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Old 01-29-2020, 01:56 PM
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Why donít helicopters have black boxes?


Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, he occasionally speaks eloquently on serious topics. After a moving acknowledgment of Kobe Bryant, he went into an appeal to add flight recorders to helicopters.

His argument was based on his personal history as well as that of a pilot friend. Both lost family members in a plane accident in foggy conditions. Colbert Sr.’s accident led to increased safety rules for airplane cockpits. It was argued helicopters don’t usually have black boxes. This apparently leads to a lot of uncertainty after accidents, and makes establishing safer colters and conditions more difficult since fault may be difficult to ascertain.

Is it true? If so, why? Surely other groups share this concern?
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Last edited by Dr_Paprika; 01-29-2020 at 01:57 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:15 PM
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Did Colbert note any research data to back up his views? It certainly requires careful analysis rather than just an emotional reaction that it's always worth spending more money to increase safety. Things often aren't that simple.

It's not obvious to me that there's necessarily that much uncertainty about helicopter accidents. The Kobe crash will almost certainly turn out to be pilot error, with the most significant contributing risk factor likely to be excessive pressure to complete flights as quickly as possible for important clients in marginal conditions. These pressures are much greater in ad hoc private charters.

Since it costs money to install and maintain a black box, could that money be better spent elsewhere? For example, on better avionics that might prevent an accident in the first place. Or on education and training.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:16 PM
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If you didn't see it, the conversation between Stephen Colbert and Jon Batiste, the bandleader on his show, is on YouTube here.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:17 PM
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Apparently, the NTSB has been urging the FAA to require them for quite some time. To no avail, unfortunately.

Maybe now that a celebrity has been killed in a chopper crash, the FAA can be pressured (via public sentiment) to sit up and take notice.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:18 PM
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Probably for the same reason lots of other small aircraft don't - they generally don't fall within the regulations:

Quote:
Originally Posted by wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_recorder#Regulation
From 2014 the United States requires flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders on aircraft that have 20 or more passenger seats, or those that have six or more passenger seats, are turbine-powered, and require two pilots.
Given that the Sikorsky_S-76C has the following spec

Crew: two - Can operate with just a pilot in VFR conditions and in IFR when suitably equipped
Capacity: 13 passengers
...
Powerplant: 2 ◊ Turbomeca Arriel 2S2 turboshaft, 922 shp (688 kW) each

it doesn't quite fit the bill.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:19 PM
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Without clicking through the cites from the regs themselves, there is a post on stackexchange that summarizes the regs
Quote:
Cockpit Voice Recorders

Required for:

large 4-engined turbine-powered planes
large 4-engined pressurized planes
multiengined turbine-powered planes seating 10+ passengers
multiengined turbine-powered rotorcraft seating 20+ passengers
multiengined turbine-powered planes and rotorcraft seating 6+ passengers and requiring two pilots
Relevant regulations: 14 CFR 121.359, 14 CFR 125.227, 14 CFR 135.151
Quote:
Flight Data Recorders

Required for:

Multiengine turbine-powered airplanes or rotorcraft seating 10+ passengers
Multiengine turbine-powered airplanes or rotorcraft seating 6+ passengers and requiring two pilots
Large airplanes meant for use either over 25,000 feet
Large turbine-powered airplanes
Turbine-powered transport category planes
Relevant regulations: 14 CFR 91.609, 14 CFR 121.343, 14 CFR 121.344, 14 CFR 135.152
If there were no costs at all associated with gathering data that helped save lives, it would be simple. There are real costs though. Everything is a trade off. We are not just maximizing safety with government regulations (or personal decisions) in any area of our lives.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by kaylasdad99 View Post
Apparently, the NTSB has been urging the FAA to require them for quite some time. To no avail, unfortunately.

Maybe now that a celebrity has been killed in a chopper crash, the FAA can be pressured (via public sentiment) to sit up and take notice.
On what do you base your claim that the FAA have simply been ignoring the NTSB, rather than simply disagreeing with their analysis? It's far from clear from that article that the NTSB has a compelling analysis to support their view.

Quote:
In a notice to the FAA last year, the NTSB said 159 aircraft involved in crashes from 2005 to 2017 had no form of recording equipment. The NTSB, which is charged with investigating transportation crashes across the U.S., said it was more difficult to investigate with the lack of information.

