Helicopter dollies

August 7, 2012 by Tim McAdams

Although some helicopters have wheels, most have skid type landing gear. One of the biggest problems with skids is how to easily move the helicopter around on the ground. Attaching ground handling wheels to the skids is an option that works well for a small helicopter like the Robinson R22. However, for larger turbine helicopters the wheels are bigger and not very convenient to carry with the helicopter. Moreover, it normally requires more than one person to maneuver a heavy helicopter on wheels. As such, the helicopter dolly is a common option.

A helicopter dolly is a wooden, sometimes metal, platform with wheels that a helicopter can land on. Once the helicopter is on the dolly it can be towed with a tractor or tug. Landing on a dolly can be hazardous and there are some pilots that do not think it’s worth the risk. The danger comes from the difficulty seeing the skid gear while having to precisely set the helicopter on the platform. Some dollies do not have a lot of extra room so even a little drift at the last minute can cause one skid to miss the platform and the helicopter to roll over. Even if the pilot realizes this and attempts to abort there is the possibility that the skid will get caught on the edge, also causing a roll over. These types of accidents have all happened. There was even a case where the pilot did a nice dolly landing, rolled the engine to idle and then realized the dolly wheels were not chocked. The dolly started rolling and stopped when the helicopter’s nose hit a parked tug.

The pilots that support dolly landings say that with the proper mindset and approach, dolly landings are safe. For example, taking your time with the set down, not being nervous and getting instruction. Additionally, the dolly should be into the wind and large enough to accommodate the helicopter while allowing room for error.

18 Responses to “Helicopter dollies”

  1. Avi Weiss Says:

    While I think that dolly landings can be tough for a newly minted rotor pilot to do safely, a commercially rated pilot should be able to place most aircraft precisely enough on a wide enough, strong enough, and properly chocked dolly.

    Aircraft with adequate side-down and forward-down visibility, and relatively high skids such as the Astar pictured in this post, help significantly to provide the necessary peripheral visibility cues and “bubble” reduction beneath the aircraft to more readily enable precise setting of the aircraft both in both lateral placement (dolly center) and heading alignment (parallel to dolly longitudinal axis). Conversely, aircraft like the R44 I fly currently are somewhat more challenging as the aircraft lacks useable side-down and forward-down visibility, ostensibly obscuring the landing spot and thus requiring the landing to be done by “feel” and using more horizon-based visual cues not directly related to the spot.

    I have found that maintaining very, very small forward motion and flying “to the spot” provides an additional margin of stability to minimize lateral drift, and thus tension and nervousness, and greatly facilitates an “on-spot” landing. Your mileage may vary. Go out with an instructor who is familiar with the specific aircraft / dolly combination and practice for a bit.

  2. TR Says:

    I think the R44 robinson is THE toughest helicopter to land on a dolley. You simply cannot see the skid unless
    you have the pilot side door removed. With that door off, it isn’t so bad. But with the door on, pretty dicey.
    This was a GREAT subject and i would love to read tips from experienced pilots who land on dolleys regularly.

  3. Dale Long Says:

    Most helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Gary Says:

    English please guys. It is “chocked” not “chalked”. You are blocking a wheel, not marking it…

  5. Jeff Turner Says:

    Took some getting used to; but landing on a cart becomes second nature. I fly an Enstrom F28F and the lower half of the doors are painted, so depth perception is tough, I added a ball on a flexible post on the front of the cart making it much easier. Highly recommend the cart as it is easier on the gear and helicopter frame.

  6. Jacques Guequierre (AOPA50976) Says:

    For more information and any questions that any one may have Please give us a call.
    800-456-9450 or visit http://www.Helicopterhandler.com. We have been building Helicopter
    Dollies for 40 years and it was a complete surprise to to see this article showing our
    Dollies. We have shipped Helicopter Dollies all over the world.
    Jacques Guequierre, AOPA 00050976
    Main Line Corp.
    Wilmington, DE.

  7. Jeff Says:

    There is a much safer answer for maneuvering helicopters on skids and it can be done by only one person. http://www.tigertug.com

  8. SS Says:

    Although I know of no standards for the dimensions of a dolley, I recommend that it the width and length at least meet the hover-drift standards appropriate to the level of the certificate or at least two feet in all directions from skids. The pilot should have forward as well as side reference points to insure the landing gear is positioned on the dolley far enough away from the edges. Aircraft with poor downward pilot visibilty need larger dolleys/better reference points. I have seen crew and passengers hurt falling off dolleys because the skids were too close to the edge.

  9. Paul Says:

    You could practice landing by chalking (sic) an outline on the landing area. No problem here concerning slipping off the dolly. With enouch practice, you can then migrate to the real dolly. Chocking the dolly is a little different in the case of a helicopter dolly. Usually you chock after a plane has landed and comes to rest. With the helicopter dolly contact is made with the chocked dolly and then there might be some forward or backward motion that might pin the chock(s) and make it more difficult to remove the chocks to begin towing.

  10. Walt Says:

    Great article and appreciate the various comments. After almost 3,000 hr in fixed-wing, I was lucky enough to have a friend with an A-Star 350BA who let me use it to get my helicopter certificate. I only have about 50 hr so far, and landing on the trailer is out of the question. I know my instructor (>7,000 hr) has a hidden switch somewhere that I haven’t been able to find yet, such that when I’m over the trailer, the A-Star wants to wander around too much for me to set it down. When he takes it over he flips the switch and it stops moving around and he sets it down in a few seconds. Someday i’m gonna find that switch!

