Check Your Mirrors

On this particular occasion, my flight instructor chose to wait outside while I started up the helicopter and went through the preflight checks. He was standing a good distance away, well outside the rotor tips. I started the engine and finished all of the checks. My flight instructor then pointed up and to the rear and walked rearward out of my view. The helicopter was sitting on a dolly that was used to move it in and out of the hangar. I thought my instructor wanted me to pick up the helicopter off of the dolly and set down behind it as we usually do. I heard a radio call from a Bell Longranger on final.

Just at this point there was a slight scent of burning kerosene in the air. I opened the throttle, increased RPM to 104% and raised collective to bring the helicopter to a smooth hover a few feet above the dolly. For some strange reason, I decided to set down to the side of the dolly, which was a little unusual. I proceeded to hover left slowly and turned 90 degrees clockwise still at a hover. This orientation allowed to me see what my instructor was pointing to a few minutes earlier. A Bell 206L Longranger had landed just behind the dolly where I was idling a minute earlier. Now I realized where the hot sweet kerosene scent was coming from.

As I looked out to my right, I could see my instructor standing on the high skids of the Longranger talking the other pilot. They were both staring in near shock wondering what I was doing. My instructor motioned to set down, which I did. A few minutes later, my instructor joined me and we took off to perform standard maneuvers.

Later, I asked my instructor about the incident. Apparently he thought I heard the Longranger coming down and knew it was behind me. By that time, my engine was started and I was wearing headphones, I couldn't hear anything outside, not even the screaming turbine. I couldn't see it either, he landed behind me. As you might guess, there are no mirrors on a helicopter and I didn't turn and look. It was a case of poor communication and bad judgement. If I were to have backed up from the dolly as we always do, I would have likely backed into the Longranger with catastrophic results. He was probably idling and could not have rolled on throttle and picked up fast enough to get out of the way. All I can guess is that scent of kerosene caused me to think twice and be a little more cautious.

The moral of the story: if something doesn't smell right, check your mirrors.