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Reducing Risk with Autopilot


Thanks to safety enhancement efforts by helicopter operators and industry regulators, civil helicopter accident rates have fallen substantially in the United States. According to the United States Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), which works with the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) to promote safety, the annual accident rate has been cut in half since 2006, down from 85 accidents that year to 46 accidents in 2015.


In-cockpit technology has


played a big role in improving civil helicopter flight safety, especially for HAA. “For


instance, our pilots are 100 percent equipped with night vision goggles for night flights,” says Helweg. “We have also incorporated helicopter terrain avoidance warning systems (HTAWS), GPS, XM Satellite Weather, and real-time satellite tracking of our HAA helicopters; all of which provide for safer operations.”


Tony Bonham, Air Evac Lifeteam’s senior director of flight operations, says that autopilots are the next step in enhanced helicopter flight safety. “We are a VFR company, so autopilots can help our pilots fly safely when they lose visibility during inadvertent entry in instrument


meteorological conditions (IIMC) when their helicopter flies into clouds and/or fog.” With the loss of visual flight references, VFR pilots can lose an accurate sense of their location, altitude, and angle with respect to the ground and horizon, thus they are flying “blind.”


“Inadvertent IMC encounters are some of the most demanding, disorienting, and dangerous conditions a pilot can experience,” warns the IHST fact sheet titled “Inadvertent Entry into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC)” available at ihst.org. These encounters result in the highest percentage of fatal injuries from


helicopter


accidents. Transportation Safety


National Board


2011 figures show that 45 of the 52 IIMC accidents occurring that year were fatal. That is 86 percent.


The autopilots selected by both Air Evac Lifeteam and Air Methods automatically maintain their aircraft at the same altitude and level, thus having them on board can potentially save an HAA pilot from a controlled flight into terrain accident. Should an HAA pilot encounter IIMC conditions during the pre-programmed, autopilot- controlled section of flight— which is typically the entire point-to-point transit except for


In the event the helicopter enters an unusual attitude, the pilot can release the cyclic so that HeliSAS system automatically return the aircraft to near straight-and-level.


56 Sept/Oct 2016


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