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19 Aug 2003

The R22 Chronicles

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Part Two:  "Evolution"

From Part one: The cheating has also evolved because of working conditions in the cattle mustering industry where CAA (now CASA) flight and duty times were not complied with to ensure that the mustering work was completed. Because of the ease with which records could be falsified, the deliberate falsification of aircraft maintenance logs, flight releases, pilot flight and duty time logs and pilot log books became common place. This everyday occurrence became a way of life and many took it to the extreme.

The northern areas of Australia have a distinct dry (winter) and wet (monsoon summer) weather pattern.

The dry season - Mid April until October - is ideal for mustering cattle over vast terrain where stocking rates are, in some places, less than one animal per ten square kms.

As well, other activities such as the eradication of feral animals, including donkeys and buffalo, take place.

I recall one 5 week program I flew during which 25K animals where shot by Government shooters.

Pilots flew up to 2000 hrs per year with some easily exceeding this.

In the late 70's and early 80's, the Hughes 269, Bell 47G series and Hiller UH12E were the only suitable machines for aerial mustering.

The certified Overhaul life of a Bell47G 3B1 Lycoming engine was 1000 hrs. In the hands of a good pilot and supportive maintenance crew it was not uncommon for this engine and the other 1200 hr transmission components to reach 2000 hrs in service without overhaul. Of course, the paperwork didn't show this!

In truth, it would seem that an understanding of helicopter certification requirements was either not known or deliberately circumvented by industry.

Maybe they did know that a finite life component such as a Bell 47 Main rotor blade (5000 hrs in service and then to be discarded) had a certification safety factor of maybe 1.5 - meaning that it might fly 7,500 hours in service before catastrophic failure.

How many failures were there of Bell 47 main rotor blades?

None that I am aware of! Why? Simply because the high accident rate (up to 50:100K flight hours) and the harsh eroding operating environment meant that the helicopter either crashed or the blade wore out it's leading edge before reaching the 7,500 figure. If anyone disagrees with me and knows that their Main Rotor Blades did more than 7,500 hrs I would be only too happy to have the evidence. 

Unfortunately, this cheating, know it all (or ignorant - take your pick) culture developed before the introduction of the Robinson R22 and was to lead to tragic and major problems after 1985.

How did the culture of falsification begin? Maybe it was the isolation from mainstream aviation and society; could it have been the lack of enforcement from the CAA? Whatever it was that allowed it to nurture and evolve, the culture of falsification began because of the nature of the cattle industry and the unyielding CAA Civil Aviation Order Number 48.

CAO 48 required pilots to keep a separate log of their flight and duty times so that they would not become fatigued.

Unless they had a special exemption, pilots were required to fly no more than:

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 900 hours per year

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or 100 hours per month

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or 30 hours per week (4.333 weeks average a month).

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or 8 hours per day

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They were also not allowed to spend more than a certain amount of time on duty (getting ready to fly, flying and the time before they finish and go home).

If you examine this carefully and use the 4.333 week average month, it is easy to calculate that a pilot could only fly for 3 days per week if he flew 8 hours per day. The trick was to fill in the other four days of the week (or 5 if you flew 12 hour days!).

Besides keeping the complicated flight and duty log, the pilot had to maintain an aircraft daily airworthiness log (called the Maintenance release), his own personal flight time log book and the company daily charge sheet (so that customers could be invoiced).

The daily mathematics and juggling required to keep the CAA formula up to date became too much for many - mainly because of one important factor - the cattle couldn't count!

There was no way a pilot would simply stop flying in the middle of the day because he had exceeded the CAA flight or duty requirements when he was mustering a couple of thousand head of cattle. The muster would have been a disaster and the earning capacity of the pilot, operator and cattle station would have been compromised. No Sir! The pilot simply kept on working.

Now comes the falsification part: If the pilot filled in all the paperwork showing that he had exceeded the legal requirements then the CAA would have a field day - if they ever caught up with him.

Quite often the pilot signed but didn't date the maintenance release so that if there was an accident, or the CAA turned up, then he simply put a date on it to make that flight or day legal.

Commonly, the pilot filled in the company charge out sheet or invoice book and put "some" hours down that lined up on his log book, flight and duty log and the maintenance release.

These last three items were all that the CAA inspectors where interested in.

It was, and would not surprise me one bit to find that it is still common, for some individuals to put down "1 for 3", that is - one flight hour for every three hours (or more) flown.

In recent years I have heard of pilots who made out invoices for mustering, "hire of motorbikes", rather than a helicopter, so that no hours went down anywhere and prying eyes into invoice books couldn't do anything as helicopter operations where not being charged out!!! How sick certain members of industry have become.

The mind boggling fact is that "everyone" knew but, believe it or not, the CAA (and CASA) found it "difficult" to catch or prosecute culprits. Some have been rounded up, however you can bet your bottom dollar that falsification is still rife in some quarters.

The bottom line from the culture of falsification is that the aircraft log books did not show the true state of the finite life components and I knew and forecast that people would eventually get killed as components failed. We all know what happens to most prophets - they get isolated on top of a hill and wood and nails aren't the most comfortable things.

How come the CAA (CASA) haven't eliminated this practice? They knew about it didn't they? They certainly did!

Click here for a letter I sent in desperation to the CAA on June 23 1994 seeking some help with CAO 48 to try and find a compromise way around the legalese so that the aircraft logs would reflect the true safety state of all the parts that make up an airworthy helicopter.

Do you think that they did anything about it?

Click here for Part Three: What CAA didn't do - the letters that went to politicians Plus the arrival of the R22 on the mustering scene!

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