Archive for January, 2011

Record flight

Friday, January 14th, 2011

There are a handful of helicopter adventurers who have attempted the around-the-world speed record in helicopters. Simon Oliphant-Hope holds the current eastbound record. Based on the south coast of England, he is the owner and managing director of Shoreham based Eastern Atlantic Helicopters. In June 2004, he flew a MD 500E around the world in 17 days, 14 hours, 2 minutes, and 27 seconds beating the previous record of 24 days, 4 hours, 36 minutes, and 24 seconds set 10 years earlier by Ron Bower in a Bell 206B3. Bower and John Williams still hold the westbound record of 17 days, 6 hours, 14 minutes, and 25 seconds. Most attempts are eastbound to take advantage of winds.

Oliphant-Hope’s helicopter was a modified 1982 MD 500E that holds the distinction of being the only one certified for single-pilot IFR. An additional fuel tank was installed in the rear cabin that increased capacity from 60 gallons to 150 gallons giving the helicopter an endurance of more than five hours.

He didn’t just beat the old record; he crushed it by an amazing six-plus days. He accomplished this by carefully planning his route to optimize climate and light conditions while complying with the three basic rules required by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (the sole official source of international aviation records):

  1. The flight must cross all lines of longitude
  2. The total distance must be a minimum of 19,850.83 nm (the distance around the globe at the Tropic of Cancer)
  3. The flight must be between the Arctic and Antarctic circles

Looking at the map might give the impression he got lost flying through the United States. Not so, it was carefully planned to comply with the minimum distance required.

Too close to the rotor

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Late one night I was returning to base in an EMS helicopter and, on short final, noticed water spraying onto the helipad. It was a ground-based helipad and the temperature had dropped below zero causing a lawn sprinkler pipe to burst. After a radio call, the water was shut off and I started my approach again. There was only a small corner of the pad that was not wet, and with the temperature below freezing, I decided to put the helicopter in that dry spot. There were no more flights that night so when the day pilot showed up I explained why the helicopter was in the corner and headed home.

Arriving at work the following night the day pilot told me the chief pilot saw the helicopter parked in the corner and asked that I call him. On the phone I explained why it was there, he listened but expressed concern that the four-foot high chain-link fence was too close to the rotor disk. He added that our operations manual states that the rotor blade tip of a running helicopter must be 12 feet from any object or obstruction. He emphasized the word “any” and stated the manual does not allow for exceptions. I explained that I believe the intent was to mean 12 feet from the rotor tip to an object at the rotor height (such as a building), not in every direction. He disagreed.

The reason I do not believe the intent was meant in every direction was it would have precluded us from landing at several hospitals that had planted two-foot-high shrubs around their heliport. Further, many scene landings on roads placed the rotor tip within 12 feet of curbs and small temporary concrete barriers. Finally, there must be at least one exception–the helicopter’s rotor height is 10 feet, placing the ground within 12 feet of the rotor tip. I understand the need for rules, but they should be clear, concise, and appropriate.