How to Determine Wind Direction

Wind DirectionUpdated on 30th September, 2016

Wind Direction

Student pilots can sometimes become bewildered and confused about how to work out where the wind is coming from when approaching to land at an uncontrolled area. Quite often they can feel the helicopter drifting and buffeting due to the wind but the direction is not obvious.

Knowing the wind direction is extremely important for any helicopter pilot. We need to be planning ahead. Knowing what direction the wind is coming from will save valuable seconds in the event of an engine failure and thus allow us to perform a safe autorotation that terminates into wind. When we carry out confined area approaches, we need to be able to assess the wind direction to be able to plan an approach. Departures from confined areas also require us to know the wind direction as quite often this will determine our departure route.

  1. Look for visual signals of wind direction on the ground or water. Water is a great way of finding wind direction. Look for the calm area near a shoreline. The wind is blowing over this calm area into the rougher water beyond. White streamers on the water blowing parallel to the wind mean the wind is blowing at least 20 knots.
  2. Flag poles on golf courses or hotels are a great way of telling the wind direction and strength although you need to be reasonably close to them to see them accurately.
  3. Smoke from chimneys or fires is also an accurate indication of wind direction and strength.
  4. Strong wind will create waves over forests and long grass or crops. You can see the speed and direction of the surface wind by studying these waves.
  5. Birds are clever – they always take off into wind however I have seen them approach with a tailwind before turning into wind.
  6. Wind turbines. If these are turning, they will be pointing into wind.
  7. Fly one, two or three orbits at a constant speed and constant angle of bank. Start the turn(s) over an easily identifiable feature on the ground. When you have completed 360 degrees (or any number of complete turns) note your position over the ground. You will have been blown downwind from the starting position and you now have the wind direction at the altitude you performed the turns.

I use numbers one to six (above) regularly during every flight to assess wind speed and direction. Water and smoke are my favourites. When no other suitable method is available, I use item 7  above (orbits) and this works very well but takes a minute longer.

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Dynamic Rollover

Updated on 21st October, 2016

What is dynamic rollover?

Dynamic rollover sounds like a term that might be used by the lottery companies. Every helicopter pilot is aware that dynamic rollover can be a problem when taking off or landing a helicopter.

Dynamic rollover is caused when a wheel or a skid on the aircraft becomes attached to the ground and acts as a pivot point that the helicopter can roll around. It is much more likely to happen on take-off and if it is not handled correctly, the helicopter will roll over on its side and suffer substantial damage. This does occasionally occur to experienced pilots but is much more likely to happen with low time pilots.

Have you ever tried to pull the handle of a door and the door refuses to move? Then, when you push the handle the door opens and takes you by surprise. You were not expecting it to happen. The same thing can happen during a take-off. You raise the collective smoothly and one of the skids lifts of the ground. You expect the other skid to follow but unfortunately it is caught on something and refuses to move. Your natural reaction is to raise the collective further to make the helicopter break free of the ground but all you achieve is a fast roll of the helicopter towards the stuck skid. The momentum of this roll may be sufficient to keep the helicopter rolling over even though you now lower the collective. The inevitable happens and the helicopter rolls over unto its side and suffers severe damage.


The results of a dynamic rollover are usually very severe. The helicopter is usually destroyed. The damage from a helicopter rolling over at the end of an autorotation is much less than the damage caused by dynamic rollover. This is because during an autorotation the blades are unpowered and if it rolls over, it will quickly come to rest. During a take-off however, you will be using a lot of power and if the helicopter subsequently rolls over, it will not come to rest so quickly and much more damage will occur.


It can be seen that take-offs can cause a problem. Icy ground and frozen skids can be a real problem. Muddy or sticky ground, rocks, joints in concrete can all cause skids to catch and lead to dynamic rollover. Care must be taken during each take-off but especially the first take-off. Make sure you are looking well ahead. Raise the collective smoothly until you feel the helicopter get light on the skids. From this point onwards, you must move the collective very slowly. The closer you get to taking off, the slower the collective should be moving. Try a small “wiggle” by moving the pedals slightly. This will give you an indication if both skids are free. If you are on a level surface, one skid will probably start to rise before the other. It is important not to rush the collective at this stage. If you feel the helicopter is rolling over too far, smoothly lower the collective and ensure that both skids are on the ground before recommencing the take-off. When both skids (wheels) are clear of the ground, get the helicopter to a safe height to make sure that the skids do not inadvertently catch on something. When the helicopter is on the ground with the blades turning, never take your hand off the collective unless the collective is fully down and locked. There have been many instances of passengers moving the collective or collectives vibrating up until the helicopter rolls over. Making sure that the aircraft is within its balance limits will also ensure that you do not run out of cyclic travel during normal take-offs and landings, thereby reducing the risk of dynamic rollover.

