Archive for July, 2010

Helicopter CFI

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Flight instruction is some of the most demanding flying a helicopter pilot can do. A CFI must allow extremely inexperienced people to manipulate the flight controls, typically in a light, highly responsive, and unforgiving Robinson R22 (the most popular helicopter for primary flight instruction). As such, the briefest bit of inattention can turn a helicopter into a pile of twisted metal. This reality has haunted anyone who has ever worked as a CFI. Yet, as an industry, we rely on the least experienced pilots to do the vast majority of primary flight instruction. It should be no surprise that flight instruction has the highest accident rate among commercial helicopter operations and many of these accidents happen while trying to teach hovering.

Most CFIs are good pilots, however the skill set required to effectively and safely teach primary flight instruction is different. One of these skills include being prepared to handle a student’s unexpected and incorrect control movement, especially while hovering. In September 2002, a CFI was giving a student an introductory hovering demo in a R22. The CFI stated, “The helicopter caught a wind gust and the passenger accidentally pushed the cyclic left. I was surprised and tried to grab the cyclic back. It was too late.” The aircraft caught the ground and rolled over.

However, more docile training helicopters can also challenge instructors. In March 2003, a CFI had his student practice hover taxiing before concluding the last of three flights in a Bell 47D–a model known for its docile flight characteristics and forgiving nature. The student had trouble that day maintaining rotor rpm during maneuvers, so while lifting off the CFI looked inside to check the rpm gauge. When the CFI looked back outside, the helicopter was nose high and rolling to the right. He tried unsuccessfully to recover. The main rotor blades struck the ground.

Instructors must know when to guard the controls and continually assess when the time is right to take over from the student. A student can benefit from correcting his own mistakes, but an instructor should be careful not to jeopardize the helicopter for that benefit. Yet accident reports from the NTSB consistently list delayed remedial action and inadequate supervision as probable causes in training accidents. Such reports offer a wealth of information, and their complete review would bode well for CFI applicants.

Helicopter ATP

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A few companies have started putting a helicopter ATP prerequisite into their employment requirements and some have offered to pay for their existing pilots to obtain one. However, the vast majority of helicopter pilot jobs do not require an ATP by regulation. This is true for the higher paying jobs flying larger helicopters as well.

The same is not true on the fixed wing side. Advancing to the airlines requires an ATP. Likewise, the aeronautical experience for an ATP varies between airplanes and helicopters. For example, a fixed wing ATP requires a total flight time of 1500 hours, while a rotor wing one requires 1200 hours.

So what are the advantages of an ATP for helicopter pilots? I think it projects a higher level of professionalism and a demonstrated ability to fly to higher standards. Moreover, employers might like the fact that the person holding the ATP has verifiable flight time of at least 1200 hours since the FAA endorsed their application for the ATP flight examination. If you are fortunate enough to work for an employer who will pay for your ATP, then that’s an opportunity worth seizing.

Acquiring an ATP on your own is valuable in today’s job market as an ATP can give a potential new hire an edge over someone who doesn’t hold one. Some companies have a higher pay scale or pay a bonus for prospective pilots with an ATP. The same can be said for a college degree, it’s not required, but having one can sure help. If flying helicopters is your chosen career path then holding yourself to the highest standards, certification and professionalism will only enhance your career.