Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
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The perfect weekend

Pilot X plans the perfect weekend, taking his partner direct to a hotel in the nippy little Robinson two-seater. But the best-laid plans... By Llewis Ingamells

Pilot X was incredibly excited about taking his girlfriend for her first flight in a helicopter. After losing him at weekends to train, and with his every evening spent studying for the exams, she would finally understand what it was all about. He planned the perfect weekend, flying them to a hotel for a romantic night away, after arriving in style on the hotel lawn. With around 55 hours in the R22 and seven hours in the R44, Pilot X had chosen to take the two-seater; it also made sense as the less costly option. Permission to land at the hotel’s helipad was all arranged. Looking at the Google Earth imagery, the helipad was a reasonable size and the surroundings seemed adequate. With rooms overlooking the site, it also offered security for the helicopter.

Pilot X loaded their overnight bags. The weather was OK, and the R22 was all checked and filled with fuel. Climbing into the cockpit, he made sure all items were stowed and checked, then operated the battery master switch… but, no lights, no instruments jumping into life, nothing. This was not the best start to the weekend. Pilot X got out and found the school’s
instructor. They returned to the machine, but no luck. The battery was dead. His girlfriend got out and helped unload the bags. The only other machine available for self-fly hire was the more expensive R44. Well, at least it would make for a smoother, faster ride.
With their bags now stowed aboard the R44, Pilot X and his passenger were soon ready, eagerly awaiting a rearranged departure slot.

The hotel was just a 20min flight away, with some great sights to see on the way; the Humber Bridge would be an amazing view for Pilot X’s passenger. X lifted off for the perfect evening… the skies were quiet and smooth, the machine was performing perfectly and Pilot X’s partner was seeing him in his element. He couldn’t help but notice his passenger’s admiring glances.

Out of site

With only a few miles left to run, Pilot X flipped his quarter-mil chart over to the O.S. map to begin the search for the correct hotel, uncovering the Google Earth printout of the aerial shot of the hotel in the process. X picked up a main road and railway on the chart and worked his way up the track. From what should have been a couple of miles out, X was having trouble matching the scenery with his Google printout. After a couple of wide orbits around what he felt certain was the hotel, it was clear that the image from the Internet wasn’t up-to-date. The site marked out as the helipad was about half the size indicated on his kneeboard. The hotel had seemingly landscaped part of the garden with a long rose bed, surrounded by a four-foot white fence. The helipad certainly wasn’t as huge as the hotel manager had implied on the phone. Performing a full recce, Pilot X also noted how much the conifer trees had grown since the picture, shrinking the site with 30ft-high trees. Pilot X couldn’t help feeling a small amount of trepidation as he began his second orbit, planning his route into and out of the landing area. On the southern side was the five-storey hotel; the northern edge was filled with those conifers, to the east was the car park and the rose garden, and to the west were various other properties. The wind was northerly at a good 15kt, so the approach needed to be made relatively into-wind. The options for approach and departure were looking pretty bleak. X decided the best way was to approach from the south-west, high over the cars and roses, just to the left of the hotel, and hold a 60ft hover, then descend vertically to the grass. Getting out shouldn’t pose much of a problem, with a vertical take-off over the trees.

Executing one last orbit, it crossed X’s mind that the R22 would hardly have had sufficient power to safely perform the vertical landing, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that its battery had failed earlier that day. The R44, meanwhile, had plenty of power, although it was larger… and space was already tight. As he executed the final orbit, he realised the site had a pretty high risk factor. Could he land safely if the engine failed? Was the landing site simply too small? Well, it was the size of half a tennis court…
He’d been planning this too long to call it off now. His partner looked so happy, and they were so close to their goal. Once safely landed, he knew he could easily lift out the following day.

X made his decision. He positioned to a downwind leg. Power check complete, X lined up for a short final, wanting to get the machine on the floor asap. They had been less than neighbourly, buzzing around at low-level for the past few minutes and it was time to cut the noise. There was a growing crowd out on the hotel patio… and they only served to reinforce his worries and made the site seem smaller. X carefully came to gentle, high hover some 50-60ft above the grass landing area and started his very gentle, vertical descent. The R44 seemed to have power enough in hand.

Staring straight forward, the horizon started to disappear behind the trees. Now 25ft off the ground, a higher rate of descent started to develop, which X corrected by pulling extra power. However, he failed to put a pedal input in fast enough; the helicopter began to yaw to the right by some 40°. The helicopter rolled left with the right-hand yaw. The main rotor blades struck the conifers. There was an almighty bang as the blades made contact with the tailboom and broke off and shot off pieces in every direction. The aircraft dropped from 20ft onto its left side – the passenger’s side.

1 Where did Pilot X go wrong?
2 What could he have done differently?
I am most definitely not a helicopter pilot but I do undersand some of this.

1) Clearly he is at the wrong hotel, confirmation bias has set in and he is making the (wrong) visual information fit his (erroneous) assumption.
The aircraft has entred "recirculation" in the restricted area so that the wash blown down from the blades is being redirected upwards by the "enclosure" and producing an effective downwas from above the rotor blades, requiring considerably more power to sustain the required level of lift.

2) I don't know the answr to this one (apart from anticipating the recirculation) but identifying the correct hotel would have been a good start. An accurate GPS zoomed well in could have been a great boon in this situation.

Did I just recommend a GPS? The CAA will have me shot at dawn!
By chipmeisterc
KNT754G how about give up and go home? Disregarding the possible misidentification of the hotel, which sounds more than likely, the word "Pressonitis" clearly springs to mind..
By FatBob
Rotary or not, I agree with the fixed wingers above:

1 Always pre visit a private site
2 very low hours on type
3 Flying to an audience, both in and out of the aircraft creates pressure
4 Not appreciating the potential effects of recirculation in a confined area landing

In many accidents, there are accumulating contributory factors and this is no exception.

For rotary pilots, a pre visit the week before to a new private site is mandatory, it also allows one to take a solid gps fix. If you cant do this, remember to ensure all the four doors are unlocked as per POH before departure, to allow the emergency services ease of entry should you park it from 20 feet on its side :)