Friday, January 30, 2015

NTSB Report on Hospital Wing Crash October 22, 2013

Although recorded HTAWS data was not available, research and flight testing revealed that the pilot may have received an in-flight obstacle alert, prompting a climb. Considering the low clouds and night conditions that probably existed along the last segment of the flight’s track, it is likely that the pilot initiated a climb and inadvertently entered instrument meteorological conditions, where a loss of helicopter control occurred.

Click here for full report...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can we perform single-pilot IFR in a single-engine helicopter?

We are returning from the Industry/Government conference in Alexandria, VA. We will have a post about the comments made in a day or so - but as a teaser - a serious and well-fashioned proposal was made to again conduct SE SPIFR.

Engine reliability was discussed, single pitot-static systems, and lightweight inexpensive autopilot systems - which will be appearing in our VFR aircraft in the near future.

HAI is involved in this debate, and more action is expected at Heli Expo, click here for info.

What do think about this?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Safest Flight Program in the Land?

Ask the question, "What will be the cause of our next crash, and what are we doing to prevent it?"

Mirror mirror on the wall...

Who has the safest program of all?

There is an old legend that says the program that just suffered a fatal crash is the safest program flying. Like a huge control-alternate-delete, a fatal crash resets all of our notions, our beliefs in right and wrong, our ideas about what's most important. Much has been written of late about culture in flying organizations - the current buzz-phrase is "just culture." Companies are quick to boast about how they adhere to these principles, but there is more to just culture than a press-release.

Why should anyone care? Because culture is part of why helicopters crash. And culture starts with the top man or woman in an organization, seeping all the way through to the person who got hired yesterday.

"You sweep the stairs from the top down..." NTSB board member Dr. Earl Wiener

Bill Winn and I just finished speaking on the phone for about an hour. Bill is NEMSPA's only paid employee, managing the day to day business of keeping NEMSPA's lights on and our wheels turning. He called because he had some questions about the progress of the action-team I am on advising the FAA on new rules for HEMS training.

Bill wondered if we are addressing the actual causes of crashes as we discuss how training should be changed. In the conversation, he described multiple factors that lead to crashes - there will be no silver bullet answers.

The military is said to always be training for the last war. That way of thinking may affect (or infect) some of us. We train for the last crash, we focus on the pilot who flew too far for his fuel load, or flew into a storm or the clouds, or lost engine power after ice-ingestion, While learning from other's mistakes is certainly time well spent, the reality is that there are too many factors involved in a crash, too many root causes. Chopping off one root or another won't kill the chances of another crash.

So what's the answer? I believe it is concerned, interested, involved leadership. Have you ever heard of management-by-walking-around. How about "the one minute manager?"  In a business with such high-consequence for any mistake, one minute isn't enough. Leadership cannot push the auto-pilot button, and tend to other tasks. While thousands of problems will keep the phone ringing and the inbox full, the one-two-punch  questions when helicopters are flying through night skies must be...


A  commitment to safety and making money are not mutually exclusive goals. Being safe allows your company to make more money in the long run. And being safe keeps the guy or gal in charge from having to explain to the press why your helicopter crashed, like the leader in the picture below... You don't want to be "that guy."

Tom Madigan of County Rescue pauses as he reads a statement concerning the crash of an EAGLE III helicopter during a news conference April 13, 2006. Photo by H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette

To learn more about the crash in Green Bay, click here...

Ask the question, "What will be the cause of our next crash, and what are we doing to prevent it?" Really, this is important. It's right up there with profit margin, same-store-sales, or transports at a base opened more than a year. Defending against your next crash should be the first thing, and the last thing you think about every day. And every soul in your employ should know that's how you think.

Especially if you have an excellent safety record. A history of being safe leads to complacency and the loss of the "safety imperative."

According to Wiener, "Complacency is caused by the very things that should prevent accidents, factors like experience, training and knowledge contribute to complacency. Complacency makes crews skip hurriedly through checklists, fail to monitor instruments closely or utilize all navigational aids. It can cause a crew to use shortcuts and poor judgement and to resort to other malpractices that mean the difference between hazardous performance and professional performance." (E. L. Wiener)


Be careful out there...

