Home > Human Factors history and studies > Helicopter accidents – collision warning system?

Helicopter accidents – collision warning system?

On first of May I saw a documentation about mountain rescue service with helicopters in Nepal. Its amazing in this heights of the Himalayan mountains. Beside the discussion about pros and contras of this service in general (similar to those there must have been before such a service was introduced in the Alps regions), I was shocked by a helicopter accident. A trainee team of one pilot and one rescue person tried to rescue two people stuck in a rock bank. Due to the thin air only on person could be rescued at once. They managed to rescued the first person and transported into the rescue service base station. Afterwards they flew back to rescue the second person. Shortly in front of the second person the helicopter was in hover flight. Then, for an unknown reason, the rotor blades touched the rock face. With a crackling noise the helicopter vibrated and crashed – no chance to survive. Here you find an article about the accident.

Why did the rotor blades touch the mountain bank? Was there no collision warning system?
In the accident described the pilot chose hovering to rescue the two persons. Hovering is difficult with a helicopter because the aerodynamic center is above the helicopters body and therewith above the balance point. So the pilot needs to carefully counter balance the movements of the helicopter. Imagine the thin air in the mountains and suddenly occurring strong winds which make the task specially difficult.

Some of the helicopters (not all) have an automation system for hovering. One of such helicopters is the russian Mil-Mi-26 . It is not an alternative as it is a heavy military helicopter used mostly for transportation of heavy machinery whereas the used AS350 B3 is a light weight helicopter enabling the crew to fly in heights up to 7000m. I found no hints indicating the limitations of the hover automation other detailed descriptions. Is there always the possibility for manual intervention? Is it indicated what the automatic does? Is the status of the automatic presented? Those are general questions when tasks are automated in the human-machine interface but due to the limited information it is not possible to discuss them further.

I wondered if there exists a similar collision warning system to the one used in cars, see example below. There is a patent for such a system and I found only a little example. This article indicates that the industry slowly adapts to this helpful systems in helicopters. Maybe costs are the reason. In cars it is quiet helpful, used by experienced drivers as well. It sounds helpful for pilots too. An amount helicopter accidents happened during flights in mist or dusk ending in a collision with a crane or other obstacles. The system can enhance the pilots awareness for the environments when sight is limited by environmental conditions but also if he needs to concentrate on hovering the helicopter in a rescue mission.
helicopter anticollision

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