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Helicopter Systems Get It Right the First Time


A few weeks ago, I conducted a Private Pilot exam in a Robinson R22 helicopter. My helicopter systems questions often begin with correlative-level questions that require the student to understand many aspects of the system to provide a comprehensive answer. This level of questioning provides a path for the applicant to demonstrate higher order of thinking skills, or HOTS as the FAA refers to this in the FAA instructor’s handbook.


The question was simply, “How does the engine separate from the drivetrain in the event of an engine failure?” The question seems basic since the student just spent the past several months and more than 60 flight hours operating this same aircraft. However, the response was not incorrect just because of a slight misunderstanding that sometimes occurs during early pilot training. The answer was wrong to the point that an incorrect component was identified. Additionally, the applicant provided a comprehensive description of how the incorrect component functions in a manner consistent with my original question.


In the Robinson R22, the sprag clutch that enables this function is located within the upper sheave or pulley. This is where the v-belts travel when engaged to the drive shaft via the electric clutch. When I asked the applicant to explain how the engine disconnects from the drivetrain during an engine failure, the applicant opened the cowling and pointed at the main transmission. He further explained that the gears within the main transmission are a sprag type, and when the engine loses power the internal transmission gears collapse and the rotor continues to turn.


By Randy Rowles


I understand that instructors may teach information from many differing aspects, so my initial goal was to fully understand the applicant’s perspective and previous instructions on the system. After several follow-up questions and conversation on the subject, it was obvious the applicant had been taught this system incorrectly. Although other weaknesses were identified, all other systems questions were explained by the applicant correctly.


After briefing the applicant about why this answer was unsatisfactory and completing the required paperwork, it was time for a healthy chat with the recommending instructor. Although the instructor understood the R22 sprag clutch function and location, he went on to describe the sprag function of the main gearbox itself. When asked where he learned this information, he stated he had studied a training manual from a multi-engine helicopter to help understand a broader selection of helicopters, and this manual described a similar sprag system at the transmission. It was the instructor’s assumption that all helicopters functioned in a similar manner.


To be clear, becoming familiar with other helicopter systems is a great way for an instructor to diversify knowledge. However, instructors should avoid departing from published training material and specific-helicopter information when teaching new, influential students. New pilots in training depend on their instructor to aid in their development of instructional primacy. When this knowledge is compromised, it’s nearly impossible for the student alone to get on track with the correct information.


Randy Rowles has been an FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is currently the owner of the Helicopter Institute. He can be reached at randyrowlesdpe@gmail.com


If you have any comments or questions, please let me know at randyrowlesdpe@gmail.com


In this situation, the instructor taught two completely different systems with the intent of enhancing the student’s knowledge. Due to the student’s low experience, this effort only caused confusion, misunderstanding, and an unsatisfactory checkride!


WATCH VIDEO NOW 88 Sept/Oct 2020


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