Police Helicopter Pilot

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Filtering by Tag: fatal helicopter crash

Helicopter Featured in PHP Photo Gallery Involved in Fatal Crash

N61735 MD500 (Hughes 369D) helicopter involved in fatal crash in Pa.

In April of this year I posted this photo taken by Deputy Rocky Laws, in the policehelicopterpilot.com photo gallery.  It was a beautiful MD500 often seen flying in and out of Gillespie Field (our home base) in El Cajon Ca.  I was sure that this photo captured by Rocky would be appreciated by any helicopter enthusiast, and since we fly MD's also, it was more than worthy of being included in the gallery.

I was sad to learn that this helicopter was involved in a fatal crash last week, (July 22nd) in Wharton Township Pa., while reportedly performing "long line" operations in support of natural gas survey work. 

Early reports by the news media indicated that the line and basket underneath the helicopter may have become entangled in trees, and the pilot attempted to make an emergency or crash landing.  However, a quick look at the crash photos tells a different story.

First, a line becoming entangled in the trees is not necessarily an emergency for an experienced and properly trained long line pilot, which I have no doubt this pilot was.  A helicopter pilot performing long line operations in and around trees or other obstacles will be leaning out the door far enough to keep an constant eye on the line and load.  That is why it is also referred to as "vertical reference flying" because the pilot is often looking straight down at the ground and his load, and flying the helicopter by visual reference to the ground below him instead of out in front of him or her.  

This type of flying is generally slow, with an emphasis on precision.  If a line becomes entangled the pilot simply works to get the line untangled, or "pickles" (releases) the load.  These hooks on the belly of the helicopter generally have an electronic release button, with a back up manual release handle both mounted right on the cyclic.  Pilots are also trained to test both release methods prior to any long line work. 

The greater danger in performing long line work is that you are often working outside of the height velocity curve that is publised in the operating manual for every helicopter.  This is also sometimes called "dead mans curve." 

In the event of an engine out the helicopter absolutely must have an acceptable combination of  altitude and airspeed in order to enter autorotation.  The right combination of altitude and airspeed will keep the  air rushing up through those rotor blades (collective must be immediately lowered) and keep them turning at a sufficient rpm and with enough energy to cushion the landing.  This technique works every time when performed properly and when operating inside the published height velocity diagram, (500' and 60 knots is an example of a good altitude and airspeed combination for most helicopters, while 200' and 20 knots or a hover at 200' is an example of a height and velocity where most helicopters would be incapable of performing a successful autorotation.)

However, long line operations by their nature require pilots to operate outside of the height velocity diagram.  If you are using a 100' line and you are in a precision hover picking up or placing a load then you are operating outside of the height velocity diagram.  This is perfectly legal, and helicopter pilots accept this risk when performing long line operations as well as certain other helicopter maneuvers. 

While I am not a trained helicopter accident investigator certain logical conclusions can be drawn simply by examining the photos published in the news stories of this crash.  All 5 blades on this helicopter are completely intact and do not appear to have any damage normally associated with blades which are spinning at flight rpm, and involved in a crash.  One would expect to see splintered blades, deeply gouged dirt and much more significant damage to the cabin fuselage if the crash occurred with the engine and rotorblades spinning at the proper rpm.  Instead you see blades that are intact but drooped and touching the ground on all sides of the aircraft, much more indicative of a very hard impact with low rotor rpm. 

Rather than getting his line caught in the trees as reported by a number of news outlets, this helicopter more likely experienced engine problems or an engine out while flying outside of the height velocity curve.  Even the best helicopter pilots in the world may not have been able to recover and survive such an occurance. 

This is tragic and sad event for helicopter aviation and PHP.com sends it's condolences to the pilot's family and friends. 

According to the FAA the helicopter was a Hughes 369D manufactured in 2002 and owned by Utility Helicopters Inc at 1948 Joe Crosson Dr in El Cajon Ca., (Gillespie Field). 

The helicopter was likely leased or contracted out to Geokinetics of Oregon for the survey work being conducted.   

Fatal AH-1W Cobra Crash Promts Sheriff's Fire Helicoper Response

File photo of a U.S. Marine Cobra Helicopter, Wikimedia.orgTragically, a Marine Corps Cobra Helicopter with two souls on board crashed and burned in an area of eastern San Diego County known as Kitchen Creek (north of Interstate 8) on Tuesday night, just before midnight.  The helicopter was returning from a training mission in Yuma Arizona with live ordinance on board at the time of the crash.  Both Marine Corps pilots on the helicopter, one male and one female, were fatally injured.

The helicopter was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aviation Wing at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and had been training with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit just prior to the crash.  The crash sparked a brush fire which continued to flare up off and on throughout Wednesday.

The location of the crash is within the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest prompting a response from U.S. Forest Service fire crews as well as the San Diego County Sheriff's Fire Helicopter.  Firefighters and military personnel were concerned with un-exploded ordinance scattered in the area.  

The Sheriff's fire helicopter "Copter 12" remained on scene until late Wednesday evening dropping water on hot spots and flare ups. 

At the time of the crash there were no unusual weather patterns and there was high moon light level.  The high moon light levels provide excellent visibility for flying at night on night vision goggles.  While it is not known for certain at this time whether the crew was flying on NVG's it is quite probable. 

According to unnamed sources at the scene of the crash the crew may have been experiencing engine and/or avionics problems and may have been trying to return the helicopter to their base at Miramar.  That information is preliminary and unconfirmed.  The helicopter was accompanied by a second Marine helicopter when it went down. 

Even though this is a military helicopter crash it still garners much interest and concern from other helicopter pilots, including law enforcement, fire, and EMS pilots.  As law enforcement pilots we often share the same airspace and fly over the same terrain as or military counterparts (while they are here in the U.S.) as well as sharing the same safety of flight issues.  While we don't know the cause of this crash, an engine out at night time, in the back country (even if the pilot is flying on NVG's) is a scenario all helicopter pilots must think about and plan for.

The staff at police helicopter pilot.com extends it's condolences to the families of the two pilots, and thanks them for their service and ultimate sacrifice for our country.  We will follow the crash investigation and provide updates as information becomes available.