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Fly Safe… a weird week in Aviation.

This past week I have been on holiday in Dubai with a friend who lives out here, and have been weirdly reminded of just how close to home the dangers of my hobby are.   Although I’m obviously aware of accidents, and indeed know people who were friends with those who have perished in accidents – I am as guilty as the next guy of thinking “it’ll never happen to me.”

Well.. 3 unrelated things have happened this week to remind me just how close it can be…


R22 - My Trainer

So, I pick up a copy of one of the flying magazines at the airport, for something to read on the flight – in the section where they list new registrations I notice G-JERS is listed as “Cancelled – Destroyed.”

I spent quite a lot of time in G-JERS.  It was the 4th aircraft I ever flew, and the first aircraft I flew solo.  A quick look at my log book and it seems I spent around 16 hours in it.

It doesn’t exist anymore… it was rolled during a training sortee at Cumbernauld Airport.  The AAIB report for it is here; and thankfully both student and instructor got out ok.  But that could have been me.  I hope that it doesn’t put the student off.  But it is a shame to see something so instrumental in my flying come to such a sad end.


Which make it even spookier then that when I got the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this week they had a helicopter simulator made from the cabin and end of a tail of an R22.  I didn’t have a go in it, it looked pretty basic and designed to appease the crowds.

It did occur to me though to have a look at the indestructable metal plate which is attached to the passenger seat on R22’s to see where this hull had originally come from.

Once again, close to home strikes:  it was a local machine, which was sold originally by Sloane Helicopters.  The people I trained with.  It has now ended up in the desert after a less than glamorous end, also involving training.  AAIB report.


The really big thing… I got home from the Formula 1 qualifying on Saturday to see a tweet about two Britons being killed in a helicopter crash in Mallorca.  My heart quite literally sank.

I did some of my training in Mallorca, and have been back to fly there since.  The company I learnt with, Sloane Helicopters, have a base in Mallorca (which is very handy given the awful winter weather in the UK); so my fears were it was my friends, or a machine I knew, or both.

I was very relieved to find out a little while later it was not a Sloane’s machine.  There aren’t many helicopters on the island; but it turned out this one was a private machine which was hangared with Sloane Helicopters, and other than being friendly with owner the involvement stopped there.  It was an MD500.

There is more on the crash on the BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian; but it really reminded me how close to home these things can be.  I hope the gentlemen concerned rest in peace…

… and for those of us still earth bound, but longing to be skyward bound:  fly safely friends.  Please.

2012 Olympics… the end of Aviation?

The proposed airspace restrictions which will come into force for the 2012 Olympic games in London have been announced…  but I am not quite sure who dreamt them up!

When London won the 2012 Olympic games it was widely celebrated as being good for business and the economy as a result of all the extra people and spending it would bring it.  It seems that if you are in the business of aviation and you’re in the South East of England, it won’t be good for your business!

Restricted or Prohibited.

Olympic Airspace Restrictions
Olympic Airspace Restrictions

As you can see from the graphic the plan is to establish two temporary control zones.  The central one will be prohibited for all flight apart from IFR traffic for London Heathrow and London City (and RAF Northolt & Biggin Hill).  This include the heli-lanes across London, and London Battersea heliport.

There will then be a much larger Restricted zone which more or less covers all of south eastern England.  Flight by powered aircraft will be permitted in the restricted zone, so long as:

  • A flight plan is filed using AFPEx between 2 and 24 hours prior to flight.
  • An acceptance / approval number is granted in receipt of the above.
  • 2 way RT is established with controlling authority and acceptance number is quoted.
  • Aircraft is squawking the unique assigned transponder code.
  • RT with ATC at all times.

These restrictions will be in full force for 2 months (13 July to 12 Sept 2012).


Clearly the authorities (in this case The CAA, NATS, MoD, and HM Governments security services) have an obligation to deliver a safe games; and these restrictions are obviously designed to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks using aviation.  But I just don’t see how they can work….

Inside the Restricted zone are a number of general aviation airports, from where a light aircraft can take off and be over the Olympic games sites in under 10 minutes.  All of the measures above will only assist in identifying that an unauthorised flight is taking place.  But can the military really get a fighter jet “on task” that quickly, and if they can – what are they going to do about a light aircraft only a few hundred feet above a packed venue?   Whatever they do there is certain to be a lot of “collateral” damage.

Destructive Effect.

It’s probably fair to assume though that the security services have some form of plan for this eventuality and clearly they aren’t going to share that with the masses.  However, it’s the destructive effect of such a massive restriction zone which concerns me.

Obviously all current commercial traffic into and out of London Battersea will be done for; and there are a further 14 airfields within the zones who have to date not been consulted at all.  There is a suggestion that exemptions may be granted on a case by case basis, but unless these exemptions are pretty generous then general aviation is pretty much ruled out during the Olympics.

So, if you’re a helicopter charter operator who though the Olympics would bring plenty of work in…. you might want to think again.  Or at the very least email with your concerns!

Interesting Links for September 27th.

These are my interesting links for September 27th:

Bad Tweeting, Bad Manners or Bad Magazine?

Rotor & Wing Logoor all of the above? Until yesterday I followed @rotorandwing on Twitter, this being the account which represents one of the rotary aviation industries oldest magazines – Rotor & Wing.

The reason I unfollowed them was because they kept flooding my twitter timeline.  By that I mean that they would post lots of tweets all close together – yesterday it was 19 tweets in minutes.  Obviously all contain links to their articles (which is what I want), but to post 19 tweets consecutively is, to my mind, just bad form.  They will now go quiet for a long time – the previous “batch” of tweets was 4 days ago.   Why not spread them out over a few days?

