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Thanks to Helipad Dust, Not Even High-Profile Passengers Are Safe

By Frank Elswick on 05/20/2015

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Helicopter brownouts, or a dangerous loss of visibility due to particulate matter stirred up by takeoff and landing, pose a significant security threat to important passengers using this means of transport.

A Danger to Human Lives

Brownouts are one of the greatest dangers faced by helicopter crews and passengers, according to the U.S. Army. As helicopters land, the movement of the helicopter blades throws sand and dirt into the air, obscuring a pilot’s visibility.

These whirlwinds can also erode blades, block engines and filters, and damage electronic equipment. Worst of all, they make it difficult for a pilot to tell if the helicopter is still moving or hovering stationarily.

The magnitude of this problem cannot be overstated: blindness and confusion can cause crashes and, sometimes, tragedies. Human lives are at stake every time a helicopter lands in a location where the ground hasn’t been treated to avoid dangerous dust storms.

This problem is well known in the military. In combat, helicopters pilots often have to operate in unfamiliar areas, especially in rocky or mountainous terrain. Over the course of the war in Afghanistan, around 600 Americans have died in helicopter crashes caused by brownouts, as Breaking Defense reports, exceeding even the number of Americans killed in helicopters brought down by enemy fire.

This “degraded visual awareness” has caused 80% of the U.S. military’s 320 rotorcraft crashes over the past decade.

“VIP Security Is a Myth”

But brownouts aren’t just a problem for the military. Security officers, tasked with providing continuous surveillance of top diplomats and government officials, struggle to do so in the chaos that is a brownout.

In India, security personnel recently lost sight of the Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao as his helicopter landed at a temporary helipad, The Hindu reports. The incident, which occurred at the Singareni Thermal Power Plant in Jaipur, left the security team rattled.

A senior police official noted that “foolproof VIP security is a myth…There is no end to our anxiety whenever we have to secure the area consisting of a temporary helipad.”

Though the Chief Minister was unharmed, there remains no guarantee of his safety or the safety of other important political figures in future landings.

Preventing Brownouts

And yet, solutions to this critical issue are few and far between.

According to The Hindu, India’s former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy had ordered that permanent helipads to be installed at all mandal headquarters in the Andhra Pradesh.

Unfortunately, Reddy passed away before he could see his wish fulfilled, leaving VIPs at risk every time they climb into a helicopter. Since his death in 2009, little has been done to alleviate the issue.

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) passed comprehensive helicopter safety reform in an effort to address the spike in American helicopter accidents over the previous decade, according to Aviation Week. The new rules, which included a series of updated equipment, training, and operational requirements, are estimated to cost commercial operators over $19 million.

To prevent future tragedies caused by brownouts, the FAA has called for pilots to be more thoroughly tested and prepared for these incidents. While there is no doubt that helicopter pilots will benefit from additional training to prepare for brownouts, this solution does not address the problem at its source.

Midwest’s Solution

Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc.’s team of industry experts in dust control, soil stabilization, lubrication, anti-icing, and deicing, have developed a range of products and services to control and eliminate dangerous brownouts.

Midwest dust control agents like EK35®, EnviroKleen® and Soil-Sement® help decrease foreign object debris and increase a pilot’s ability to see the landing zone. It also clears the line of sight for those tasked with observing the helicopter, such as security personnel trying to ensure the safety of a significant individual.

Midwest products are also tested using U.S. EPA guidelines, so they can be relied on to be safe without compromising environmental standards. Dust brownouts should be no excuse for unsecure takeoff and landings — the risks entailed are simply too high. Contact Midwest today to start taking safety seriously.

(Image credit: The National Guard/flickr)

About Author

Frank Elswick

Written by Frank Elswick

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction, natural paving markets.

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