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Subject: Off Airport Landings
 
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SupremoUser is Offline
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10/27/2010 1:25 PM  
Helicopters have that unique ability to land almost anywhere. Pros have been exposed to it many times and many places. Aside from the FAR's, what should you look for in landing off airport? Emergency landings are one thing, normal ops another. How do you stay out of trouble operation wise? Getting in is one thing, getting out again is another. Comments and experiences are invited. Rocky In and out of trouble more than a pilot should be allowed ................. Well, at least the average pilot?

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10/27/2010 2:15 PM  
What exactly are you looking for here? You excluded emergency ops and normal ops (if I'm reading this right) so what do you mean? I guess it really depends on what is considered "normal ops." What would be normal from an operations point of view to one company could be the opposite for another.
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10/27/2010 3:47 PM  
I didn't exclude anything. One of the most unusual landings I ever made was on a granite kopje in So Africa and one of my skids slipped into a crack in the rock. I had to carefully rock back n forth and sideways to get the skid out again without doing any damage. Wheeeew Many many off airport landings during ag ops and I realize not many get to do off airport landings. So, how do we prepare those who haven't? Even a normal landing can turn into an emergency if things are not as expected?

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10/27/2010 3:50 PM  
Our normal ops involve flying in and out of numerous cranberry bogs. I am on the lookout for wires, antennas, other obstacles. I always hope (and do when I'm on the ground) that the groundcrew has picked a good spot that is into wind, clear of debris, space, etc. We hot refuel so again we have to be in sync when it comes to ground crew and pilots. Talking to each other on the radio always helps sort out the little things but we use hand signals too.
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10/27/2010 4:03 PM  
Having learned out in the desert, I pay special attention to the surface: dry grass = extreme fire danger, other dry surface = dust/brownout possible, snow = whiteout possible.


The other thing I learned is that we (humans) may make note of something (eg, wires, obstructions), but our RAM only holds a few items. So the wires you see in you departure route are easily forgotten even if you only set down for a minute and then head right back out.
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10/27/2010 4:45 PM  
I do a power check on approach, going in, to make sure I can land OGE / get out (if its confined), then I'll do a max takeoff (straite up if I'm really uncertain) to avoid anything I may not have seen (or have forgotten about) on recon.
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10/27/2010 4:54 PM  
The problem many don't see is the surface. If its obscured with tall grass for example.....you don't know if its hard or boggy or uneven. Can't make a full collective down until you know for sure. God I recall one time when I thought it was fine and bottomed the collective and the skids began sinking into the mud, tail first. I gently pulled pitch to get level again and was at max power to get out of the slurpy crap and wondering if it was going to work or not. Ended up leaving some skid marks in the mud while I tried to do a "running takeoff" and get to translational. times like that make a believer of you.

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10/30/2010 12:25 PM  
Great topic Rocky, flying law enforcement up here in upstate NY has many challenges. The majority of our off airport landings are usually secured by ground units first, they give us terrain, slope, and what type of surface it is, it requires trust in the individuals on the ground and we are fortunate to have some good people on the ground, then my main concern is wind direction and any obstacles that need to be cleared, a couple of recon orbits to determine wheather we can get in and out, and if we need to pick up someone, do we have the power to get out. Of course in the winter time snow will add a whole different outlook, how much snow, how deep, is it powder or hard packed, how bad will the white out get, you get my drift(no pun intended). Its allways a challenge that I look forward to, but if I feel its not safe I will not attempt it. Flying a 407 does give you a nice level of confidence though, however as you know everything has its limits, helicopters and pilots alike. Fly Safe! Andy
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10/30/2010 9:16 PM  
Just remembered one time I landed a Hiller 12E crossrow in a bean field and was getting out to do something. When I stepped down, my foot slipped off the skid and continued down into the row. As I descended another 6" below the skid, I jammed my little fingertip against a piece of framework and broke the tip. It hurt like a sunnofabitch the rest of the day until I got done spraying and could get to the docs office and get it splinted. Could just as easily turned an ankle, torn a knee or worse. How many times have we slipped on ice, or a wet ramp, or a greasy spot or ?? and either got away with it, or got injured just on level ground?! Safety isn't a part time job ........

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11/03/2010 2:11 AM  
Had a mate land a 350B on a wharf parallel to the boardwalk planks; one skid settled in the space between the two boards, he used the gentle rock and roll with gradual collective to free himself.

We landed on the edge of a refuse tip in a Huey once to wait out a stormfront - landfill sites are not a guaranteed solid surface as we found, very unstable, and the unseen pockets below may be a considerable size without showing.