Friday, January 16, 2015

FLASHBACK FRIDAY...What if both engines quit?

In my post titled "What If?" I considered losing both engines in a twin engine helicopter. (Click here for that post)

It turns out that it has happened more than once, and just as my fictional pilot "Dennis" successfully landed his machine, so did this real life professional.

Bayflite crash-lands on I-275

(Palmetto-AP) -- The pilot of a medical helicopter says he heard
a loud bang just before one of his engines caught fire, forcing him
to make an emergency landing on a state highway.
Amund Moe, pilot of the B-K-1-17 helicopter from Bayfront
Medical Center, told hospital officials he also had trouble with
his second engine. He killed both engines and glided to a rough
landing on Interstate 2-75 in northern Manatee County last night.
Nobody was injured. The infant patient aboard, who was being
transported from Naples Community Hospital to All Children's
Medical Center, is in good condition today.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

An infant patient and three crew members escape unharmed after the "hard landing''near the Skyway.

The NTSB report...

 The pilot said that while in cruise flight at an altitude of 1,000 feet, a speed of about 130 knots, and about 60 percent torque, without warning he heard a loud explosion from the right side of the helicopter, with simultaneous No. 2 engine fire and failure warning lights and indications, along with severe vibrations. He said that the helicopter yawed several times from left to right and he heard a "whopping" sound. He also said that at the same time the No. 1 engine torque meter needle moving rapidly from about the 9 to 3 or 4 o'clock positions on the gauge. The investigation revealed two of the power turbine blades and four rear bearing support housing (RBSH) failed in overload. The hub had been displaced from the engine centerline, and a deflection had occurred at the engine case axial midpoint, along with a misalignment of the inlet housing and the rear bearing support housing (RBSH). The resultant damage to the gas producer (GP) system, was consistent with an assembly error and mechanical failure having occurred by the loss of critical internal operating clearances and radial support for the rotors. Continued engine operation as the failure progressed led to compressor surge and the emergence of combustion gases from the No. 2 engine inlet, which ignited inlet cowling material. The No. 1 engine ingested smoke and combustion by-products from the engine cowling fire which caused a temporary stall condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this incident to be:
Improper maintenance/installation of the No. 2 engine power turbine (PT) wheel assembly by company maintenance personnel, which resulted in deflection at the engine case axial midpoint and misalignment between the inlet housing and the rear bearing support housing (RBSH) which resulted in damage to the engine and an in-flight fire.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 27, 2002
Related video
56k | High-Speed

A Bayflite helicopter carrying an infant patient caught fire over Tampa Bay late Monday and was forced to make an emergency landing near the Sunshine Skyway bridge in northwest Manatee County.
Neither the infant nor four crew members were injured when the helicopter made a "hard landing" about 8:35 p.m. on Interstate 275, between the south Skyway toll booth and U.S. 41.
Crew members jumped out of the helicopter and carried the infant to safety. A second Bayflite helicopter arrived about 20 minutes later and transported the child and two crew members to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
"When the helicopter landed it was engulfed in flames," said Gerald Pochodaj, who was driving toward the Skyway when he saw what he thought was a low-flying airplane.
Pochodaj said crew members carried the baby and incubator to safety as flames shot from the right engine.
"These Bayflite folks are the best at what they do," said Bill Hervey, manager of public relations for Bayfront. "They save lives every day. The patient wasn't hurt, the crew wasn't hurt, it was perfect."
The names of baby and the crew members were not released late Monday.
Hervey said Bayflite 3 was 50 minutes into its trip, transporting the infant from Naples Community Hospital to Bayfront, when the warning lights went on, signaling an engine problem.
Another witness saw a small ball of fire near the helicopter as it crossed the bay. One of his children said, "the helicopter . . . it's on fire!"
"You could see a good-sized ball of fire," said Danny Ward, 40, of Bradenton, who was in Rubonia at his sister's house.
He said it was headed toward St. Petersburg and then banked sharply and landed. He said he assumed it did not crash because they didn't hear or see anything.
"That was a good pilot," Ward said.
Pochodaj, an engineer at Transworld Diversified Engineering in Tampa, said the pilot told him that dash lights lit up, the helicopter filled with smoke and they knew they had to land. He called the rescue of the baby heroic.
"Their instinct was to do their job," said Pochodaj, 36.
After the baby and some crew members were picked up, a third helicopter retrieved the remaining crew members.
"Everybody's safe," said Cassandra Morell, Bayfront Medical Center spokeswoman.
The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate why the twin-engine BK-117 developed engine trouble and was forced to make an emergency landing, said Kathleen Bergen, FAA spokeswoman.
"I understand there may have been an engine fire," she said. "Were there mechanical problems? Operational problems?"
A Bayflite maintenance crew dismantled the craft's rotor blades to make it easier to transport. The green and silver helicopter, its right engine charred, was being moved late Monday to a Sarasota airport, home of their Bayflite 2 base, on a flatbed truck.
Hervey, of Bayfront, said the pilot and copter are from Rocky Mountain Helicopter out of Provo, Utah. They contract out staff and equipment, he said.
Such pilots have to have a minimum of 2,000 flight hours to do this kind of work, said Hervey, adding that representatives from Rocky Mountain are coming here to assess the damage.
The hospital routinely has four aircraft in service but keeps a backup, which will immediately go into service.
The last Bayflite helicopter crash was on April 25, 2000, when the medical helicopter hit a radio tower near the Gandy Bridge, killing all three crew members.

