Night Helicopter Operations

Published: 2021-06-17 06:50:04
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The helicopter is probably the most versatile instrument ever invented by man. It approaches closer than any other to fulfilment of mankind’s ancient dreams of the flying horse and the magic carpet.
– Igor Ivanovitch Sikorsky
1. After having flown the fixed wing aircraft successfully in 1903, man turned his attention towards the more complex and challenging problems of flying a rotary wing. The visionaries had long since prophesied the possibility of a vehicle that would takeoff vertically before moving forwards. The recorded evidence of this idea was found in the Chinese books as early as 400 BC, but it was probably only around 1490, when Leonardo da Vinci came up with his sketches of a similar vehicle, that the concept of helicopters actually advanced. Despite this, the first free flight was performed only in November 1907. Unlike the airplane, a helicopter is an aircraft with rotary wings. The capability to hover for long durations allows the helicopter to accomplish tasks unachievable by other means. In addition, the versatility and ease of operation, compared to a fixed wing aircraft make helicopters an excellent choice for all kinds of operations, by day and especially by night.
Evolution of Helicopter
2. The earliest mentions of a vertical flight have been in a Chinese book written in 4th century BC, referred to as Pao Phu Tau[1]. Someone asked the master about the principles of mounting to dangerous heights and travelling into the vast inane. The Master said, "Some have made flying cars with wood from the inner part of the jujube tree, using ox-leather [straps] fastened to returning blades so as to set the machine in motion"[2]. However, it was in 1490, when Leonardo da Vinci had the imagination to design a machine made of wood and starched linen, called the ‘helical screw’. This machine, operated by a spring mechanism, was supposed to literally screw itself vertically into the air. This machine, shown in Fig. 1, was the origin of the word helicopter. The word is a combination of the Greek words, ‘Helix’ meaning spiral and ‘Pteron’ meaning wing[3]. Thereafter, in July 1754, Mikhail Lomonosov demonstrated a small coaxial rotor for lifting meteorological instruments. Christian de Launoy, and his mechanic, Bienvenu, made a model with a pair of counter-rotating rotors, using turkey’s flight feathers as rotor blades, in 1784.
3. Between the Fifteenth and Twentieth Centuries, adequate machinery needed to produce helicopters, like turbine engines and rotors, was not yet made possible by assembly lines, but as the Industrial Revolution prompted factories and technology accelerated, the helicopter evolved. One of the first breakthroughs in helicopter advancement was by George Cayley who produced a converti-plane in 1843. A man named Bourne flew the helicopter-like aircraft a year later. Spring-like contraptions inside, apparently powered this model. All helicopter models at this time lacked suitable power to achieve flight and were both bulky and heavy[4]. In 1877, Enrico Forlanini’s unmanned helicopter, powered by a steam engine stayed at a height of 13 m for 20 secs after a vertical takeoff. However, Breguet-Richet‘s Gyroplane No. 1 achieved the first successful vertical flight, in September 1907. Since this machine did not have any control or steering devices of its own, this could not take the credit for the first helicopter to make a truly free flight. Paul Cornu claimed this recognition in November 1907, when he flew his ‘Flying Bicycle’ at a height of 0.3 m for 20 secs.
4. During the World War I in 1917, the engineers of Hungarian Ganz Company designed a radical motorized flying machine to replace the dangerous hydrogen-filled balloons, then being used to observe enemy positions. This aircraft flew to a height of over 50 m. 120 hp engines and two massive wooden propellers turning in opposite directions supported it. It was intended to lift a pilot, an observer, a machine gun and fuel for an hour’s flight. Because of great success and curious design, many specialists consider it as the world’s first real helicopter[5]. The quality and quantity of production materials increased, and great improvements were made in the field of engine technology in many parts of the world including Europe and the United States. An aircraft model for military advancement was needed for more versatile and precise war tactics. With better technology and more need, the next step in helicopter advancement would soon come.