Of those 159 crashes, the NTSB was not able to determine the probable cause for 18 of them, the agency said. It argues federal investigators would have more information to conduct critical safety probes if the data recorders were installed.
So in almost 90% of cases where there was no recording equipment, the NTSB were still able to determine the probable cause of the crash. That raises the bar quite considerably on whether they would be a cost-effective safety measure.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-29-2020 at 02:41 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:41 PM
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si_blakely summed it up pretty well.

Flight data recorders are required on large aircraft. The question is, is the S-76 a 'large aircraft'? The helicopters I've flown have two seats, so the Sikorsky certainly seems large to me. On the other hand it's not as big as some other helicopters. In aircraft, weight is critical. The smaller the aircraft, the more critical is weight. 'Black boxes' are heavy. They're also expensive, and they place a heavy economic burden on operators. Granted, the cost of a flight data recorder isn't that much when your helicopter costs $15 million, but it's a larger expense when you're flying a used machine.
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:58 PM
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Everything is a trade off. We are not just maximizing safety with government regulations (or personal decisions) in any area of our lives.
See also: the mandatory use of seatbelts on buses and tobacco bans. Safer society, yes, but don't hold your breath waiting for either to happen.
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Old 01-29-2020, 03:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr_Paprika View Post
Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, he occasionally speaks eloquently on serious topics. After a moving acknowledgment of Kobe Bryant, he went into an appeal to add flight recorders to helicopters.

His argument was based on his personal history as well as that of a pilot friend. Both lost family members in a plane accident in foggy conditions. Colbert Sr.ís accident led to increased safety rules for airplane cockpits. It was argued helicopters donít usually have black boxes. This apparently leads to a lot of uncertainty after accidents, and makes establishing safer colters and conditions more difficult since fault may be difficult to ascertain.

Is it true? If so, why? Surely other groups share this concern?
There are finite resources in the world, and we need to put some thought into how we allocate them. When trying to evaluate whether the costs of a safety measure are justified, it's necessarily to assign a value to a human life. Sounds cold, I know, but there's really no other good way to make that decision.

The US DOT and presumably also the FAA) values a human life at $9.6M. So now you can add up the dollars on both sides of the equation.

First, if you mandate black boxes on all helicopters, how much will it cost per year in the future? There's R&D, FAA certification, purchase cost, installation cost, maintenance cost, inspection cost, and probably some other costs I'm not thinking of.

Second, how many lives will this mandate save per year in the future? saving a life means that info collected from a black box during its service life (whether from a fatal crash, a non-fatal crash, or a non-crash close call) was indispensible in understanding the cause of an incident - and then influences future policy in a way that reduces the helicopter flight fatality rate. "Future policy" can mean how we build helicopters, or how we train pilots to deal with in-flight contingencies.

Take that second number and multiply it by $9.6M, and compare it to the first number. If it's greater than the first number, then there might be a case for installing black boxes on helicopters. My guess is it's not.

A black box on Bryant's helicopter would not have saved any of the 9 victims of that particular crash. Would it have elucidated some surprising root cause? Something that would have influenced future policy in a way that would have saved enough lives to make it worth the cost? Probably not.
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Old 01-29-2020, 03:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr_Paprika View Post
Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, he occasionally speaks eloquently on serious topics. After a moving acknowledgment of Kobe Bryant, he went into an appeal to add flight recorders to helicopters.
You can be eloquent without being cogent.

He's using this recent accident and the emotions it evokes to advocate expensive measures that would, it appears, not have helped. As others have noted, the cause of this accident and the lessons to be learned from it are quite likely to emerge despite no on-board data or voice recordings. He should perhaps refrain from offering opinions on technical subjects he knows little about.
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Old 01-29-2020, 04:11 PM
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FWIW, this article from 2016 says:

Quote:
Flight data recorders are about the size of a shoebox, weigh about 10 pounds, and cost close to £15,000 apiece.
£15,000 is almost $20,000.

Ten pounds may or may not be significant. It might be hard to find a place to put a shoebox-sized instrument. And remember that it will most likely have a moment that needs to be calculated into the weight-and-balance. Placing the instrument far from the C.G. means that ballast may have to be added elsewhere for w&b, and the additional weight of the instrument and any balast must be subtracted from gross weight.


.

