It was just an ordinary day but it had been a late one the night before, so perhaps it wasn’t my best decision to go flying that morning.
The purpose of the flight was to visit my business partner. However, concerned about possible flying debris or stone chippings from his driveway, it was arranged that my helicopter landing could be in an adjacent field. Although the visit was business, there was no particular deadline to meet, thankfully.
After my meeting, I had proposed to fly into the local airfield to refuel in readiness for the next flight. However, upon arrival at the helicopter, I found that it had only 20 US gallons in the tanks and I needed more than that, thus I changed the plan to first go to the airfield to refuel, reversing my intended, pre-planned route.
At the hangar there were horses directly outside and a temporary fence parallel to the adjacent horses’ field, about 25 feet from it. I telephoned the owner for advice and was advised that I find the hand and ask her to move the horses, which I did. The temporary fence remained.
Having changed the plan, but only in my head and now going to the airfield first, I checked the rotors in the hangar, pulled the helicopter out and continued the rest of the preflight check on the pad.
After that, I filled in the log and then proceeded with start up. The helicopter did not fire first, or even second, time. This concerned me as I thought I might have to cancel my flight. In retrospect, that would have been a good result. However on the third attempt it started so I continued my checks and lifted off, high enough to clear the temporary fence.
With little wind and what there was coming from about 330 degrees, I took off in the direction of about 30 degrees and then swung round towards the nearby model plane area. As I reached that I radiod the local airfield advising that I had lifted off from a private site and was inbound for fuel. The controller gave me the QNH, the runway they were using and the wind speed and told me to report again as I came in which, as I was by then there, I did immediately. He told me of one fixed wing in the circuit and to call finals. I called finals and advised north side grass so I could fill up at helicopter club pumps. I thought that was only used by helicopters and that the pilots would be sympathetic to me taking my time on this, the first, occasion of fueling a helicopter on my own. How wrong I was.
Following an uneventful landing, hoverring over the spot I wanted to achieve, I advised the controller that I was taxiing to the fuel pumps. I taxied slowly towards them to be greeted by my recent examimer who was sheilding his eyes with a hand, looking at me to ascertain who I was. When he realised, he held the palm of his hand up and pointed to the ground. I landed there and then. I had anticipated landing between two R44 Helicopters on the concrete but my examiner came to the helicopter (with rotors running but now at reduced throttle). He opened the passenger door, put on a headset and told me that he considered the gap to be inappropriate as the tail rotor of the right hand helicopter was pitched and may catch my downdraught causing it to spin. He then went to it to change the pitch so I could land but it was locked so he moved the other helicopter instead which was by now running. As he hovered away, I lifted and landed where he had been, shut down and refuelled.
After refuelling I was form filling when a fixed wing appeared next to me waiting for the pumps. It was a tail dragger (one wheel at the back) a particularly aggressive looking old craft with an equally aggressive and impatient looking pilot. Aware that I was holding him up I quickly made some preflight checks, restarted, called for airfield information and radio check and made my response before lifting and turning. My pick up was anything but smooth which I put down to me not taking account of the weight if the now full fuel and me rushing. The controls were heavy but I did not register this too much at the time as my examiner was in an adjacent helicopter with a student, waiting for me to move. I hover taxied short of the runway edge and called ‘ready for departure’, was cleared and I took off in the direction of runway 24.
The take off was difficult in that I was not climbing much despite me calling for almost full power from the collective. I pulled back on the cyclic but there was still not a great change in climb. By now I was over a golf course and I realised I had a problem. I checked the hydraulic trim switch which was on but it seemed to make little difference when off. I switched it back on. I also fiddled with the trim rocker switch but no improvement. I checked my fuses, no faults. I was still heading west and due to my rising concerns, completely forgot to follow the approved circuit course, which, by now, should have been north. I was still low and aware that there were houses below. I kept my flight over the motorway verge, away from the houses in case I went down, by now a distinct possibility, I thought.
