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Helicopters and aeroplanes: Sensible rules for operating together

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Helicopters and aeroplanes: Sensible rules for operating together

Some years ago I attended a meeting of a flying club at a small airfield, where someone was putting forward a proposal to open a helicopter training school. The prospective school owner was well-organised and made a good case, and many people thought that it would be a great addition to the facilities which the airfield had at the time. However, a few people were dead against it. Helicopters, they insisted, could not co-exist safely with other aircraft at a small airfield. They claimed that rotary aircraft were completely lawless; they did not obey any circuit rules, took off and landed when and where they felt like it, and crossed runways at low level in a terrifying fashion.

So is this true? Well, I know from my own experience that helicopter pilots and aeroplane pilots need to understand each other in such situations, or there can indeed be problems. So here are some hints and tips for both types of pilots…

How Helicopter Pilots Should Act Around Aeroplanes

  • Phone airfields in advance when visiting and find out their usual arrival procedures. If they really don’t want you to simply make an approach at low level into wind, then don’t. You may know that’s the safest way, but they don’t, so be tactful.
  • When in the circuit, remember that you’re probably almost invisible to other pilots. Small helicopters are very difficult to see, and everyone tends to be expecting aircraft to have wings sticking out, so that’s what they look for.
  • If you are asked to follow the fixed-wing circuit, be very careful on final, since you will be slowing down before you land, and aeroplanes won’t. So make sure that your approach path is different from theirs by keeping it fairly steep, and listen carefully to radio calls.
  • Once on the ground, hover-taxi slowly, preferably following taxi-ways, and announce what you’re doing. If you have to wait for other traffic, it’s better to land for a short period rather than hover.
  • If you need to cross a runway, do so when there is nobody on final, however far away they may appear to be. And if you have to wait for other traffic before crossing, land and wait. But don’t either hover or temporarily park too close to the runway.
  • Try not to fly over the top of other aircraft, particularly very small ones such as microlights; your downwash can actually blow them over!
  • If asked to do something that is beyond your capability or that of your helicopter, refuse. While your helicopter is not the nasty uncontrollable machine that some people think it is, it also isn’t the all-singing, all-dancing aircraft that others assume it might be.

What Fixed-Wing Pilots Should Know About Helicopters

  • In the circuit, keep a very good lookout for helicopters. Yes, they do look different, they do appear to be invisible, but you can see them if you try.
  • Be especially careful on final if you know that there’s a helicopter in the circuit. Helicopters fly slowly in the circuit, and they slow down before they land.
  • If you see a helicopter crossing the runway or hovering close to it, ignore it. Helicopters can do this safely, and you really don’t need to get worried about it; it’s not as scary as it appears.
  • When taxying, communication is the key. Helicopter pilots will usually wait in the hover for a taxying aircraft, but if you aren’t sure that’s what one is doing, then ask.
  • Bear in mind that while there is excellent visibility in a rotary aircraft, helicopter pilots can’t see behind them, any more than you can!
  • If you expect to be around helicopters a lot, have a chat with a rotary pilot in order to find out more about these aircraft and how they work.

These lists may well not be exhaustive, but I’m sure you now get the general idea. In summary, safe co-existence is really about being aware, showing courtesy, and good communication. It also helps if we understand each other’s flying machines, at least to some extent. In fact, it would probably be a good idea if all fixed-wing pilots had a trial helicopter lesson, and vice versa.

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