Instructor here to talk safety

Robinson Helicopters safety instructor Tim Tucker, of the US, with a model helicopter at pilot...
Robinson Helicopters safety instructor Tim Tucker, of the US, with a model helicopter at pilot seminars he is taking in Wanaka this week. Photo by Marjorie Cook.
This 2005 photo shows a Robinson helicopter, piloted by then ODT reporter Joanna Norris under the...
This 2005 photo shows a Robinson helicopter, piloted by then ODT reporter Joanna Norris under the guidance of instructor Pete Dean. Photo from ODT files.

Tim Tucker knows Robinson helicopters like the back of his hand.

After all, he wrote the R22 flight training guide.

The award-winning flight instructor from the United States is in Wanaka this week for a four-day Robinson Helicopter safety awareness course, for which up to 50 pilots have registered. It finishes tomorrow.

Robinson Helicopters was founded in the US by Frank Robinson in 1973. The company is now the largest helicopter manufacturer in North America, with about 1200 employees.

Mr Tucker bought the first Robinson helicopter sold, serial No 3, in 1979.

"Serial No 1 crashed during the test programme and serial 2 completed the test programme," he said, grinning, on Thursday.

The former US Army helicopter pilot served in Vietnam and spent 27 years as an army flight instructor, and his work at Robinson Helicopters has included test flying and certification work.

He was appointed chief instructor in 1982.

"As a result of the very high accident rate in the United States, I developed a safety course at the factory and we still run that once a month," Mr Tucker said.

The Robinson helicopter is regarded as the world's most popular general helicopter and last year the factory sold its 10,000th machine.

Mr Tucker said the factory now produced 10 a week - one R22, five R44s, and four R66s.

The five top export destinations (in no particular order) are South Africa, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

"Ten is down a little. They were doing 18 a week. In the recession, at one point, they got down to four a week, " Mr Tucker said.

The Civil Aviation Authority's quarterly aviation safety summary report to December 2011 shows there are 767 registered helicopters in New Zealand, about half of which are Robinsons.

They are a familiar sight in Wanaka skies, finding use in the tourism, agriculture and flight training industries, and the pilot considered the most experienced Robinson helicopter pilot in the world, Simon Spencer-Bower, also lives and works in the town.

Wanaka has had more than its fair share of fatal Robinson helicopter accidents recently, resulting in the deaths of pilots Keith McKenzie (2006), Morgan Saxton (2008), and Graham Stott and Marcus Hoogvliet (2011).

Mr Tucker said the purpose of the courses was to increase knowledge of the most common causes of fatal accidents, so they examined cases from all around the world.

"We address them in a very detailed and specific way.

"One of the best ways we can learn in aviation is from experience. One of the best ways is to learn from other people's accidents and other people's deaths ...

"Why they occurred and what we should do to not let a recurrence happen," he said.

Flying into wires was discussed, as well as mountain flying.

"I think the South Island mountains have an ingredient that doesn't exist in other parts of the world."

Investigations necessarily took a long time and New Zealand investigators were not alone in taking years to produce accident reports, he said.

"Sometimes the complexity of the situation adds to the level of the investigation.

"I think that's pretty normal wherever I go around the world ... It is not unusual to take a long time."

The company wanted to know if there had been a malfunction just as much as any body else, but in his experience, most accidents could be attributed to decision-making, Mr Tucker said.

"It is decisions ... I would say that's by far and away the major problem we have.

"That's what these courses are trying to get people to understand.

"Decisions are the major contributing factor," Mr Tucker said.

 

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