Flying through

Monday, 22 September 2014

Flying with the Western Power Distribution Unit September 2014

WPD EC135P1 outside their office
Last week I went flying with the Western Power Distribution Unit. They use 4 EC135P1s to patrol the electricity posts and cables looking for faults. They are also called out in times of trouble to discover where the fault is, and, in the case of storms, to help get power back to the people! (Well, electric power anyway!)

It is fascinating work. The pilot flies with an observer, who has a laptop with a dedicated computer programme on which he can mark the faults and send them up to the server to be examined by the company managers. There can be as many as 50 faults on each electric pole, and there are also often problems caused by vandals and the unwary. For example, people try to shoot the insulators! Fishermen get their rods and lines caught in the wires, trees grow into the lines and swans and other birds accidentally fly into them... there is a lot of work to be done here.

I had a fascinating day seeing how useful the EC135 is as a utility tool. It was so nimble and the flying was so much fun I (in the back) wanted to lean forward and ask for a 'go'!

For more on the job of the electric cable pilots see the Autumn issue of Helicopter Life magazine.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Rotorway Examiner July 2014

Flying the Rotorway gives one constant insight into flying on the edge. I was doing another test a few weeks later on a very hot day in July. The temperature at the farm was 30 degrees centigrade and the E162F was a slightly less powerful one, with a novice owner of some size. We had a very tight take-off, in a direction that was not into wind, but crosswind. We could not take off into wind because another Rotorway owner had parked his helicopter there making it risky for us.
The novice owner tried to get far enough back in the field, but was hampered by a tree. He decided to go for a gap in the hedge. Unfortunately, before he started he ommitted to get his rpm up to the top of the green. We started our departure run, the rpm dropped further and it was quickly clear we were not getting much lift. As the rpm descend further, our only option was to keep the nose forward and fly the helicopter out using relative airflow to edge up our climb inch by inch. We got out ot the field, swooping past an orange coloured emergency life-raft which now features in my dreams. And, finally, we were free of the ground and able to lower the collective and bring the rpm back from the lowest position I have ever seen it. My little heart was racing!
As with every Rotorway flight I learnt something new! That is, that as an examiner, you have to be far more ‘anticipatory’ than you do as a pilot. Looking at our departure from the farm you can saw that we were hampered by the temperature, the weight of the pilot and passenger and the lack of wind. However, that is not the whole story. The truth is that the rpm was too low before take-off and that was the reason that we nearly did not make it over the hedge. So, the question is: as an examiner do you say to the student:
“Get your rpm up, or we are going to hit the hedge?” which is then interference in his flying skills, or do we let him make the mistake and nearly kill you?
While academically this may be a dilemma, practically I feel everyone would give the same answer, assuming they did not have a death wish!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Prior Planning Prevents Piss-ups

The battery is behind the passenger seat
Yesterday, I had an interesting example of how a little prior planning could have saved embarrassment.

I went to do a 162F owner's test. When I arrived at Street Farm the helicopter was already there, although the pilot was to arrive later, brought up by a friend and delayed by M25 traffic. This is probably an important factor, since, although he thought he had brought everything necessary for the test ie log book, licence, medical etc he actually forgot to bring the second collective for his machine.
This being a test, and as he was anyway not current, I could not fly without the collective, so, this would have been a disaster had the Bull Brothers not once more saved the day. We were able to use a collective from another machine... luckily it fitted, and this luckily should be underlined, since, as Rotorways are 'hand-made,' the parts are not always interchangeable.
The collective in and we were ready to go... flat battery.
Rotorway pilots know just how important a battery is in the Rotorway machines. The engine runs directly from the battery, there is no intervening magneto etc to help.
However, we were able to jump start the battery. This is not an easy matter in the 162F as the battery is behind the passenger seat, and hence external starts are not as easy as they are in full-grown machines. But yet again the brothers were marvellous, having everything we needed. Once the leads were in place the battery started easily and we were soon good to go.

The pilot flew extremely well, and there was no need to fail him, but I think he will remember this test for a while. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

HeliRussia 2014

Outside the Crocus Expo
Aviamarket Heliport booth
HeliRussia 2014 took place at the Crocus Expo in Moscow 22-24th May.

Very interesting show including the biggest ever sale of Robinsons to Russia. Heliport bought 20 R44s and R66s, making it the largest purchaser of R66s and holding 15% of the market.

Kurt Robinson was at the show to hand over the keys of the 500th R66 bought to its new owner.

For more see the Autumn issue of Helicopter Life magazine.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

EC175 makes strides

EC175 flying in to the Trump Golf Course
Invited by Airbus Helicopters to fly the EC175 at the Trump Golf Course near Aberdeen. Got up at 4.30 am to make the 7.15 flight out of Heathrow, so when the weather looked poor I did feel rather disheartened. However, I'm a pilot so we are used to disappointment!

