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Training Tip: Pilot tricks and treats

When a helicopter pilot giving rides to co-workers at a company Halloween party in California experienced a hard landing, it was because (pick one answer):

  • The tail rotor driveshaft failed in flight.
  • The helo ran out of gas.
  • A mylar balloon on the ground broke free and drifted upward, impacting the tail rotor.

Spooky as it seems, the culprit in the 1993 accident was the mylar balloon, which came into contact with the Robinson R22A’s tail rotor blades, separating them from the aircraft.

Eerie events emerging from aircraft flying over gatherings of people should remind pilots that overflights, while not entirely forbidden, must be undertaken with care in accordance with regulations about which you may be quizzed during your practical test. Another factor that contributed to the intended aerial treat turning into a trick was darkness, which “limited the pilot’s ability to see and avoid the balloon,” the NTSB accident report said.

Among the holiday excesses that can dull the judgment of a pilot with a crowded seasonal social calendar is too much candy, which isn’t good for you. But the urge to share the bounty won’t justify spreading sweetness the way a Cessna 152 pilot chose to do, overflying a family gathering at a Kansas farm thinking it would be a scream to drop treats to the folks below. After several low passes and finally making the drop from 500 feet, the Cessna’s engine gave up the ghost to carb ice, leading to a landing in a pasture, according to a scary Aviation Safety Reporting System filing that did not specify the date or (witching) hour of the incident.

You can opine to your designated pilot examiner whether or not you feel that flight was a flagrant flouting of the regulation that mandates that “no pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.”

A better model for the season from a public-safety perspective comes from the folks at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California, who announced putting the squash on their traditional Helicopter Pumpkin Drop this Halloween. However, they did keep a socially distanced Haunted Hangar on the schedule for October 31 and November 1, along with a chance for brave young spirits to scare up some surprises on scavenger hunts.

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