This Robinson R-22 Accident Analysis has been retyped by Mahdad Koosh by request from the author. This document has been checked for errors and has been found to be free of any incorrect information. It has been double-checked with the original document, and all figures and statistics are correct.
This document has been retyped to display the feasibility and safety of such a helicopter, and to show that just cause this is one of the most popular helicopters, it should not be placed in the spotlight for picking at about accidents that can happen to *ANY* helicopter with a similar setup.
The author is very active in controlling this "problem" the FAA and NTSB have found. He has been doing everything he can to correct the name of the Robinson R-22 Helicopter.
I hope that everyone will benefit from this information, as it took many hours to retype and many hours for the author to research and document.
In this detailed analysis, it can be seen that most accidents are a result of pilot error (92% vs. 7%), and that the majority occur during flight training. The Robinson R-22 Helicopter as been the most popular training helicopter in the world since the early 1980's and, like the Cessna 152 and Piper 140, is exposed to training accidents.
The R-22 was introduced at a time when the helicopter industry reached a peak (1979), and hundreds of pilots were attracted to the industry. The relatively low-cost training and reduced insurance requirements allowed a new generation of non-military pilots to fulfill their dream of flying a helicopter. Prior to this time, the vast majority of helicopter pilots in the U.S., as well as most other countries, were ex-military.
The high cost of helicopter training and limited job opportunities kept most potential helicopter pilots away, and flight schools depend primarily on the G.I. Bill for students. High operating costs and poor mechanical reliability kept the personal/business flying to a minimum in the piston engine market, and the light single-engine turbines were just beginning to become popular by the late 1970's. The helicopter training industry was changed almost overnight as Bell 47's, Hughes 300's, and Enstrom F-28's were replaced with the sleek new Robinson R-22.
The world had never seen as much helicopter training outside of the military and this did not come without some problems. The first few years proved to be the most difficult as the new aircraft was "field tested" by flight instructors and pilots. A few mechanical problems occurred as the aircraft built up flight hours. Components were re-engineered and retested before being retro-fitted to aircraft in the field. One by one these problems were resolved.
Fortunately, the aircraft was introduced with the Lycoming O-320 engine, which is considered to be "bulletproof" by most pilots. The industry finally had a helicopter that would make it to TBO with very few problems. A "state-of-the-art" piston engine helicopter had achieved a record for reliability unmatched in the industry.
Even the NTSB has taken note of the R-22's extremely low accident rate due to mechanical problems. Will this American success story survive? Robinson Helicopter Co. recently announced that it has laid off 71 employees as a direct result of negative worldwide publicity. Further layoffs will probably occur in the near future unless the operators and pilots provide their input to the FAA and express their opinions on how best to prevent future accidents in the R-22.
Conversations with R-22 pilots from many countries reveal that many of them feel that the U.S. suffers from severe lack of flying discipline. There are fewer regulations in the U.S. than in most other countries.
The U.S. is still the world leader in the aviation industry, and more regulations will not solve the problem. The only solution is "self-regulation". Flight instructors must demonstrate through their own actions that safety is an attitude that must be applied to flying helicopters.
It is interesting to note that in some countries in- flight breakups have not been a problem. One United Kingdom flight instructor informed me that England has had only two similar accidents in 13 years, although over 250 Robinson R-22's operate there. Japan has not had a single fatal accident as a result of a rotor stall or mast bumping incident. Dozens of R-22 Helicopters are used for tuna-spotting in the Pacific without a single case of in-flight breakup, although these aircraft fly an average of 110 hours per month in often severe weather conditions. Australia, which uses the R-22 extensively for cattle mustering, has had few problems with this type of accident, but does not have the same intensive flight training activity found in the U.S.
A review of NTSB accident briefs clearly demonstrates that wire strikes are the primary cause of fatal accidents, followed by blade stall due to low RPM and continued flight into IMC. These are by far the most preventable fatal accidents and require intensive training in avoidance and prevention techniques as well as pilot judgement training.
An analysis of R-22 accidents by operator and geographical area indicates that a small percentage of operators have an unusually high percentage of accidents in a calendar year. Other operators with approximately the same amount of flight activity have very few accidents and will generally average one accident every 4 to 6 years.
The FAA, in its February 15, 1995 "Flight Standardization Report", has suggested several changes to the R-22 Helicopter. A few of these involve expensive modifications to the cyclic and collective controls. One of the suggestions involves an improved rotor speed governor system, although the present governor system proved to be very expensive to maintain and is not used by most pilots, especially in a flight training environment. Most experienced R-22 flight instructors agree that low RPM problems are a result of rapid overpitching of the collective, causing an RPM droop. This is similar to any powered helicopter RPM droop but, unlike a turbine, the throttle in the R-22 will respond immediately if the pilot is properly taught how to coordinate the throttle/collective without relying on the correlator or the governor.