Click here for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune story...

Friday, January 9, 2015

OSHA Orders Fired Pilot to be Reinstated, Citing Whistle-Blower Statutes...

Faced one night with a trip over mountainous terrain in a medical transport helicopter with a faulty emergency locator transmitter, a pilot refused to fly the unsafe aircraft and was later terminated in retaliation for doing so. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration followed. As a result, Air Methods Corp. was ordered to reinstate the pilot, pay $158,000 in back wages and $8,500 in damages, and remove disciplinary information from the employee's personnel record. In addition, the company must provide whistleblower rights information to all employees.

Click here for full story...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Never Quit Flying... A Video About a Catastrophic Failure...

Click here to view.

First AIRBUS EC130-T2 Placed Into HEMS Service...

Many of the flight instruments have been replaced with all-in-one digital technology. These include synthetic vision technology, on-screen satellite weather, GPS and real-time digital tracking of the helicopter for dispatch, night-vision, and traffic and terrain alert systems.

Click here for full story...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tower 2000 feet - Dead Ahead...

Mike Mock, pilot with Memorial Hermann Lifeflight writes:

I had a discussion last night with FSS about a 2000' tower near Houston that had the lights out. Apparently they can't post a NOTAM based on a pilot's report, it has to come from the owner of the tower. He asked if I could drive by and find out who owns it, "it's usually on the fence". Uh, no, I flew past it at 0230 and it had no lights. He said he may try calling the local sheriff or something.

This is enough to make the short hairs on your neck stand up. An unlit tower standing 2000 feet up into the sky is a death trap looking for a victim. So how do we avoid being said victim?

In Mike's case, technology gave him a big assist. The aircraft he is flying has equipment that displays tower locations graphically. I have no such equipment in the aircraft I fly. While NVGs increase our ability to see at night, we could easily be upon a tower before seeing it under goggles.

The FAA requirement to check a route prior to flying it has been in effect for several years now, and we haven't had a tower strike in a while. I wonder if pilots are becoming a complacent about completing this step prior to lift off - just a glance at a chart. " I am here... going there.... there's the highest tower..."  Even the most dedicated pilot can get a route change, or deviate for weather or ATC or traffic. In that case, the preflight check no longer works. We really have to be familiar enough with the area to simply know where the big ones are.

It's a big sky, The odds of striking a tower are small. But it happens.

The aftermath of a tower strike

The National Transportation Safety Board attributed the fatal 2008 crash of an Air Angels medical helicopter in Aurora to the pilot's "inadequate preflight planning" and flying too low, which caused the copter to strike a radio tower.
"During preflight planning, the pilot should have identified the obstacles along the route of flight, including the radio station tower," the report said.
I am on duty at a "new" base, on night shifts. On my arrival I was advised about a large unlit tower near here, then another pilot mentioned another one. Checking NOTAMS will reveal a long list of unlit towers in the area, too many to keep up with. I note the ones above a thousand feet, and try to memorize those locations. Being unfamiliar with the area, my night altitude minimums are higher than normal. If the weather won't let me fly at these higher altitudes, I won't go.

