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Things that go bump in the flight. Part 2.

In my last blog I covered how an autopilot can help reduce workload for single-pilot IFR flights in the summer time. And, while those benefits are considerable, in my opinion, they pale when compared to what an autopilot can do to help increase the safety of a light helicopter’s operations – especially on those long, hot summer days.

And that very combination of excessive heat and extended daylight are, to me, why autopilots are so valuable for light helicopters this time of year. The vast majority of helicopters are hard working, VFR machines so longer daylight hours mean they spend more time in the air earning their keep.

Now let’s add the heat. Record-breaking heat. And low altitude operations where it’s not only hot, but you’re dealing with inevitable and often uncomfortable thermal activities. Thermals may be every glider pilot’s dream, but they can be a real distraction to pilots bounding around in light helicopters for hours at a time.

So, let’s see; we have longer duty cycles, excessive heat, low altitude turbulence, and the challenges that come with flying a light helicopter on the best of days and it’s easy to see how pilots can quickly become fatigued. And a tired helicopter pilot is an unsafe helicopter pilot.

Even the simplest of helicopter stability augmentation systems will permit the pilot to at least take his or her hands off the controls for a while. Grabbing a cold drink or just stretching your muscles for a couple of minutes can make all the difference between a safe flight and a newspaper headline.

Yet, another challenging aspect to summer time helicopter operations is an annual increase in instances of inadvertent flight into IFR conditions. Areas along the eastern seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, and the west coast are prone to the sudden build up of dense haze.

Of course when you talk reduced visibility in summer you also have to consider smoke from forest and brush fires. No matter the situation, low visibility and light, single-pilot helicopters don’t mix.

The bottom line is whether they’re long summer days or short winter flights; light helicopters and their pilots are called upon to fly a variety of missions in a number of conditions. A system like the Genesys HeliSAS has proven to reduce pilot workload while increasing operational safety – and that’s just what it was created to do.

Until next time, fly safely,