Another suggested change is a redesign of the cyclic control system to allow increased accessibility to the controls by each pilot. A modified R-22 cyclic was developed several years ago. It has not found any acceptance with any R-22 operators. Apparently the operators do not feel that this system is a cost effective improvement over the T-Bar arrangement that RHC offers. I have personally flown with this new system and although it did have a heavier feel than the R-22 cyclic and is more representative of a conventional cyclic, I feel that there are several drawbacks to the design. The cyclic is heavier than the present system in an already weight sensitive aircraft. The design is extremely bulky and would be prone to control interference if an object was dropped between the lateral support tube and the pilot's seat during a critical flight condition.
Most operators are convinced that the problem is not in cyclic design and that a new design at this stage will create other unforseen problems. If a retro-fit were required, the change may cause problems for low time pilots due to negative habit transfer. A strong plus in favor of the RHC system is that it is easy for a flight instructor to gain unrestricted control of the aircraft in an emergency by simply pulling down his/her cyclic thereby lifting the other cyclic up and out of the hands of the student. A few simple training techniques that some R-22 flight instructors have been teaching for years will prevent most training mishaps.
Flight instructors in all helicopters are usually taught to divide their attention between the outside and inside of the cockpit when dealing with students. Most will develop their own scan technique but very rarely are told what to look for. Instructors should be advised to maintain constant vigilance of cyclic movements by directing their attention across the cockpit and not forward. Peripheral vision will allow the instructor an outside view of pitch/roll changes , but it also allows the instructor to monitor aircraft instruments and, most importantly, the students control movements. Instructors, for the most part, are taught to react to changes in physical sensations and pitch/roll changes (attitude changes) but are rarely taught that it is much more important to watch the students control movements.
Attitude changes will not occur instantly, as a result of rotor damping effect and aircraft inertia. The instructor can be taught to make corrections before a change occurs simply by watching the cyclic movements that the student is making. Even sudden, large control movements can be corrected immediately, before the aircraft can respond. The location of the cyclic on the R-22 actually makes this easier to observe as the instructor is not forced to direct his vision downward to observe these actions. This teaching technique also allows the student to recognize that he is in full control of the helicopter and that the instructor is not "hugging" the cyclic control. When a critical situation does develop, as when the cyclic is pushed forward and out of the instructor's reach, the instructor must be taught to grab the center post or hinge to gain authority.
YEAR TOTAL MECHANICAL PILOT UNDETER- FAILURE ERROR MINED PROBABLE CAUSE/NO. OF ACCIDENTS 1979 0 0 0 0 1980 6 2 4 0 A(2),B(1),C(1),D(2) 1981 20 4 16 0 A(4),B(4),C(8),D(3),G(1) 1982 22 1 21 0 A(1),B(7),C(4),D(2),E(1),F(2),G(3),J(2) 1983 19 3 15 1 A(3),B(6),C(2),D(1),E(1),F(1),G(1),J(2),K(1),L(1) 1984 14 0 14 0 B(4),C(1),D(1),E(1),G(1),I(2),J(1),Q(2),R(1) 1985 17 0 17 0 B(5),C(4),D(3),E(1),G(1),Q(2),R(1) 1986 20 1 18 1 B(2),C(2),D(3),E(2),G(3),H(1),J(2),L(1),M(1),Q(2),K(1) 1987 17 3 13 1 A(3),B(2),C(1),D(4),E(1),G(3),J(2),K(1)] 1988 15 0 15 0 B(6),E(3),I(1),J(4),Q(1) 1989 18 1 17 0 A(1),B(3),C(3),D(1),E(1),G(2),H(1),I(1),J(1),Q(4) 1990 35 2 33 0 A(2),B(9),C(6),D(6),E(1),F(1),H(1),I(1),L(1),M(1),Q(1),R(1),U(4) 1991 39 2 37 0 A(2),B(11),C(9),D(6),E(4),F(1),G(1),H(2),J(2),M(1) 1992 34 0 33 1 B(3),C(11),E(3),F(3),G(6),H(1),I(1),J(5),L(1) 1993 31 0 31 0 B(6),C(3),D(8),E(3),F(1),G(6),U(1),N(1),O(1),P(1) 1994 27 5 22 0 A(5),B(9),C(3),D(2),E(3),G(1),H(1),J(1),Q(2) Totals 334 24* 306** 4
* Percentage of accidents caused by mechanical/engine failure (7%).
