On 16 January 2015, at about 0930 Eastern Standard Time (EST), the pilot of a Robinson R22 helicopter, registered VH-SSD, was conducting aerial mustering operations on a property 23 km north-east of Roma, Queensland.

The helicopter was about 100 ft above ground level (AGL), with a low forward airspeed of about 5-10 kt and the cattle moving slowly uphill, when the pilot observed the cattle start to move back down the side of the hill towards a creek. The wind was light and blowing across the path of the helicopter from the left. The pilot elected to descend along the side of the cattle and turned the helicopter towards the right.

As he did that, the helicopter turned downwind with a high power setting and low forward speed.  The pilot realised he had turned downwind and started to raise the nose of the helicopter and raise collective. He then detected a high rate of descent and an incipient vortex ring state, as the helicopter started to settle into its own downwash. He attempted to fly out of the situation, lowered the collective and wound the throttle on, but had insufficient forward speed and low rotor rpm. The low rotor rpm horn sounded at about 15-20 ft AGL. The pilot tried to regain rotor rpm but the helicopter sank quickly. 

The pilot then ensured the skids were level and the helicopter collided with the ground. Due to the rough surface, the helicopter bounced into the air. The pilot pulled back on the cyclic control, which resulted in the tail of the helicopter being chopped off by the main rotor. The helicopter then spun around and came to rest on its side. The helicopter was substantially damaged and the pilot was uninjured.

This incident highlights the importance of continually assessing and reassessing the prevailing conditions and their effect on aircraft performance.

Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 40


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