Sandbanks are also not what they seem - current and /or surf can cause a solid sheet of sand to undermine a lot quicker than you might observe, particularly if you have landed ok and are not monitoring the skids while you are stationary, They (sandbanks) are not always of the same load bearing ability across what you might initially see.

If you've shut down ok, and then crank up to leave, you just might dig in a bit, or settle deeper as the resonations on your suspension moves the displaced surface and envelope the skids..

A check of the skids at flight idle could be crucial and markedly different to what it was at the start. I've had experience of both situations occur and it's insidious.

Did a very basic medivac retrieval in PNG landing on a high cambered curve in the road to p/u two patients. The slope was within limits but the balled stone and gravel on the surface wasn't stable enough to lower the collective fully or shut down and expect the machine to stay static. Had to hold light on the surface with power throughout op.

Run ons with any sort of tuft or tussock grass growing through the surface is not a good idea. We did a 6 ship form once with 5 of us doing a cat 2 landing (come to a 2ft hover then settle), number 6 decided to run on believing the grass was not an obstacle: the left hand skid enterred a tuft, and stuck (9.500 lbs to a stop on a dfime!). The Huey stood on it's skid toes, and dug the chin wire cutter in and snapped off 8" in the ground before porpoising back and forth luckily without the main or tail rotor striking the ground.

Ruts and channels in black soil might be a problem if you land your skids or wheels into them. Once your in, the channels may lock your undercart into them and you go where the rut goes! This applies to running takeoffs as well. The same may be said for using someone elses landing path in soft soil or sand; it might be unavoidable however I'd be inclined to make my own.

One skid or wheel touchdowns on pinnacles or cliffs - be prepared for the strata at the edge to give way and stay alert to this during the operation, it's unlikely there will be any warning signs, it will just go! If I remember correctly the RAF in Afghanistan in a Chinook experienced this on a rear wheels pinnacle touchdown.

Landing on broken and uneven surfaces isn't new but it's the consideration of the crossbars bearing the brunt of the displacement is important to avoid assymetric stress or distortion. Beware of unseen rocks under sand on beach landings

One of the outlanding considerations I monitor is the manoeuvre areas within airport precincts away from runways and taxiways and established pads. Extrusions such as earthing points, anchor/tie downs points, ground fuel instalations, "local" or poor maintenance areas (ie high pot hole repairs) and any unmarked fixture that may interfere with low hover and air taxi heights. Anything in the way of resurfacing operations isn't always removed and may be "painted" over to look neat and fit in. nasty little surprise! And how to stay out of trouble? Know and continually update your limitations to be aware of what performance you have in hand if the gremlins turn up. The comment Rocky made about being able to get out again suggests that those parameters need to be established and tested before or on the way in. Considerations of the approach can be applied respectively to the departure expectations and if doubts exist on the way in, it's quite probable that they will be applicable to a departure profile. You might consider the approach and landing aspects as a rehearsal in reverse for the anticipated take off. External loads and Hoisting is good practice for this type of profile introduction. The practices as well can start in out of the way areas on the airfield, which alters the "norm" for "schooled" pilots to introduce the alterations to their blueprint environment for constructive reasons, not just fabricated. Introducing a simple (empty drum in a net) external load circuit or low level "dry" hoist (empty sling) in currency checks is good practice and keeps the edge up, and the airfield is the safest place to introduce or refresh this type of op. The challenge comes later particularly with crooked runways and confined pads where the art is to keyhole your aircraft to suit the terrain and performance. It;s a game consideration like "What if?". Pick a space big enough for an aeroplane or a helicopter to fit in, and say to yourself, "If this is all I had, how would I get in/out?" It's technique, if you think or consider it, the blueprint is layed, and the possibilities are only limited by your experience and resources at hand. Both can be applied in more that one fashion or combination. Of course, neither will be perfect inall situations, but the major consideration is survival with life, then the preservation of the aircraft if possible as well.

Eyes out always and practice, practice, practice!
Steve

Don't Quit: Keep It Flying!
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11/03/2010 8:05 PM  
Google Earth, or any other similar program, is a great tool for these sorts of things. Also if its a place that more than one person is going to have to go to, have the first dude take a picture of it. The more you know what to expect the better it is. The only trouble with google earth is that it can sometimes give you a false sense of security, the LZ might look different than what you're expecting espicially if the imagery is out of date. I did a landing one time that based on the imagery I thought was going to be a brownout, so I came in pretty hot, turned out to be really muddy and I sank literally to the belly. It was under NVG's by the way, and in an area that staying there was NOT an option!
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11/04/2010 5:06 PM  
WIRES!  In my job I do a LOT of off-airport landings.  Seems like the only time I do go to an airport is to get fuel.  Most of our sites (mobile home dealerships) are familiar to me, but it's not unheard of for a dealer to string a line from one place to another without telling us.  My boss saved me from hitting one once.  It hadn't been there the last time we'd visited, and Boss saw it before I did (he's got eyes like Yeager; I've got eyes like Stevie Wonder).  So wires are my biggest concern.  You cannot look hard enough for wires.  Go s-l-o-w into sites you haven't been before, and s-l-o-w into sites you *have* been before.  In other words, go slow fer cryin' out loud. 

