Bell 206 Track Record
I’d like to comment on the well-written column by Lee Benson in the March issue of Rotor & Wing. He makes many good points about the Bell 206, and it's proven track record—both from a cost/simplicity standpoint, and its docile autorotational characteristics. Also, it truly is a very easy helicopter to fly… but that’s one of the issues I’d like to address; the other is the source of the conversation he mentioned overhearing, U.S. Army pilots.
From a training point of view, it’s my opinion that the B206 isn’t the best primary trainer because of something I’ve observed over the years flying helicopters.
I was on a one-year tour of active duty from the IRR at Fort Rucker, Ala. some years ago teaching at Lowe AAF in the UH-60 and was once again reminded of the curious tendency of some pilots (can’t really put a percentage on it) that have transitioned from Bell aircraft (semi-rigid, underslung rotor systems) to those with either fully articulated or hingeless rotors, but can’t seem to keep their right hand still and continually stir the cyclic. Like the lost sock in the dryer…this tendency just doesn’t make sense.
Since the older semi-rigid design has zero control power—or leverage over the aircraft, it can only affect movement through thrust inclination; tilt the disk, and the fuselage must follow, usually by 0.8-1.0 seconds according to the aerodynamics experts. Same reason that putting wheels on a Bell 222 or 214ST wasn’t the best idea, and why some have rolled them while ground taxiing. Again, full cyclic displacement on the ground with MPOG has zero affect on body roll in this type, requiring a careful touch when rounding corners too fast—especially in a crosswind situation—because keeping struts even is key to performing the maneuver safely. A fully articulated or hinges system is of course completely different, allowing the pilot to lead turns while ground, and have almost instantaneous results of cyclic input in the air.
Why is it that so many pilots are able to simply move from one to the other, flying each in the way it has to be to make the aircraft do what the pilot desires of it, while others just don't get it, and continue to challenge the laws of physics, flying with a stiff right arm, demonstrating a complete lack of control touch and begging for dynamic rollover to get their attention when simply trying to land?
There seems to be no common denominator in this equation either: some students at Rucker with 80 hours TT in the Bell 206 just jump right in and make the necessary adjustments for smooth, controlled flight, and others still think that moving the cyclic should appear like stirring a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough batter? Then there’s the 10,000-plus-flight-hour veteran pilot that still hasn’t figured this simple phenomenon out?
Seems that starting a student out in a fully articulated rotor like a Schweitzer 330 (turbine model) would be the better choice to teach from the outset that a fine and smooth control touch is needed exponentially more frequently than the ability to autorotate with relative ease to the perfect forced landing area.
The other point, that of the source of this subject (Lee's overhearing Army pilots talk), is yet another subject. The Army seems to be very excited about the new “glass cockpit” aircraft in their fleet, and that’s great, but senior Army Aviation leaders, many if not most of them dinosaurs, desperately need to revamp their thinking for the 21st century—not just in modern aircraft with wiz-bang avionics packages, but in the quality of training that the future pilots are getting, and the importance of emphasis on what’s important vs. what’s fluff.
The Army currently graduates pilots that are able to take a written exam for a Commercial w/Instrument rating without a single hour—NOT ONE—of solo time. I believe this has been the case since the late 80's when solo flight was deemed “too dangerous.” As anyone knows, that time while in the cockpit alone with the monkey on your back is where everything starts to sink in and become engrained in the newly developing pilot. The newly minted Private pilot certificate of a civilian trained pilot is in the pocket of someone who’s not only soloed, but demonstrated settling with power too, yet another simple and safe maneuver deemed too “risky” by the four-star Generals at TRADOC who likely spent much of their career as a pilot logging PI time next to a Warrant Officer.
The Army rather, relies on wrote memorization of many interesting, but unnecessary and ultimately useless tidbits of info about the aircraft; i.e., the 13 functions of the HMU (hydro mechanical unit) of the General Electric T700 series engine used in the Black Hawk and Apache. To those who’ve been on either side of the isle (flown as a civilian for years after life as an Army pilot), we know this to be an engine driven fuel pump…and the knowledge needed by the pilot is that…it’s the engine-driven fuel pump. That’s all. Period. Now, there will undoubtedly be those who will disagree, but they’ve most likely not emerged from Army Aviation thinking, and been exposed to the bigger picture yet.
If the Army concentrated on teaching good decision making—which can be taught in a classroom, but only learned first hand on multiple solo flights—say 20 hours for a private (say…I think that’s the FAA
standard), perhaps Army pilots would be better equipped to make assertions about why getting rid of the Bell 206 is a good idea—which has nothing to do with glass cockpits.
Response from Lee Benson
Mr. Wagner, thank you for your well considered comments. Let me start by saying that in rereading the article I gave the impression that those whom expressed the need for replacing the Bell 206 were Army pilots, I apologize. The people that expressed those opinions where in the Army command structure high enough to effect policy, therefore my concern. Your comments about the response qualities of the Bell rotor system leading to poor control touch I will leave unchallenged from an engineering standpoint because I was a pilot and never an engineer. To me control touch is a matter of professional pride, I flew the aircraft I was given, not the one I flew last week. For several years In the middle of my career I flew Bell 206, 204, 205, 412 and the MBB 105c on a daily basis, at the end of my career it was Bell 206, 412 and Black Hawks. Control touch is a result of hard work and discipline not rotor systems. If you fly a MBB 105 with passengers like you are stirring cookie dough, you will clean up cookies after the flight, but they will not be chocolate chip.
Something for young pilots to ponder and an agreement with one of Mr. Wagner’s points. In my past life with Los Angeles County Fire, we hired pilots as a team. As chief pilot I was always on the orals board. The line pilots of the organization gave the actual two-part flight exam. Many very high time pilots failed the exam because of poor control touch. Control touch is something you practice every day you fly. You can’t turn it on just because it’s an important flight exam.
If the Army was starting from scratch maybe the turbine Schweitzer would be the way to go, I can’t comment, I have not flown one. Well-designed glass cockpits to me add situational awareness and reduce pilot workload. Steam gauge cockpits will give you the same info but you have to work a lot harder to attain it. I take the opposite view of the Army, I would be concerned if pilots where starting in a single-engine aircraft on glass and then going to a twin on steam gauges But they are not starting from scratch. We the taxpayers have a considerable investment in the existing fleet and a prudent interest in what the cost of maintaining and training with that fleet will be in the future. The article questions the need for a new multi-engine trainer and the expense vs. gain ratio of a change. Thanks for your input sir, it’s always good to see your own ideas from a different viewpoint.
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