These essential maneuvers come with significant hazards that demand a keen awareness of potential risks.

Confined-area landings play a crucial role in helicopter operations. But these maneuvers, while essential, come with significant hazards that demand careful preparation and a keen awareness of potential risks. It’s important to follow best practices for conducting confined-area landings, as they address specific hazards and offer insights to enhance safety.

When conducting your high and low recon, evaluate the following:

Power management: Before attempting a confined-area landing, evaluate your power capacity for hovering both in and out of the ground effect. This is a fundamental consideration to ensure a controlled and safe descent and landing.

Obstacle assessment: As you descend into the confined area, assess potential obstacles such as buildings, trees, and terrain that could affect the aircraft’s performance. Vigilance here is crucial for a safe landing.

Rotor clearance: Ensure that the chosen landing site provides sufficient rotor clearance. A miscalculation of this aspect could have disastrous consequences.

Slope considerations: Evaluate the slope of the site, considering factors for landing and subsequent shutdown. A slope that’s too steep could pose challenges during these critical phases of operation.

Passenger safety: Establish a safe path for passengers to approach or depart the aircraft. This is paramount for their safety and should be an integral part of your planning.

Surface conditions: Analyze the surface conditions, considering the potential for FOD, brownout, or whiteout. Awareness of these conditions is pivotal.

Approach and departure paths: Determine the optimal approach and departure paths, ensuring they allow for a go-around if needed. This flexibility is key in adapting to changing circumstances.

Commitment point: Identify the point in your approach when you become committed to landing. Understanding this point is crucial for making informed decisions during the landing process.

Emergency protocols: Have a clear plan for emergencies. Knowing what to do in case of an unexpected situation can make the difference between a controlled response and chaos.

Approach steepness: Consider the steepness of your approach based on current conditions. Adjustments may be necessary to ensure a safe and controlled descent.

Recognize that each landing site is unique and not all factors may be universally applicable. Prepare a mental checklist that can be adapted for each landing scenario, and perform a thorough assessment during both high and low reconnaissance—don’t skip either step.

In the fast-paced world of aviation, time is indeed money. However, the cost of overlooking potential hazards can be far greater. Take the time needed to properly assess your landing zone. Have you spotted power lines, light poles, or fences? Could your rotorwash pose a risk to nearby property?

Confined-area operations may be routine, but being complacent about them can pose a silent threat. Evaluate the time-critical nature of your operation and consider taking an extra minute for an additional high or low reconnaissance to ensure a safe landing.

Mastering confined-area landings requires a meticulous approach, continuous awareness, and a commitment to safety. As pilots, we bear the responsibility of not only reaching our destinations but ensuring the safety of everyone on board and on the ground.

Take that extra minute, conduct that additional reconnaissance, and make each confined-area landing a testament to your skill, preparedness, and dedication to safety. It might just save a life—perhaps even your own.

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Matthew Goertz

Matthew Goertz

Matthew Goertz, the director of operations of Trans Aero Helicopters in Loveland, Colorado, has been operating helicopters for more than 20 years. He has a wide range of experience that includes tours, offshore operations, animal capture, seismic exploration, and wildland fire support. A CFI and CFII and carded with the US Forest Service, he leads with a focus on safety, operational excellence, and strategic direction.