** Percentage of accidents caused by pilot error (92%).
1. The number of Robinson R-22 helicopters has grown steadily from approximately 35 in 1980 to 745 in 1994 in the U.S.
2. All information was obtained from the NTSB. A few non-injury accidents go unreported (i.e. ground damage due to severe weather, etc.) Most of these are usually not insured by the owner/operator.
3. Most of these accidents are caused by several related factors and probable causes may tend to be misleading (i.e. a roll-over may be caused by loss of tail rotor effectiveness, excessive slope or unsuitable terrain, etc.).
4. Mechanical failures are often caused by improper maintenance procedures or exceeding limitations (overspeeds, etc.). Approximately one-half of these appear to be attributed to this. In many cases, the pilot misinterpreted or reacted improperly to a minor problem in flight.
5. Most of the survivable accidents were attributed to pilots getting behind the power curve as a result of high density altitude conditions, downwind approaches, etc. whenever low RPM is a factor.
6. Approximately 30% of accidents due to autorotative landings appear to be caused by carb. ice. In many cases the pilot reported an engine failure during power recovery on a practice autorotation or reported a rough engine followed by failure when power was reduced for a landing. The NTSB notes that carb. ice conditions were favorable in many of these and a post-accident engine run up found no mechanical problems.
PROBABLE CAUSES NUMBER OF ACCIDENTS A. MECHANICAL/ENGINE FAILURE......................24 B. ROLLOVER.......................................78 C. HARD LANDING (AUTOROTATION)....................58 D. HARD LANDING (OTHER)...........................42 E. WIRE STRIKE....................................25 F. LOW 'G' MAST BUMPING............................9 G. LOW RPM (FAILURE TO MAINTAIN RPM)..............29 H. CARB. ICE.......................................7 I. FUEL EXHAUSTION.................................6 J. WEATHER........................................27 K. UNSUITABLE TERRAIN (LANDING)....................2 L. UNDETERMINED....................................4 M. CONTROL INTERFERENCE............................3 N. MID-AIR COLLISION...............................1 O. OBJECT STRIKING AIRCRAFT........................1 P. COLLISION WITH AIRBORNE OBJECT..................1 Q. COLLISION WITH GROUND OBJECT...................14 R. PERSON ON GROUND WALKING INTO TAIL ROTOR........3 Total..........................................334
The following accident prevention analysis will take a detailed look at how a typical safety awareness program can prevent most of these accidents:
A. MECHANICAL/ENGINE FAILURE - Of the 24 accidents in the category, approximately one-third appear to have been caused by a manufacturer defect or quality control problem related to the aircraft. In comparing these accidents with related service bulletins published by RHC, it was found that in every case, the manufacturer corrected the problem with a redesign and a retrofit. Problems with "bogus" parts have all but been eliminated with the R-22 as a result of stringent controls by RHC. The remaining accidents have occurred as a result of engine failure, unauthorized repairs, improper maintenance procedures and over stress of a component due to overspeed, etc. Over one-half of all reported engine failures appear to have resulted from carb. ice or pilot misinterpretation. Most cases of engine failure could not be resolved as the engine ran normally upon investigation by the FAA/NTSB. In at least one case, it appears that a newly rated pilot may have entered an autorotation as a result of illumination of the clutch light in flight (the pilot reported a low RPM light but no low RPM warning horn). Similar situations have occurred. Both the low RPM light and horn come on simultaneously in the R-22. It is recommended that RHC initiate a service difficulty reporting program in order to make operators aware of even minor problems. Compliance with RHC service bulletins, 50-100 hours inspections and factory overhauls will eliminate most, if not all maintenance problems on the R-22.
B. ROLL-OVER - the highest number of accidents (78) have occurred as a result of some type of roll-over accident. Most of these can be attributed to overconfidence on the part of the pilot or Flight Instructor (or simply inexperience). The R-22 is very responsive to cyclic inputs and requires extreme vigilance on the part of the Flight Instructor. Very few of these accidents result in a fatality (only 2 or 3 in the R-22) but the aircraft is usually destroyed or receives substantial damage to most components. Newly rated Flight Instructors should receive intensive training in avoiding dynamic roll-over. Many Instructors have developed certain techniques to avoid this common accident.
