Helicopter: How safe?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Ronald Epstein, Feb 13, 2005.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    I'm going on vacation to Punta Cana
    in a few months.

    I have a choice of a 90-minute bumpy
    car ride through dirt roads to get to
    the resort or a 20-minute helicopter ride.

    Naturally the helicopter sounds more
    intriguing but I can't help but wonder....

    How safe are these things?
     
  2. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    they're relatively safe. On par with a light aircraft I would say, since he's operating under what the US would call part 135 regulations, or their equivilent down there.

    I'd take the heli, it'll be an experience you won't forget and afterall, it is your vacation.
     
  3. Patrick_S

    Patrick_S Producer

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    Stating the obvious, as long as the blades keep on turning it's relatively safe but if they stop while up in the air you are generally a goner.

    For what it is worth I'd take the helicopter.
     
  4. Chris

    Chris Lead Actor

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    Dependant on the environment, you may find the copter safer then the "bumpy roads" [​IMG]
     
  5. Dustin B

    Dustin B Producer

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    Assuming the helicopter is mechanically sound, I'd consider a helicopter safer than a plane because it can do something called an autorotational landing. All the pilot needs is a relatively flat space big enough for the helicopter to land on to perform this maneuver. While a plane that looses power needs to find an appropriate runway.

    It will vary from helicopter to helicopter, but there is a curve created by plotting foward speed vs altitude. Below this curve an autorotational landing isn't possible, above it, an autorotational landing is possible.

    Here's some helicopter basics I learned from an Apache Longbow game manual [​IMG] If we have any helicopter pilots here, feel free to correct any misconceptions or erronious assumptions I'm making from this most authorative source :p)

    Helicopter controls:

    Collective - 1 axis joystick that collectively controls the pitch on all the blades. Increasing the collective will make the helicopter go up, decreasing it will make the helicopter go down.

    Cyclic - 2 axis joystick that cyclically changes the pitch on the blades at a particular point. Which ever direction you push this control, that segment of the blades will have their pitch reduced, and the opposite side will have their pitch increased. This will cause the helicopter to tilt and move in that direction.

    Tail rotor pedals - two pedals that control the pitch of the tail rotor.

    Throttle

    What makes a helicopter so challenging to fly is that a change to any one of the above controls requires the pilot to compensate on the other 3. If you increase the collective, that will increase the resistance on the blades so you'll have to increase the throttle to keep blade speed up. These two will inturn create more torque so you'll have to compensate with the tail rotor pedals to keep the helicopter straight. And you'll likely have to slightly tweak the cyclic control as well.

    Anyways, purpose of these descriptions was to describe an autorotational landing.

    If the helicopter looses power and is above the autorotational landing curve the pilot will drop the collective all the way to maintain blade speed. He will then use the cyclic to maneuver the helicopter to the best landing spot he can find. Then just before the helicopter is about to hit the ground he will pull the collective all the way up and the cyclic all the way back. This will kill almost all down/forward momentum and result in a relatively mild drop the last few feet to the ground that will result in no damage to the helicopter. The further you go below the autorotational landing curve the more damage will occur to the helicopter and the more likely passenger injury will be.

    You have to successfully complete an autorotational landing to get your helicopters pilots liscense.
     
  6. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    Small problem, the airplane has a lot more time to glide about and find a suitable field. Light aircraft don't need runways. They're designed to land in fields and grass and dirt strips.. Look at the big spring steel gear on something like a cessna caravan, they're there for a reason.

    Light aircraft are much less complex, there are no belts or drive chains to break, they have a reasonable glide distance and can usually find a place to set down. Tail rotors don't quit, they don't have ground resonance etc.
    They also don't have those long main rotors swinging around hitting things.

    Then you hope the pilot isn't on the back side of the power curve when the engine takes a hike.
     
  7. Henry Gale

    Henry Gale Producer

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    Ron,
    Pay no attention to the previous post, which, of course, is completely accurate. [​IMG]
    The fact is great numbers of people have lived through helicopter flights. I did a search on the copter ride you're considering, the views are amazing and there seems to be no record of slacker maintenance.
    You know we're all jealous of this trip, please bring back photos for us.
     
  8. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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    Ron, if you've never taken one before, the helicopter ride will be an experience you'll never forget. My wife and I were in Hawaii last month, and we took our first helicopter ride -- over the volcanoes and active lava flows on the Big Island. It was quite an experience. The company had an excellent safety record and certifications. My wife was nervous before we left, but once in the air we were both too enthralled with the views to even think about anything else.

    FYI, we had been on a couple of small plane flights before in Alaska -- a 6-seat Cessna flight around Mount McKinley and a 15-seat seaplane flight to the Misty Fjords National Monument area.

