Friday, October 8, 2010

Jetcopters-NASA Part 4

While I was still working at Jetcopters, I got a call from one of the Los Angeles Federal Aviation Administration office's, requesting that I do some experimental test flights for NASA.  No, I wasn't selected to be an astronaut for a flight to the moon.  Although I must admit, if asked, I would sure do it.  The following week, I reported to the NASA Ames Research Center, which was located at Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA.  This was an old U.S. Navy blimp base.  During the early part of WWII, they hangered airships that were used for defense observation along the Pacific coast of the United States.  One of the interesting things about this facility, is that the blimp hanger still remains.  Back in the 1930's they used this building to hangar the Navy airships Macon and Akron. 

U.S. Airship Macon Moffett Field  click to enlarge

 The Blimp hangar is now being used by NASA  click to enlarge

The purpose of these experimental flights was to evaluate a new technique for making instrument approaches in helicopters.  Just a short history lesson regarding instrument flight in helicopters.
Years ago, when instrument flight was first developed.  The rules and procedures pretty much pertained to airplanes only.  This was mainly because most helicopters then and still today, are not equipped for instrument flight.  Also when these conditions (IMC) instrument meteorological conditions, existed, helicopters could usually operate in special (VFR) visual flight rules and operated in non controlled airspace and also with permission from the controlling agencies, they could enter controlled airspace, again this would be with special flight conditions.  As time went on, more and more helicopters are now able to operate in these weather conditions and also make instrument approaches for landing at airports around the country.

That's me on the far right along with two other NASA pilots click to enlarge

Typically, when an aircraft gets into the airport environment and is going to make an instrument approach for landing,  The approach begins at a designated point and descends along a very shallow flight path to the airport.  Usually at an approach angle of about 4 to 5 degrees.  This enables the aircraft to descend at a very low rate.  At the point where the approach ends, the pilots should be able to see the runway landing system and make his landing visually.  This would be called the decision height.  Usually around 200 feet above the ground, lower in some cases.  If the pilot does not see the runway or approach lights, he aborts the landing and goes around for another attempt.

Here I am at the controls of a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, these were used in the Vietnam war click to enlarge

Our test flights were to evaluate instrument approaches utilizing a much steeper flight path, up to 12 to 15 degrees on the approach. This would produce a higher rate of descent. Also to see if the pilot could react quick enough as t0 not  sag through the decision height before hitting the ground on an attempted go around.  I spent a week at NASA doing these flights.  I have no idea of why this concept was being tested or if it every was used.  Maybe in a military application, but I doubt it would every be used for civilian use.  Another adventure in the career of a helicopter pilot.

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