Aircraft Structural Repair Inc. of Stevensville, Mont., recently received a supplemental type certificate (STC) for the installation of the Tailboom Motion Detection System for UH-1H helicopters.
On Sept. 16, 2013, about 3:35 p.m. Pacific daylight time, a Garlick UH-1B (N204UH), experienced a tailboom separation while logging in heavily wooded terrain about three miles east of Detroit, Ore. Bart Colantuono, the pilot, who was the sole occupant on board, was fatally injured.
The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom, main rotor system, and fuselage.
Witnesses reported that when the helicopter was just above the trees, they either observed or heard the load of logs release early and impact the ground hard. After looking up, they observed the helicopter’s fuselage separate from the tailboom; both descending through the trees.
The fuselage impacted the ground inverted and the tailboom came to rest about 140 feet away.
At the memorial service for Colantuono, UH-1 operators and mechanics in attendance sat down at a table and discussed the accident, causes and possible solutions to alleviate losing any more aircraft or pilots in the same type of accident. Many UH-1 operators are already aware that the tailboom fittings in some UH-1 helicopters have fractured after years of service, and those in attendance immediately focused on this.
As far as a solution, the idea of a tailboom motion detector was proposed during the impromptu gathering. Aircraft Structural Repair Inc.’s president, Dustin Wood worked with operators of UH-1s and developed a working tailboom motion detection system, called the BART Switch, to initially install into UH-1B helicopters with a tailboom plug.
Currently, four of the systems have been installed and approved through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) form 337 Major Repair and Alteration. Wood began pursuing an STC for installation on the UH-1H.
“It is nice to see operators and mechanics working together to come up with solutions that can save lives,” he said. “Being proactive about finding a lifesaving solution so Bart did not die in vain was important to us all.”
The system was put to the test on Feb. 14, 2015. A logging pilot in the Northwest was performing a part 133 external load operation in an UH-1B with the BART tailboom motion detection system installed.
While flying a load of logs, the pilot heard a loud bang and immediately noticed the master caution light was on and the caution panel was illuminated with the “tailboom” light. The pilot immediately removed all left pedal input, released the load, and landed with as minimal left pedal as possible — without incident.
Upon inspection, the upper LH tailboom fitting was found cracked as well as the sheet metal former on the upper LH tailboom bulkhead. The broken fitting was examined and determined the length of time the fitting was cracked was minimal.
According to the pilot it was evident by this incident that a full break in the tailboom fitting could have become catastrophic immediately.
The Tailboom Motion Detection System consists of a rod encased in tubing to the interior of the tail boom and extending forward into the fuselage where a micro switch is attached to the airframe. Upon failure of an upper LH tailboom fitting, longeron or attach bolt the switch will illuminate the master caution panel indicating tailboom.
In most cases the BART Switch can be installed in 12 hours or less. Installations on UH-1Bs and UH-1Fs can be accomplished through an FAA form 337 field approval process as a “follow on” approval. This includes the installation of a Tailboom Motion Detection System also referred to as the “BART Switch,” to alert the pilot of a cracked upper LH tailboom fitting, longeron or attach bolt.
“Since the Tailboom Motion Detection System was introduced at the HAI Huey Forum in Orlando, Fla., in March 2015, interest has been steady from operators contacting me,” said Wood. “We would like to get more of them installed, save more lives and make the UH-1 fleet that much safer.”