Last edited by Johnny L.A.; 01-29-2020 at 04:12 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 04:38 PM
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The cheapest real helicopter I can find is the Mosquito which you can buy new for about $25,000. It seems pretty crazy to require a $20,000 black box to be added. Autogyros are even cheaper, under $20,000. The only way this would be feasible is if the boxes for helicopters could be made much more cheaply.
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Old 01-29-2020, 04:40 PM
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Presumably, though, they would not be required on all helicopters but only those used in commercial or charter flights, and perhaps only the more expensive copters that carry multiple passengers.
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Old 01-29-2020, 04:51 PM
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The cheapest real helicopter I can find is the Mosquito which you can buy new for about $25,000. It seems pretty crazy to require a $20,000 black box to be added. Autogyros are even cheaper, under $20,000. The only way this would be feasible is if the boxes for helicopters could be made much more cheaply.
The Mosquito is in the Experimental category, and so wouldn't fall under a new rule requiring FDRs. The least expensive certified helicopter is, I think, the Robinson R22 at about $250,000. It's a two-seater, so it would not be subject to new rules requiring FDRs. But just for the sake of argument, pretend it did. An FDR as they exist today represents about 8% of the cost of the helicopter. That's a big chunk. There's also no place to put one, unless you put it under one of the seats. R22s have a seat weight limit of 225 pounds, which includes anything in the compartments under the seats. Ten pounds is significant. An interesting thing about R22s is that they have a minimum pilot weight. Where I flew, there was one woman who had to carry a bag of lead shot under her seat in order to stay within the weight-and-balance envelope.
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Old 01-29-2020, 04:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
There are finite resources in the world, and we need to put some thought into how we allocate them. When trying to evaluate whether the costs of a safety measure are justified, it's necessarily to assign a value to a human life. Sounds cold, I know, but there's really no other good way to make that decision.

The US DOT and presumably also the FAA) values a human life at $9.6M. So now you can add up the dollars on both sides of the equation.
You might not have to know the value of a life. Just compare the number of lives saved by the black box to whatever other safety feature you can buy with the same money.

That doesn't help calculating how many lives will be saved by whatever policy changes result from the extra data the new black boxes produce.
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Old 01-29-2020, 05:04 PM
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I doubt the $20000 figure includes the extra wiring and sensors that would be needed to even create the data to begin with.
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Old 01-29-2020, 05:13 PM
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You might not have to know the value of a life. Just compare the number of lives saved by the black box to whatever other safety feature you can buy with the same money.
But that's really the only sense in which that valuation claims to represent the value of a life. It represents the marginal cost of reducing the number of deaths by one in a given domain. It's just that it's more efficient for many purposes to represent this in monetary terms, for the same reason that it's more efficient to use money rather than barter for general economic transactions. It allows a much wider comparison, because in principle the choice isn't just about the best way to spend money on helicopter safety.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-29-2020 at 05:16 PM.
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Old 01-29-2020, 08:15 PM
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You might not have to know the value of a life. Just compare the number of lives saved by the black box to whatever other safety feature you can buy with the same money.

That doesn't help calculating how many lives will be saved by whatever policy changes result from the extra data the new black boxes produce.
Pass a law forcing all automobiles to be artificially limited to a top speed of 30mph, and you will have a far greater impact on fatal accidents than any number of aviation black boxes ever could.

And stop and ask yourself--
Would such a safety measure be worthwhile?

Virtually nobody actually thinks it would, regardless of what they might claim to think.
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Old 01-29-2020, 08:56 PM
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I doubt the $20000 figure includes the extra wiring and sensors that would be needed to even create the data to begin with.
Or the weight. A-kit items such as mounts and cable harnesses can get pretty heavy
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Old 01-29-2020, 09:16 PM
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Think about this: where, in a helicopter, would you place the data recorder so it's most likely to survive a crash?

AFAIK, most planes put the actual recording part of data recorders in the top rear of the fuselage since that's generally the furthest spot from the most common impact scenarios. However, in a helicopter, one of the common crash scenarios involves loss of the tail rotor, so that's out. Can't put it at the top of the fuselage because getting the rotors tangled up in something is another semi-common crash scenario.

Basically, plane crashes tend to impact in very similar ways (mostly forward (i.e. like a car crash), or scraping the top/bottom/wings over the ground). Helicopters can impact in many very different ways.
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Old 01-29-2020, 10:29 PM
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I doubt the $20000 figure includes the extra wiring and sensors that would be needed to even create the data to begin with.
The S-76D which is the current version of that helicopter has Cockpit Voice Recorder, Flight Data Recorder and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning as *standard* equipment. Every single one coming off the assembly line has that. This wasn't due to regulations but a manufacturing decision by Sikorsky. On a $15 million helicopter, I guess they can throw in a few upgrades: https://www.lockheedmartin.com/conte...P-Brochure.pdf

Also all EMS helicopters have had CVR and DVR for some time. That was regulatory.