So, to my mind that is the Bad Tweeting covered.

I tweeted them a couple of times and pointed out how annoying it was, and that consequently I doubted that many people would read all the tweets and/or any of the related articles.  Totally ignored, not even acknowledged.  R&W use TwitterFeed to post their articles onto the twitter account, and I suspect this is probably linked to the content management system they use for their website… maybe the flooding just needs a setting tweaking, they could’ve explained.  Not interested – it’s a 1 way Twitter account, the worst kind.

Twitter is social network, it’s for being social on – you know, actually interacting with people.  In this case those people are your readers, subscribers and members of the (surprisingly small) industry you’re representing.  R&W could actually use it as a source of information, instead of ignoring people.  Still, ignorance is bliss.

Thats the Bad Manners covered.

And seeing as I am rounding on Rotor & Wing today I’d also say that I personally find their design a little “80’s”, and although the standard of the journalism is high, and the information accurate it’s almost painful to read.  The website design is just as bad, and is full of adverts.  Beauty of design is in the eye of the beholder though, so you may like it; this is my subjective opinion.

Worse though is that the tweets and news aren’t even timely.  This tweet from yesterday links to a story dated 1st September about the retirement of Robinson Helicopter founder Frank Robinson.  This is old news – Vertical Magazine had the same news 17 days ago , and the actual press release was 19 days ago.

So that covers the bad magazine bit too.

I thought that it was just me, I get niggled easily by little things; I like attention to detail and timely information.  Turns out I am not the only one who has stopped following them – several people have agreed with me since.   Please Rotor & Wing, bring yourselves into the modern era and play nicely? Else I can’t see you surviving!

Did I mention Wires?

Only two days ago I wrote a blog post about how we learn to land in confined and off airport areas in the UK.  I made a point of mentioning wires:

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.

Well, in an uncanny piece of timing the the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has just published its August Bulletin which contains a report into the crash of a Hughes 369E,  G-VICE in May this year.  Guess what happened:  the pilot hit wires he didn’t see.

G-VICE Wreckage
G-VICE Wreckage

Thankfully, and as a tribute to the sturdiness of the Hughes 369E, the pilot was unhurt despite falling to the ground from 50 feet.  The aircraft was destroyed.

Although I don’t know the pilot, I had seen the aircraft a number of times as it was maintained at Sywell, and you just can’t miss a Hughes, they are lovely looking aircraft.

In my post I mentioned the importance of flying a reccee circuit of the site – the importance of this is borne out by the statement from the pilot in the AAIB Report:

The pilot stated that, although he had not attempted a previous landing in this area of the site, he did not fly a reconnaissance circuit and had not approached over the trees before; he was thus unaware of the presence of the cables and failed to see them during the approach. He commented that a contributory factor was that the supporting poles were hidden in the trees either side of the gap.

G-VICE Former Glory
G-VICE Former Glory (c) S. Palmer

When I did the Robinson Factory Safety Course in November 2008 wirestrikes were identified as the leading cause of accidents to helicopters.  At the time I thought this must be a by-product of the higher amount of low level flying that goes on the in the United States – most of my flying is over 1,500′ and you don’t get too many wires up there.  This just goes to prove you need be on your guard for wires every flight! 

So, please please please folks – fly the reccee (even if, and maybe even especially if the site is one you use refularly) and be on your guard for wires.

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…

Interesting Links for August 9th.

These are my interesting links for August 9th:

  • BBC News – New heliport opens on Portland for 2012 Olympics – There has been a lot of speculation in the UK heli industry about additional capacity for the 2012 Olympics – the only licensed heliport at Battersea being small and expensive…. but this is bonkers – Portland is nowhere near London!!
  • Ryanair plumps for Dell EqualLogic • The Register – Dell have been chosen by Ryanair to provide their new SAN which will apparently free up other IT resources. We can but only hope these newly freed up resources to improve their awful website, or maybe even their customer service dept. Flying pig anyone?

Robbie 2.

As you may know I distribute Robbie: The Robinson Helicopter Experience in Europe.  It is a sumptuous coffee-table book that looks at operators of Robinson helicopters around the world – the photography is truly stunning.  I even have a large print of one of the photo’s hanging on my wall at home!  ( I will fly in NZ one day, but for now it reminds me how privileged I am as a pilot).

If you’re interested – you can find more information, and buy yourself a copy here.


Well, after the success of Robbie, its Australian publisher has decided to take up the gauntlet and produce a sequel.  The guys at Eye In The Sky, Robin Olson and Jon Davison (Author / Photographer), are planning on Robbie 2 being a bigger  (circa 300 pages) and grander production – showing even more of Robinson’s at work all over the world.  Hopefully even some R66 shots!


The chaps are currently planning the itenary for their world tour and are looking for operators, pilots or owners of Robinson Helicopters all over the world to take part and feature in Robbie 2.  Its a really unique opportunity – if I had my own machine I would certainly do it — in fact I’m toying with the idea anyway!!

Anyway, they asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested – so I thought I’d pass the opportunity on.  If you want to find out more they have put together a pretty good website at – go check it out.  Drop them or me a line, or pick up the phone… we’re all nice guys, and this really is a unique opportunity to promote your brand / helicopter / operations / self!

Let me know if you take part!

Following the success of ‘Robbie’, EYE IN THE SKY PRODUCTIONS has decided to accept the gauntlet and run with the Robbie II concept. So many operators from around the world have expressed an interest in being a part of a second volume, that we think it is now the right time.