Shrink or Break?

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How Big is your Safety Bubble

Will it Shrink or Break?

Bob Monette

Director, International Military Marketing

Atlantis Systems International Inc.

Orlando, FL
Laurence Esterhuizen

Vice President, Marketing - Allied Wings

Portage la Prairie, Manitoba


The challenges of training the diverse missions and tasks that are required of today’s helicopter pilots and crews are becoming more demanding with each passing day and night. We as a society have become unconsciously dependent on the roles that helicopters play in our daily lives. From mundane commercial applications such as transporting passengers to remote locations, to police interactions and crime prevention, to medical evacuations, or search and rescue operations, helicopters are counted on to handle risky missions that require accurate piloting skills in the most demanding and unstable conditions. Paradoxically initial civil flight training often overlooks the training of the demanding tasks and skills required for external loads, mountain operations, firefighting, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). There are no known regulatory requirements for training and certifying these key helicopter flying skills, so most training curricula do not cover these aspects as they would simply add cost to the training equation. This paper will discuss the possible stability in accidents and fatalities within the helicopter community while the human factors to fly these machines are on the increase and should make flying easier. This paper also proposes that mission simulation training is the critical key in unlocking the full potential of individuals and crews while increasing their safety factor and mission success factors. As in the military, simulation should be the centerpiece of overall standardization and objective evaluation of all helicopter training, whether it be normal or high task maneuvering. Affordable high fidelity, task-based helicopter simulation is available today.

Dr. Laura Iseler, Army/NASA Rotorcraft Division¹, stated in a paper presented to the Helicopter Aviation Training Symposium (HATS) 2001, “it is ten times more likely to be involved in an accident in a helicopter than in a fixed wing”. JAA is addressing and strengthening their regulations, that will include more stringent and revised training requirements. Numerous articles that touch on the growing need for training appear in most training and helicopter-oriented magazines. This may be because of one or a combination of many issues; experience of the pilot/crew, use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and Mountain Flying, just to name a few. By the virtue of this most important forum and the discussions that will take place, we must move forward at a rapid pace to standardize training and integrate simulation to enable helicopters to be operated safer. The helicopter pilots must train to the most demanding skill levels, while maintaining the highest safety levels.
The Safety Bubble:
Whether acknowledged or not, every helicopter pilot flies within a safety “bubble”, an invisible envelope, the size of which is proportional to the pilot’s experience, confidence, and the extent to which that pilot has been trained. The bubble, while unquestionably necessary, affects the efficient use of the helicopter and profitability. How we maintain the bubble, and possibly shrink it, while remaining safe, is a perplexing dilemma. How we maximize the capabilities of the individual helicopter, while staying within the individual and crew pilotage skills, may be the cause of many helicopter accidents. (Figure 1) All too often the helicopter’s capabilities are marginalized by poor aircrew training. Is this limitation due to the lack of standardization in the person-to-person instruction, lack of skills of the instructor, the helicopter’s limitations to perform required tasks, environmental limitations or a unique ever changing and unpredictable combination of ALL the above and possibly other factors?

Figure 1: Total crew/team coordination and training required
Helicopter Performance Placard
Stringent design criteria direct helicopter manufacturers to engineer, build, test, and deliver a machine that will perform. It will perform to the standards in a set of environmental conditions that is calculated from a group of very defined performance guidelines. When these guidelines are followed precisely, and the helicopter is flown by an experienced pilot and crew, the most demanding of missions can be successfully accomplished, while staying within the helicopter’s structural and mechanical limits, independent of the size of the helicopter. (Figure 2)
This will help ensure longevity of the components, thus allowing the helicopter “mechanically” to stay within its safety bubble.

Figure 2. Mission relies on performance

Pilots Performance Placard
Any governing agency directs each instructor to teach to an objective standard. That standard is somewhat out of date, but seems to be working. But is it working?
Since more helicopters are flying and accident rates are remain somewhat constant, one may assume that the instructor guidelines are working.
Should the pilots, crews and passengers expect in the 21st Century to align their fate with the numbers of the past? Some of the processes that get us to the point of flight and to the mission have and may never change. (Figure 3) If any one of these parts of a mission is not correctly completed, it could mean mission failure today or tomorrow.

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