Using a slightly higher altitude than normal when teaching students to hover, scanning across the cockpit rather than diverting attention forward and avoiding conditions that are conductive to a roll-over (windy, uneven terrain, etc.) will reduce these accidents. These accidents occur quite often when an Instructor becomes confident in the students' performance and lets his guard down. Students must receive a complete briefing before solo flight and must not be allowed to solo in winds in excess of 10 knots until they have become familiar with solo flight characteristics in the R-22. Restricting students to a smooth, hard surface on their first few pick-ups to a hover (dual and solo) will eliminate most typical roll-over accidents at the solo stage.
C. HARD LANDING (AUTOROTATION) - generally this type of accident occurs frequently when the Flight Instructor doesn't recognize a critical situation before taking control or allows a student to go too far before taking the controls. Quite often, the Instructor will justify this by allowing a student to correct his own mistakes. Although this method is a required teaching tool, the Instructor must recognize when he is on the "edge" and must not allow his own over-confidence to interfere with good instructional techniques. Just as in fixed- wing training, many pilots prefer not to train in adverse weather conditions and later end up having to teach students in weather conditions that they are ill- equipped to handle themselves. This problem is then passed along to new generations of Flight Instructors and the situation perpetuates. Autorotations with up to 90-degrees of crosswind must be mastered if the Instructor is expected to be an effective teacher. Touchdown Autorotations should be demonstrated and practiced with a highly skilled R-22 Instructor in all wind conditions (even though most schools limit autorotations to power recovery in the Private/Commercial curriculum). CFI training should be conducted with an experienced R-22 Flight Instructor with at least 1,000 hours as a Flight Instructor in the R-22. This will dramatically reduce the number of these accidents in the future. Private owners, rental pilots and solo students should not be allowed to practice autorotations without an experienced Instructor but should be required to practice them with an Instructor on a semi-annual basis to include simulated engine failure. Last, Instructors must be made aware of conditions that are conductive to carb. ice or engine stall during practice autorotations.
D. HARD LANDING (OTHER) - of the 42 accidents in this category, most appear to have been caused when the pilot misjudged speed and altitude (rate of closure) on an approach or got behind the power curve. In many cases, the pilot was making an off-airport landing and misjudged wind speed/direction or density altitude. The most serious accidents have occurred as a result of operating outside of aircraft performance limits. Intensive training in engine performance/limitations, area reconnaissance, and adherence to performance data is necessary to reduce this type of accident.
E. WIRE STRIKE - contrary to popular belief, most wire strikes occur in clear weather conditions. This type of wire encounter is most likely to be fatal since the aircraft is usually operating at a high rate of speed at the moment of impact. A few mast bumping accidents have also occurred as a result of the pilot taking an evasive action to avoid a wire. Restricting pilots to a minimum of 500 ft AGL and requiring minimum ceiling/visibility for day/night VFR operations will eliminate most of these accidents. Intensive ground training on wire strike avoidance is required to avoid this common fatal accident. Flight schools should require that Instructors practice confined area/pinnacle operations at only designated areas that have been inspected for wires, etc. Only experienced pilots should be used for low level operations such as powerline/pipeline patrols and low-level photography or surveys.
F. LOW "G" MAST BUMPING - some of the accidents in this category will probably never be resolved since there were no eyewitnesses on the ground. It is believed that most were caused by an evasive maneuver, over- control in turbulence, flight into IMC, etc. There are a number of incidents that have occurred as a result of pilots intentionally unloading the rotor system and allowing a snap-roll to occur. Inspection upon landing revealed severe overload as a result of violent blade flapping. Intensive training in a simulator and restrictions in severe weather conditions will reduce this type of accident. In at least two of these accidents, eyewitnesses reported seeing an airplane within close proximity of the helicopter moments after an in-flight break up. Pilots must be taught to avoid a severe maneuver when suddenly surprised by other aircraft or birds while in cruise flight.
G. LOW RPM/FAILURE TO MAINTAIN RPM - this has always been one of the most common types of helicopter accidents and is quite often listed by the NTSB as a contributing cause of a helicopter accident. It typically occurs to an inexperienced pilot as a result of poor training or judgement and happens to high time pilots as a result of overconfidence in ones ability. Most often it occurs as a result of getting behind the power curve, overpitching the collective, twisting the throttle in the wrong direction, or exceeding the performance limits of the aircraft (i.e. operating at high gross weight, attempted takeoff with limited power, etc.). R-22 pilots must be made aware of the limits to the aircrafts correlator system, with and without the use of the governor. Generally, the correlator's effective range is limited to approximately 13" mp - 23" mp. Below 13" mp, the RPM will tend to slowly decay and the aircraft will be in a semi- autorotative state, Above 23" mp, RPM will also droop and requires a rapid increase in throttle to maintain 104% RPM. If the pilot overpitches the collective without adding throttle immediately, a rapid decay will occur that can not be corrected without sufficient airspeed or altitude. Usually the helicopter will settle rapidly to the ground before the pilot can regain control of the RPM. This will occur when landing with a tail wind, allowing rate of descent to build on approach (especially below 100' AGL), landing at a high density altitude site, operating at high gross weights, etc. It can generally be avoided by checking IGE and OGE performance charts prior to takeoff, knowing how much power will be available to the pilot ar a particular pressure altitude, using a high-speed shallow approach at higher density altitude airports and aborting a takeoff if the aircraft will not hover momentarily (at least a few inches above the surface). Student pilots must be taught procedures for safe operation when operating at other than standard atmospheric conditions.
