This has been a sad month for the helicopter community. A grand canyon tour EC130 crashed and burned on February 10. The NTSB has issued a report (Las Vegas TV station article with background and full text) suggesting that there was a loss of yaw control as the aircraft slowed down for landing. The NTSB says that there were two left turns before the helicopter crashed. The crash might have been survivable for everyone if the helicopter had the latest “bladder tanks” that won’t burst after an impact (the Robinson R44 got these in 2011 and, to Robinson’s credit, they were sold to owners at zero markup for several years; we retrofitted the East Coast Aero Club R44s shortly after the kits became available).
A standard U.S. helicopter, viewed from above, has blades that spin left. The helicopter will thus want to spin right due to Newton’s Third Law. The pilot uses tail rotor thrust to prevent this spinning (press on left pedal when power is being applied). This is straightforward when the wind is calm, but if a left crosswind is blowing disturbed air back into the tail rotor, it can be challenging to keep the nose pointed stably.
The French-made EC130, however, has blades that spin clockwise (viewed from above). Therefore the natural spinning direction is to the left. To reduce noise and also to enhance safety for anyone standard near the helicopter, the EC130 uses a shrouded fan (fenestron) rather than a conventional tail rotor. These have developed a reputation, perhaps unjustified, for being less effective at yaw control (see Airbus/Eurocopter’s letter on this issue from 2005).
The NTSB-reported wind of 360@12G19 does not sound too scary, but the landing zone is surrounded by terrain that can cause the wind to become chaotic.
The pilot of the accident helicopter, Scott Booth, remains hospitalized with severe burns. A friend and former ECAC instructor is a pilot at the same company. He told me about this GoFundMe page, in case any readers are interested.