Helicopter Collision Avoidance

While pilots often believe that having a CFI on board minimizes the possibility of a midair collision (MAC), FAA research reveals that flight instructors were on board the aircraft in 37 percent of the accidents studied. From a collision perspective, flight training is one of the most dangerous missions—an especially frightening fact, considering that flight instructors comprise less than 10 percent of the pilot population.

See and Avoid

As discussed in the Aviation Instructor’s section, the CFI must ensure from the start of flight training that the student develops the habit of maintaining airspace surveillance at all times. [Figure 1]

Helicopter Collision Avoidance
Figure 1. Collision avoidance, both in the air and on the ground, is one of the most basic responsibilities of a pilot flying in visual conditions

If a student believes the instructor assumes all responsibility for scanning and collision avoidance procedures, he or she will not develop the habit of maintaining the constant vigilance essential to safety. Establish scan areas and communication practices for keeping the aircraft cleared as outlined in the AIM, paragraphs 4-4-15 and 8-8-6c.

For example, “Clear left? Cleared left. Turning left.” should be verbalized in conjunction with the actual scanning. In addition to clearing left and right, a helicopter pilot must also clear directly above and below since the helicopter has the ability of climbing and descending vertically. This ability has resulted in helicopters climbing directly into overhead hangar doors and power lines. Any observed tendency of a student to enter flight maneuvers without first making a careful check for other air traffic must be corrected immediately. In addition to the statistic quoted above, recent studies of midair collisions determined that:
  • Most of the aircraft involved in collisions are engaged in recreational flying, and not on any type of flight plan.
  • Most midair collisions occur in VFR weather conditions during weekend daylight hours.
  • The vast majority of accidents occurred at or near nontowered airports and at altitudes below 1,000 feet.
  • Pilots of all experience levels were involved in midair collisions, from pilots on their first solo ride to 20,000-hour veterans.
  • Most collisions occur in daylight with visibility greater than three miles.

It is imperative to introduce 14 CFR section 91.113, Right-of-Way Rules: Except Water Operations,” for the “see and avoid” concept immediately to the student. Practice the “see and avoid” concept at all times regardless of whether the training is conducted under VFR or instrument flight rules (IFR). A CFI and student can review the FAA’s suggestions for how to contribute to professional flying and reduce the odds of being involved in a midair collision, at www.faa.gov. Other references that contain collision avoidance information for both the CFI and student are AC 90-48, Pilot’s Role in Collision Avoidance; FAA-H-8083-25, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge; and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) (all as revised) located online at www.faa.gov.

Positive Exchange of Flight Controls

Incident/accident statistics indicate a need to place additional emphasis on the exchange of control of an aircraft by pilots. Numerous accidents have occurred due to a lack of communication or misunderstanding as to who actually had control of the aircraft, particularly between students and flight instructors. Establishing the following procedure during initial training ensures the formation of a habit pattern that should stay with students throughout their flying careers. They are more likely to relinquish control willingly and promptly when instructed to do so during flight training.

During flight training, there must always be a clear understanding between the student and the flight instructor of who has control of the aircraft. [Figure 2] Prior to flight, a briefing should be conducted that includes the procedure for the exchange of flight controls. A positive three-step process in the exchange of flight controls between pilots is a proven procedure and one that is strongly recommended. During this procedure, a visual check is recommended to see that the other person actually has the flight controls. When returning the controls to the instructor, the student should follow the same procedure the instructor used when giving control to the student. There should never be any doubt as to who is flying the aircraft.

Helicopter Collision Avoidance
Figure 2. There should never been any doubt about who is flying the helicopter

CFIs should always guard the controls and be prepared to take control of the aircraft. When necessary, the instructor should take the controls and calmly announce, “I have the flight controls.” If an instructor allows a student to remain on the controls, the instructor may not have full and effective control of the aircraft. Anxious students can be incredibly strong and usually exhibit reactions inappropriate to the situation. If a recovery is necessary, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by having the student on the controls and needing to fight for control of the aircraft. Students should never be allowed to exceed the flight instructor’s limits. Flight instructors should not exceed their own ability to perceive a problem, decide upon a course of action, and physically react within their ability to fly the aircraft.

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