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Visual Cues When Hovering Helicopters

Updated on 11th November, 2016

Visual Cues

The next time you watch a helicopter take off and lift into the hover and it takes off smoothly and comes to a really steady hover; ask yourself how the pilot is holding everything so steady. The main reason is lots of practice. Good co-ordination and muscle memory definitely make things easier but with the practice he/she has also developed a scan outside that allows him to see any movements of the helicopter. He is not fixated on one individual point during the helicopter take off. Instead, he will be looking at various points; some close, some far away and some of these points will be in his peripheral vision.

Developing a Scan

When you are learning how to hover a helicopter it is a common mistake to start looking closer to the helicopter and you may soon find yourself fixated on a blade of grass only a few meters from the aircraft. At about this time, your instructor will remind you to look well ahead. But where do you look? Looking close to the helicopter will help you maintain your position but it will not help you overcome the instability of the helicopter. Looking ahead will allow you to hold a steady hover.

As I said earlier, you cannot fixate on one point. You have to develop a scan. How?

The next time you go to the cinema or in front of a large TV, try to note how you watch the action on the large screen. You do not continually move your head. Your head remains stationary while your eyes move. Your eyes are drawn to where the peripheral movement or action is occurring. We can use this type of scan in the helicopter.

Unlike the scan in the cinema, the helicopter scan will not have peripheral movement or action to draw your attention. You are going to have to find objects to look at. Imagine you are sitting in the cinema or in front of a large TV. Look outside and what do you see? Look for things over a wide field of view without moving your head. For example, the wind sock, the control tower, parked aircraft; or further away, hills or identifiable features on the horizon. This scan is not a natural scan like the one you use when watching TV. It has to be developed and this is done through practice. You have to actively look for the objects you are going to scan while hovering. When you are taking off in a helicopter you need to have your head upright. Make sure your eyes scan from side to side and pick out several of the features you have chosen. These should remain in the same relative position as you take off into a hover. While you are hovering helicopters, you must continue your scan to keep the features steady. If you can manage to do this, you will end up having a stable hover and you will be doing it with very little effort. Once you have developed your scan, you become a much safer pilot. You now have the ability to come safely to a hover out of ground effect. When navigating on a cross-country trip, you can now hold up a chart and read it while still maintaining your attitude and heading using your peripheral vision. Every one of your helicopter take offs and landings should be safe and smooth. If you are flying properly, your passengers will think that anyone can fly a helicopter because you make it look so easy and it appears as if you are doing very little. If you do it wrong, your passengers will feel unsafe and will not want to fly with you again. When they say they want to go flying with you again, you will know that you have had a great flight.

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Helicopter Night Rating Course

Updated 24th March, 2017

Night Rating

After you obtain your Private Pilot’s License PPL(H), you may want to further your skills and train for a night rating. You will not be allowed to fly at night without having completed a night rating course.

EASA Part-FCL tells us what we need to do. Before starting the night qualification course, you must have completed 100 hours of flight time as pilot of helicopters after the issue of your license. You must have at least 60 hours as pilot in command of helicopters and you must also have completed at least 20 hours of cross country flight.

The course must be completed within 6 months so make sure you budget accordingly. The course will involve 5 hours of ground school and 5 hours flying.

The Night Rating Course

The night rating course consists of ground school covering the theory requirements and also the flight portion covering the flying training. The course must be conducted at an Approved Training Organisation (ATO). There is no flight test at the end of the course. On completion of the course the night flying restriction on your pilot’s license will be removed.


Theory will take at least 5 hours of instruction. Topics covered are:

  • night VMC minima
  • rules regarding airspace control at night and facilities available
  • rules regarding aerodrome ground/runway/landing site/obstruction lighting
  • aircraft navigation lights and collision avoidance rules
  • physiological aspects of night vision and orientation
  • dangers of disorientation at night
  • dangers of weather deterioration at night
  • instrument systems/functions and errors
  • instrument lighting and emergency cockpit lighting systems
  • map marking for use under cockpit lighting
  • practical navigation principles
  • planning and use of safety altitude
  • danger from icing conditions, avoidance and escape manoeuvres


The flying training is the fun part of the course and consists of 5 hours flying. Of the 5 hours night flying, you will have to complete 5 solo circuits.

The flying training will cover:

  • basic manoeuvres when flying by sole reference to instruments
  • transitions to instrument flight from visual flight
  • recovery from unusual attitudes
  • use of radio navigation aids
  • use of radar assistance
  • night hovering
  • night take-off techniques
  • night circuit technique
  • night approaches
  • engine failures at night
  • hydraulic control failure at night (if applicable)
  • emergency procedures
  • night cross country techniques
  • night solo circuits

Course Completion

On completion of the night rating course you will be issued with a course completion certificate. The paperwork will be submitted to the relevant Authority of the country where you were issued your license and you will have the night flying restriction removed from your license. For further information you can refer to The EASA Website or at any training school or search on the internet.

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