H. CARB. ICE - although there is a small percentage of accidents directly attributed to carb. ice, there are many cases of R-22 pilots reporting rough running engines, power loss during practice autorotations, etc. in which the NTSB found no evidence of engine malfunction upon run-up. In many of these cases, carb. ice conditions were favorable (visible moisture, high humidity, small temp./dewpoint spread). Many R-22 pilots apparently confuse the difference between RPM and power setting (especially a fixed-wing pilot without experience with constant- speed propellers). The R-22 is normally operated in cruise flight at approximately 70%-80% of rated horsepower and as such is subject to carb. ice problems in moist air, especially when power is further reduced for a descent. Pilot should be taught to be vigilant when flying in overcast, humid conditions or when flying through rain showers, etc. regardless of indications on the CAT gauge. The application of some carb. heat in these conditions will have no harmful effect on the engine and will prevent carb. ice from developing in cruise flight. Some flight schools teach pilots to keep the CAT-gauge at 10-15 degrees at all times when operating in conditions conductive to carb. ice regardless of OAT. The use of full carb. heat will reduce available manifold pressure by approximately 1-1 1/2 inches. Pilots should remove the carb. heat when below 75 ft AGL on an approach in order to have full power available.
I. FUEL EXHAUSTION - there have been very few reports of accidents caused by fuel exhaustion in the R-22 although we've all heard stories of fuel mysteriously appearing in the tank after a reported engine failure (usually a few gallons are added before the FAA/NTSB arrives at the scene). Students should be warned that the press-to-test switch on the fuel system only tells him that the light is working but does not verify that the float is operating correctly. This should be checked during inspections. There have been several accidents caused by pilots leaning the mixture in flight or inadvertently pulling up on the mixture control by mistake. This has all but been eliminated by the installation of a simple mixture guard but pilots still insist on leaning in flight. There is no adjustment for leaning the mixture in the R-22 and it is not recommended. A few accidents have resulted from passengers (photographers, etc.) accidentally hitting the fuel valve in flight. Pilots must brief photographers prior to flight, especially in a doors- off situation concerning hazards of this type. A warning label near the mixture control should advise pilots not to lean the mixture in flight.
J. WEATHER/HIGH DENSITY ALTITUDE - a helicopter is allowed to operate in class G airspace without ceiling or visibility restrictions provided the pilot operates at an airspeed/altitude that will allow sufficient time to avoid a collision. Air-taxi pilots are required to maintain 300 ft AGL except for take-off and landing and maintain at least 1 mile visibility at night. This has always caused pilots to push on in poor weather conditions causing a high number of accidents, especially in hilly or unfamiliar terrain. Most pilots will generally agree that visibility is more critical than ceiling but this logic will put the pilot down in the wire environment. Even experienced helicopter pilots sometimes fall prey to this trap. Instrument rated pilots in IFR aircraft have been killed while scud-running. Low-time pilots trying to please the boss, private owners meeting scheduled appointments, all pilots trying to make it home for the night... we are all prone to this type of accident. Pilots must give themselves alternatives when the flight does not go as planned, management must allow the pilot to make the right decision, and pilots must establish personal weather minimums based on their own experience and familiarity of the area that they are flying. Students should be given training in Aeronautical Decision Making and receive ground instruction in common local weather procedures. This cannot be learned from reading the Aviation Weather Handbook. The Instructor must be knowledgeable in local weather trends during all seasons and relate this information to students flying in the same area. Most of this knowledge can be passed at local seminars sponsored by the FAA or the flight school.
Some R-22 accidents have occurred as a result of flight in the proximity of convective activity such as thunderstorms, squall-lines, etc. The Airman Information Manual and Aviation Weather Handbook both give guidance to pilots operating around thunderstorms. Pilots must be cautioned that the R-22 is considered to be a very light aircraft and is subject to control problems in severe weather conditions. Common sense must be applied when turbulence is encountered.