Remember, it's not the engine failure that's killing pilots, it *still* pilot-error accidents that are doing it.  It took me a long time to get out of the must-stay-out-of-the-HV-curve mindset.

WIND:  Right up there with wires is wind.  Some of our sites are so confined that I end up coming to an OGE hover and easing slowly on down.  This is absolutely not the time you want to find yourself with a tailwind.  Going into the boss's hunting camp one night, the windsock was showing calm, but the windsock is in a deep hole in the trees and it is often blanked.  I thought the wind was out of the north, and set up my approach that way.  But early in the game it just didn't "feel" right.  So I bailed and circled around, comparing the GPS groundspeed to my airspeed.  Sure enough, a southerly approach was called for...and worked out a whole bunch better.  

Moral: Don't be committed to landing a certain way.  If it doesn't feel right, GO AROUND and figure out why.  The helicopter will talk to you if you know how to listen.

Some of our sites are so tight that I won't go in or come out with anyone else but the boss onboard our little 206B.  It's not that the ship won't do it - I just want a certain amount of "extra" power reserve if I have to come straight down or go straight up.  Even so, there have been some hot/humid days this past summer when I'm struggling to get out of some site...torque and temp both at the redline...and me going, "Dear God in heaven, please don't let this little piece of sh*t quit on me now."  (Meh- I probably won't be doing this job much longer.)

RECON:  One day recently, we had to go up to a potential site for a new lot in a place I'd never been before.  Could I find it?  That was the question.  Onto Google maps I went!  Google lets you have a pretty good zoomed-in overhead view, as well as a street-level view.  Then, MSN (or Bing now, I guess) let's you have a "bird's eye" view of your intended location.  Collectively, these are wonderful features!  Indispensible, in my humble opinion.  Transposing the Google and Bing Maps information onto a sectional chart and then plugging the whole thing into the GPS, I was able to fly directly to the new site with confidence and accuracy.

Finally, our General Manager and I were working our way up to a dealership in north Alabama.  Our schedule was such that we'd arrive after close of business, so the initial plan was to park overnight at the closest airport and rent a car to the motel.  But then I thought, "Hey, we're a helicopter..."  So I went on Google maps again and found a hotel near our dealership that had sufficient amount of land around it.  I called the place and asked if I could land there and get two rooms for the night?  The woman wasn't even impressed.  "Oh yeah," she said.  "We've had helicopters land here before.  There's a big truck-parking lot out back," (which I saw on Google) "just put it there."  Which is exactly what we did (there were no trucks in it that night).  The place also happened to be walking-distance from a number of acceptable road-food restaurants.

Even with good satellite/aerial imagery, I always always always do a good high/low recon before landing.  Sometimes I'll circle as often as I need to make SURE there are no wires. 

APPROACH:  I like a steep approach.  I like it steep and slow.  PHI used to teach us to do them that way to oil platforms.  Deep in the H-V curve, yes, but they didn't want you to have to flare at the bottom so we didn't whack our tail. "Keep it level" was their philosophy.  I guess it rubbed off on me.  Nothing wrong with steep and slow...AS LONG AS...you're into the wind.  Which means you actually have to know where the wind is coming from.

I had a little motorcycle accident recently in which I broke my shoulder, and so had to have a safety pilot fly with me - a young guy I know who is actually current in 206's.  He did virtually all of the flying.  The one criticism I had of this guy was that he was absolutely incapable of doing a steep approach.  He'd come in to every site waaaaay shallow, then drop it in steep at the very end.  At some sites he would be so shallow that we'd actually lose visual contact with our intended LZ as other obstacles would block the view.  Not good.

I like to set up a nice steep approach at about 300 feet agl., load the rotor up with power and then just ease on down.  Very simple.  No big power or attitude changes at the bottom; just let it settle into the ground cushion with maybe a degree or two (at most) of pitch attitude adjustment.  If you do it right, you go from maybe one-degree nose-down to one-degree nose-up (basically the hover attitude).  That's all you need to break the RoD and stop the forward speed.  I do *not* like coming in fast and relying on the engine to stop us. 

