USHST: 4 key helicopter technologies that will save lives

After analyzing dozens of helicopter accidents that resulted in fatalities for pilots and passengers, the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team has determined that further development and wider usage of these four flight technologies will improve safety across the helicopter industry and save lives.

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1. Develop autopilot equipment for light helicopters

Current light helicopters have flight characteristics that are challenging and demanding of pilot work load. The development and certification of a stability augmentation system (or autopilot device) for light helicopters will increase flight stability and mitigate loss of control issues.

The USHST believes that current equipment used in the aviation industry can be adapted for light helicopters and be an effective safety tool during low visibility, low ceiling and unintended IMC conditions.

2. Develop full authority idle protection devices

The use of full authority idle protection devices in helicopters would increase safety by reducing the risk of engine stoppage in a piston helicopter. The device would be capable of ensuring that the engine remains running at nominal RPM despite the pilot making a rapid throttle reduction. The USHST believes that current technologies can be adapted for the development of this device.

3. Install and use flight data monitoring equipment

Helicopter flight data monitoring devices, including audio/video recording devices, offer the ability to collect data on normal and atypical operations. The majority of fatal accidents that occurred since 2009 had insufficient data surrounding the details of the helicopter’s state when the event transpired.

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As a result of this deficiency, proactive interventions cannot be put in place before an event occurs. The USHST believes that with flight data monitoring information, hazardous behavior can be identified and there is an opportunity to break the accident chain before it results in fatalities.

4. Provide enhanced vision technology whenever warranted

Enhanced vision systems such as night vision goggles, synthetic vision systems, and combined vision systems assist a pilot in recognizing and preventing unplanned flight into degraded visibility conditions due to weather. They can also increase safety during planned flying at night. The USHST believes that this technology provides pilots with better tools that can contribute to more informed and proactive decision making as related to visibility.

The USHST also cautions that enhanced vision systems should not be used with the intent to equip pilots to fly in risky weather conditions.

3 thoughts on “USHST: 4 key helicopter technologies that will save lives

  1. These requirements have the potential to ground most helicopters in use to day.
    It’s easy to make wishes and see “pie in the sky accessories” when sitting at a conference room table, and the longer everyone sits, the bigger the “pie in the sky”. All these accessories are available today and are installed on larger more complex helicopters used in “high end operations” such as off shore oil rig support, search and rescue, and the military. To require these accessories on all helicopters would kill the light and utility helicopter industry. These accessories would double the cost of a light helicopter and probably reduce the payload by 30 or 40%.

    The next step or suggestion at the board room table would probably be to require the same accessories to be installed on Cessna 150s.

    Need I say any more?

    1. Grant, please consider the following. The Appareo Vision 1000 provides CVVR and geospatial data in one compact unit that weighs maybe 1 pound? We have had these in our light helicopter fleet since they were released and they are now standard on Airbus helicopter products. As for stability augmentation, I just got a demo flight in a 1971 OH-58A equipped with the Genesys HeliSAS and am completely sold. The whole package weighs just 15lbs and you can literally let go of the controls in a 45 degree bank and the aircraft will roll level. If you hit IIMC you can let go of the controls, select altitude hold, and use the heading function to guide yourself back to VFR. Even if the equipment and install cost totalled 100k, what would a crash cost? 2 million and 6 lives? It is stubborn, out-dated mentalities and cost-cutting that will continue to kill light and utility helicopter industry pilots. Embrace the future and support the advancement of aviation safety!

  2. Such devices must be affordable and weigh single digit pounds. The process by which innovative devices become prohibitively expensive for helicopters is central to this conversation. The drone market will incorporate even more advanced features weighing ounces and costing pennies. The decision to improve nothing is a nonstarter. I would suggest that the discussion actively seek to change the certification/approval process to be an enabler for all technology based safety enhancements. Our regulations and safety culture should not ironically be the reason we don’t innovate.

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