High density altitude has been categorized with weather related accidents as it can occur at even low pressure altitudes. A pressure altitude of 2, 000 ft can easily reach 5,000-6,000 ft density altitude with a high OAT and high humidity. Pilot operating at sea level can easily become complacent when operating at higher altitudes in hot weather. Many R- 22 accidents have occurred during ferry flights from RHC in Southern California to destinations in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Most of these pilots learned to fly in sea level conditions. Robinson Helicopter Company placed strict pilot requirements on ferry flights during summer months but these are difficult or impossible to control once the pilot leaves the factory. Pilot training in aircraft performance at high D.A. and adherence to these limitations by pilots would appear to be a better alternative. Most serious accidents concerning ferry flights across the Continental Divide have been a result of high gross weight and high temperature. Operators must screen pilots before sending them on a flight into high density altitude conditions and insure that they are briefed by another pilot that has made the trip.
K. UNSUITABLE TERRAIN (LANDING) - landings in unfavorable conditions/sites is generally a contributing factor in this type of accident. Quite often the pilot will lose control and settle to the ground when attempting to abort a landing approach once he determines that it would be unwise to continue. Other times the pilot will land on a severe slope, deep snow, tall grass or soft terrain and the aircraft will roll-over on landing or the subsequent pick-up. Ground instruction on the types of possible terrain that are unsuitable fro skid-type landing gear must be given to students and Flight Instructors. Instructors must use self-control when teaching new students. Demonstrating landings in extremely hazardous areas has little training value when teaching pilot judgement.
L. UNDETERMINED - only 4 accidents have been undetermined during this period in the R-22.
M. CONTROL INTERFERENCE - several accidents have occurred in this category as a result of loss of control due to interference with the flight controls. Most of these accidents can be avoided if the pilot has properly briefed his passengers before starting the engine and has conducted a good pre-flight inspection. At least one fatal accident occurred when a high time R- 22 pilot transported a large object in the cockpit. Loss of control resulted when the object apparently shifted in the approach to land. Several accidents have occurred when the tail rotor pedals were not locked into position on the passenger side. The pilot lost control when the pedals jammed and the rotor pitch control was lost.
N. MID-AIR COLLISION - only one mid-air collision has occurred in the R-22. During an instrument practical test the aircraft collided with a light airplane while executing a missed approach during a practice ILS. Both pilots were probably preoccupied with the missed approach (the student was probably wearing a hood) even though the pilot acknowledged a tower report advising of the other aircraft. Several fatal accidents have occurred possibly as a result of a near-miss and loss of control (as reported by ground witnesses). The R-22 is very small and difficult to see by other pilots. Fortunately, the R-22 pilot has excellent visibility to compensate for this. When operating at an uncontrolled airport, make your intentions known at all times to keep other aircraft advised of your position. Always assume that other traffic in the pattern does not have you in sight, especially when there are several R-22's in the pattern.
O. OBJECT STRIKING AIRCRAFT - several accidents have occurred when objects have been blown out of the cockpit. Maps, clipboards, kneeboards, etc. are most likely to be ejected from the left door in warm weather. Incidents of fuel caps striking the tail rotor have caused accidents and most often happen to the same pilots quite frequently. Ground handling wheels have been left on during flight and fallen from the aircraft. This type of accident often occurs when the pilot is careless or is interrupted during a pre-flight inspection. Flying with the left door removed on a cross-country flight can be extremely hazardous. A thorough pre-flight and good cockpit management practices will avoid these mishaps.
P. COLLISION WITH AIRBORNE OBJECT - although it is not always possible to avoid a birdstrike, balloon/kite strike, etc., training techniques in-flight and in a simulator can teach the pilot how to react when a collision is imminent to avoid a catastrophic accident. The U .S. Navy has demonstrated that simply turning on a landing light when a high concentration of birds is encountered will greatly reduce the chances of a bird strike. Many other techniques can be employed and must be taught to new pilots.
Q. COLLISION WITH GROUND OBJECT - a few accidents have occurred in the R-22 as a result of operating within close proximity of objects on the ground or near other helicopters with turning rotor blades. Most of these accidents occur when a pilot is rushed to refuel or is fatigued after numerous hours in the cockpit. It may also occur when hot refueling or when fueling by a truck. Other accidents may occur when hovering too close to the ground and striking a runway light, ground cable, bush, etc. Former military pilots are trained to keep a low hover to minimize power requirements and allow for a safe hovering autorotation in the even of an engine failure. After years of flying helicopters, I have found that the odds of striking an object on the ground are much greater than a hard landing due to engine failure. An altitude of at least 4' -5' will avoid most object on the ground.
