PHP.com has learned that some Border Patrol pilots are expressing their concern about the apparent poor auto-rotational capabilities of the MD600N (no tail rotor) helicopter. These concerns may very well have proven out this week when a Dept. of Homeland Security (BP) helicopter, being operated by a factory CFI, suffered a hard landing while conducting a simulated engine out auto-rotation. The incident occurred on Monday the 12th,on runway 17/35 at Gillespie Field in El Cajon Ca, which just happens to be a stones throw from the San Diego Sheriff's ASTREA ramp. The only other occupant of the helicopter at the time was the Border Patrol's Chief Pilot for the San Diego area. No injuries were reported.
The entire incident was caught on tape by other BP pilots who were filming the autos from the ground. Speculation is that the filming was related to the BP pilots concern that the MD600 could not be successfully "auto'ed" in the event of an engine out. At least at the altitudes, air speed, and weight at which most of their missions are performed. It is likely these concerns were heightened after an engine out and a crash landing in the surf of another BP MD600N in February of this year. In that incident the helicopter was destroyed and all three occupants suffered injuries.
For the record this writer has received auto-rotational training from this same CFI and can attest to his professionalism, outstanding skill level, and expert knowledge of MD Helicopters. Which leaves one really wondering about the capabilities of this helicopter when the engine quits.
I have spoke many times on this site about the safety, ruggedness, and crash worthiness of the MD500 series helicopters. Incidents like this do not change my confidence level in the MD500.
The lingering question is; What is it about the MD600N that causes it to perform poorly during auto-rotation. Well that would probably be a great question for an aeronautical engineer, and one that I do not have the answer to. I do know that every helicopter has it's own auto-rotational characteristics and some are much better than others. I hear that the R44 auto's great, but the R22 not so much. The R22 looks like a scaled down version of the R44, so all things being equal it would seem that the R22 would auto just as nicely as the R44. But that is simply not the case. As helicopter pilots we are all familiar with the terms "high inertia" rotor systems and "low inertia" rotor systems. Apparently the MD600N falls into the later category.
Perhaps Monday's incident will pay dividends for the next BP pilot who happens to be at the controls when the engine quits. Hopefully he or she will be strapped into something other than and MD600N.