Helicopter Performance

A pilot’s ability to predict the performance of a helicopter is extremely important. It helps to determine how much weight the helicopter can carry before takeoff, if the helicopter can safely hover at a specific altitude and temperature, the distance required to climb above obstacles, and what the maximum climb rate will be.

Helicopters have the unique ability to take-off and land almost anywhere. It is the responsibility of the pilot to determine if a safe take-off and landing is possible and the availability of sufficient power. Unfortunately, a significant number of helicopter accidents are performance related, with the majority of these accidents occurring during the take-off or landing phases of flight. Many of these accidents occurred when the helicopters were being operated from sites that were elevated, facing out of wind, restricted by terrain, sloping, or had rough surfaces. In most cases the sites were on ridge tops or in confined, steep-sided valleys.

Often the helicopters were being operated at high all up mass, in high ambient temperatures and high density altitude. These accidents may have been prevented had the pilots been fully aware of the prevailing conditions, and determined the performance capabilities of their helicopter before commencing flight. Such accident prevention relies on thorough pre-flight preparation, of which Flight Manual performance chart calculations are an integral part. Because the ambient conditions at the intended point of operation can be quite different from those planned for, and because flight manual performance graphs can sometimes be optimistic, calculated values must always be validated by an actual power check at the operating site.

This section provides an overview on the major factors that influence performance and provides guidance to help pilots ensure that a proposed operation can be safely accomplished.

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