This accident raised the issue of whether to retrofit existing older helicopters, in this case the S-76B. Even if made a regulatory item, it wouldn't be all helicopters - probably just turbine powered ones with six or more passenger seats - something like that.
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Old 01-30-2020, 05:15 AM
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It's not obvious to me that there's necessarily that much uncertainty about helicopter accidents. The Kobe crash will almost certainly turn out to be pilot error, with the most significant contributing risk factor likely to be excessive pressure to complete flights as quickly as possible for important clients in marginal conditions. These pressures are much greater in ad hoc private charters.
I wonder if you have to go slower under IFR. If not, why didn't the pilot just fly IFR if he was worried about time? And I suppose he could use the IFR instruments as much as he liked even if he doesn't "declare" IFR. So why didn't he? Or, if he did, then did the accident happen differently than is supposed?

This guy must have flown hundreds of times under IFR. It'd be a piece of cake for him, I would guess. Would a pilot refuse to use his instruments just because he wasn't under instrument rules? No, that'd be insane. So presuming he didn't do that, what's the problem? Just another IFR flight, right? (I understand it was SVFR, special visual flight rules, but that doesn't mean he can't use instruments).

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Old 01-30-2020, 05:50 AM
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The S-76D which is the current version of that helicopter has Cockpit Voice Recorder, Flight Data Recorder and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning as *standard* equipment. Every single one coming off the assembly line has that. This wasn't due to regulations but a manufacturing decision by Sikorsky.
Yes, that's what a newly made S-76 gets, but the helicopter involved in the crash was built in 1991. That stuff was not standard at the time.

Sikorsky made the decision to include all that because there is some demand for it. Those are very nice and useful add-ons.

Retrofitting, though costs money. For that matter, the new versions costs more money than the old. Hence the appeal of purchasing older helicopters that have been in use - you get a flying machine for less money.

From my opinion, more equipment would not have made this flight safer because the pilot in charge didn't even fully use the equipment he had at the time, and made a really dumbass decision to attempt an extended flight SVFR, a decision that would have been stupid even out where I live where the terrain is flat but worse where there are hills. The problem here was not a lack of technology but a lack of judgement. More avionics will not cure that.

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I wonder if you have to go slower under IFR. If not, why didn't the pilot just fly IFR if he was worried about time?
No, you don't have to go slower under IFR. If anything, in those conditions, you can go just as fast if not faster under IFR and it's safer.

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And I suppose he could use the IFR instruments as much as he liked even if he doesn't "declare" IFR. So why didn't he?
This is kind of hard to explain to a non-pilot, and it doesn't help that I'm not IFR rated although I have had a bit of an introduction to such flight.

No, you can't mix and match IFR and VFR flight. If you're going to fly IFR your complete attention has to be on the instruments. Sure, flying VFR you can use the instruments, but it's more like how you use your dash when you're driving a car - the vast majority of the time you're attention is outside the car, not looking at what's on the dash. That's VFR flying - you spend your time looking outside. IFR, though, you never look outside, that's a distraction. All of your attention has to be on the instruments. I'm hoping one of our IFR rated Dopers can explain that better than I can.

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This guy must have flown hundreds of times under IFR. It'd be a piece of cake for him, I would guess.
While practice makes IFR flight easier over time it doesn't, as I understand it, become second-nature like riding a bicycle. You have to practice on a regular basis to remain safe. If you haven't been practicing for a while your skills deteriorate to an unsafe level.

One problem that doesn't go away is that you have to ignore what you're body is telling you and rely ONLY on the instruments, and that's not really a natural state of affairs. Your body can be very insistently telling you one thing (you're straight and level, or in a turn, as examples) and you have to completely ignore that and believe only what your eyes are telling you, because reality might be something completely different.

This is more difficult than non-pilots (and VFR pilots with no IFR experience) usually understand. While IFR flight does become routine with practice, initially it is nothing unusual for there to be disorientation, dizziness, and even the occasional vomit as a pilot learns to ignore then own senses and rely on the instruments. The pros make it look easy, but that's because they're good at what they do.

Again, I hope one of the IFR Dopers can expand on this.

