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Archive for Friday, January 5, 2007

Despite crash, helicopters built at home are safe, FAA official says

January 5, 2007

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This time, they would eat lunch in Paola.

Just as they had done twice a week for the past year, James and Miya Dohrman and their friend Don Eikel climbed into their similar home-built helicopters - Dohrman's yellow and Eikel's blue - and flew Wednesday from the New Century Airport near Olathe for lunch in a nearby town.

The helicopters, Eikel said Thursday, brought them together.

"He found out about me because he wanted one of them," Eikel said about James Dohrman's interest in his Rotorcraft kit helicopter, model EXEC 162F.

So Wednesday, they flew 26 miles to Paola, ate lunch in the airport, then turned around to head back. Hovering above Hillsdale Lake, Eikel split off for New Century Airport near his home in Lenexa, while the Dohrmans flew back to Lawrence Municipal Airport, where James Dohrman keeps the helicopter.

The Dohrmans' aircraft didn't make it back.

The EXEC 162F crashed Wednesday in a creek bed east of Baldwin City. It was at least the 66th time that model of experimental helicopter has crashed in the past 10 years, according to federal data.

James Dohrman, 45, broke his leg in the crash and was taken to Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. Miya Dohrman wasn't seriously injured. The Dohrmans live in De Soto.

Even though the two-person helicopters are built at home, often by relative amateurs, it doesn't necessarily make them any more or less safe than any other aircraft, aviation authorities and enthusiasts said.

"It's still a very safe aircraft," said Elizabeth Cory, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "We've seen it go through its paces before it's allowed to fly."

Amateur-built aircraft have to go through licensing and inspection, Cory said. Both maintenance and compliance are tailored to the aircraft and monitored by the FAA, she said.

Pilots also have to be licensed, which requires 40 hours of in-flight training, including 10 hours of solo flying.

FAA inspectors scoured the field where Dohrman's helicopter crashed Wednesday and gathered documents to help determine why the two-seat helicopter went down.

After their investigation is compete, FAA inspectors will turn their findings over to Aaron Sauer, an inspector in the Denver office of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Sauer has worked for the board for seven years, and has worked two previous wrecks involving the experimental helicopters.

About 1,000 of the build-it-yourself helicopters have been sold worldwide, according to the Rotorcraft International Inc. Web site. Sauer said figuring out whether one aircraft crashes more than another is a complicated endeavor.

"It's a numbers game," Sauer said.

Even comparing the crash of one helicopter with another is complicated, because investigators have to account for the number of hours it had been in the air, maintenance and a host of other factors.

At least some of the accidents involving the $67,000 EXEC 162F helicopters involved some kind of error on the part of the builder, federal records show.

For example, a crash in 2004 near Cameron Park, Calif., happened after the helicopter's owner and builder didn't tighten a bolt on the main rotor blade, records show. The owner died in the crash.

"With the bolt loose, the (blade) was free to diverge from its normal rotation plane, thus rendering the helicopter uncontrollable," the NTSB report said.

Records show most helicopter accidents are the result of pilot error and mechanical issues, among other difficulties.

Eikel said the helicopters are stronger than most other types of home-built aircraft, such as some fixed-wing, single-engine airplanes.

"It's not a flimsy piece of aircraft," Eikel said. "It's pretty substantial."

Comments

Marion Lynn 7 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, I know a guy who is rebuilding a '38 J2 Piper Cub in his garage!

I am certain that "Project V-12"; intended to be the world's fastest V-12 Cadillac will be HIDEOUSLY dangerous.

I CAN'T WAIT TO DRIVE IT!

Thanks.

Marion.

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compmd 7 years, 3 months ago

blue73harley, for autorotation, read my comment on yesterday's article.

I'll second the kudos to the LJW reporter for doing a good job on this article.

conservative, you need to look at actual accident rates for general aviation aircraft. If a GA plane goes down, there is a very good chance it was due to pilot error. It isn't the aircraft's fault. Why do Cessna single engine aircraft look the same now as they did 30 years ago? Because they WORK. Why is the Bell 206 (which debuted around the Vietnam War) still used today? Because it WORKS. You should also probably take a trip down to Rantoul to look at the HUNDREDS of smashed GA aircraft decaying down there. To put your number in perspective, you should look at survivability studies of military aircraft.

My earlier statement regarding LSAs is moot; the Rotorway requires a full private pilot's license.

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delta77 7 years, 3 months ago

autorotation involves using the spinning rotor blades to provide enough lift to slow the helicopter's descent. The body of the helicopter does not generally spin during an autorotation.

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blue73harley 7 years, 3 months ago

Thanks i_p. I can't handle a "tilt-o-whirl" at a carnival so I would never cut it as a copter pilot.

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innocuous_posts 7 years, 3 months ago

"...but isn't "autorotate" just a euphemism for spinning uncontrollably?" No, actually it isn't. Learning to do autorotations is part of standard training for helicopter pilots.

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blue73harley 7 years, 3 months ago

gontek - pardon my igonorance but isn't "autorotate" just a euphemism for spinning uncontrollably? In reality, you have no control while the pilot of a fixed wing does have an opportunity to look for spot to land.

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Reality_Check 7 years, 3 months ago

Homebuilt kit aircraft, whether fixed wing or rotor wing, have significantly higher accident rates than factory-built aircraft of similar size. Reasons are many and varied.

Typically, small factory-built aircraft have fatal accident rates about the same as motorcylces. I don't know what ground transport is more dangerous that motorcycles, so I can't think of a good groundpounder comparison to homebuilt planes.

My congrats to the reporter for doing a good job on this article. He actually spent a bit of time on research.

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Marion Lynn 7 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, with Zeus and Apollo as co-pilots!

Thanks.

Marion.

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Eric Neuteboom 7 years, 3 months ago

All I'm sayin' is if TC was flying that chopper, ain't no crash gonna happen no how!

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conservative 7 years, 3 months ago

6.6% crash rate over 10 years isn't a great record when it comes to aviation. Think I'll stick to the more traditional modes of air travel.

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Shelby 7 years, 3 months ago

planes also require quite a length of strip to land on, whereas helicopters don't.

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gontek 7 years, 3 months ago

http://www.rotorway.com/

check it out, looks like a really cool helicopter kit.

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gontek 7 years, 3 months ago

Helicopters don't just drop, they autorotate, which is similar to gliding in an airplane. Don't let your ignorance get the best of you, or keep you from going for a fun helicopter ride.

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blue73harley 7 years, 3 months ago

Still seems more dangerous than a small plane to me. If you lose power with a plane at least you can glide. Helicopters tend to drop!

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