Safety wings as strong as a Bull
As safety organisations like HeliOffshore push for safety initiatives to tackle helicopter accidents, the Flying Bulls helicopter aerobatic team boasts ten years without any incidents. Despite the extreme manoeuvres to which they push the rotorcraft.
As well as fixed-wing aircraft, the Flying Bulls fleet consists of a Bell 47, AS350 B3+, Bristol Sycamore, EC135, AH-1F Cobra, and the BO105 S. The platform utilised for stunts is the BO105 C which can undertake the same manoeuvres as a fixed-wing stunt aircraft.
The light twin-engine helicopter can reach maximum speeds of 270km/h and its maximum take-off weight is 2,400kg – no mean feat when flying upside down. It has dual hydraulics and a dual electrical supply.
Two BO105 Cs are operated by the Flying Bulls. They were built 42 years ago and remain the only licensed aerobatic helicopters in the world.
‘We have been performing heliaerobatics since 2006 – more than ten years now – and let me point out that we have had no flight accidents or flight incidents,’ Rainer Wilke, a BO105 C pilot, explained to delegates at Helitech International 2016.
Wilke explained that under German registration flight requirements for the stunt displays are very strict.
The Flying Bulls team has a maintenance manual which lists all the parts that need to be replaced due to the nature of the flights undertaken by the BO105.
Furthermore, there are 36 parts which do not need to replaced, ‘but disposed of completely,’ according to Wilke. The team also has an electronic flight hour and maintenance programme that looks at data from every flight.
The logged data shows the pilot records of some special parts – identifying how much time remains before replacement or maintenance is required.
Pilots also have access to manuals that outline which manoeuvres can and cannot be attempted.
In 2010, the Flying Bulls flew 356 minutes of aerobatic flying and this year 340 minutes of flying have taken place so far.
One of the many factors that has helped the safety record is experience. If a new pilot is to join the team they must have several thousand flight hours under their belt, and in the first instance they will learn to fly the aerobatic displays in a fixed-wing aircraft from the fleet.
Intensive training to one side, there is also the matter of meticulously planning each flight, Wilke said that the team utilises reference lines on the ground; pilots cover these on foot before they get inside the rotorcraft.
Through practice and planning, the pilot can understand the landscape and environment and observe safety margins in the vicinity i.e. spectators.
Mitigation of risk is done through the consideration of weight. The smallest spaces on the aircraft are vacuumed to avoid any presence of FOD.
Special attention is also paid to the engine manufacturer’s guide to ensure oil supply at any given altitude, and further consideration centres on the rotor system and fuselage.
Flying in the sky with no wings and an ox-like rotor system, the BO105 C Bull can demonstrate strength in safety for the entire rotorcraft community.
All images via The Flying Bulls