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Would a pilot refuse to use his instruments just because he wasn't under instrument rules? No, that'd be insane. So presuming he didn't do that, what's the problem?
How you use the instruments in VFR flight differs a great deal from how you use them in IFR flight.

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Originally Posted by I Love Me, Vol. I View Post
Just another IFR flight, right? (I understand it was SVFR, special visual flight rules, but that doesn't mean he can't use instruments).
You're either all IFR or you're VFR. There's no mix-n-match. Again, VFR pilot do use instruments, but in a very different manner than how an IFR pilot does.
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Old 01-30-2020, 06:09 AM
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You can be eloquent without being cogent.

He's using this recent accident and the emotions it evokes to advocate expensive measures that would, it appears, not have helped. As others have noted, the cause of this accident and the lessons to be learned from it are quite likely to emerge despite no on-board data or voice recordings. He should perhaps refrain from offering opinions on technical subjects he knows little about.
He was addressing the emotional cost on the families of the survivors not knowing for sure exactly what happened. He wasn't addressing technical subjects. And apparently he knows a little something about the emotional cost of aviation disasters.
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Old 01-30-2020, 06:21 AM
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You're either all IFR or you're VFR. There's no mix-n-match. Again, VFR pilot do use instruments, but in a very different manner than how an IFR pilot does.
I understand, but when it's 11 AM yet you can't see anything around you because of thick fog... that seems like a good time to use one's instruments in more of an IFR sort of way. Seems to me that beats waiting for the fog to lift so you can see again. Especially when you know 3000 ft hills are close by.


ETA: In other words, when you are piloting an aircraft and become surrounded by fog, aren't you now kinda on IFR whether you like it or not?

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Old 01-30-2020, 06:29 AM
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If you're going to fly IFR your complete attention has to be on the instruments. Sure, flying VFR you can use the instruments, but it's more like how you use your dash when you're driving a car - the vast majority of the time you're attention is outside the car, not looking at what's on the dash. That's VFR flying - you spend your time looking outside. IFR, though, you never look outside, that's a distraction. All of your attention has to be on the instruments. I'm hoping one of our IFR rated Dopers can explain that better than I can.
To underscore this point, you can buy training glasses that obscure your view of everything except the instrument panel. A pilot in training (with an instructor in the other seat) would wear these to get in the habit of ignoring what they see on the outside of the plane and focusing on only what the instruments say.

IFR rules exist for conditions in which it is dangerous to rely on your eyes and inner ear. The official NTSB conclusion regarding JFK Jr.'s crash was that he probably was a victim of spatial disorientation. It was officially VFR conditions, but only barely so. He wasn't IFR certified, but if he had ignored his eyes and paid attention what his altimeter and artificial horizon were telling him (you don't need an IFR rating to do this!), then it's likely he would not have crashed.
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Old 01-30-2020, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by I Love Me, Vol. I View Post
I wonder if you have to go slower under IFR. If not, why didn't the pilot just fly IFR if he was worried about time? And I suppose he could use the IFR instruments as much as he liked even if he doesn't "declare" IFR. So why didn't he? Or, if he did, then did the accident happen differently than is supposed?

This guy must have flown hundreds of times under IFR. It'd be a piece of cake for him, I would guess. Would a pilot refuse to use his instruments just because he wasn't under instrument rules? No, that'd be insane. So presuming he didn't do that, what's the problem? Just another IFR flight, right? (I understand it was SVFR, special visual flight rules, but that doesn't mean he can't use instruments).
Under IFR, you must fly well above the elevation of any obstacles in the area for safety. In the weather conditions here, that would have meant in cloud the whole way. And that would require a formal Instrument Approach Procedure in order to descend safely when you can't see, which usually means approaching a suitably equipped airport. It would have been possible to fly an instrument approach to an airport and switch to VFR once below cloud and go on to the private site that Kobe wanted to go to, but this would be much slower than going to the destination direct. Pretty much the whole point of helicopter commuting is that you can make relatively short trips very quickly by going direct to some destination other than an airport. That's why most such helicopter operations are planned as low level VFR flights.

Under VFR, your primary means to avoid obstacles and other aircraft is that you can see them. You will still scan the instrument panel for various things, but it would be a mistake to have too much attention on the instruments in VFR flight. Your eyes are usually outside, with an occasional scan of the instruments.