And yes, the safety pilot and I had words about this issue.  He maintained that his way was better.  Well, he is entitled to his opinion.  There are a million "right" ways of flying.  The only "wrong" way of flying is if you crash.  So far, my young friend has not crashed, so I guess he's doing everything right.  So far.

I could probably write a book about off-airport landings.  And yet as many site-landings as I do, I'm never comfortable doing them.  I always get the feeling that there's something I've missed, or that something will go wrong.  It's good to be paranoid, I guess, and you can't be too careful when you're doing what these crazy machines were designed to do.
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11/04/2010 10:41 PM  
As usual, your post Bob was SPOT ON!!

I too do my approaches very slow to the bottom. It gives you more time to see and recognize any hazards or things you could not see from the recons.

I also start at about 300 feet and thirty knots. My approach angle is then set by keeping the aircraft right on the edge of ETL all the way to the bottom. The attitude profile you described is exactly what happens when you stay on the edge of ETL. The buffeting in the 206 is also a good physical que that setteling with power is one less thing I have to worry about, thereby, allowing me to focus hard on the appraoch path for obstacles and surface condition.

Keeping the 206 on the edge of ETL also allows for a smoothe and effective transition should I need to do a go-around.

As you said there are many techniques with many differnet variables and conditions to determine which one you will use. The most important thing to any approach is always leave yourself an out (Power or path) incase something comes up.

Fly safe,

Dwaine
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12/04/2010 4:30 PM  

Here's a question about getting out once you've made it in:

A couple EMS companies I have worked for have required a 10% margin between power available and hover power in order to depart from unimproved, scene LZs.  They are advocating making only vertical takeoffs when knowledge of the obstacles in the departure path is not assured. (Night, Unaided, Scene takeoffs, for example)

Does anyone know WHERE that 10% figure comes from?  Obviously, winds, obstacles, and/or wind currents around those obstacles can make it possible to ascend with less of a margin, or not be able to get out WITH the 10% margin.  

A lot of EMSers have advised to be extremely cautious about doing a lot of maneuvering around in the LZ on a scene call.  I would rather be in a situation where a vertical climb clear of obstacles is possible, but that isn't always possible.

For you more experienced guys, what are some of YOUR rules of thumb when it comes to making your approach to a confined LZ, taking on a load(or patient) and getting back out safely? 

Thoughts?

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12/07/2010 8:27 PM  
There should be a requirement to get as much information accurately as possible about the load to be taken on prior to going. This would enable you to assess how configure early and suitably, and provide an impression of what you shoukld have in hand before you arrive. The actual conditions on site will dictate the need to alter those figures.
Knowing also what is essential to the sortie and what is not, will provide a cull list that will enable you to adjust the load profile accordingly. If there's a reception party at the site, then leaving someone behind that normally would have been on board on the departure is not so brutal, even though it may be inconvenient to the person remaining (more pride than physical discomfort).

You might consider also a shuttle profile to an intermediate pad to reconfigure enroute, rather than try a consolidated load in one go. The driving priority will be the requirement for the patient's profile and essential life or welfare support needed to accompany them.

We used a combination of fitted and stripped UH-1H iroquois to do medivacs, and in the stripped machines we were just a transport, there was no medical team on board for enroute treatment, however we had a speed advantage. Never lost anyone, the averages levelled out across the board. The performance categories (Cat 1 to Cat 4) required min psi in hand standard for each Cat. Cat 4 Ext Load, Hoisting,, vert T/O and land was 4psi in hand. Known profiled pads and ongoing assessed pads were identified as whatever Cat was required to operate in and out. That might change for each operation, it is never guaranteed to be the same in and out automatically.

In remote areas like PNG, we used an AS350B clean, crew only and again we never lost any patients (pregnancies and MVA's).

Any time you can get the patient moving towards medical treatment is valuable in it's own right. Not all of your patients are going to be able to be moved in a straight line to take advantage of less distance and height/better fuel burn rates - if you have a patient that's suffering baratrauma or something similar, you are going to have to fly low altitude and the consquences of day/night terrain and weather will play the devil with considerations of speed and time.

If you can't plan the best in one go, do the best you can for each leg or stage.

Everyone comes home and it's not complete until you are watching the mission video at home!