5. Meanwhile, Juan de la Cierva was developing the first practical rotorcraft in Spain. In 1923, the aircraft that would become the basis for the modern helicopter rotor began to take shape in the form of an autogyro. Cierva had discovered aerodynamic and structural deficiencies in his early designs that could cause his autogyros to flip over after takeoff. The flapping hinges that Cierva designed for the C.4 allowed the rotor to develop lift equally on the left and right halves of the rotor disk. A crash in 1927, led to the development of a drag hinge to relieve further stress on the rotor from its flapping motion. These two developments allowed for a stable rotor system, not only in a hover, but in forward flight. Albert Gillis von Baumhauer, a Dutch aeronautical engineer, began studying rotorcraft design in 1923. His first prototype "flew" ("hopped" and hovered in reality) on 24 September 1925, with Dutch Army-Air arm Captain Floris Albert van Heijst at the controls. The controls that Captain Heijst used were Von Baumhauer’s inventions, the cyclic and collective. Patents were granted to Baumhauer for his cyclic and collective controls by the British ministry of aviation on 31 January 1927. At the same time, Boris N. Yuriev and Alexei M. Cheremukhin constructed and flew a single rotor helicopter that had an open tubing framework and utilized two anti-torque rotors, one each at tail and nose. Another Russian, Nicolas Florine, built the first twin tandem rotor machine to perform a free flight, in 1933. The Bréguet-Dorand Gyroplane Laboratoire was built in 1933. After many ground tests and an accident, it first took flight on 26 June 1935. Within a short time, the aircraft was setting records with pilot Maurice Claisse at the controls. On 14 December 1935, he set a record for closed-circuit flight with a 500-meter (1,600 ft) diameter. The next year, on 26 September 1936, Claisse set a height record of 158 meters (520 ft). And, finally, on 24 November 1936, he set a flight duration record of one hour, two minutes and 5 seconds over a 44 kilometre (27 mi) closed circuit at 44.7 kilometres per hour (27.8 mph). The aircraft was destroyed in 1943 by an Allied airstrike at Villacoublay airport. Despite the success of the Gyroplane Laboratoire, the German Focke-Wulf Fw 61, first flown in 1936, would eclipse its accomplishments. The Fw 61 broke all of the helicopter world records in 1937, demonstrating a flight envelope that had only previously been achieved by the autogyro. Nazi Germany would use helicopters in small numbers during World War II for observation, transport, and medical evacuation. The Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri synchropter was used in the Mediterranean Sea, while the Focke Achgelis Fa 223 Drache was used in Europe. Extensive bombing by the Allied forces prevented Germany from producing any helicopters in large quantities during the war.
6. In the United States, Igor Sikorsky built the VS-300, a single rotor design with a smaller rotor mounted vertically on the tail boom to counter the torque produced by the main rotor. Developed from this design, the R-4 became the first mass produced helicopter. This was also the only allied helicopter to see service in the World War II. Sikorsky produced over 400 helicopters of R-4, R-5 and R-6 types before the end of the war. Meanwhile, Bell Aircraft built the Model 30, which later developed into Bell 47, which became the first certified helicopter for civilian use and remained the most popular model for nearly three decades.
7. In 1951, Charles Kaman modified his K-225 helicopter with the turbo-shaft engine. This was a major development in terms of reducing weight penalty. On 11 December 1951, this became the first turbine powered helicopter, followed by Navy HTK-1 to be the first twin-turbine helicopter, in 1954. However, Alouette II was the first helicopter produced with a turbine engine[6]. More development were seen during the 1960s and 70s due to the Vietnam War. These advancements were fuelled by the military’s requirement for advanced helicopters for use as gunships, missile-launching platforms and for the rescue of the wounded troops. The Bell 209 Cobra was one of the helicopters produced at that time. Thereafter, with further advancement in technology, came the era of ‘Tiltrotors’. McDonnell produced their Tiltrotor UAV and Bell/Boeing produced the model 609, the world’s first commercial Tiltrotor[7]. Helicopters have continued to develop with the advancing technology and concepts like ‘NOTAR’, contra-rotating rotors, etc., have come into being. The helicopters have also found employment in nearly all walks of life and will continue to develop and find more areas of usability in the future. Nevertheless, for India the helicopter age started in the mid 1950s when a couple of Sikorsky helicopters flew in the Indian skies for the first time. The initial build-up was slow. The war with China in 1962 gave the necessary impetus to the chopper fleet in the armed forces. Since then there is no looking back[8].
‘When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return”.
– Leonardo da Vinci
Statement of the Problem
1. To identify and study the roles and challenges for night operations by helicopters and to suggest measures to overcome these, in Indian context.
2. Helicopters are going to be employed in greater numbers all over the world and India is no exception. Night helicopter operations will become a necessity due to the utilization of these machines in greater numbers as well as the future trends. Thus, India needs to improve the infrastructure and the support services to optimally utilise these flying machines by ensuring their unhindered operations by night.
Justification for the Study
3. The year 2008 had been declared as the year of the Helicopter, in India. The incredibly complex flying machine has come a long way and is now whirring at India’s doorstep like never before, both in the civil and military sectors. That is why the third International Seminar Heli Power India 2008 turned into a resounding success after Heli Power India 2006[9]. In addition, in August 2009, U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) awarded a grant to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in India, to help update regulations and practices governing helicopter operations. The USTDA grant, to be carried out under the auspices of the U.S.-India Aviation Cooperation Program (ACP), will aid in the growth and development of India’s civil aviation sector by fostering increases in the volume of helicopter operations in the expanding Indian market[10]. Even though the growth of civil helicopter industry has stalled a bit in the world scenario, there is optimism in its growth in India. In a presentation at HELI-EXPO 2006, Air Vice Marshal Sridharan said, “India is truly a helicopter country on account of its diverse topography”[11]. This was because of the interlacing rivers and numerous hill ranges that impede the development of rail/road network. Helicopters are routinely employed by civil administration to support Government operations to connect to population centres in most of north India. Also since India is prone to natural disasters, wherein helicopters are utilised in a big way for relief operations, the need for, and thus the numbers of helicopters in operations is going to steadily increase.
