Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.
On 13 October 2021, at about 1400 local time, the pilot of a Robinson R44 helicopter was conducting a private flight from Tyagarah New South Wales to Rules Beach Queensland via Hervey Bay Queensland to re-fuel. After landing at Hervey Bay aerodrome, the pilot attached the fuel static cable from the fuel bowser to the helicopter skid prior to commencement of refuelling (Figure 1). The pilot then became aware the fuel bowser was not serviceable and returned to the helicopter to plan the next stage of the flight to Rules Beach. A current NOTAM had been issued at the aerodrome stating, ‘Avgas not available’.
The pilot then started the engine and became airborne. As the helicopter taxied prior to departure, the pilot was focused on another aircraft landing on the runway and then reported hearing a loud bang. The pilot banked the helicopter to the right and noticed the fuel static cable on the ground. The pilot reported there was no effect on flight and departed for Rules Beach. The pilot called the re-fueller en route to advise of the incident. The re-fueller informed the pilot that the fuel static cable was found in multiple pieces across the fuel facility apron and nearby taxiway. After landing at Rules Beach, the pilot inspected the helicopter and discovered minor damage to the tail boom, the tail rotor and main rotor which had made contact with the fuel static cable (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Fuel static cable attachment point
Figure 2: Damage to main and tail rotors
This incident highlights the importance of ensuring that all pre-flight checks and procedures are carried out systematically as detailed in the flight manual. If interrupted, it is best practice to start again from the beginning to ensure that nothing is missed.
Pilots detecting sounds or control inputs that are not associated with normal aircraft operations, in particular during the critical phases of flight, should land and complete a thorough inspection of the aircraft as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.
The incident also highlights the importance for pilots to review all NOTAMs relevant to the planned flight.
About this report
Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.
- A fuel static cable ensures electrical continuity between the aircraft and the fuel bowser, preventing sparks when the ground operator connects the refuelling hose to the aircraft filling point.
- A Notice to Airmen is a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the flight.