We had an interesting briefing from Airbus Helicopters Oil and Gas Sales Director Michael Melaye, who promoted the benefits of the EC175 over its competitors: better range, it is increasing its useful load by 300 kgs, lower vibrations and compliance with the CAA regulations Cap 1145.
I later talked to pilot Alain di Bianca, who I flew with many years ago in the EC130 at what was then MacAlpines. He has been involved in much of the design process and he says it is a very pilot centred helicopter with all the switches and dials (well actually it is flat screen Helionix avionics but you know what I mean) in the right places.
Sounds good. Hopefully, in the future I might get a flight... until then I'll just have to believe what they say.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Rotorway continues to surprise

A day of tests at Street Farm and a very interesting day. One helicopter I flew had a few eccentricities, which is perhaps the norm in home-built machines.
Firstly, on start-up it backfires as though someone had put a bomb in its exhaust. Slightly alarming.
Secondly, when the student pressed the PTT to talk to ATC the RPM dropped to zero! This is only an electrical fault, but certainly gets the heart pumping first time you see it.
Thirdly, and this is definitely its most exciting fault: when closing the throttle in autorotation the engine really stops. And, because all is quiet anyway (no engine) the only way of telling that the engine has stopped is by watching the oil pressure, which had dropped to zero.
We did an in-flight restart, and with a couple of grudging goes it did finally start; but these things do get ones concentration.

Rest of the flight and the other test was completely normal and without problems. Lovely day for flying too, light winds and warm and sunny.
A school of Rotorways

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Teaching and Examining on the Rotorway Helicopter Types

Now a fully licenced Rotorway pilot, I have started doing examining and some instruction on the types of Rotorway (162F and Exec 90). As ever you learn far more on the job than you do when you are training.
It seems to me that the real reason the Rotorway has a bad reputation is not that there is anything wrong with the machine, but merely that it is underpowered. My first test was on a 162F Rotorway based in the South of England. The pilot was relatively experienced, the day cool and the wind light. We had a excellent flight in the Hampshire area with no problems, and the student passed without issue.
The next time I flew one of the Rotorways I was teaching. It was again a 162F and one that is known as being a ‘good one’ with a relatively powerful engine. The weather was cool, but there was a wind of 18 knots. Now for most helicopters 18 knots of wind is going to be worth looking at, but not an intrinstic problem. However, with the Rotorway, even the more powerful types, you do not want to turn downwind in such a wind.
We had full fuel and were close to the all-up-weight of the machine. I took off, with a slight cross wind, and immediately lost RPM. I managed to turn into wind, but could not get the RPM back up. This was partly because I had the collective too high, but being near to the ground I found it hard to bring it down, even though I knew theoretically I was over-pitching and hence needed to bring down the collective before I could bring up the RPM. I was also losing tail rotor authority and hence pedal usage. It took several landings and take-offs, and even a shut down, before I managed to resolve the problem, which was initiated by my own cack-handedness, but nonetheless presaged a potentially bigger problem.
However, never call me a quick learner. I then took off into the local area for a flight. Fine in itself but the nicest take-off run without any trees was downwind, and yes, I was indeed stupid enough to take-off down wind. Thanks to the relatively airflow, the fact that this was quite a powerful 162F and that we had the space I did not put the nose into the ground. But wiser consideration after the event made me realise I would have been much better off taking off into wind, even given the presence of trees and wires.
I am told that flying the Rotorway makes you a better pilot and I am starting to see why.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Flying the Rotorway 162F

weight position for solo flight
Yesterday, in beautiful weather, I went and flew the Rotorway, going solo for the first time.

I was a bit nervous in advance, and, coincidentally, on the way up to Stansted there was a programme on the radio about the psychology of risk. According to the speaker, we overestimate the risks involved in most events, but then are optimistic about our own skills, which allows us to do things which otherwise we would be too scared to do. I knew what he was talking about!

Of course, in the event I had indeed overestimated the difficulty... the Rotorway 162F flew beautifully.

First, I went flying with Jonathan Bull, the owner of this Rotorway and the UK distributor. We had a lovely flight out to the Hanningfield Reservoir and beyond. I tried out all the various manoeuvres that I will be testing my candidates on, so I will know what to expect from them and the machine.

We then flew back and I went off solo for an hour. It seems quite different solo - more vibration at certain power settings, but otherwise very manoeuvrable... I had a really lovely flight.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

HeliExpo Day Two

Bell 429 on wheels
Day two was surprisingly short of press briefings, they were all done on day one - with the exception of Sikorsky. We had a round-up of the position of Sikorsky so far - still owned and if on the market currently unsold. Followed by a look at what is to come - more X2 technology in both military and commercial sectors, aiming at lower costs and higher revenues for their customers etc

Then a few photos sessions and the lovely Russian three or so hours.
The Russian hour included a pilot who had flown his R66 (with another and a total of four pilots) to the North Pole, round the world 40,000 miles including Fiji, and was about to embark on another round the world of 50,000 miles. His stories included being banned from USA airspace as Russian registered aircraft were not allowed there, and being able to overcome this prohibition thanks to a really kind American called Bob.

