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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

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Correction

Our story on future rotorcraft powerplants included a discussion of Fischer-Tropsch fuels drawn largely from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet ("More Efficient, More Sources," May 2007, page 34). Through an editing error, the attribution to the EPA was deleted, leaving readers with the incorrect impression that the material was based on our own knowledge of the subject and depriving EPA staff of that credit. We apologize for that error. — The Editor

AS350 Hydraulics

I’ve written to you several times in the past, praising your staff’s work and dedication in returning Rotor & Wing to its high level of quality and success. The June 2007 issue is proof of that. The article on the Eurocopter AS350 AStar line is absolutely excellent, the best I’ve ever read on this outstanding helicopter, which more than deserves all of the praise it receives from users all over the world. Its sales and orders confirm its popularity.

We had an AS350B for almost five years here at Western Helicopters, using it about 50/50 for training and charter work, and we really liked the machine. So did our customers. Its virtues far outweighed its weak points.

But I take very serious issue with your sidebar story that discusses the "problems" caused by failure of the AStar hydraulics system, and the basic idea that pilot error was, and is, the main cause of AStars being damaged when the hydraulics fail.

How well I remember going to AStar school in Grand Prairie, Texas back in the 1970s. The AStar AS350D was brand new, and Rocky Mountain Helicopters, which owned our company at the time, took delivery of five and sent Floyd Helm and me to be educated about it and to pick one up and fly it to Houston for outfitting.

I remember asking myself how the AStar managed to be certified for flight in the United States with the workload presented when the hydraulics were off. Being used to the relative ease of flying Bell products with the hydraulics failed, I was stunned at the workload once the AS350D accumulators had been dumped.

I tried to put myself in place of the solo offshore pilot who suffered a hydraulics failure halfway to or from a rig miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, wondering how he or she could possibly manage the cyclic loads for more than a few minutes (to say nothing of the problems with landing the disabled machine on a helideck).

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board Web sites contain details of many accidents related to AStar hydraulics failure. Look over the same huge databases and try to find one instance of a Bell product suffering the same fate.

When you lose the system in a Bell 47, a JetRanger, a LongRanger, or a 407, nothing happens. Yes, the pilot must apply more force to move the cyclic, collective, and pedals (for ships with boosted pedals), but that is a minor effort compared to what is required of the AStar pilot from the time the accumulators are empty until the ship is on the ground.

American Eurocopter’s answer is always the same: "Follow the emergency procedures given in the Rotorcraft Flight Manual and you will not have any problem landing without hydraulics." They hide behind the RFM and refuse to admit there just might be some sort of a "problem" with their hydraulics system.

Poor decision-making is behind a number of the accidents, to be sure. But the fact is that many pilots of other makes and models make just as poor decisions, yet they don’t have the number or type of hydraulics-related accidents as an in AStar.

The AStar is very popular among law-enforcement in our part of the United States. I’ve spoken with many officer pilots about the challenges of flying with hydraulics off. Most say there is basically no problem at all, just follow the emergency procedures.

As for the physical effort involved, 99 percent of these pilots are in great physical shape — big arms, strong hands, big frame. Tough as nails. What about pilots who aren’t as big or strong? Is there anything in the AS350 flight manuals about being of a minimum height, weight, strength, endurance, gender, etc.? No, there isn’t. The implication is that if you are licensed and legal to fly an AStar, you can fly one. Is there anything in the AStar flight manual about how the pilot must adjust the seat and pedals to be able to apply the maximum force necessary to fly the helicopter without hydraulics? No, there isn’t.

The AStar hydraulics-off mode of flight is a disaster waiting to happen.

Pete Gillies, Chief Pilot Western Helicopters, Inc. Rialto, Calif.

Safe Photography

Regarding Tim McAdams’ mention of aerial photography, I’ve been doing aerial photography in the New York City area for over 50 years ("Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness," February 2007, page 70). I started in a Piper Cub, shifting to Robinson Helicopter R22s in 1984. I’m a commercially rated ‘copter pilot with more than 1,200 hr PIC.

My rule of thumb in the helicopter is 50 mph and 500 ft. Using the Cub, we couldn’t slow down, unless we were in a head wind, so I had to learn to pick the angle (hopefully) on the first pass. Now, with digital cameras and their zoom lenses, I can do close-ups and wider angles from the same altitude. We don’t have to go low or slow anymore.

My pilots follow my hand signals. They’re all certificated flight instructors. Any new pilots at Eastern Helicopters at Islip MacArthur Airport, N.Y. (KISP) are instructed to fly several photo missions with me before they fly other photographers. We don’t need low altitudes and slow speeds.

Jim Mooney Eagle Eye Air Photo Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

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R&W’s Question of the Month

What is the most pressing business or regulatory issue for helicopter operators in Europe?

Let us know, and look for your and others’ responses in a future issue. You’ll find contact information at the bottom of the page.

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