Police Helicopter Pilot

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Sheriff's Helicopter Experiences In Flight Emergency

A View From Above

A Guest Article by Scott Bligh

It’s All Fun and Games Until…

The book says you’re allowed to fly up to 152 knots in ASTREA’s MD-530F helicopter. But can you, really? Well yes you can, if you get up really high, lower the nose, point it at the ground and wait you may actually reach 152 knots or 175 MPH. That’s .25 Mach or about 1/5th the speed of sound. Impressive I know.

The ASTREA day crew was in the Valley Center area heading for San Marcos to assist with a 211 bank call when they did what’s called "trading altitude for airspeed." If you remember your physics classes, altitude is like potential energy. It’s like money in the bank which you can use when needed. As the altitude (potential energy) decreases, the speed (kinetic energy) increases. As the ASTREA 1 crew of Kevin Randall and Jay Pavlenko was turning this potential energy into kinetic energy to get to that 211 call quicker, Jay noticed a "windshield anomaly," a bulge in the windshield directly in-line with his head. The windshields on our helicopters are essentially Plexiglas. Not real thick and not super strong but, until this day, certainly able to withstand the wind.

Having only been in the unit a couple weeks, he wasn’t too sure what to make of it but thought it a good idea to bring it to Kevin’s attention. Jay asked, "Is this normal?" Kevin looked over to see the windscreen bulging into the cockpit. Noting the airspeed at 122 knots, well within published limitations, Deputy Randall lowered the collective and eased back on the cyclic, essentially raising the nose to reduce the airspeed. He was too late, however, as the window imploded into Jay’s face at just under 140 MPH.

With the additional wind entering just the right side of the cockpit, the helicopter’s nose swung to the right requiring the addition of left pedal to regain "balanced flight." Deputy Randall continued to slow the aircraft to below hurricane force winds and check on Jay. He still had his head attached and no arterial spray was observed as they continued for landing at the San Marcos Patrol Station.

Inside view of missing windscreen on a San Diego Sheriff patrol helicopter.As you can see by the pictures, the edges of this glass are sharp. Jay was wearing his helmet visor in the down position and was afforded its protection which he described as saving his eyes. We have tinted visors for when the sky is bright and clear visors for night time or cloudy days. If this doesn’t demonstrate why they are important, I don’t know what does.

Safety equipment; it does a body good.

Scott Bligh is a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot turned deputy sheriff.  He has been assigned to the San Diego Sheriff's ASTREA Unit for approximately 6 years.