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Confined Areas

A little while ago the subject of “off airfield landings” or “confined areas” came up in the comments on a blog post about controlled airspace; and it became apparent that things are taught differently across the pond in the FAA world.  I suspect they are probably broadly taught similar, but different mnemonics are used to help the learning.

My First Confined Area After PPL(H)
My First Confined Area After PPL(H)

I made reference in the post to having completed my 5S’s prior to landing in a confined area, and the commenter didn’t recognise this phrase – it was surprisingly hard to find any lessons plans online for the JAA / EASA world, but this is covered in Exercise 26 of initial PPL(H) training.   I’ll summarise it below, but its from memory so any corrections appreciated!

High Reccee

On initial approach to the proposed landing site / confined area,  having confirmed it is definitely the correct site and carried out a power check to make sure you have sufficient power a circular orbit around the site should be set up at approx 1,000′ AGL with the site on the pilots side.  During this orbit (or more if required) the following should be assessed by the pilot:

  • Power Available.  Make sure you are going to have enough power to get out of the area taking into account the size of the area, all up weight, and density altitude.
  • Wind.  Look for indications of the wind velocity and direction – this will help you set up a good circuit and nice approach hopefully into wind.
  • General Suitability. Make sure the site is suitable, and worth spending more time investigating.  Is there a better alternative nearby?

Once this is complete, and you’re happy with everything you can descend to around 500′ AGL and perform the low reccee, complete the 5 S’s and set your self up for a good approach.  With experience, over time and depending on your initial approach it become possible to combine the High & Low Reccee’s.

Low Reccee.

While in an orbit around 500′, perform the 5 S’s:

  • Size.  Is the area physically big enough to operate into safely?
  • Shape. Does the shape of the area “suggest” a particular approach path?
  • Slope. How level is the ground?
  • Surface. Whats the surface like, are there obstacles (power lines, telegraph poles, fences, trees)?  Wires?
  • Surrounds. Do the surrounds favour a particular approach – are there a lot of trees on one side, wires?  Did I mention Wires?  Wires!

Once you’ve completed the 5 S’s and you’re happy with your confined area you need to set yourself up with a nice approach –  in initial training this is done by actually flying the low reccee in a circuit pattern, extending the down wind leg to allow for a shallow approach if possible.  You may also want to consider a dummy approach to make sure you’re happy.

It might be you need to combine two approaches, to avoid a high obstacle on approach – normally trees.  In this case I tend to fly a shallow approach to above the trees then a steeper approach once on the other side of them!

Remember your two enemies though:  WIRES & VORTEX RING.  Avoid these at all costs, and you’ll maintain the perfect ratio of successful landings to take-offs.  Oh, and of course make sure you have regard for the relevant low flying rule (Rule 5 in the UK!).

Safe flying…

One thought to “Confined Areas”

  1. We don’t learn the 5S’s here in the US — at least not that way — but I think it’s an EXCELLENT mnemonic for remembering these things.

    Unsuitable terrain and lack of power are probably the two biggest issues in off-airport landing.

    Areas look smooth and level from the air — even from low reconnaissance — but can surprise you when you’re ready to touch down. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll avoid any LZ that isn’t as smooth and level as it could be. Smooth prevents dynamic rollover by possibly getting a skid hooked on a rock or other terrain element. Level prevents weird attitudes of the aircraft while on the ground.

    Short story here: I once landed off airport on an unused dirt road. The road had a crown to it that I didn’t notice. I set down and it felt OK so I shut down. My passengers got out and went about their business. I got the blades to a stop and then stepped out. The helicopter immediately teetered backwards with my weight out of the front seat. You never saw someone jump back in so quickly. I don’t know if it would have rocked all the way back to the stinger, but I wasn’t about to find out. I sat there until my passengers returned and was very happy to get off the ground again.

    Insufficient power is a major factor in places I fly in Arizona, which tend to be both hot (over 40°C) and high (over 5,000 feet). I’m very careful about weights when I have more than just two people on board. Too many Americans are fat and they always like about their weight, so when I’m doing a W&B, I add 10-20 pounds per person. I’ve turned down flights where I knew I wouldn’t have the performance I needed for a high elevation, off-airport landing. And I’m flying a Raven II, which is designed for high DA situations! I could easily pull up a half dozen NTSB reports of R22 pilots getting in trouble with off-airport landings because they didn’t have enough power to land or depart.

    Anyway, once again I’ve commented enough to write a whole blog post here. I always have too much to say.

    Thanks for writing about this important topic.

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