Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
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The 5 Foot Hover

Helicopter Navigation:  Why Learn Helicopters | Costs | Private Pilot Helicopter | Commercial Pilot Helicopter | Glossary | Helicopter Lesson Guides Helicopter Ground School | SFAR73 | Accelerated IFR Rating 
by: Darren Smith, CFIISchweizer 300

I recently had an opportunity to fly with a Canadian Commercial Helicopter Pilot, a 150 hour pilot who had just completed training.  Among the things I learned about the differences between FAA & Canadian rules, I saw first hand some of the things that flight instructors propagate in their students.  One of the things I noticed was doing airwork such as pedal turns at a 2-foot hover. 

I couldn't hide my nervousness at this scenario and I asked for a 5-foot hover for such maneuvers.  The Canadian pilot found it very difficult to do pedal turns at a 5-foot hover and preferred a much lower hover.  In fact it was quite hard for her to accept this requirement.

I explained that that if something were to happen, such as hooking a skid, it would quickly become an unrecoverable dynamic rollover.  After all there are absolutely no accident stats indicating that hovering autorotations from a 5 foot hover were dangerous.  How many accident reports can we find for dynamic rollover?  Still unconvinced, I tried another approach.   Statistics from Robinson Helicopter Safety Course indicate 28% of all accidents are from hovering too low yet not a single accident from hovering too high (i.e. Engine failure).   In fact, at Robinson, they report 67 incidents of rolling a helicopter over by hooking a skid but not a single accident from engine failure.

As I explained to her with the help of another instructor, all flying is a gamble.  Everytime we hit the starter, its another roll of the dice.  Flying is the ultimate Las Vegas where we can force the odds into our favor by following rules, procedures, checklists and practicing safe habits, emergency procedures, and making good aeronautical decisions.  As you learned in Making Safe Choices, the habits we build today, serve us when the pressure is on and the risks are higher.   The 5-foot hover is another method of pushing the odds our way.

If you're an instructor, you'll understand how the 5-foot hover gives you an opportunity to react to the interesting things students can do.  If you're keeping yourself current, congratulations.  Now here's a challenge to expand your skills... take yourself out of the comfort zone... try all the things you know at a slightly higher hover.  The reward is the knowledge that you've increased your safety margin and likely prevented a future accident.

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