Steve

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12/08/2010 4:10 PM  
If you don't have to land off airport then don't land off airport. I've read enough accident statistics to know to avoid this if possible. Remember, the helicopter is designed such that the skids will deflect on a hard surface (ashphalt, concrete, etc.) with the harder the surface the better for the skid shoes to slide on. Bent frames are frequently the result of training on soft surfaces rather than hard surfaces. It doesn't seem right at first but this is the case. Ask any engineer at a manufacturer rather than reflect on your personal expriences.
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12/08/2010 9:38 PM  
Tom you are not even a pilot are you? The skids will deflect on a hard surface? Skid shoes to slide on? I'll reflect on my personal experiences and say stop talking gibberish about things you don't really understand! I have hundreds and hundreds of landings on soft surfaces with and without students, never bent a frame yet.
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12/09/2010 12:14 AM  
I've seen it first hand in the r22,from hover autos on a soft surface.Once they stick the helicopter does a twisting motion and binds it up instead of moving freely along the pavement.I think he's more referring to anything with some sort of run on or motion.
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12/09/2010 4:31 PM  
It was not intended foir this to be off airports in a training environment but certainly that is also a consideration. The instructor pilot has to be aware of the tricks and traps involved. No matter where we land there is always the chance of an auto. Isn't that true every time we take off?
Any utility pilot with more than a year on the job can tell many stories of having to land in less than stellar conditions. Same for some EMS but they usually have a hard surface (paved) to land on. Fire, Ag, Game Grab, powerline patrol, etc, are more likely to find themselves in off airport situations.
Cheers
Rocky
now in west Texas.....
Anyone visited Hotheiicopters.com? I drove by there a few days back and saw 6 Robinsons parked. Their main business seems to be animal capture.

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12/10/2010 4:12 AM  
Yes, FH1100 is right and what he says is mostly what you get taught in school...obviously you have to learn how to apply theory to practice(real life). I work as an instructor on R22 and R44 but mostly fly HEMS on EC135T2+ and A109E/S...which means off airport landings most of the day. There is a big difference in skids and wheels but couldn't say which is better. Helicopters equipped with retractable gear are faster(I used to fly Dauphin also) but are heavier and more complex...more stuff that can fail!!! It can be tricky to disembark the crew while you're balancing the ship on the front wheel or both front and side wheel, compared to the same ops with the skids. On the other hand helo's equipped with skids are generally slower and in certain airports it can be a problem to hover taxi. Landing on a wet field with a Dauphin which has wheels + big wheight can be dangerous. The 109 is also dangerous since it's tail is low and, even worst, the main rotor can get very low...especially when landing on slopes you must pay attention!!! Other considerations are, obviously, temperature you're operating at and heights. In the summer we have temperatures that easily raise at 40°Celsius which are to be considered carefully. In mountain ops you could go up to 9000ft and more...so you must pay attention to the wind seriously. To be honest, you don't need to go that high to get into trouble. I usually work from SL to 4/5000ft but in windy days you can get easily scared if your not paying attention. Last but not least, wires are a huge concern. You don't see them, they're not marked nad not always reported on the charts. True, it has happend to land with the wires in sight and take off completey forgetting about them...scary.
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12/10/2010 8:50 AM  

Great reply and points that all of us should keep in mind. I re-read the thread and a common point was wires. Your comment about knowing them and then forgetting is indeed scary. Easy to do and in ag work it is ever present. Have gone thru a few over 40 years of ag work. Many near misses with the attendant "holy schitt" comment and continuing on with work making note not to forget how it happened. Late pullup, or wind shift, or change of direction, etc.
This has been one of the most informative threads I've seen in a long time from a practical standpoint and I send my personal Thanks to all of you who have participated.
Merry Christmas and a safe Happy New Year  ---  Rocky


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12/11/2010 10:49 PM  
All good thoughts.

Not a huge fan of the steep ingress or egress unless obstacles dictate. Whether or not you're getting translational lift, you're still upping your power required, which can set you up for trouble if you're heavier than you thought or if you get a power loss. I tell students to draw an imaginary line from the point they intercept their desired glideslope to their intended point of landing. Follow that line all the way to the deck.

On the way out, I've found that a decent rule of thumb is to look at your tip path plane (that's for my old rides, not my current one). If the tip path is clear of the obstacle, you will be too.


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08/24/2012 2:32 PM  
great post almost 2 years later. we are always learning. thanks. http://img849.imageshack.us/img849/1023/imageebe.jpg
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08/24/2012 3:47 PM  
I just went thru it again after seeing your post and you are right! As I read it I remembered things that had slipped into the memory bank. Complacency has no place in our chosen careers.
Semper fi
Rocky - 76 and still going strong. I think its my, NO IT IS my 6 year old son!

Risk is the price you pay to avoid a dull life.
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