At R&WI’s Rotorcraft Business and Technology Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 20 to 21, I was introduced to the idea of flight operations quality assurance (FOQA), a management tool that can be derived from health usage monitoring systems (HUMS) data. In the process, the HUMS data is set to flag certain abnormal flight parameters. The presenter provided an example of data that had been reviewed by company management. In the example, the pilot approached a heliport and made about a 130-deg turn to land at the heliport. This was in violation of company policy, which dictates a full 360-deg overhead evaluation of the heliport before landing. At one point in the approach, the aircraft was in a 1,385-foot-per-minute rate of descent at less than 300 feet agl.
The line pilot in me screamed that the whole idea of monitoring is big brother at its worst. The chief pilot in me said, “How am I supposed to have reasonable certainty that my pilots are operating the aircraft in a professional manner without monitoring them as they go about their daily tasks, rather than a once-a-year check ride?” I have pondered this since the conference. Bottom line: as a professional pilot, I should accept this scrutiny.
I should expect that my flying habits will keep me out of the chief pilot’s office. I think it says something in that example that the same pilot who breaks company policy regarding a 360-degree overhead recon of the landing area then shoots at best a very poor approach. I don’t have the authority to name that company in this column. I will say that my respect for both went up based on the professional act of sharing this information with an open audience to demonstrate a possible safety tool.
Another example was in a video of a recent approach to a rooftop heliport that looked like an autorotation more than an approach. This was a two-pilot operation with the co-pilot at the controls. In my mind, I don’t know in who I’m more disappointed: the pilot for letting it happen or the co-pilot for such a dangerous approach. To answer the original question, why so many steep fast approaches? I have no answer, but I will tell you it’s a bad habit, and you will pay a price some day.
I have never been a good instructor, and I am not going to teach anyone how to shoot an approach here. I will say the pilots I respect in this business always taught me that a good approach should never require more than 5% collective pitch pull at the termination of the approach. The only way to accomplish this is a somewhat slow and shallow approach with a high power setting throughout the approach.
I recently consulted with several programs that are acquiring new helicopters. All have included sophisticated airframes with a great deal of avionics integration. I wonder whether the degree of integration in these airframes is in the best interest of the operator or whether it is an attempt by the airframe or avionics manufacturer to limit the operators’ choices for modifications to the OEMs’ solution.
Consider if your aircraft’s communication system is integrated into the FMS and EFIS systems. What happens when you require another radio? My recent experience indicates that the integration of that radio into these fully integrated systems is going to be a very expensive software engineering exercise — assuming the OEM will supply the baseline data. It’s also likely the airframe manufacturer doesn’t have the data, and you would negotiate with the avionics OEM for it.
Since I consult for a company that sells digital intercoms, I will add this statement. With any of the digital standalone intercom systems on the market today, if you have a spare position on your control head, that integration of a new radio is at most a one-day job. The same could be said of ADS-B, moving map systems and enhanced-vision systems. Outside of maybe corporate helicopters, most helicopters, public or private, are going to do a wide variety missions for their owners. As technology expands, the possible mission requirements for your helicopter increase.