The Notices To Airmen (NOTAM) Publication—updated every 28 days—contains NOTAMs that are not given during pilot briefings unless specifically requested by the pilot.1 As such, it is our responsibility to review these already published NOTAMs for applicable information for every flight, in addition to new NOTAMs. Some of these are easily forgotten or poorly reviewed in helicopter flight training, yet we are held responsible to comply with these notices: they are regulatory.
You are about to go on a helicopter training flight at a local airport. There’s an Airmen’s Meteorological Information (AIRMET) Zulu posted for icing inclusive of your area of flight. Your helicopter has the following limitation written in the Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM): “Flight into known icing conditions prohibited.” Can you fly?
When planning a flight in marginal visual flight conditions, one thing we helicopter pilots realize is that the only weather reports we get in a briefing are Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METARs) and Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs) from airports, or Area Forecasts (FA) and Weather Synopses covering larger areas. We then have to visualize the ceilings and visibilities between those ground reporting stations. If we are going to or launching from an off-airport site, that complicates our decision-making. While Weather Depiction graphics can help, another great tool in our flight planning toolbox is the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) Tool from the National Weather Service.
It never ceases to amaze me how frequently two aircraft, with so much airspace available, can converge and require a course/altitude adjustment to prevent collision. As pilots we have to maintain vigilance in scanning for traffic. While Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) and verbal traffic alerts from controllers help, they don’t replace the need to visually scan. At uncontrolled/non-towered airports this becomes even more vital as there are no controllers to help you, and inexperienced and/or poorly-trained pilots are drawn to these locations.