    The helicopter flight ranks right up there with the flight around McKinley.
     
  9. Tim Hoover

    Tim Hoover Screenwriter

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    Here's an explanation of autorotation in layman's terms: due to a pitching of the rotor blades, the uprushing of air as the copter falls will spin the blades enough to cushion the (inevitable) impact. As Dustin stated before, this is required training for all helo pilots, both civilian and military...
     
  10. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Lead Actor
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    The chances of engine failure in a helicopter are a lot less than a blow out on a car tire. Chances are the helicopter will be a Bell Jet Ranger or some similar type chopper. Either way the chopper will most likely be turbine powered and turbines have a very good reliability record.

    If you are nervous about flying in the chopper, the best way to get over it is to ask the pilot a few questions such as:

    a) how long has the company been in the business?
    b) how much experience does the pilot have?

    Ask the pilot if you can inspect the machine. When you inspect the machine determine whether the machine looks, overall, like it has been well maintained. You will not be able to determine if the machine is absolutely airworthy, but you will be able to get a general feel of whether you want to put your butt in the passenger seat.

    The fact is anytime a person gets into any kind of vehicle there is a remote possibility of never making it to the destination. You could be driving in a car, suffer a tire blow out and go over a cliff just as easily as crash due to an engine or mechanical failure in a helicopter.

    If I had never been in a helicopter I would be inclined to take the ride. It is not every day that a person has an opportunity to experience something like that.

    If you do decide to take the helicopter try to get the front seat. Sitting in the front seat of a helicopter gives a flying sensation that is completey different from riding in a light plane: this is due to the lower plexiglass window in the nose of the chopper.
     
  11. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    I've always thought of it more like letting the rotor windmill as quickly as possible, then pulling in the collective to trade that energy for a last burst of lift to cushion the landing.
    But I'm a CFI- fixed wing only [​IMG]
     
  12. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Lead Actor
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    I think your understanding of it is closer to the actual fact. I've watched autorotations demonstrated at airshows and your explanation is essentially what happens. The blades are pitched in order to keep the rotational speed up. The copter comes down fairly rapidly. At a point fairly close to the ground the pilot uses the collective to trade rotational energy for lift. If the pilot does it correctly then the landing looks like it is no worse than if the landing was done under power. On the other hand, if it is done badly then somebody better be ready to call 911.

    Earlier in the thread somebody stated that light planes glide and are designed to land in fields, dirt strips, etc. and, therefore, do not need a runway. While all this is true I still think it is more problematic landing a fixed wing aircraft sans engine because the forced landing area has to be of sufficient length to allow the pilot to get rid of forward momentum. It also has to relatively flat and obstruction free. A helicopter can be landed anywhere as long as the area is relatively flat, obstruction free, and of sufficient size to allow clearance for the size of rotor disc and the length of the machine. Of course, with a helicopter a pilot has a lot less time to pick a landing spot.
     
  13. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    depending on the airplane you're looking at a forward velocity of somewhere around 70 knots, less by the time you flare. Most can get stopped within 800 feet on a hard surface, less in grass, more if you don't have decent braking. It's pretty uncommon to be somewhere that there isn't any place to land.

    here are always the BRS parachutes STC'd for the 152 and probably others, standard on the cirrus, but they're really for un-recoverable situations and look like a pretty rough landing.
     
  14. Paul Bond

    Paul Bond Stunt Coordinator

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    All the technical talk aside.....

    Go for it!! What the heck. Unless the helicopter looks like it is held together with Scotch tape, you shouldn't have a problem.

    My stepson flies helicopters in the Marines. He wanted jets, but seems to be having as much or more fun flying these things.

    Bond. Paul Bond.
     
  15. Tim Hoover

    Tim Hoover Screenwriter

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    Philip - yup, you are correct...I was going for the simpleton explanation [​IMG]
     
  16. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    I'd add a rotorcraft category if the darn things weren't so expensive.
     
  17. DanielKellmii

    DanielKellmii Supporting Actor

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    I am just an engineer. Most of my experience is with fighter aircraft and a little bit of commercial stuff. Remember, that aircraft are an enourmous investment. The loss of one would probably put the operator out of business. There are well established guidlines for inspecting the aircraft and power plant. The operator probably cares more about not loosing the aircraft than your safety, but the end result is the same. As for the highly unlikely event of a catasrophic failure, I would rather be in in the helicopter. There are many more options for landing than in a fixed wing aircraft. If you tell me what kind of helicopter it is, I can talk to a few former pilots I work with and look up some FAA records.



    Dustin B. wow. You really picked up a lot. I am really impressed. Now go outside and ski or something. [​IMG]
     

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