The conditions here were marginal for visual flight, and probably deteriorated. Transitioning to IFR and climbing would not be the pilot's first choice, since that would add considerably to the flight time for the reasons above. And it might have be safer to just land rather than try to transition to IFR, since there was a helipad nearby. Anyway, he likely first tried to maneuver to avoid the cloud/fog, and may have entered cloud inadvertently. If you want to remain visual, that usually means staying low. He may have made the mistake of continuing to attempt to maneuver visually at low level rather than commit to a transition to IFR, which would mean an immediate climb in the safest direction. What is very dangerous is to be vacillating in this situation, continuing to mess around and try to fly visually at low level when you can't see well enough to do so. If you do pull the trigger and transition to IFR, the switch to sudden 100% reliance upon instruments requires a "phase change" in mental state, and full focus and concentration, even for experienced pilots.

While the pilot was experienced and qualified for instrument flight, few such helicopter operations are usually conducted under IFR, so he may not have had much recent practice in doing so, and likely had far less total time flying on instruments than a fixed wing pilot. Instrument flying, especially in a helicopter which is less forgiving than fixed wing, requires practise to maintain your skills.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-30-2020 at 09:35 AM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by I Love Me, Vol. I View Post
He was addressing the emotional cost on the families of the survivors not knowing for sure exactly what happened. He wasn't addressing technical subjects. And apparently he knows a little something about the emotional cost of aviation disasters.
He was explicitly addressing a difficult and technical question, whether adding black boxes would be a cost-effective safety measure.

And the least appropriate people to make rational judgments about safety policy are those who have a large emotional investment in the matter through being unlucky enough to have personally suffered greatly from rare events.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-30-2020 at 09:53 AM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 10:51 AM
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Whatever you think about Stephen Colbert, he occasionally speaks eloquently on serious topics. After a moving acknowledgment of Kobe Bryant, he went into an appeal to add flight recorders to helicopters.

His argument was based on his personal history as well as that of a pilot friend. Both lost family members in a plane accident in foggy conditions. Colbert Sr.’s accident led to increased safety rules for airplane cockpits. It was argued helicopters don’t usually have black boxes. This apparently leads to a lot of uncertainty after accidents, and makes establishing safer colters and conditions more difficult since fault may be difficult to ascertain.

Is it true? If so, why? Surely other groups share this concern?
Everything is about cost. If it would cost $100K per car to have seatbelts and airbags, they wouldn't come standard and there would be no requirement to have seatbelts. If they could install a blackbox for the cost of $100.00 per aircraft, then they all would all be as common as having two-way communications.

The bigger issue is, that the entire crash could have been avoided if the pilot refused to fly because of weather and others were advised not to do so. I seriously doubt that if Kobe Bryant wasn't part of this group, the flight would have never taken off considering the weather conditions. The whole thing smells of entitlement and celebrity. They weren't flying to save someone's life or deliver urgent medical care. It was recreational travel to a stupid fucking sporting event to be a spectator, and that was the cause that killed everyone. No blackbox recorder was going to prevent this or learn anything new than you must respect mother nature and when advised not to fly, you don't fly. Mother nature doesn't care how good you are at throwing a ball. This is not about getting a good table at a trendy restaurant. This has to do with safety.

Last edited by edwardcoast; 01-30-2020 at 10:53 AM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 11:31 AM
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The bigger issue is, that the entire crash could have been avoided if the pilot refused to fly because of weather...
This reminds me of an FAA safety poster from the '70s. (Dad was a Flight Service Specialist.) These posters featured a 1950s/1960s style cartoon, and a couplet. The poster I'm thinking of shows a high-winged airplane flying in mountainous terrain, with an angry anthropomorphic storm cloud rolling up its sleeves to knock the plane out of the sky. The couplet read: Get-there-itis/May someday bit us!

(The other one I remember, though it doesn't apply here, had a guy being chopped up by a propeller. The couplet read: A prop on the loose/Could cook your goose.)
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Old 01-30-2020, 11:52 AM
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Having caught up on some of the latest news coming out, an important addendum to above comments about IFR/VFR: it appears that the operator here may not be certified for IFR operations, even if the aircraft/pilot were equipped/qualified to do so. That could be a significant factor in the pilot's decision making under difficult circumstances where a transition to IFR may have been the safest option.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-30-2020 at 11:52 AM.
  #33  
Old 01-30-2020, 12:01 PM
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What is very dangerous is to be vacillating in this situation, continuing to mess around and try to fly visually at low level when you can't see well enough to do so. If you do pull the trigger and transition to IFR, the switch to sudden 100% reliance upon instruments requires a "phase change" in mental state, and full focus and concentration, even for experienced pilots.

