Pilot And Instructor Were Seriously Injured, But Survived
The NTSB has issued a factual report in an accident which occurred during a checkride in Maui, HI, December 16, 2009. A pilot for Sunshine Helicopters was demonstrating a simulated loss of engine power recovery for the FAA examiner when the aircraft impacted the ground on the island of Maui about 1.3 miles southeast of the Hana (uncontrolled) airport. The helicopter impacted hard on uneven, downsloping, terrain and was substantially damaged. The commercial certificated pilot-in-command and the FAA inspector check pilot, who held an airline transport pilot certificate, were seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan was filed. The instructional flight was performed under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, and it originated from the Kahului Airport about 1257.
According to Sunshine's director of operations (DO), at the time of the flight the accident pilot was current in the operation of the helicopter. Several hours prior to the accident flight, the pilot had flown an air taxi flight in N87EW, and no maintenance squawks were noted. The helicopter operated normally, and it was dispatched for the pilot's use later in the day for his FAA check ride.
The FAA coordinator reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that performance of a simulated loss of engine power during this type of check ride was an authorized routine procedure used in evaluating the competency of airmen.
The pilot and the FAA inspector were interviewed and provided written statements.
The FAA inspector said that after he and the pilot completed the oral portion of the examination they then discussed what would be done on the flight. The check ride was to be a combined 14 CFR 135.299 and 135.293 check rides and a site air tour route review. The selection to fly to Hana reflected the need to integrate the tour check with the 135.299 and 135.293 check rides. During the briefing it was observed that there were Kona winds, fairly light but different from the usual northeast trade winds. A briefing was then conducted talking about the specific maneuvers to be performed during the check ride: 1) confined area pinnacle approaches, 2) site specific operations, 3) simulated engine power loss with a autorotation forced landing to 100 feet above ground level (agl) with a power recovery before touchdown, and 4) settling with power. The maneuvers would be done either going to or coming from Hana.
The inspector said the helicopter flew fine throughout the entire flight.
The inspector noted that they were about 3,000 feet mean sea level (msl) about 1 mile south of the Hana airport when he said "simulated forced landing" to the pilot. He said there is no defined flight idle position to put in the Fuel Flow Control Lever (which is basically the throttle; hereinafter referred to as the FCL) in to ascertain the power setting. He brought the throttle out of the full open flight run position detent and just aft enough back toward flight idle to keep it from springing back into the gate. The purpose of moving it out of the gate was to be certain the engine is not supplying power during the maneuver. He said that he and the pilot had briefed this prior to the flight and that they were to recover with power before getting too low.
The pilot responded to the simulated loss of power by putting the collective down and he turned toward the Hana airport. The inspector questioned the pilot if he thought they were going to make it to the Hana airport. At that point he believed that the engine was no longer operating and he moved the FCL all the way forward back into the flight detent, but it appeared they were not going to get the engine back. The pilot did try to restart, but it was quickly evident that a restart was not an option due to the rapidly approaching ground. He said they were both looking for a suitable field, but there were not a lot to choose from. The only suitable area was the field the accident occurred in. He said the pilot did a good job trying to get to the field. The inspector said he remembers making a call to check the airspeed during the descent.
The pilot said it was a clear, VFR day with clouds at 2,500 to 3,000 feet. There were some scattered clouds in the area. The wind was light and variable in direction. The visibility was 5 to 10 miles. There is no weather reporting station at Hana.
He said the flight began and they cruised about 1,500 feet along the shore line and went into the Hana Manu to Kano Falls, where he did site specific training and standoffs, then a confined area landing. He initiated the takeoff and they headed toward the coast line. Then, not long after that, the FAA Inspector initiated the simulated engine failure.