R. PERSON ON GROUND WALKING INTO TAIL ROTOR - there have been three accidents as a result of this in the R- 22. In at least two of these cases, a ground handler was not used and a passenger was allowed to exit the aircraft with the rotor turning. In some cases, even a pilot briefing is not satisfactory, as people tend to walk where they are headed and not where the pilot directs them. The use of a ground handler is recommended whenever passengers are discharged from the aircraft. The ground handler should position himself between the rear of the helicopter and the passenger and direct them away from the aircraft. Passengers should not be allowed to approach the helicopter unless eye contact is made with the pilot before walking beneath the rotor blades. This will alert the pilot to control movements.
The Robinson R-22 makes up approximately 7.7% of the total U.S. civil helicopter fleet (year end 1993). There are approximately 745 Robinson R -22 Helicopters operating in the U.S. compared to 8,949 other types of general aviation helicopters.
Of the 745 Robinson R-22's in the U.S. fleet, 34 were involved in accidents for the calendar year 1992, or approximately 4.5% of the U.S. fleet. Of these 8,949 other helicopters, 165 were involved in accidents during this same period, or 1.8% of the U.S. fleet. This includes helicopters used for such diverse operations as crop dusting, corporate, off-shore, personal and business, EMS, etc. Considering the role the R-22 has in the worldwide training and personal use markets, the R-22 would be expected to have a proportionately higher number of accidents each year. Enstrom had similar problems back in the 1970's when F. Lee Bailey spiffed up the F28A and targeted the businessman market. The accident rate soared as dealers sold executives the idea of the modern "flying carpet". Unfortunately, despite claims made as early as 1950, the world is still not ready for a helicopter in everyone's garage. Even the MD-500, one of the easiest light helicopters to fly, can be a handful to an inexperienced pilot, a phenomenon that is not unlike the V-Tail Beech or the Cessna Citation.
Based on accident rates per 100,000 flight hours, the R- 22 falls in line with the industry averages and actually falls below rates for other piston helicopters in its class. Considering the fact that 80% of all R-22 Helicopters are used for some type of flight training (which generally involves numerous takeoffs/landings), the accident rate becomes even more favorable. According to FAA/NTSB data, the accident rate per 100,000 departures for the U.S. helicopter fleet in 1992 was 2.32 accidents/100,000 departures. Since many helicopter departures are made from non-prepared sites, this statistic more accurately defines helicopter safety records, and falls well below general aviation rates. The average flight instructor in the Robinson R- 22 will perform 16 takeoffs/landings (including many practice autorotations) during an hour flight lesson. Other types of usage in the R-22 average approximately 3 takeoffs/landings per flight hour. This would equate to an accident rate of approximately .46 accidents per 100,000 departures in the Robinson R-22, or approximately one-fifth of the industry average. Using this information as a basis, which more clearly defines the higher exposure for helicopters in the takeoff/landing phases, the Robinson R-22 would appear to have a truly remarkable low accident rate. To take this analysis a little further. let's look at the total transportation accident records in the U.S. as published annually by the NTSB:
COMPARISON OF U.S. TRANSPORTATION FATALITIES FOR 1992 FATALITIES FATALITIES PASSENGER CARS - 21,366 PEDACYCLES - 722 TRAINS - 755 AIRPLANES (G.A.) - 775 BUSES - 28 HELICOPTERS - 85 MOTORCYCLES - 2,394 (ROBINSON R-22) - 14
A detailed analysis would be necessary in order to assess risk/benefit in any form of transportation. How often has it been said in the helicopter industry (since Igor Sikorsky first said it) that a helicopter is potentially one of the safest forms of transportation. This statement may very well prove to be true someday.
NOTES: All percentages used to determine flight usage have been obtained from FAA data dated September 12, 1994. All other statistics have been obtained from FAA/NTSB/HAI sources. Estimates of annual flight hours flown in the R-22 are based on a survey of R-22 flight schools, operators and private owners and may have an error rate of +/- 6%.
This Robinson R-22 Accident analysis has been compiled in the interest of helicopter safety and can be adapted to any type of helicopter safety program involving the R-22 helicopter. Flight schools and Instructors are urged to review this and other R-22 accident data with students to make them aware of some common mistakes made by R-22 pilots in the U.S. All helicopter pilots are aware of the inherent risks involved in aviation, especially the unique risk to helicopter operations. Any type of flying activity involves certain risk, whether it be in an ultra- light airplane or a commercial airliner, and as pilots we have accepted the risk realizing full well the consequences when something goes wrong.