I was at the edge of the local airfield’s zone when I realised I had gone wrong in my navigation and travelling into a major airfield’s airspace. Still strugling to gain height, I made a turn as tight as the limited movement would permit. I headed north along the shortest path out of the airspace I shouldn’t have been in. My departure airfield then called me asking where I was as they had me at only 500 feet or so and in major airspace. I said I was aware of that and was now climbing but very slowly.
I was going to return to my local airfield at that point but I suddenly realised that the cyclic friction was my problem which I turned off and the helicopter then, immediately, performed normally. I had so rushed my checks I had not fully released the friction screw that, for safety reasons, stops the cyclic moving erratically or accidentally when on the ground. Such a simple solution but one that completely eluded me under stress.
However, with no sign of further issues, I decided to continue my flight. The flight from then on was uneventful but, as always, consumed my mind, taking away the, ‘I nearly died’, thought. When I arrived at my partner’s house, I circled the landing site twice before coming into land at about 360 degrees into a slight slope with the tail away from the slope. I shut down and had my meeting.
After the meeting, I returned to the aircraft, checked oil and fuel, lights etc. and restarted, lifted off and turned to take off at about 180 degrees as there was no wind. I quickly climbed and swung over to the west keeping away from another major airspace. I returned to the private landing site after about 20 minutes, calling the local airfield on the way to let them know I was back on their frequency and to inform them of my whereabouts. I slowly entered the private site’s area and before landing, called in to let the local field know I was putting down at a private site within their zone.
I landed heavilly on the pad, about three feet short of where I should have been. However, I was so pleased to be on the ground again, I thought to myself that I would move the helicopter to the correct position with the wheels on. I shut down, filled in the logs and put the wheels on the skids. I then found that whilst I can move the helicopter backwards on my own, I could not move it forward. So I manually spun the helicopter round to face away from the barn doors, brought the motorised trolley out and lifted the front of the helicopter and started backing it into the hangar. As it was too far to the right of the doorway, I was concentrating on the right side and completely misjudged the angle at which it was travelling. The last two inches of the horizontal empennage (tail) hit the left door post. I was at the time driving the trolley very slowly but nevertheless the impact caused the tail to crease. So, having avoided an accident in the air, I had one on the ground, by far the safest place to have a helicopter accident but still expensive.
This accident was of course totally avoidable for the following reasons.
• This flight day was after a night’s work and although I believed I was fit to fly, I was not on the top of my game and a number of mental errors caused my lack of concentration.
• Poor consideration of the tight refuelling area
• Allowing myself to be rushed at the fuel station
• The poor lift off not raising my concerns
• Not advising the local airfield of my problems once airborne
• Forgetting to follow the circuit for the local airfield
• Due to the remaining fuel being less than I had expected, I needed to refuel before my flight and this was a change to my anticipated plan which, with my limited experience, I should have given more thought to, before launching into it.
• The horses in the area and particularly the extra fence gave me more to think about just before and upon takeoff.
• I allowed myself to be rushed by the fixed wing pilot thus I took off with the friction control on the cyclic, half on, reducing its movement, thus my control. Had I given myself more time, I would have been more thorough with my check list or perhaps noted the problem before takeoff.
• I forgot local procedures whilst under pressure heading off into a major airport’s airspace.
• I did not give sufficient attention to hangaring the helicopter.
Lessons Learnt – 10 tips for before and when flying.
1. Only fly if 100% rested and fit
2. Consider a late change to a plan very carefully
3. Consider adjacent craft when landing. Be more aware of their weaknesses ( rotor direction, pitch)
4. Do not rush under any circumstances unless life threatening
5. Consider unusual feel/ movement etc with suspicion. Do not simply accept that it’s probably due to, full fuel, wind, etc.
6. Talk to the ground if having airborne problems
7. Be very familiar with the airfield’s circuit
8. Do not accept temporary obstacles if they can be removed
9. Think about where you are heading from runway positions before take off
10. Concentrate! Think ‘Helicopter’ from the time you get to the hangar until after you have left it.