While the pilot was experienced and qualified for instrument flight, few such helicopter operations are usually conducted under IFR, so he may not have had much recent practice in doing so, and likely had far less total time flying on instruments than a fixed wing pilot. Instrument flying, especially in a helicopter which is less forgiving than fixed wing, requires practise to maintain your skills.
This is why I suspect that spatial disorientation set in. The final seconds of the flight path look a whole lot like the 'death spiral' I hear so much about as a fixed wing student pilot.

But there's another explanation I thought interesting. This came up in a discussion between locals. If the pilot was simply 'off' by one exit in where he thinks he was, over the Lost Hills exit instead of the Las Virgenes exit, he would have had plenty of room to make the maneuver he attempted. Just an observation based on local topography.
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Old 01-30-2020, 12:50 PM
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But there's another explanation I thought interesting. This came up in a discussion between locals. If the pilot was simply 'off' by one exit in where he thinks he was, over the Lost Hills exit instead of the Las Virgenes exit, he would have had plenty of room to make the maneuver he attempted. Just an observation based on local topography.
But it's notable that he was going very fast, which obviously isn't appropriate under deteriorating visibility and most especially for a turning maneuver in poor visibility, whatever his precise lateral position.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-30-2020 at 12:51 PM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 12:56 PM
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The Kobe crash will almost certainly turn out to be pilot error, with the most significant contributing risk factor likely to be excessive pressure to complete flights as quickly as possible for important clients in marginal conditions. These pressures are much greater in ad hoc private charters.
Black boxes don't help the crashed aircraft, they help future aircraft by building the knowledge database / correcting deficiencies in the aircraft (737Max). I agree that the cause of this crash is most likely to be pilot error; flying below minimums & possibly spatial disorientation. Black boxes can only give information on various sensors & pilot inputs, along with sounds for a CVR, they can't pick up outside conditions like fog. I bet when the preliminary & final reports are issued, even if there was a black box on this helicopter there won't be anything found to be wrong with the aircraft & anything that can be leaned from the black box data.

Also remember, commercial airplanes have two black boxes, a cockpit voice recorder & a data recorder. However, helicopter cockpits are much closer to the power plant & sometimes even do doors off flights making the cockpit much louder than in a Boeing or an Airbus. You might not be able to hear the various clicks & whirs, alarms & pilot conversations if it had a CVR.


More important that black boxes would have been a terrain awareness and warning system, estimated to be a $25-$40,000 retrofit.
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Old 01-30-2020, 01:08 PM
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More important that black boxes would have been a terrain awareness and warning system, estimated to be a $25-$40,000 retrofit.
I was about to question the validity of this for VFR ops, but I haven't flown for decades, and I see that I'm way out of date on current tech. EGPWS optimized for VFR:

https://aerospace.honeywell.com/en/l...mark-xxi-egpws
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Old 01-30-2020, 01:22 PM
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I was about to question the validity of this for VFR ops, but I haven't flown for decades, and I see that I'm way out of date on current tech. EGPWS optimized for VFR:

https://aerospace.honeywell.com/en/l...mark-xxi-egpws
Not knowing much about helicopter operations (or commercial ops in general) would something like the TAWS and synthetic vision in ForeFlight be a useful workaround? I mean, I have these tools available on my iPad flying a bugsmasher. Seems like a no-brainer to have this available elsewhere...

https://foreflight.com/products/fore...ard-avoidance/

Last edited by Pork Rind; 01-30-2020 at 01:22 PM.
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Old 01-30-2020, 02:46 PM
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... why didn't the pilot just fly IFR if he was worried about time?
I believe that to fly IFR requires that you take off and land only at facilities that have approved IFR guidance. Which probably means you can't deliver your VIPs to their preferred destination.

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I understand it was SVFR, special visual flight rules, but that doesn't mean he can't use instruments.
Under SVFR he's required to maintain visual contact with the ground and sufficient horizontal visibility to stay safe. In difficult conditions, this probably requires that a high percentage of your time be spent looking outside, not at instruments.
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Old 01-30-2020, 03:17 PM
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Just to note that Special VFR only applies to a VFR flight when passing through controlled airspace, in this case Van Nuys. By the time of the crash, he had left the Van Nuys controlled airspace, so he was no longer Special VFR. That isn't particularly important for any of the broad issues discussed above for VFR vs IFR flying.