The pilot said he became aware that the simulated forced landing had turned into a real forced landing when the helicopter yawed and then he saw the generator warning light illuminate. He said he and the FAA inspector talked briefly about making it to the Hana airport once they realized the engine had stopped running, but then he realized they did not have enough altitude. He entered a normal autorotation and chose a landing spot to his right. He looked at the throttle and initiated a relight by pushing the (FCL lever) throttle forward and the T4 temperature gauge went to 855 degrees. Since that was over limits, he backed the FCL off to 700 degrees and then due to their altitude, was more focused on getting to the landing spot. He aborted the restart because the helicopter was getting low, about 1000 feet agl. There were not a lot of spots to choose from. There was a lot of grass and trees in the area. Since trees can penetrate the helicopter structure, he picked the grass area that they ultimately
impacted. During the final part of the descent, about 150 feet agl, there was a low rotor rpm horn just before touchdown.
The pilot said he did not see the FAA inspector reach over to the throttle quadrant, nor did he see him retard the FCL to begin the simulation. The FAA inspector said something like, "simulated engine failure is beginning". He said he was not surprised when the simulation began, and that he was expecting a simulated engine failure maneuver to be performed during the check ride. During this check ride, this was the first simulated engine failure that the FAA inspector had given him. He said that prior to the maneuver the FAA inspector was trying not to distract him and was very straight forward and was very open for questions.
The pilot described movement of the FCL lever (throttle) in this particular helicopter as “you have to be gentle and slow with it as you retard the lever. If you pull it back to far or fast, it will shut off the fuel.”
The pilot, age 42, holds a commercial pilot certificate with a rotorcraft-helicopter and helicopter instrument ratings, the most recent issuance of which is dated June 8, 2004. In addition he held a flight instructor certificate with a rotorcraft helicopter rating that was issued on September 10, 2004. His most recent medical certificate, a second class, was issued on March 21, 2009, without limitations or waivers.
According to the operators records, the pilot had accrued a total flight time of 4,458 hours, all in rotorcraft, with 662 in the AS350BA(FX). His most recent 14 CFR 135.293 and 135.299 checks were accomplished on January 15, 2009, in an AS350B2. In the 15 days prior to the accident, the pilot had 9 days scheduled time off from work and had flown 20 hours in 6 duty days in air tour operations.
The left seat occupant, age 51, is a Federal Aviation Administration operations inspector in the Honolulu Flight Standards District Office, who is the assigned Principal Operations Inspector for the operator. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with an airplane multi engine land rating and type rating in the Shorts SD-3. His certificate is also endorsed for commercial pilot privileges in single engine land airplanes, rotorcraft helicopters, gliders, and instrument-helicopters. The most recent issuance of this certificate was dated April 15, 2009, with the addition of the Shorts SD-3 type rating. At that time, the inspector reported a total flight time of about 10,800 hours, with 6,345 accrued in rotorcraft helicopters. His most recent medical certificate, a second class, was issued on December 4, 2009.
In an interview, the inspector was asked about his total experience in the AS350 BA, FX conversion with the Honeywell engine. He stated that he has given one other flight check, and further noted that he is not really aware of the difference between it and a BA model. He said he became aware it was an FX conversion during the oral. He said he did readily know the differences between the FX and BA models and could not recall if he ever received training in this specific FX model.
When asked if he had ever performed a check flight in AS 350 FX conversion he replied that he had given other check rides in the FX model at one other operator. The inspector was asked to explain how a simulated forced landing was performed on those checks. He replied that he would first announce the simulated forced landing so the pilot can lower the collective and set up the helicopter for the autorotation, then he would bring the throttle out of the flight gate to ensure that the engine was not providing power to the rotor. The maneuver was terminated between 300 and 500 feet agl. During the procedure he looks at the rotor rpm, airspeed, EGT gages, plus monitoring the outside situation to ensure the pilot is going toward the selected landing area.
The inspector said he has seen the company training manual and had received refresher training in a Robinson R44 and a Bell 206. With regard to the training manual, he said that during a check ride if a pilot would question the maneuver during the before the flight briefing, the manner of the item’s performance would be changed.