I asked a friend about a number to report unlit towers, Stu
  • The number I have is to the FAA to report unlit towers. 877-487-6867. I haven't used it yet. I don't know if it works.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Reply to "Walter" About Preparing For SPIFR (Single Pilot Instrument Flight Rules) Flights

Walter writes: Going to make the leap to an IFR EMS base. after 30 years mostly VFR utility/ EMS. Any tips or resources from an operational point of view for someone in my situation. Thank you in advance. 

Occasionally, in the midst of all the chaff on the JustHelicopters original forum,  a real helicopter-related topic comes up - you know, something other than my boss, job, company, coworkers, nurse, medic, pilot SUCKS... These rare points of light are enjoyable, and if you aren't familiar with the forum I encourage you to check it out and look for the stuff worth looking at.

(disclaimer: these comments should not be construed as substituting for an authorized course of training, these are things to consider post-training)

Feel free to chime in with a comment below if you have anything constructive to add...

Hi Walter,

Think crawl, walk, run...

Start out doing very simple IFR legs in weather that doesn't challenge you too much. Add IFR legs to your can-do file slowly, perhaps after flying them under IFR in VFR conditions so you can get the lay of the land, and see where you actually will be in reference to hard objects before flying "blind." Always have at least two ways out of the clouds ( an emergency screaming descent doesn't count), and enough fuel to to both. Your alternate must have weather allowing you to break out, and if you are flying EMS, your alternate should work for the patient too. You do them no favors taking them away from the care they need. Make sure you are comfortable using every system on the aircraft, and also make sure that you are able to fly IFR with no help from any system. A reference was made to the Careflight crash - if radios and systems start giving you problems, let that stuff go and just fly the aircraft. And as required ask for help...

Remember that every emergency procedure you are responsible for handling while flying VFR can occur while in the clouds; like engine failure, TR failure or loss of control, or hydraulic failure. My BK autopilot used to quit in turbulence and to reset it you had to pull two circuit breakers, wait, and cuss. A friend was shooting an approach in moderate rain and thick cloud, and had turned his wipers on. The wiper motor got hot and started smoking, forcing the single pilot and his crew to identify the source of an electrical fire - talk about distraction. If a generator is going to quit - it will quit in the clouds!

Ask for emergency procedure training to be integrated into your SPIFR training... Most companies don't do this.

I disagree with folks who say that SPIFR and HEMS don't go together. I have done it with Hershey, Geisinger, and Omniflight. It's nice to have another option.  And I think that being IFR current and proficient makes one a better all-around pilot. (I am a VFR Astar pilot these days and miss IFR flying.) You do not need to do 6 approaches in 6 months - you will take an instrument check ride every six months and this will handle currency (if not proficiency...) Procedural trainers are better than nothing, Sim training is great.

Don't jump in over your head. Take your time, get used to the machine and the area first...

Crawl... fly your area under VFR in VMC. Play with all the gadgets on your aircraft. Learn normal, versus degraded, versus inop, and what this will mean to you. Become an expert on the use of your GPS,  The time will come when being able to immediately access any feature will be important. Keep in mind that more than one pilot has begun an ILS with the display showing GPS information. As a technique, prepare lesson plans and instruct your crew members on all your gadgets, radios, and indicators. They will listen - they want to know that you know...

Walk...fly your area under IFR in VFR conditions, shoot the approaches. Talk to ATC. Tune radios. The whole enchilada, but in good weather.

Run... fly legs you are comfortable and proficient on under IFR in IMC (with a second way out).

Years ago a SPIFR guy crashed in PA while getting fuel, solo. He got confused, or behind the aircraft - or maybe had a system failure.. And then there was the Careflight crash...

Click here for a story about that crash from the crew's perspective

Those are the only HEMS SPIFR crashes I remember...Anyone else?

safe flights

PS. If you are flying company owned approaches, remember they only get checked once a year (volunteer to be the guy doing the checking with a fed onboard). Towers can come up between checks... watch out.