The Special VFR crossing of Van Nuys was notable because under Special VFR you must follow the controller's instructions. He was required to hold (wait, circling) for 15 minutes east of Van Nuys; and to route to the north side of Van Nuys for separation from IFR traffic to/from Van Nuys, rather than take his preferred route straight along highway 101.
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Old 01-30-2020, 04:55 PM
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I understand, but when it's 11 AM yet you can't see anything around you because of thick fog... that seems like a good time to use one's instruments in more of an IFR sort of way. Seems to me that beats waiting for the fog to lift so you can see again. Especially when you know 3000 ft hills are close by.
Yes. Those are the conditions in which you file an IFR flight plan. They are NOT conditions in which to request SVFR to get you from point A to point B. SVFR is for transiting a controlled airspace to a less controlled airspace when the visibility in the more controlled airspace is too crap for VFR -BUT- visibility in the less controlled airspace does meet VFR minimums.

In this case, the airspace outside both the Class C (first airport on the ATC tape) and the Class D (second airport) airspace did NOT meet VFR definitions for that less controlled airspace so, sorry, this was inappropriate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by I Love Me, Vol. I View Post
ETA: In other words, when you are piloting an aircraft and become surrounded by fog, aren't you now kinda on IFR whether you like it or not?
Yep.

And survival rates for pilots attempting continued flight in such conditions without switching to IFR is abysmal. The end comes quickly, as a general rule.

Should that happen to a pilot they can either

1) File for IFR (if possible - it may be that either the pilot or the aircraft is not IFR suitable)

2) Call ATC for help and IF there is sufficient instrumentation and IF the pilot knows how to use it and IF VFR conditions are not too far away they MIGHT survive the experience

3) Land as soon as it is physically possible. Note, this does not, strictly speaking, require an airport or even a paved surface.

That's pretty much it.
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Old 01-30-2020, 05:13 PM
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But for added clarification, there is no such thing as VFR where you "fly in an IFR sort of way". In this type of scenario, VFR and IFR are very different paradigms. Under VFR you (generally) want to be low, below the cloud base because you want to remain in sight of the ground. Only under VFR would you fly up a valley below the ridgetops on either side. Under IFR, which assumes no visibility, you want to be high. You cannot rely upon instruments to position you with such precision between two ridges, so you always adopt a much more conservative approach to terrain clearance, you fly high enough that you are above any high terrain in the general area.

That why vacillating in a marginal situation is so dangerous - you need to commit to either staying low enough that you can see and avoid high terrain (VFR) if you believe you can do so, or land immediately if you can, or fully commit to the switch to IFR which means doing just the opposite - accept that you cannot see, maximum rate of climb in the safest direction until you are higher than the ridgetops, at which altitude your precise horizontal position is less critical.

Last edited by Riemann; 01-30-2020 at 05:17 PM.
  #42  
Old 01-30-2020, 05:13 PM
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The bigger issue is, that the entire crash could have been avoided if the pilot refused to fly because of weather and others were advised not to do so. I seriously doubt that if Kobe Bryant wasn't part of this group, the flight would have never taken off considering the weather conditions.
Actually, the difference would be that if no celebrity was aboard we would have heard a lot less about this crash, if we heard about it at all.

This thread is about an accident that happened at my home airport 17 years ago. While many details differ (fixed wing, not SVFR, others) it is another accident that occurred due to pilot hubris and dumbass decisions that wound up getting both the pilot and several other people killed. But most people never heard about it because no one famous or particularly important was involved.

These accidents happen every year. They aren't very common, but they do happen. It's sad regardless of whether or not anyone famous was on board.
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Old 01-31-2020, 09:27 AM
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Actually, the difference would be that if no celebrity was aboard we would have heard a lot less about this crash, if we heard about it at all. ... These accidents happen every year. They aren't very common, but they do happen. It's sad regardless of whether or not anyone famous was on board.
In fact, the helicopter crash just a month ago in Hawaii sounds rather similar. It barely made national news. 6 people died, but nobody famous.

Quote:
... the helicopter hit a north-facing slope at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, burst into flames and came to rest about 100 feet below where the aircraft made impact.
...
At the time, the witness said, the weather had turned bad and visibility was at just 20 feet.

Last edited by scr4; 01-31-2020 at 09:28 AM.
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