Here's something you don't see every day..
April 11, 2002 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Here's something you don't see every day.. The north Texas radio station KVIL 103.7FM has a traffic copter which has flown nearly every weekday without fail for years. It's a regular sight in the sky for Dallas commuters. This morning, it became traffic. Engine failure led to an emergency landing on a city street. Avoiding power lines and oncoming traffic, the pilot lost the tail rotor assembly but otherwise landed his copter intact. A near catastrophe was averted by a very capable, steely-eyed missile man of a pilot. The three reporters in the copter with the pilot suffered only minor injuries. A very lucky day. It coulda been a lot worse.
posted by ZachsMind (12 comments total)
Glad no one was hurt. Helicopters are 10 times more fatal then plane crashes.
posted by stbalbach at 2:39 PM on April 11, 2002

Oh poop! I must've skipped over that thread before posting this. I didn't see it.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:43 PM on April 11, 2002

life imitates art?
i.e. that simpsons episode where arnie pie (in the sky) crashes onto the freeway causing a traffic jam.
posted by asok at 3:04 PM on April 11, 2002

I always wanted to be described as a steely-eyed missile man. I've had to settle for looking something closer to this.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:36 PM on April 11, 2002

A near catastrophe was averted by a very capable, steely-eyed missile man of a pilot.

This makes me tingle all over!
posted by rodii at 4:55 PM on April 11, 2002

On October 22, 1986, WNBC radio reporter Jane Dornacker was killed when her helicopter crashed during a live traffic report.

Top 40 radio was jolted into harsh reality this day. Helicopter reporter Jane Dornacker was doing a live report from the 'N Copter' on WNBC when the craft encountered problems and plunged into the Hudson River. She cried 'hit the water, hit the water' but the helicopter slammed into a fence from an altitude of 75 feet and then plunged into the river. Dornacker died en route to hospital and the pilot, while badly injured, did survive. There was initial confusion on-air as afternoon drive host Joey Reynolds and his WNBC colleagues attempted to grasp what had happened. This is a heart-wrenching tape.
posted by Erendadus at 6:20 PM on April 11, 2002

Almost that same thing happened here in Des Moines.

WHO, our NBC affiliate, got a new helicopter. While Chopper 13 was out filming a fire, their rival, KCCI, our CBS affiliate, was filming the fire from the ground. The chopper ran out of gas... and had to make an emergency landing... on the freeway. KCCI caught it all on tape. They decided not to use it because it wasn't "newsworthy." I would pay $25 to see that footage.

Another thing that happened to Chopper 13 is, well, the pilot isn't the brightest crayon in the drawer. During tornado season last year, for some reason, they decided to fly WAAAYYY too close to a tornado, catch the tail end of a downburst, and nearly get struck by lightning... all in the same day. During the live coverage, when he almost got struck by lightning, the pilot was heard saying "God damn!" just before they cut away to the anchors in the studio.

Yes, I know that is serious, but it was entertaining!
posted by Kevin Sanders at 6:25 PM on April 11, 2002

No, no, I'm not talking about the one with the WNBC chopper where someone died. That is far more serious than what happened here in DM.
posted by Kevin Sanders at 6:27 PM on April 11, 2002

Tail rotors do fail, and the method of landing in that instance is called Hovering Autorotation. Essentially, the main rotor of a helicopter has to spin against something or the body would spin; the tail rotor mitigates against this during flight. If it fails, the most likely result is that the body will begin to spin (yaw) opposite the rotor, and almost immediately the rotors will begin to lose aeronautic lift. The trick is to use the other capabilities at the pilot's disposal, roll and pitch, to control the chopper on the way down to the ground.

Similarly, a complete engine failure results in a more straightforward standard autorotation, where the pilot needs to use the air going past the blades as he falls to create just enough backspin and lift to make a controlled landing. An easy way to think of this is the helicopter equivalent of gliding -- you don't need power to get a little bit of lift. Just see the sycamore seed.

The French firm Aerospatiale developed a tail rotor alternative called the fenestron or tail fan, which is largely used because it's safer than having a naked blade spinning around near the ground, equipment, personnel, etc., and a blade failure is less likely to throw off shrapnel. They're also arguably more reliable, and supposedly quieter. (If you saw The Peacemaker last weekend, the combat choppers were civilian Dauphins (easily, and cheaply, available in Europe) masquerading as US military birds (which are generally impossible to get without Pentagon assistance); although popular in NATO, they're not used by the Pentagon. But the new Comanche superchopper will use a tailfan.)
posted by dhartung at 7:38 PM on April 11, 2002

Something vaguely similar happened in Atlanta a few years ago. It wasn't a traffic copter but a small plane---a Piper Saratoga---whose pilot was the only occupant. She began having mechanical problems, and decided she needed to come down. So she did it on GA-400 (hugely congested main artery to the booming northern suburbs), at rush hour. She survived, but one person in a car below was caught by her wing, and when the plane hit an overpass bridge and exploded, so did the poor commuter's car.

There was quite a lot of local controversy at the time, regarding whether the pilot even had the right to try to save herself that way. Should she have gone down in a wooded area, almost certainly perishing herself, to avoid killing one or more innocent motorists?

No one would have questioned what she did if no one had been hurt, but in something like this there's such a very thin line between "steely-eyed missile man of a pilot" and "selfish, desperate, cold-hearted killer of innocent bystanders."
posted by Sapphireblue at 11:03 AM on April 12, 2002

In another incident, a Milwaukee news chopper pilot died in a crash in heavy fog and light rain this past winter. He snagged a power line and came down on an interstate, causing a chain reaction of accidents in which, luckily, no motorists were killed. It seems possible to me that he was navigating along the freeway via vehicle lights.
posted by Tubes at 2:23 PM on April 12, 2002

I'm suprised no one has mentioned the most famous dead news helicopter pilot of all: Francis Gary Powers . After surviving being shot down in a U-2 over Russia, he apparently ran out of fuel over LA in 1977.
posted by jaek at 3:35 PM on April 12, 2002

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