and fly it to the ground! Check that box,

This true April 14, 2000, ordeal is recounted here first person by Chris Kruse, a retired U.S. Army and civilian medevac pilot.

St. Paul, MN / 14 April 2000, 16:12 hrs. Bell 222UT, N225LL / NTSB: CHI-000FA111

Sometimes life comes at you in small drips. At other times, like a fire hose stream. And still at other times, it resembles a water tower collapse.

Basics First

Helicopters are quite curious but capable beasts. Unlike their airplane cousins, rotorcraft need to spin their wing or airfoil to create lift. Airplanes rely on forward speed to flow air over their wings, creating that magic lift. We spin ours. To do that, multitudes of moving parts all work in concert. With that main rotor spinning above, a smaller rotor attached to the tail is needed to counteract the torque and keep the fuselage from spinning in the opposite direction.

Pilots use their feet to control the tail rotor pitch, the left hand to control the pitch of the main rotor above, and the right hand to control the cyclic stick between the legs to steer the direction of the craft. To say all this is a rather busy endeavor is a total understatement. The helicopter demands your complete attention at all times. When things go south, they usually do so in a big hurry. When the engine (or engines) fail, we can use the stored energy in those spinning rotors and a rapid descent to keep that rotor spinning adequately to conduct an emergency landing. That is autorotation. The only caveat is, you have only that one chance to get it right. There’s no going around for a second try. Lose those stored rotor rpm and the lift all goes away. Everything stems from the main and tail rotor spinning at the proper speed to allow controlled flight.

Joining the Emergency Club

I had been an EMS helicopter pilot for years, and before that a U.S. Army medevac pilot as well. All helicopter pilots can be separated into two distinct, opposite clubs: (1) those who have had emergencies, and (2) those who still naively think they are immune.

My prior military service had ended with a medical discharge after injuries sustained in a helicopter rollover sequence following an engine failure over water. On that sunny May Day, Lady Luck had cast no shadows on me. The near-perfect autorotation ended with the left skid of our Huey pivoting on a submerged stump in the

84 Sept/Oct 2020

water, causing the rollover. Take that stump out of the equation, and the helicopter and its crew would still be at it today.

The violence associated with a main rotor striking the ground or water is indescribable. In the Huey, a 1,200-horsepower turbine engine is spinning a driveshaft at 6,600 rpm, into a transmission spinning a 48-foot diameter main rotor at 324 rpm. A tremendous amount of kinetic energy is suddenly interrupted, causing mayhem simply beyond words. While I did recover from the injuries, the resulting blood clot in my right subclavian vein disqualified me from further military service. My naivety had been vigorously shaken from me that day. I had joined the “had emergency club.”

When I transitioned to my civilian career, the Bell 222UT seemed like a great alternative to the single-engine military Huey. Instead of one, now there were two turbine engines with about 750 hp apiece and two redundant hydraulic systems. A reliable autopilot allowed single-pilot instrument flying. Plenty of fuel capacity provided a solid two to three hours of endurance. And last but not least, it featured a decent amount of payload to carry everything needed on a typical civilian medevac role. All of that working together would create typical cruise airspeeds of about 130-140 knots (about 150 mph). Day, night, visual, and instrument flying were all allowed. We routinely carried a nurse and a paramedic. Even with them and their associated lifesaving equipment, we would still be several hundred pounds below max gross weight.

So when I entered the civilian medevac world, flying this machine, I felt I had made a good choice in terms of safety, redundancy, and survivability. And of course, my crash was behind me! That box had already been checked. Or so I thought...

Harrowing Second Emergency Club Initiation

On April 14, 2000, fortunately for the little one we transported and the medical team, our second back-to-back neonatal flight from Buffalo, Minnesota, went off without any drama. That is, no drama until after they were all dropped off safely at the Minneapolis Children’s Medical Center.

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