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From The Desk of The Editor Why Fly at 500 Feet?


I rarely use this pulpit to preach for change. However, this time I really feel the urge to vent a bit on the altitudes at which we fly our helicopters.


The former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once said, “It isn’t making mistakes that’s critical; it’s correcting them and getting on with the principal task.” I feel like we as an industry are sometimes incapable of correcting our mistakes. We continue to do the same things over and over that cause us problems. This really applies to helicopter altitudes. Even as I sit here typing, a local government operated B407 just flew over the house at less than 500 feet. This is just the latest flight in a bad and noisy trend.


Years ago when I lived in South Florida, several times a week a medium twin-engine IFR rotorcraft would fly directly over my house at 500 feet. I knew the operation, and that our community was directly along the route between their base and the helicopter owner’s golf course. Because I am a helicopter pilot, my neighbors would always ask me, “Do they have to fly over us that low?” My answer was always a resounding NO!


I visit and fly with a lot of operations. In my estimation about 90 percent of them are flying at 500 feet or less. I’ve started asking people: Why 500 feet? Here are some common responses:


• If I catch fire or have a transmission problem, I can be on the ground quickly. • That is how I was taught and I don’t feel comfortable flying higher. • I am avoiding the fixed-wing traffic that’s mostly at 1,000 feet.


Please don’t get me wrong. Putting aside airspace and obstacles, I understand certain types of operations must be done in low-altitude environments—but there aren’t that many. Here are the minimum altitudes suggested by HAI’s “Fly Neighborly” program: (www.rotor.org/Operations/FlyNeighborly.aspx)


• Light/small helicopters should fly at altitudes no less than 1,000 feet AGL.


• For medium helicopters, the recommended height is 2,000 feet.


• Heavy/large helicopters, stay up at least 4,000 feet.


I fly an AW109 and our routes are flown between 1,500 feet and 2,500 feet. The only exceptions are for takeoffs, landings, and offshore flying. The benefits of flying higher include less noise for the mere mortals on the ground, less bird encounters, smoother/cooler air, and more glide time to choose a landing spot in the event of an


engine failure.


Another benefit of which you may not be aware: Jobs. Right now in New York, pilots and mechanics are being laid off due to operators being legislated into fewer flights—sometimes 50 percent fewer! This issue isn’t restricted to the East Coast. On page 84 you will see that the Los Angeles helicopter market is being attacked over rotor noise as well.


We need a movement, beginning in initial flight training level and continuing all the way up to the most mature operators, that promotes neighborly flying. Here are a couple of catchy slogans to get the program started:


Be Cool, Fly Higher! Or better yet ...


Just Fly the Damn Helicopter—Higher!


Lyn Burks, Editor In Chief


Publisher Brig Bearden


brig@rotorcraftpro.com Editor-In-Chief Lyn Burks


lyn.burks@rotorcraftpro.com Account Executive Teri Rivas


teri.rivas@rotorcraftpro.com Layout Design Bryan Matuskey


production@rotorcraftpro.com Online Accounts Manager Lynnette Burks


lynnette.burks@rotorcraftpro.com Copy Editor


Rick Weatherford rick@rotorcraftpro.com Social Media Guru Laura Lentz


Contributing Writers


James Careless Sharon Desfor


Rick Weatherford Eric Lian


Matt Johnson


Randy Mains Brad McNally Tim Pruitt


Randy Rowles Scott Skola


Rotorcraft Pro®


is published six times


a year and mailed out on or around the 10th of every other month by: Rotorcraft Pro Media Netwok, Inc. Rotorcraft Pro® is distributed free to qualified subscrib- ers. Non-qualified subscription rates are $57.00 per year in the U.S. and Canada, $125.00 per year for foreign subscribers (surface mail). U.S. postage paid at Fall River, Wisconsin, and additional mailing offices. Publisher is not liable for all content


(including editorial and illustrations pro- vided by advertisers) of ads published, and does not accept responsibility for any claims made against the publisher. It is the advertiser’s or agency’s responsibility to obtain appropiate releases on any item or individuals pictured in ads. Repro- duction of this magazine in whole or in part is prohibited without prior written permission from the publisher.


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May/June 2016


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