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Helicopter Charters

Find out about helicopter charters.

Chartered helicopters afford an otherwise unattainable view. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Chartered helicopters afford an otherwise unattainable view.

Helicopter Charters

The words helicopter charters make some people think of T.C. of Magnum, P.I. flying tourists around the breathtaking vistas of the Hawaiian Islands. Real-life helicopter charters offer no-less-breathtaking vistas of lush rain forest valleys, tropical waterfalls or remote deserts as well as towering city skyscrapers and famous landmarks.

Helicopter charters are also used in business and as a convenient mode of transportation. Movie producers and others use helicopter charters to scout locations from a bird's-eye view. Business executives and the wealthy may require the services of helicopter charters to commute to airports, meetings or events without dealing with traffic jams and gridlock.

Despite the advantages of helicopter flight, it poses some risk to the passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board reported 151 helicopter accidents for the period from January 1 to December 31, 2008, despite having rated the Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter as safer than fixed-wing aircraft. Furthermore, according to the International Helicopter Safety Team, the annual U.S. civil helicopter accident rate has consistently remained in the range of 180 to 200 accidents for the period from 1990 to 2005, with the United States accounting for 40 percent of all helicopter accidents worldwide. Therefore, it is important to understand the risks and limitations of traveling in a helicopter when using the services of helicopter charters.

How Helicopters Operate

Helicopters have been described as 10,000 parts that happen to be flying in close formation. Most helicopters have a single overhead main rotor attached to a mast that projects from the main gearbox. A driveshaft extends from the gearbox down the tail boom to an intermediate gearbox, from which a second driveshaft angles up to connect to the tail rotor.

The main rotor provides lift, allowing the helicopter to rise vertically and hover, while the tail rotor helps to steer the helicopter and keep it flying in a straight line. Some helicopters use a second overhead rotor in place of the tail rotor, while other helicopters replace the tail rotor with nozzles to vent the engines exhaust gases to steer.

Because lift is generated from the main rotor, not from wings, the helicopter is lifted more in the direction it travels. This is compensated for by flapping the advancing blades upward and the retreating blades downward, but this limits how fast the helicopter can fly, with typical cruising speeds of 100 to 110 miles per hour.

Helicopters are also more limited with regard to the kinds of weather they can fly in than are other aircraft. High heat restricts helicopters range, particularly at higher altitudes, and freezing rain can ground helicopters lacking de-icing equipment. Helicopter charters, therefore, typically offer good-weather flights running from half an hour to 3 hours.

Because of their many parts, helicopters undergo rigorous maintenance more frequently than fixed-wing airplanes; some require as much as 11 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight. They are also much noisier than fixed-wing aircraft, which prevents them from landing in places where noise levels are restricted. The pilots, passengers and ground crew must communicate with one another using noise-canceling headset microphones while the helicopter is running.

Choosing Helicopter Charters

Many helicopter charter services are very forthcoming about the types of helicopters they offer as well as the experience and training of their pilots to inform and reassure prospective passengers. Customers can look for charter companies and pilots that are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, customers may feel more secure with a helicopter charter service that has received safety awards from trade associations or private firms that evaluate the safety standards of helicopter services.

Preparing for a Charter Flight

Helicopter charters, like airplane flights, are concerned with how much weight they carry. It is important to know the total weight of all passengers and equipment when chartering a helicopter. Knowing the weight of individual items will help ensure that the heavier items are properly stowed near the rotor mast.

Two items to take along for the flight are goggles or safety glasses and earplugs. Although headset microphones provide some noise protection, earplugs will add to this protection and protect against vertigo that some passengers may experience on takeoff. Goggles will protect the eyes from flying debris kicked up by the main rotors prop wash and, if tinted, from glare.

Some passengers on helicopter charters may experience airsickness. Passengers can cope with unexpected feelings of nausea by temporarily fixing their gaze on the horizon or on a particular point on the ground. Those who are prone to airsickness should use prescription scopolamine dermal patches. As the effects of a single patch last 3 to 4 days, only half a patch is necessary for a day trip. Using the patches can increase thirst, so passengers using them should drink plenty of water.

Boarding and Disembarking

A helicopters main rotor spins at 500 revolutions per minute, with the tips traveling 700 feet per second. The most dangerous time to approach a helicopter is when the blades are turning slowly, which is when the tips droop closest to the ground. To approach a helicopter with turning blades, remove hats, secure scarves and dangling straps, and crouch down. If the helicopter is not on level ground, the downhill side should be used to approach and disembark the aircraft.

The turning main rotor creates a powerful downdraft, or rotor wash, that can kick up a considerable amount of debris and create a significant wind chill when the helicopter is over snow. Passengers should wear goggles or safety glasses to protect their eyes when inside the rotor wash.

The tips of the tail rotor travel at only 600 feet per second, but as the tail rotor is shorter and turns six times for every rotation of the main rotor, it is turning much faster than the main rotor and can decapitate someone approaching from the rear. Exhaust gases from steering nozzles used in place of tail rotors reach temperatures of several hundred degrees so, in either case, it is advisable to always approach a helicopter from the front, in full view of the pilot.

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