Are Night Flights Allowed for Helicopters?

, , Leave a comment

Imagine you’re stuck on the slopes of Mount
Everest. There’s no one to help you for frozen miles
around, and you can’t move for some reason. Although you’ve sent a distress signal,
the night has already fallen, and you’ve lost all hope. But then, out of the cold darkness, a beam
of light blinds you. It’s a rescue helicopter, coming for you
at last. Despite a weirdly popular opinion, this situation
is possible. Tricky, granted, but rescue helicopters do
fly at night. And not only rescue ones: police and fire
choppers do too. The myth about night flight operations might
have appeared because of one fact: helicopters are really difficult to fly. And that’s a real problem that can preclude
a chopper from flying at night. But it depends on many more factors than just
poor visibility. First, helicopters have a rather low altitude
limit. Unlike jet airliners, which fly at heights
of about 36,000 ft, choppers rarely climb higher than 15,000 ft. The altitude record for a helicopter stands
at 40,820 ft, of course, but that’s the absolute maximum — you can’t go any higher
on that bird. This has to do with the difference in how
they fly. With airplanes, you have two fixed wings (technically
even one, but that’s another story) and powerful jet engines that propel the aircraft
forward. The wings and engines combined give the airplane
the amount of lift necessary to fly at high altitudes. When it comes to helicopters, though, the
picture is rather different. They have one or two rotors with long blades
that lift the craft into the air. Now think of it in terms of altitudes and
you’ll see where I’m going. Thanks to jet engines and fixed wings, airplanes
move fast and can support themselves at great heights without loss of control. No wings for helicopters means that all they
could do is rotate those blades faster to keep the height. But there’s only so much speed they can
muster, so choppers start to behave badly when the air gets thinner. Yet this isn’t all there is to it. Helicopters are not designed for high-velocity
flights. But although they’re slower, they’re much
more mobile and can take on missions that are literally impossible for airplanes. For one, choppers don’t require a runway. All they need to take off or land is a clear
space of a diameter that allows their blades to turn safely. This makes them indispensable in rescue operations,
like in my very first example. Secondly, they can hover in the air thanks
to their construction. This also helps in different kinds of situations:
rescuing people, extinguishing fires, deploying troops, or whatnot. And thirdly, helicopters are generally smaller
than airplanes, which, combined with their lower speed, makes them very maneuverable. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s
choppers that are sent to search for lost people from the air, not airplanes. Take mountains for instance: no aircraft can
fly in ranges such as the Himalayas because the turbulence above them is downright dangerous
for airplanes, and their high speed makes flying between the mountains on low altitudes
all the riskier. Not to mention that there’s no place for
an airplane to land. So helicopters it is, then. But despite all their advantages over airplanes,
choppers have many potential dangers too, which makes flying them a risky business. Helicopters don’t have an ejection system
You probably know that fighter jets and some other airplanes are equipped with an emergency
system that allows the pilots to catapult from the cockpit and save their life in case
of a serious threat. But the thing is, they get ejected straight
up, leaving the aircraft to fall to the ground. Now, if you just remember that a helicopter
has those swiftly rotating blades above the cockpit, you’ll realize that such a system
is simply not applicable to choppers. So the pilot has to stay inside the machine
no matter what, reducing the chances of survival in case of a crash. They have much weaker protection
Airplanes are built to withstand huge pressures and high speeds. They have a thick hull and sturdy windshields,
which protect them even from occasional birds that might slam into the plane. They’d have to make an emergency landing
after that, sure enough, but in most cases they’ll be just fine. With helicopters, it’s much less safe. They don’t need such protection because
they don’t fly as high or as fast, and extra armor would just increase the cost of their
production. Neither civil helicopters, nor emergency service
ones have any special reinforcement, so they’re basically unprotected in the air. According to the FAA, low-flying helicopters
are particularly vulnerable because of drones. If one of those automated fliers collides
with a chopper, it can result in a crash more often than not. Same goes for birds, too, but at least the
feathered guys have brains of their own and know better than to mess with helicopters. They can’t fly in bad weather
Well, they obviously can, but it’s very dangerous — in fact, much more so than flying
an airplane. Apart from the reasons I’ve already mentioned,
there are other hazards that are specific to helicopters only. One of them is icing: when the air is particularly
humid and the temperature freezing, ice can appear on the helicopter’s surfaces. It might seem a nuisance, but given the pretty
fragile construction of these aircraft, you shouldn’t be surprised that ice may cause
control issues or even crashes. Low visibility is another huge problem for
choppers, since a pilot can’t take off or land when they don’t see their surroundings
clearly. A single mistake at this point might cost
them the expensive aircraft and their own priceless life. But even good weather can pose a threat, since
there’s such a thing as clear air turbulence, or CAT. It’s an unpredictable condition that occurs
when there are no clouds and the aircraft is flying at a higher altitude. The slowly moving air in the atmosphere collides
with the rapid air currents created by the helicopter’s rotor blades, resulting in
turbulence. It can be a dangerous thing, and only experienced
pilots know how to deal with it effectively. Helicopters are hard to control
I’ve already mentioned it earlier: compared to airplanes, helicopters are a real challenge
to fly. Take for instance a Coast Guard chopper responding
to a distress call from the sea during a storm. To rescue the crew of a sinking ship the pilot
will need to hover the aircraft directly over it, fighting not only the fierce winds, but
the waves as well. The ship will be bobbing on them and constantly
shifting its position, so the helicopter should be able to adapt to these chaotic movements. And it’s not a 5-minute operation, you know! Sometimes rescue ops may take up to an hour,
so it’s a real test of endurance and skill for the pilot. Also, there’s a reason why choppers mostly
don’t have an autopilot. Some of the newer aircraft do have this function,
but up until just a few years back it was unheard of. In an airplane, autopilot basically keeps
the aircraft on its course, set by the human pilot. It doesn’t need to run any complex commands
apart from “stay locked on.” The airplane then can fly itself almost effortlessly,
since it’s gliding through the air with the help of its turbines and wings. In a helicopter, an autopilot could only be
useful on long-haul flights with minimum obstacles on the way. If the pilot ever needs to stop and hover
in the air, they’ll have to do it manually because it’s a complex operation. One case that explains it all: a helicopter
pilot shared a story about how he accidentally knocked his headphones off mid-flight. They couldn’t be readjusted with just one
hand, so he had to land the chopper, put the headphones back on his head, and only then
take off again. You simply can’t take both your hands off
the steering in a helicopter. And don’t get me started on Helicopter Parents! They don’t know when to stop hovering over
their kids, but hey, that’s a whole different video! So , if you learned something new today, then
give the video a like and share it with a friend! And here are some other videos I think you’ll
enjoy. Just click to the left or right, and stay
on the Bright Side of life!


Leave a Reply