The old adage, “timing is everything,” held sway as we went to press with the new edition of Rotor & Wing International.
Because of the month-long delay in the release of the White House FY 2020 budget, we were able to glean details on military rotor programs from that budget and analyze how the DoD spending blueprint will affect the Army’s ambitious plans to modernize its fleet of more than 4,000 helicopters—our cover story for this edition.
While challenges abound, the seemingly cooperative government-industry design process, which uses Helios code and other computer programs to improve the modelling of aircraft performance in simulation before bending metal, offers the distinct possibility that the Army may finally bring clean sheet helicopter designs to fruition.
On the commercial side, we have a timely story on crash-resistant fuel systems. Helicopter manufacturers have until April 5 next year to ensure that all newly manufactured helicopters have such systems, and the Federal Aviation Administration has said it is working with industry to help helicopter companies comply with the mandate. The long pole in the safety tent appears to be retrofits of existing rotorcraft. Last year, the FAA Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group advised the agency to require retrofits within five years on all helicopters, including those type certified before 1994, but there is some resistance among industry representatives to this approach. For its part, the FAA tells us that it is developing a plan to address the working group’s recommendations on such retrofits.
In this issue of R&WI, as always, we also bring you the invaluable perspective of operators. Pat Gray, who flew offshore helicopter operations in the Gulf of Mexico for more than 20 years, has the scoop on a Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference initiative that aims to improve the safety of those flights by including past recommendations and adding best practices to helideck standards that are in place around the world.
Ed Van Winkle, a retired captain with the Gainesville (FL) Police Department and a commercial helicopter pilot, reminds us that routine pre-flight inspections are not enough to ensure safety; we must also adhere to the OEM’s pre-flight inspection requirements and determine if the mission equipment is properly installed and secure.
Sanjeev Kumar, a former test pilot for the Indian Navy, explains that while expanding the envelope of Flight Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) may be beneficial in the near-term for companies scaling up their helicopter operations, it is usually not a good idea from a safety perspective. Kumar shows how a “one size fits all” set of flight time limitations makes little sense. Pilots who fly fully-automated birds, like the AW139 or S-92, will likely have a different set of fatigue limits than the helmsmen of non-automated light singles, like the R-44 and AS350, for example. Kumar writes that while “rest periods can be mandated…certain responsibility must also ‘rest’ with crew for effective off-time management and not shirking their duty – from which no FDTL rules can protect us.”
Happy reading and happy flying!