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By Simon Roper | June 1, 2006

The Real Test

With aviating, navigating and communicating going well, it was time to ensure that in the event of an emergency the student and his passengers all walked away from the helicopter.

Having overcome severe injuries from a non-flying accident, Simon Roper nears the end of his pursuit of a commercial pilot's license (helicopter)--CPL (H). The previous installment of his story appears in April on page T9.--The Editor.


Aiate, Navigate, Communicate. This is the pilot's mantra, in order of importance. All are essential, but when you are training you must prioritize because you're still on a learning curve. But for me, being two thirds through my course, I was competent at the first of these skills.

As for the second, as I have previously mentioned, in the real world pilots use GPS to navigate, relying on positions triangulated off geostationary satellites. But as a trainee pilot, not only do we have to fly lower-tech machines that generate a higher pilot work load, we also have to navigate using maps. All this whilst keeping both hands and feet on the controls!

It's difficult to follow or refold a map when flying at first. Plus, when using maps like Visual Terminal Charts, which are saturated with information, it can be overwhelming and difficult to see how the ground is represented in cartographic form.

Thus, when you are trying to hold a heading, perform ground speed checks, recalculate ETAs, scan your instruments, orientate yourself, and make radio calls on the correct frequencies as you enter and depart zones, you get disorientated.

I had to work very hard at this side of flying, but I developed a good system and eventually could easily picture the contours of the map in 3D form. Thus navigation came together for me, but not before I ended up at the wrong place at the right time several times!

As for communication, as long as you know where you are and have prepared your flight correctly, you know what calls you need to make and when. And because radio calls follow mandatory reporting of position, height and intentions, coupled with standardized orders for readbacks, unless you are suffering pilot overload, it is logical, textbook stuff.

So with aviation, navigation and communication going well, it was time for Mike Becker, chief instructor at Becker Helicopters, to ensure that in the event of an emergency, I and my passengers all walked away from the helicopter. This meant perfecting emergency procedures including jammed controls and engine failures.

My advanced autorotations were going well. I was handling the event correctly, making necessary checks and had time to fake-broadcast Mayday calls. In the real world, if a mechanical failure occurred, after controlling the machine you ideally must try and report identification, position, problem, intentions, plus the number of people on board for search-and-rescue operations.

Outside of engine failures, controls can jam. This could mean a pedal jam that would leave the aircraft out of balance in forward flight, or potentially spinning like a top if you're hovering.

If the collective jams, you have no control of pitch, which could leave you with too little or too much power to hover and "complicates" landing. The throttle could jam, also causing you power issues. And then there's the cyclic. Well, there are procedures you can try if that stick sticks, but the advice that I have heard from many mature pilots is in this event just hope you are over water and jump out! It's a helicopter's primary control, although comfortingly statistics show this jam hardly ever happens.

Way back at the beginning of our training we were taught that each control has a primary and secondary effect. Therefore, a pilot can utilize the secondary effect of one control to combat the primary loss of another.

These are too complex to go into now, but after much work I knew what to do and my confidence was high. Little did I know that I was about to be taught to expect the unexpected, even during an emergency.

And, in my case, early one Queensland morning in the skies above the Sunshine Coast Airport, I was given a right pedal jam. I had identified the problem, ascertained that I couldn't fix it and decided I was going to need to initiate emergency procedures. In this scenario, the first thing you do is check with your passenger if anything is obstructing the pedal. The simplest of things can happen, like bags falling behind them or even passengers inadvertently leaning on them. I stuck to the protocols and asked my passenger, in this case Mike, if there was anything he could see obstructing the pedal.

"Yes," he answered. Hmm, I thought, that's unusual. "OK, Mike, can you move the obstruction please?"

I replied.

"Sure, I think so," he said, leaning forward to reach behind the pedals. At the same time his body collided with the cyclic, pushing it violently forward. The machine dived at the ground from just 500 ft. and I was unable to correct because Mike was still leaning on the stick! The vertical situation indicator reported a steep rate of descent as my cries to get off the control reached fever pitch.

Finally, Mike leaned back in his seat. Whilst I recovered attitude, I glanced over at him. I swear he had a smirk on his face, which, like mine, was mostly obscured by a dark visor. He had taught me a lesson I won't forget. A pilot must be in command of his machine, but also anticipate and be in command of his passengers. All our lives depended on it. Until that day I had never thought a passenger might accidentally do something like that. Now I won't forget that anything could happen and instruct accordingly.

It's a few weeks on and with more hours in the air my confidence and ability continues to build, but thanks to the motorcycle accident, which punctuated my training by over 14 months, the theory course I took in March 2004 was a long time ago.

This means I have to re-learn theory in my spare time. The additional studies are necessary to bring myself back up to scratch. In retrospect, I'd recommend that anybody who is thinking of going for a chopper license leave little time between exercising theory and flying. If you put both disciplines back to back, the daily application in the cockpit of what you learned in the classroom makes it all stick and is a distinct advantage.

So I have my head buried in my syllabus books again, because ahead of the test in two months, I also need to give 10 board briefs and answer random questions on theory posed by my instructors. If I don't get these all 100 percent, I won't even be allowed to take the flight test...

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