Do helicopter pilots have a superpower? Of course, they do, but only if they’re willing to use it when needed.
OK, I’ll confess that claiming superpower status among rotorcraft pilots might be a stretch simply because we can land a helicopter practically anywhere we want. It’s nice to have a leg up on our fixed-wing counterparts in several categories, including the singular freedom to land in many places, which is one of many reasons we rotorheads chose to fly helicopters in the first place.
In case you hadn’t noticed, HAI considers this superpower kind of a big deal. For over a decade, we’ve expended much effort to emphasize this vital message, including this month’s Spotlight on Safety feature (see our downloadable poster, left). We’ve published several articles, videos, webinars, and posters to keep the Land & LIVE message top of mind for all pilots, owners, and operators.
Immortalized in a 2013 article as a call to action by the late Matt Zuccaro, then HAI president and CEO, the message reminded all helicopter pilots of an obvious solution staring them in the face: if they were to find themselves in a situation where continued safe flight was uncertain, they should “Land the Damn Helicopter!”
Zuccaro (pictured below, right) admonished aviators repeatedly and practically everywhere he spoke to heed this call. He noted that in far too many fatal-accident reports, helicopter pilots—despite several opportunities to land safely—pressed on, often in rapidly deteriorating conditions, resulting in predictable and preventable tragedy for themselves and others.
Concerned his message wasn’t reaching enough pilots, Zuccaro and HAI launched the Land & LIVE campaign on Feb. 24, 2014, at HELI-EXPO® in Anaheim, California. The campaign, which involves a pledge that pilots and organizations can make, has been adopted globally.
One of Zuccaro’s proudest achievements was the program’s contribution to saving so many lives. “We get constant feedback from the industry about incidents where they made the landing, they lived, and they stopped the accident chain,” he said. “That’s one of the most gratifying things. I am so happy that the Land & LIVE program has been adopted internationally by both the industry and the regulatory agencies that support it.”
Pilots don’t often choose to fly themselves into an unrecoverable situation. But they can journey too far down a dangerous path before they realize the peril that awaits them (see video, left). Whether it’s self-imposed stress, distraction, or misplaced confidence, some pilots simply don’t recognize looming hazards or appreciate the associated risk.
The apparent stuff rarely traps pilots. Rather, the slow deterioration of conditions is what often spells doom for those who fail to remain vigilant and maintain an uncompromising “knock it off” standard.
Despite knowing their limits, some helicopter pilots take off when they have no business doing so. Others convince themselves it’s OK to breeze past established enroute decision triggers/points. Other pilots accept flights despite unresolved mechanical issues or nuisance medical conditions. For many, the results of these flawed behaviors are catastrophic.
We love helicopter aviation. For many of us, it’s all we’ve ever known, and we’re reluctant to let it all slip away to some obscure promise of emerging pilotless designs that will see us all hanging up our spurs. Many advocates for traditional aviation make a compelling case that a human must remain on scene and in the loop to make time-critical decisions and react to unprecedented or complex emergencies. Yet, a rapidly growing segment of our industry is developing aircraft capable of operating autonomously or with minimal pilot input. These aircraft can be programmed to “do the right thing.” They won’t talk themselves out of preprogrammed action if the customer complains. They won’t succumb to internal or external pressures. They don’t have pride.
Guess what? Traditional pilots are also programmed—through leadership, supervision, mentoring, training, values, and discipline. That programming equips us to exercise multiple options and do the right thing. We can assess and resolve most complex problems in flight, no matter what gets thrown at us. We can piece together what is essential and have the presence of mind to know that if it gets too uncomfortable or sporty, we can abort a flight, cancel a mission, turn around, or divert. But never forget that our true superpower is that, in most operating environments, we can land our helicopters just about anywhere we want and walk away without a scratch.
The Gift of Fear
So, please—I’m begging you! If you sense your flight isn’t going well. If you can see, hear, smell, or feel that hazards are getting in the way of safely completing your flight. If something seems off, that’s your sixth sense, your gift of fear screaming for your attention. Please don’t ignore it!
It’s always best to be conservative and make a controlled precautionary landing to dictate when, where, and how you want to land. Don’t worry about the cops, enforcement action, or other inconsequential things. Nothing matters enough to justify pushing too far and paying the ultimate price.
So, one last time. If you find yourself in a pickle, use your superpower and, in the timeless words of Matt Zuccaro, just Land the Damn Helicopter!
And I invite you to join the growing community of professional helicopter pilots and operators who have pledged to land and live. The Land & LIVE program encourages pilots to break the accident chain before it’s too late.
Visit landandlive.rotor.org to take the pledge, save lives, and keep the rotors turning!
Editor’s note: In 2022, HAI established the Matthew S. Zuccaro Land & LIVE Salute to Excellence Award to honor the memory of an incredible man and his lifesaving message. Pilots, flight crews, and maintenance personnel are all eligible to receive this prestigious award, which recognizes superior decision-making, professionalism, and coordinated actions that significantly reduce the likelihood, severity, or consequences of a helicopter accident. The 2024 awardee has already been selected and will be announced, along with the other 2024 Salute to Excellence award recipients, at HAI HELI-EXPO 2024 in Anaheim, California.