Bad ideas

October 28, 2009 by Tim McAdams

There are some things that helicopter pilots do that are just not smart.

For example the pilot of a Robinson R22 Beta landed in a field to pick up some equipment and while he was there he decided to hot refuel. The pilot’s father drove a pickup truck equipped with an auxiliary fuel tank under the rotor disk of the running helicopter to accomplish the refueling. The pilot said he stayed at the controls of the helicopter and a wind gust caused the main-rotor blades to flex down, striking the top of the truck. Although no one was injured, the helicopter rolled to the right and into the truck resulting in structural damage to the helicopter. At the time this happened winds were reported from 170 degees at 18 knots, gusting to 25.

Another bad idea is leaving the cockpit while the engine is running and the rotor system is spinning. That’s how a pilot damaged an Enstrom 280X after landing in a corn field and getting out of the helicopter. In an interview with the NTSB, the pilot stated a gust of wind appeared and the main rotor severed the tail boom.

Another pilot preparing to lift-off in an S76 noticed a “door unsecured” indication on the instrument panel for the left cabin door. He brought the engines to idle and exited the cockpit to check the door. He re-closed the door and returned to the cockpit. However, the door open annunciation came on again. He then left the cockpit two or three times to deal with the door. He did not recall retarding the engine power control levers to ground idle before leaving the cockpit the final time.

The wheel-equipped helicopter started to move as the pilot was returning to the cockpit. He told the NTSB it was moving toward the edge of the elevated helipad. He managed to climb into the cockpit, but before he could regain control, the helicopter was on its side.

I can remember several times getting ready to depart and then realizing that I needed to check or do something. It is very tempting to just friction down the flight controls and get out. However, every time I consider doing that I think of what has happened to other pilots.


  • Avi Weiss


    Concur. Every time I or someone I know is tempted to “save time” by not shutting down, I ask “how much time would have saved if they have to be in the hospital with injuries, fill out NTSB / FAA paperwork, or work on getting ones license suspension/revocation lifted?”. Its the same question I pose when people don’t want to “waste time” waiting out some weather. I ask if they would rather be a few hours late, or late forever.

    The amount of time it takes to shut down, wait out weather, or ensure something is done correctly is insignificant to the time and cost it would take if something happened when short-circuiting “best practices”.

  • B.Body

    Saw a Prospectair Inc. R44 C-GATM do this once. I was suprised he didn’t shut down.
    Only a matter of time before this company has a mishap.

  • dog

    the skydiver ship at DWA hot refuels–even with other people refuelling at the pumps–expect problems in future

  • eric

    Dwa is davis, ca right? So that would mean … skydance skydiving? Hmm… according to their website they don’t seem to have a helicopter. Do you mean there’s something wrong with hot refueling an airplane? I don’t really know what’s involved with that but it seems that without the big flexible rotor of a heli, and with someone else refueling for you, it wouldn’t be that dangerous. What kind of problems are you expecting?

  • Walter

    Hot refueling a helicopter is a normal and safe procedure as long as it is done properly. The pilot must always stay at the controls. Stay clear of the rotor disc, i.e. don’t park a truck under it. Ground wire the helicopter. Service person does the refueling. Just because some folks do it wrong and get hurt does not make the whole idea unsafe.

  • Mark

    On my first solo. I checked the oil before departing my destination point and closed the access cover on the Cessna 152. Got in, strapped in, did the rest of preflight and started the engine. Just as the engine caught, the access cover popped open. For only a split second did I think i would hope out and close it, but decided, to shut down everything and do it the safe way. I could only imagine the plane rolling away from me….

  • Jim Thomas

    Why do some helicopter pilots hover taxi near tied down fixed wing aircraft? I have witnessed on numerous occasions heilcopters hovering adjacent to tied down aircraft causing the control surfaces of the aircaft to move violently against the stops. This can cause damage to the fixed wing aircraft’s control surfaces. This happened earlier this week when a R22 with a student and instructor hover taxied within 30 feet of a Piper PA12 Super Cruiser parked in the transient tiedowns causing the flaps, the elevator and the rudder to slam against the stops. This aircraft was chained down and the seat belt was wrapped around the stick. The rotor blast was from behind the aircraft. If it had been from the front the rotor blast may not have been an issue. There was a designated helicopter parking area at the airport several hundred feet away from the fixed wing tiedown area.

    Are the hazards of a helicopter rotor blast taught to new students? Why don’t instructors and students understand that helicopters and fixed wing aircraft don’t mix when close to each other? The weight on the tail of a Piper PA12 is around 20 to 30 pounds. Even a light helicopter like the R22 can cause damage to these tube and fabric aircraft when hovered in their vicinity. Fortunately, the PA12 was tied down.

    From the view of a fixed wing aircraft owner (PA12) and an airport manager of two airports, helicopter pilots need a big dose of “situational awareness” so they understand that their rotor blast doesn’t mix with fixed wing aircraft.

    Jim Thomas
    AOPA #874569

  • Adam Doyle

    Hot refueling a helicopter is a normal everyday operation for helicopter operators across the country. Optimally the pilot or a trained individual would be at the controls. There are places and times though when productivity is an issue and there isn’t anyone to help at the (sometimes remote) fuel tank. Like all actions in aviation foresight and caution are needed but even “solo” hot refueling can be accomplished safely.
    That being said just because a pilot has an FAA ticket and an empty tank doesn’t mean he should be filling up with the rotors turning. Pilots should have some training, heightened situational awareness and probably a valid reason before attempting it. And at no time is driving a vehicle under the spinning rotor disk ever good judgement, unless that vehicle pulls the aircraft’s dolly.

  • Kamie Walters

    As a helicopter, fixed wing pilot and CFI, I would like to respond to the comments about helicopters hovering near parked airplanes. You are VERY correct, that helicopter downwash can cause damage to the control surfaces of an airplane. Most helicopter pilots are aware of this and do everything in our power to avoid a problem, however, sometimes you don’t have a choice due to parking restrictions or ATC demands. I would like to add, that the prop wash of a taxiing airplane has EXACTLY the same effect on that parked plane, however, no one changes where they taxi or park their airplanes. The easy solution to the problem if you are concerned about the potential for damage to your plane is to buy control surface locks/movement inhibitors and help educate student pilots “nicely” about the need to be concerned and aware of their surroundings. Helicopters and airplanes CAN share the same space if we help each other and stop pretending that one is better than the other. If we help educate each other the world will have safer skies…and parking areas!

  • Nico

    If the PA12’s controls were tied with the safety harness, how would it be possible for the controls to hit the stops? You say ‘wrapped around’ which implies tied in the aft position so that movement was not possible, but the simple language of your use of words might suggest that the seat belt was merely ‘wrapped around’ the control stick. That would accomplish nothing, even in the event of a sudden gust of wind.
    I do not approve of recklessness from helicopter pilots or other planes’ propwash, but securing the controls’ movement should mitigate any damages where operations close to parked aircraft are unavoidable.

  • Chuck

    One pereson’s crazy is another’s standard operating procedure. Ever see anyone hand-prop an airplane solo? It’s all fun and games ’til someone puts out an eye.

  • Robert

    I fly a R44 RII….I have made it a policy..” no one enters or exits the helicopter until the blades have stopped spinning “. Done, end of story and no problems.

  • gabecoaching

    our jumping ship also does hot refuels–even with jumper inside.

  • flex belt coupon

    I’m surprised that with all these errors made by the pilots that we dont hear of more injuries or deaths caused by human error. Are these mishaps prevalent due to laziness or do injuries, etc. just not get reported?