AW109 Trekker on skids
So, here we have two new helicopters: the AW 109 on skids and, conversely, the Bell 429 on wheels - we are never happy with what we had already, are we.

HeliExpo Day One Lovelies

Lynn Tilton
Lynn Tilton, CEO of MD Helicopters looking like Madonna. An interesting day for MD. Apart from growing success with the current models, Ms Tilton is looking to make a new machine with printed parts and possibly a hybrid engine. Fascinating, if it happens. Lets hope the end result is not just a H500 on wheels!

Day One odditiies

Oh the hype and excitement of the dance. What was that saying about the build up to an event being in inverse proportion to the excitement of the event itself.
Yup, well this girl with a lampshade on her head gives you a pretty good feeling for it! AW unveiled another AW109 - this time on skids.

HelExpo 2014 Day One

John Garrison unveiling the Bell 505 JetRanger X
Interesting day, day one. First we had the unveiling of the Bell 505, monumental event with lights smoke and the tedium of not getting to the point quick enough. However, we got there in the end and thus we have the Bell 505. It is hydraulic with mechanical pedals. They won't comment on the all up weight, but we are probably looking around 3200 lbs, same as the B206. The nose slopes sharply down for good visibility and 'aerodynamic effect' (maybe!) Normal tail rotor.

After Bell the Enstrom TH180 was unveiled. I'm guessing the 180 part is name after that Cessna workhorse the 180, for this is a training helicopter (TH) with a piston engine, two seats and a mostly composite body. It is, in effect, a lighter version of the E280.
Enstrom TH180
Mechanical controls, a flight governor, and electric clutch.
I would like to fly it.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

HeliExpo 2014 Day One

Airbus Helicopters EC175
Today is the day of unveilings... it is still early here but that is to come. Until then, yesterday's report:

AgustaWestland are focusing on their new ‘Think Customer’ vision plus their ‘family’ policy. In this, they say, they will never forget that the customer has a choice, but they can fill all his needs with their family of helicopters. Roberto Garavaggio noted that many customers who already have the AW139 have now ordered the AW189 to enhance their fleet, Bristow Helicopters is just one such example having ordered 11 189s for the UK Search and Rescue contract starting in 2017. The AW189 was EASA certified in February 2014, and the company expect FAA certification by the summer of this year.

On the expanding fleet, Garavaggio said that the 149, the 169 and the 609 are all on target for the future. They have changed the 609 considerably since taking over the design from the Bell partnership.

For the future, Roberto pointed out that in the next fifteen years the distance needing to be flown by oil and gas serving helicopters will increase as demand moves further out into deeper waters further offshore, Thus, a new technology machine with distance capability like the AW189 will become more and more necessary.
AgustaWestland is also focusing on dual use helicopters for both military and civilan needs, it is relatively easy and cost effective to change the AW169, AW139, AW149 and the AW109 from military or civilian modes, and certification of new models is now done with these dual roles in mind.
Also, with the customer in mind, John Ponsonby said that although the AW189 has only just received EASA certification, there is already a simulator in place and that pilots are already receiving training.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

HeliExpo 2014 Anaheim California... pre show

Enstrom in purdah
 This is pre-show day at HeliExpo 2014, this year in Anaheim, California. It should be an excellent show as there are quite a few announcements being made and new helicopters. Here you see a veiled helicopter on the Enstrom stand, and below the Bell booth, which is so covered in cloths and security that a mouse couldn't get in with a camera.
The new Bells to be shown will be the new SLH (Short Light Helicopter) and the 525 Relentless, presumably in mock-up. I was told there have already been several attempts to scale the walls, but these have currently been repulsed.
The mystery of the Bell
There will also be the real Marenco Skye 90 Helicopter, and the Enstrom EC145T2 and the AW189. All tasty titbits for the magazines.

More to come on this blog through the days.

Bell and AgustaWestland have press conferences tomorrow, but Bell's unveiling is not until Tuesday.

Sikorsky is also going to tell all about their latest designs and Robinson has glass cockpits for the whole fleet, even the R22.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Blade angles!

Coning angles?
Look at the angles on these blades! This is just a normal take-off in the H269 otherwise S300.

I'm not sure if it is the camera or the helicopter but it makes you feel curly!

2014 the year of the Horse and Helicopter

Berkshire in the floods
2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse, and I would suggest that means it is also the year of the helicopter.
Helicopterly speaking it started well, in that fixed wing aeroplanes are banned from flying because all the airfields are waterlogged. However, helicopters can fly.

This is Berkshire, not far from London.... wet wet wet?!