Despite repeated criticism from the NTSB, the Robinson R-22 helicopter has proven itself to be one of the safest helicopters ever manufactured. It was certified under Part 27, the first helicopter to do so under stringent FAA guidelines. Its' primary markets, training and personal use, have placed it in a high risk category and not unlike the Cessna 152, it is exposed to training accidents. It is very likely that had the R-22 found a market requiring only high-time pilots flying for small companies, it might easily have achieved the lowest accident rate in General Aviation history.
The FAA withheld critical information concerning the actual accident record of the R-22 and released it only through the Freedom of Information Act. This in-depth 19 page report clearly demonstrates that the accident record of the R-22 is in line with the rest of the industry and is much lower than some helicopters in its' class. This, despite the fact that the aircraft is utilized in one of the highest risk types of operation.
This aircraft and the thousands of pilots that fly it throughout the world has achieved a remarkable record in helicopter safety. It has given many the opportunity to own a new helicopter instead of a Korean-war vintage model. It has trained many of the pilots that will be the industry leaders twenty years from now. It has opened an export market that would make even Detroit envious and has brought pilots all over the world into the U.S. to learn to fly helicopters... and the NTSB wants to ground it. The FAA, under intense pressure from the NTSB, has conducted extensive tests, placed operating limitations in the POH and has initiated a pilot awareness program which most operators have been conducting for years.
Fortunately, a few "friends of aviation" in the FAA have taken a realistic approach and have resisted pressure from the NTSB to ground the aircraft. Many of us, however, are holding our breath, knowing full well that this intensive awareness training may very well lead to the next fatal accident. And the industry waits... the manufacturer waits... the Flight Instructors wait... the FAA waits... and the NTSB waits for the inevitable to happen. It may not occur in the next few months, or it may occur in another country first, but it will happen. An R-22 will crash as a result of low rotor RPM or mast bumping. This accident may very likely occur in a helicopter other than the R- 22 but that would probably not receive the same level of attention as an R-22 or R-44 accident.
Many pilots who have been flying the R-22 since it was certified are aware of some of the mare controversial accidents in the past 15 years. The Swedish government grounded the R-22 in Sweden may years ago when a high- time pilot was killed on one of his first instructional flights in the R-22. The Instructor had recently attended the RHC Safety Course but had not received a favorable review by the pilot that flew with him. Most of his experience had been in heavy turbines and he had difficulty flying the R-22. An accident in Switzerland occurred to a low-time R-22 pilot on a demo-flight. Winds in the area were forecast to be in excess of 100 kil/hr. (60 mph) although the accident report used winds reported at the departure airport. A BO-105 had performed a precautionary landing during the same time period due to an encounter with extreme turbulence. Many of us in the Industry are aware of these accidents but it is rare that the actual circumstances are revealed.
The very first R-44 accident, despite NTSB, FAA and RHC findings, will probably never be completely resolved. NTSB data tends to indicate the probability that the accident was caused by pilot error. Robinson Helicopter Co. took no chances even though tests were contradictory among agencies. The suspect part was redesigned and retro-fitted to all field aircraft even before the FAA took any action. The manufacturer acted responsibly, as it always has in the past, to avoid future accidents. This is one of the reasons why I allowed my own son to become an R-22 Instructor. I am comfortable knowing that with good training and supervision, he is probably safer in the aircraft than in the car. Today he is a Flight Instructor in the R-22 and has logged over 1,000 accident free hours. I often think of how I would react if he was ever involved in a serious helicopter accident... but I have accepted this risk and so has he.
This analysis was prepared by an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) with over 12,000 accident free hours in helicopters and airplanes and over 7,000 hours as a flight instructor in the R-22. In 15 years of flying the R-22, the writer has not had a single emergency in the R-22 and has made only 3 precautionary landings due to minor problems. He has ferried three Robinson R-22's from Torrance, CA, to the East Coast without incident in temperatures ranging from below freezing to ever 115 degrees F. In contrast, he has made over 25 unscheduled stops in other types of single-engine piston and turbine helicopters. He is convinced that the Robinson R-22 is one of the safest helicopters in the world.
Note: Pilots/Flight schools wishing to obtain NTSB accident briefs may call (202)382-6538. State the type of aircraft and years desired.
Note from Mahdad Koosh:
This report and it's research has been created by Northeast Helicopters in Ellington, Connecticut. Northeast Helicopters has created an organization for the protection of the Robinson Helicopter Company known as the R22 & R44 Pilot & Owners Association.
For further information about this organization for the better protection of the Robinson Helicopter Company and its helicopters, please contact: