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Want to Fly Like a Bird? Nope.

Prescott Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down

Our last event was held on August 7-9 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. The Helicopter Safety Alliance, the FAA Safety Team, and the US Helicopter Safety Team came together for a three-day event that featured a two-day annual meeting of the USHST, followed by a one-day safety seminar for small helicopter operators in the area.

This was the first time that the USHST Annual Meeting was open to the public. Attendees discussed the current state of the industry and further ways to enhance helicopter safety. The last day of the meeting was a Helicopter Safety Alliance Regional Stand-Down that featured speakers from the USHST in addition to our regular speakers, including HSA staff, the FAA, and other volunteers.

This event was an opportunity to discuss the various ways that the US Helicopter Safety Team, the FAA Safety Team, and the Helicopter Safety Alliance can work together to assist small helicopter operators in developing strong safety programs.

Our next event will be the Syracuse Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down, which will be held Sep. 21 at Syracuse Hancock International Airport (KSYR) at the Million Air Hangar.

The Syracuse Stand-Down will feature discussions by helicopter-specific speakers on the real problems facing small helicopter operators in the region. In addition to our staff presentations, we are pleased to have talks on helicopter safety by Tony James, former lead accident investigator for the FAA; Matt Rigsby, FAA Air Safety Investigator; and Bruce Webb, Airbus Helicopters.

Pilots, maintainers and managers of small helicopter operations will take home some valuable safety enhancements that can be used immediately in their daily routine. Registration for the day-long event is free; WINGS and AMT credits are available.

Safety Meeting Outline
It's Fall ... and Migratory Birds Are on the Move

Fall is here, and we aviators should keep an eye out for groups of little guys on the move. No, we're not talking about school kids but about migratory birds and other wildlife.

We often talk about the hazards of birdstrikes, but don't forget about the dangers posed by land animals as well.  In the FAA's latest report on wildlife strikes, terrestrial mammals (mostly white-tailed deer) were responsible for 45 percent of aircraft destroyed because of wildlife strikes.

It even happens to helicopters too -- a February 2018 elk vs. helicopter encounter did not go well for that crew. This is a good time to review what you are doing to mitigate the risk of wildlife strikes.

One important mitigation tip for pilots is to always wear a helmet and visor during flights. This PPE could be what separates two possible scenarios: your inspiring story of successfully landing the aircraft after a serious birdstrike versus the explanation of why you are no longer a pilot because of plastic windscreen fragments in your eye. Which will be your story?

In addition to PPE, this is a good time to discuss how you can alter your routes or altitudes to mitigate your risk of wildlife strikes.

Do some of your routes fly over areas with concentrations of wildlife? In addition to parks or conservation areas with plenty of wildlife, consider other areas that may draw animals, such as garbage dumps or sources of fresh water.

Make sure that wildlife sightings are reported as safety hazards. All operations personnel should be engaged in raising awareness of local conditions.

Additional Resources

  • This NTSB summary of an S-76 vs. Red-Tailed Hawk demonstrates that relative size is no protection when it comes to wildlife strikes!
This map shows the common migratory routes that birds fly across North America.

Maintenance: Look Beyond Obvious for Wildlife Strike Damage

In the United States alone, there are an estimated 13,000 wildlife strikes each year. The annual cost of these collisions is estimated to be close to $400 million.

When an aircraft returns to base with a cracked or broken windscreen, then the bird-strike damage is obvious. But what about when it isn't?

In helicopter maintenance, we need to pay special attention to the possibility that a bird strike may have damaged the airframe or flight controls – sometimes without the pilot noticing the strike.

The energy created by the bird's mass and the speed of the bird and aircraft during the collision means that even collisions with a small bird (or a flock of small birds) can cause significant damage.

If you see any evidence of a birdstrike – whether reported by the pilot or not – you should investigate further to ensure the aircraft is still airworthy. Most of the time, in helicopter operations, the rotor blades, windscreen, engine inlets, or other forward-facing edges of the airframe are the areas that experience damage in a birdstrike.

In your maintenance inspections, look for damage on leading edges. Note any feathers and snarge (the blood, guts, feathers, or any other remnants of the bird/animal after it has impacted your aircraft), and think about the possible damage that may have resulted.

Be aware that a smudge on the engine inlet cowling might mean that a bird impact has done damage to the cowling or something else downstream. Perhaps it is time to do a power check to see if there is FOD damage to the engine.

This is the season where both large and small birds are moving south. Keep your eyes open for the possibility that they have done some damage to your aircraft.

Join the Helicopter Safety Alliance
Our Prescott show included a presentation by the Aviation Unit of the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety, as well as some simulator time, courtesy of the US Helicopter Safety Team.

SEP 21: Syracuse Regional Helicopter Safety Stand-Down
Register Online or Tell a Friend!

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2698 Alden Road, Box 174, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009

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