecast" icing is of little help, and may even hurt. Temps less than 4.4 C and visible moisture can result in icing in the windscreen, in the inlets, and on the main and tail rotor blades. This is an environmental flight issue, and a person who hasn't had training in that environment recently may not correlate the weather at hand to the hazards involved. The aforementioned instructor posited that local "tribal' knowlege would be sufficient and indeed desirable to a company-wide policy on environmental flight, and to wit, training on same. So now we are going to have a safety stand down. Perhaps we will talk about environmental flight. Sidebar: What is the turbulence penetration airspeed for the aircraft you fly? For the Astar, googling around will yield that the Brits publish 80 knots in their books. The RFM is no help, but does advise "slowing down". For some reason, it doesn't advise to what speed. Googling will also reveal that jack stall will not occur at collective travel less than 50%,. What is the maximum level of turbulence you should fly in? When was the last time you encountered severe turbulence? For that matter, do you remember the descriptions of turbulence levels, and do you know what aircraft these descriptions are based on? Is this company policy, personal policy, or medcrew policy. If you don't know, it might be time to discontinue beverage service and do some research. safe (environmental) flights rf

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