EMS Helicopter Fuel Exhaustion

By Richard N. Aarons
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

The pilot's texting, which occurred (1) while flying, (2) while the helicopter was being prepared for return to service and (3) during his telephone call to the communication specialist when making his decision to continue the mission, was a self-induced distraction that took his attention away from his primary responsibility to ensure safe flight operations. Further, although there is no evidence that the pilot was texting at the time of the engine failure, his texting while airborne violated the company's cell phone use policy.

Because of restricted sleep the night before the accident, the timing of his operational activities and the nature of the pilot's errors, which were uncharacteristic of his performance, the pilot was experiencing fatigue, which likely degraded his performance.

Because there was no policy requiring that the Air Methods Operational Control Center be notified of abnormal fuel situations, available operationally qualified personnel outside the situation who would likely have recognized the pilot's decision to continue the mission as inappropriate were not consulted.

Although a successful autorotation was possible, the pilot failed to make the flight control inputs necessary to enter an autorotation when the engine lost power, which resulted in a rapid decay in rotor rpm and impact with terrain.

The autorotation training that the pilot received in the Eurocopter AS350 B2 was not representative of an actual engine failure at cruise airspeed and likely contributed to the pilot's failure to execute a successful autorotation.

Without specific guidance regarding the appropriate control inputs for entering an autorotation at cruise airspeeds, the pilots of helicopters with low-inertia rotor systems may not be aware that aft cyclic must be applied when collective is lowered to maintain control of the helicopter and perform a successful autorotation.

Because of the lack of information about the entry phase of autorotations in the FAA's Helicopter Flying Handbook, helicopter pilots may not be aware that there are flight conditions in which immediate and simultaneous control inputs, not only lowering collective, are required to enter an autorotation.

If the pilot had received autorotation training in a simulator rather than in a helicopter, he would have been better prepared and might have effectively responded to the engine failure during the accident flight.

It would seem that paying attention isn't enough. We have to pay attention to the right things at the right times. Getting appropriate rest, sticking to SOPs and maintaining general pessimism about fuel gauges, actual fuel on board and specific range based on ambient conditions all fall into the right-thing category.

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