Archive for May, 2010


Friday, May 28th, 2010

The pilot of a Bell 206B helicopter approached a construction site located at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) and brought the helicopter to a 250-foot out-of-ground-effect hover with a quartering left tailwind. Once in a hover, the aircraft made a rapid right 180-degree pedal turn, stopped momentarily, and then began another rapid pedal turn to the right. The helicopter continued turning at a fast rate and entered a spinning vertical descent impacting Alpha taxiway abeam Runway 15R. The FAA’s examination of the helicopter found no mechanical anomalies.

The NTSB determined the probable cause was the pilot’s improper decision to maneuver in an environment conducive to loss of tail rotor effectiveness (LTE) and his inadequate recovery from the resulting unanticipated right yaw.

So what exactly is LTE? According to FAA Advisory Circular AC90-95, any maneuver that requires the pilot to operate in a high-power, low-airspeed environment with a left crosswind or tailwind creates an environment where an unanticipated right yaw may occur. It also advises of greater susceptibility for loss of tail rotor effectiveness in right turns and states the phenomena may occur to varying degrees in all single main rotor helicopters at airspeeds less than 30 knots.

Allowing a loss of translational lift results in a high-power demand with low airspeed and can set the helicopter up for LTE when certain wind conditions are present. Using the nose of the helicopter as a 0-degree reference, main rotor vortex interference can occur with a relative wind of 285 degrees to 315 degrees and cause erratic changes in tail rotor thrust. Moreover, be aware of tailwinds from a relative wind direction of 120 degrees to 240 degrees as this can cause the helicopter to accelerate a yaw into the wind. A tail rotor vortex ring state can also occur with a relative wind of 210 degrees to 330 degrees and cause tail rotor thrust variations.

To recover if a sudden unanticipated yaw occurs, apply full pedal to oppose the yaw while simultaneously moving the cyclic forward to increase speed. If altitude permits, power should be reduced.

Power source

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

What is the best power source for a helicopter? The two choices are a turboshaft or a reciprocating engine. A turboshaft engine has the same basic structure as a turbojet; however, the energy produced by the expanding gases is used to drive a turbine instead of producing thrust. The turbine is connected to a gearbox that drives the helicopter’s main rotor transmission. Likewise, the reciprocating engine’s output drives the main rotor transmission; however, these engines have traditionally been viewed as less reliable.

To understand where that reputation came from we need to look at early helicopter designs. Helicopter manufactures took piston engines used in airplanes and installed them in their helicopters. However, these engines didn’t quite have enough horsepower for hovering. So to increase the power, manufactures ran the engines at a higher rpm, and as a result reliability suffered. So much so that Lycoming reduced the TBO on the O-360 from 2,000 hours to 1,600 hours for engines installed in helicopters. This fueled the unreliable reputation of the piston engine.

In 1979 Frank Robinson introduced the two-seat R22. His idea was to reduce the helicopter’s weight to reduce the power required. For example, the T-bar cyclic system is simple and weighs less than the conventional dual control system. He then took the reliable Lycoming O-320 engine and reduced the rpm from 2,700 to 2,652 and de-rated the maximum horsepower from 160 to 124. Lycoming then approved the same 2,000-hour TBO it had for fixed-wing installations. He did the same thing with the R44’s Lycoming O-540 engine. The engine’s reliability proved so good that Lycoming increased the TBO to 2,200 hours for both airframes, giving these helicopter installations a higher TBO than the same engine installed in a fixed wing. NTSB accident data supports the higher reliability achieved by derating a reciprocating engine.

Even with the vast improvement in reliability, reciprocating engines suffer from a low power to weight ratio. So for helicopters above about 2,500 lbs gross weight, a turbine engine makes sense. It is compact, light weight, and has a simple design that gives it excellent reliability. However, perhaps the most important feature is its high power-to-weight ratio. This makes turboshaft engines the only choice for large single and all twin-engine helicopters. However, the downside to these engines is the high cost to acquire, maintain, and operate them.

Disc loading

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Disc loading is defined as the ratio of a helicopter’s gross weight to its rotor system’s disc area. A large disc area allows the rotor system to work with more air creating a higher efficiency in a hover. A smaller rotor system compromises hover efficiency for speed and a compact rotor system.

An example of a production helicopter with low disc loading is the Robinson R22. This improves the R22’s hover performance using the relatively low power of its Lycoming piston engine. Taking the concept of low disc loading to an extreme is human-powered flight in a helicopter. The low power output of a human requires a very large rotor system. Students at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo designed a human powered helicopter that weighted 250 pounds including the pilot/power source. It had a rotor diameter of more than 100 feet and was only designed to hover. In December 1989 it flew for 7.1 seconds reaching a height of 20 cm. It was built to compete for the Sikorsky Prize offered in 1980 by the American Helicopter Society. The award is $250,000 to the team whose human-powered helicopter can stay airborne for 60 seconds and reach an altitude of 3 meters. To date, the prize is unclaimed.

In contrast, a helicopter with high-disc loading requires a lot of power to hover. For example, the Sikorsky CH-53E Sea Stallion uses three General Electric T64-GE-416/416A turboshaft engines producing 4,380 shp each. Its gross weight is 73,500 lbs and has a rotor diameter of 79 feet. The CH-53’s rotor downwash in a hover is so strong that standing near it is nearly impossible. In addition, high disc loaded helicopters have rapid descent rates making them more challenging to autorotate. Taking high disc loading even further is the V 22 Osprey tilt rotor. It has two 38 foot diameter rotors and a max gross weight of 60,500 lbs. In order to hover it uses two Rolls-Royce Allison T406/AE 1107C-Liberty turboshaft engines producing 6,150 hp each.