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Advice for helicopter pilots in harsh winter conditions
Some words of wisdom from European Helicopter Center's Peter Blom, regarding helicopter operations in extreme winter conditions.

Operating any aircraft in harsh winter conditions demands extra care and procedures, but never more so that when flying helicopters. Peter Blom, accountable manager and head of training at European Helicopter Center in Norway knows all about this. Here are his broad recommendations for staying safe:

As most of us know, Norway is a demanding country for helicopter operations. There are many factors involved, especially during the winter season. Icing, white-out, snow landing, weather, flameout, fuel, starting in cold weather, parking outside, skids stuck to the ground, frozen ground and more.

It is very important to plan the flight in detail. What type of operations and where to fly/land in case of an emergency situation. What is the experience of the pilot?

What type of special training is conducted? Even if only a nav flight or training in remote areas for “white out” training, proper clothing must be worn. They say one minute flight time in the air, is one hour walking in the snow on the ground. If for some reason they have to land somewhere in an emergency and get to a cabin or higher ground to be able to communicate and get help.

White-out is a condition when a pilot loses orientation capability do to missing contrasts in his surroundings due to snow, fog and so on. It may occur on snow covered terrain on a cloudy day, or as a result of falling snow or snow surrounding the helicopter due to the helicopter downwash (a self-induced white-out). This may provoke dangerous flying conditions and total loss of the control of the helicopter.

It’s important to be aware of these phenomena and avoid weather conditions that may be dangerous.

To avoid white-out it’s important to:

1. Avoid flying at low altitude over snow covered surfaces without prober references.

2. Do not fly into heavy snow showers.

3. If it’s not possible to see the difference between ground and horizon, turn around or land.

Different technics may be used to reduce the risk of entering self-induced white-out conditions:

1. If possible, stop in high hover and try to blow the snow away. Be aware of different snow types, and that the snow may start to recirculate suddenly when the helicopter is close to the ground.

2. Do not attempt to land if there is no object you can use as a reference during landing.

3. Perform a fast approach with a slightly forward movement and avoid low hovering.

4. Turn the nose of the helicopter, so the reference is visible at all time and fly close to it.

5. Make use of landing lights.

6. At take-off, lift the helicopter slowly to light on skids. If white out conditions occur land immediately, if not a max performance take off shall be performed with a slightly forward movement and always keep a point as a reference. Avoid hovering. Note: During the low rec check that the take-off path is free from obstacles, in case white-out occurs during landing and an abort is necessary.

Flat light: This phenomenon is almost the same as white-out, but may occur over snowy terrain on a cloudy day, or a sunny day when entering shadow areas. Under these conditions, it will be difficult to see contrasts like height, sloping terrain and difference between horizon and terrain. When flying in these conditions, check the altimeter and instruments more often. And landings shall not be performed without prober references.

Before landing, make sure the tail is clear and ground suitable for landing.

Landing and pick-up on soft surface: Prior to landing on snow, the pilot should always have a reference. This could be a rock, a tree, skid marks etc. Always check that the area is more-or-less flat. This could be checked with a landing light

on skids, then lift up again and see that you can see both skids marks in the snow. At the same time check that the tail rotor is clear.

When landing, slowly lower the collective with a slightly forward cyclic to get the front of the helicopter lower than the back of the skids. During the landing, and slightly before collective full down, move the collective up and down to check the snow and the risk for breaking through. When lifting up the helicopter, lift the nose slightly first if the helicopter is parked with nose down.

Check both skids free from the snow before take-off.

Note: No helicopter should land in snow depth over 30 cm without bearpaws installed.

Start up and shut down on slippery surface: When starting up or shutting down the helicopter on slippery surface, it’s important to maintain focus on the instruments and keep both feet and hands on the flight controls.

If possible park the helicopter so it can turn 360 degrees without interference with obstacles. No persons on the ground should be within 10 metres of the helicopter during start up and shut down.

If possible, the landing spot should be strewn or salted. In any case at permanent landing sites.

Pre-ice and anti-ice: Be careful when removing ice and snow. Only use your hands, towels, brush and warm water if necessary. Take precautions if the helicopter is parked outside, and use covers, tie downs etc. The helicopter should be free from all ice and snow before take-off.

Icing: If encountering icing conditions, the symptoms may be:

1. Visible on the helicopters windshield, skids, mirror etc.

2. Vibrations.

3. Higher need for power or torque than normal.

Note: Operations in known icing conditions are prohibited.

Emergency procedures: The standard emergency procedures described in the emergency checklist for the helicopter type in use, is applicable. If whiteout conditions occur, the procedures depend on the flying situation.

Self-induced white-out during landing: Immediately abort the landing, and continue the take-off according to normal procedures.

Self-induced white-out during take-off: Immediately land the helicopter, if not possible immediately transfer your attention into the instruments and continue the take off until normal references are recovered.

White-out during flight: Immediately turn 180 degrees and try to recover references, and make use of your instruments to maintain control over the helicopter.