  11. Paul Says:

    Not wanting to blow my own horn but I use a homebuilt 10′ by 12′ dolly, hooked to the front of a Cub Cadet lawnmower and land either an R44 or an R22 Robinson on it regularly. No problem. My experience has been to use your peripheral vision, look directly ahead as I am landing and NEVER look at the skids when landing. I have only flown Robinson helicopters so maybe the bigger helos are not so easy. I thought the reverse is true.

  12. Paul G. Says:

    I primarily fly the Robinson R-44II but have several hours in the Schweizer 300C and CBI. The FBO had a homemade dolly for CBI and made it pretty easy to move around. The key word here is “Homemade”. Although the person building it is a very intelligent person, there was a flaw to the design. The deck was made of wood and was substantially strong enough to support the weight of the helicopter and wide enough to allow room for movement and for passengers to safely move around on, but the boards were placed running from front to back rather than side to side. This caused the skids to be parallel to the boards and more importantly the space between the boards. Over time the boards dried a little more and began to warp even though pressure treated lumber was used causing the space between the boards to increase. Extreme care had to be used not to get a skid caught in the space and the helicopter eventually had to be landed slightly cross ways to avoid this potential disaster. The dolly has since been redone properly and no longer poses this threat to safety. So just a suggestion to anyone thinking of building your own dolly, make sure you run the boards perpendicular and not parallel to your landing direction.

  13. Danny - Sky12 Says:

    I agree with the comment of using ‘forward motion’ continuously, but crawling to your touchdown point. Kind of like the carrier jocks flying ‘power on’ all the way to the touchdown point (obviously not slamming the helo-just a tiny tiny run-on, helps on windy days). Also, placing visible, reflective (nights) reference tape, on rear and front end, and tongue of the dolly will really help you know where to line up, start to slow down and touchdown and stop…..like the booms on a military refueling tanker use colors to help the pilot below know when he is too close or straining the length of the hook-up on the boom…..colors of good reflective tape will let you know where you are tracking as you slowly hover forward, then we place a prominent piece of red (stop) tape on the tongue where you want it to park and as the balls of your feet on the pedals reach it…..voila! Makes it a non-event every time (almost). Keeping it VERY light on the skids will let you use pedals to shift the angle of the skids to be straight….BUT you must be extremely careful, KNOW your aircraft and dolly very well! I have landed on all kinds of them and some I wouldn’t trust to do that on….like the one guy said about the boards and their defects on placement. Watch for slick surfaces, do make sure the thing is anchored (blocked-chocked)…..and don’t jackknife the dolly when maneuvering it…..you could actually throw the aircraft off the dolly while moving it if you get too aggressive…..it’s a great confidence builder when done right…..kinda like a pinnacle and confined maneuver with extreme precision and power/control management all at once! Tell the photog to SHUT-UP first!!!

  14. Avi Weiss Says:

    Jeff;

    Tigertug DOES look like a vast improvement over the “tug-a-lug” I used to use to move the JetRanger, but still have the issue of having to precisely position the tug so the supports lineup correctly with the crosstube. Now, if the tug could be able to use sensors to “self-align”, that would best the dolly for both safety and convenience.

  15. Avi Weiss Says:

    Jacques;

    Do love the helicopter handler dolly. We use it for our R44, though I keep thinking there must be some attachment add-ons that can be made to provide better landing cues for aircraft that lack them (centerline, side-alignment, etc). But the build quality is exceptional.

  16. Tim McAdams Says:

    Thanks for catching my error regarding “chalked” Correction made.

  17. Dave - Helios25 Says:

    I have been landing on a dolly for years with 407s and 427s. It can be a little tricky because these aircraft are subject to attack from the “pad monster”. But serously, with practice and common sense a person can do it successfully and safely time and time again. Always chock the wheels and make/mark something that you can see to give yourself some sort of orientation to the dolly if you can’t see your landing spot. Translating tendency can be an issue with some aircraft and some new to this type of landing see it happening and apply left pendal and then that starts the “bucking bronco”. They start moving all the controls to stop a self induced situation that normally cannot be controlled until they abort and start over. When I first started landing on a dolly I experanced these things regularly. So I practiced landing to a spot as mentioned above and figured that a slow decent to the area with power and not moving anything would work. Then I realized that doing this, I was drifting as power was reduced. What a revelation. Ha ha Some of those aerodynamics things that I learned years ago might have some use after all. You know the ones…the ones that we ignore because we were so much smarter than the insrtuctor and was so eager to get out there and show them that you were a “sky god”. So I started my 4′ approach ever so slightly off the center line and it came right down where i wanted it. Get to know your aircraft, practice, and be patient and before you know it you’ll be landing on those dollys in gusty winds and not even think twice about it. Fly safe

  18. Steve Ford Says:

    We use a 12′X 12″ trailer dolly for our OH6 and OH58 helicopters. We painted a bright orange “H” on each trailer to indicate proper placement of the aircraft. If the skid is in the orange section it is a good landing. The OH58 is harder to place with the doors on so we also painted an orange stripe on the front section of the trailer surface. We line the stripe up between the pilots pedals as seen through the chin bubble. Photos available.

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