4. The helicopter strength has not increased greatly in the defence services, though there are plans to upgrade the existing fleet as well as procure new helicopters in the near future. This will be mandatory keeping the internal security scenario in mind post 26/11 incident at Mumbai. Along with the increase in the number of helicopters, the changing scenario is laying more emphasis on night operations, throughout the world. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate our capabilities to be able to undertake unhindered helicopter operations by night.
5. This study concentrates on bringing out the present and future roles envisaged for helicopter night operations, both civil and military, in Indian context. The paper is also intended to analyse the challenges to these operations, not considering the financial implications, and make some recommendations to enhance helicopter operations in India.
Method of Data Collection
6. The data/information for preparing this dissertation has been collected through books, periodicals, aviation magazines, journals and articles available at the Defence Services Staff College Library, Wellington. Handouts issued by the College and various papers presented on helicopters have been referred to. Due to the paucity of literature in the library, articles, publications, papers by professionals available on internet have been extensively used. Many aspects have been discussed with officers from the helicopter stream of all three services. Bibliography of the various sources has been appended to this paper.
Organisation of the Dissertation
7. The paper has been organised into chapters. It is proposed to study the subject in the following manner:-
(a) Chapter – I. Introduction
(b) Chapter – II. Methodology
(c) Chapter – III. Characteristics of a Helicopter
(d) Chapter – IV. Helicopter Operations in India
(e) Chapter – V. Helicopter Night Operations: Civil
(f) Chapter – VI. Helicopter Night Operations: Military
(g) Chapter – VII. Requirements for Night Operations
(h) Chapter – VIII. Challenges in Night Operations
(i) Chapter – IX. Recommendations
(j) Chapter – X. Conclusion
“Helicopters are really a bunch of parts flying in relatively close formation; all rotating around a different axis. Things work well until one of the parts breaks formation”.
– Anonymous
1. Unlike an airplane which uses the engine thrust for forward propulsion and the fixed aerofoil sections (wings) for the lift, a helicopter uses a set of rotating aerofoil sections (rotors) for both the lift as well as the directional motion. The engine power is primarily used for rotating the main rotor. It also has an anti-torque system in the form of a vertical tail rotor/contra-rotating coaxial main rotor or in some types; called the ‘NOTAR’, the jet efflux from the main engine is used for this purpose. This method of lift generations bestows the helicopter with the ability:-
(a) To takeoff and land vertically
(b) To hover over any given point
(c) To move in any direction, i.e. forward, backward and sideways
(d) Turn through 360° over a given point.
2. At times the helicopter require a short air strip to be able to carry out Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) instead of the Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) due to the power requirement for VTOL not being available. This would depend on the:-
(a) All Up Weight (AUW). More the AUW more will be the power required for VTOL.
(b) Winds. Like conventional aircraft, helicopters takeoff/land most efficiently, when pointed into wind. Stronger the head winds the more efficiently the machine behaves.
(c) Density Altitude (DA). This is a function of the prevailing temperature and the density at the operating altitude and this determines the performance of the helicopter. Lower the DA better is the performance and load carrying capacity of a helicopter.
Types of Helicopters
3. The helicopters are classified into various types based on their Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW), their role and their design[12]. Based on the MTOW they are classified as:-
(a) Type-I (Heavy) – Skycrane S-61, Chinook, Mi-26
(b) Type-II (Medium) – Bell 205
(c) Type-III (Light) – Jetranger / Md-500
4. Based on the role they are classified as:-
(a) Utility helicopter – Mi-8, Mi-17, UH-1 Huey
(b) Armed helicopter/Gunship – A utility helicopter with limited firepower
(c) Attack helicopter – Mi-25/35, AH-64 Apache
(d) Airborne Early Warning (AEW) helicopter – Kamov Ka-32
(e) Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter – Seaking
(f) Multi-mission and Rescue helicopters – Chetak, Cheetal
(g) Observation helicopters – OH-58 Kiowa, Gazelle
(h) Training helicopters – Robinson R22, Cheetah
(j) Skycrane helicopters – Sikorsky S-64
(k) Helitack helicopters – Bell 205
(l) MEDEVAC helicopters – Sikorsky S76-C+
(m) Unmanned helicopters – Sikorsky "Cypher II", Bombardier CL-327 "Guardian"
5. Based on their construction, they are classified as:-
(a) Conventional (Single rotor and tail rotor combination) – Alouette III, HAL Dhruv
(b) NOTAR (No Tail Rotor) – MD Helicopters 520N, Aerotécnica AC-14
(c) Tandem rotor – CH-47 Chinook, Boeing Vertol 107-II
(d) Fenestron – Eurocopter EC120B, Aérospatiale Gazelle
(e) Tip jet rotor – McDonnell XV-1, Hughes XH-17
(f) Coaxial rotors – Kamov-32, Sikorsky S-69
(g) Synchropter – Flettner Fl 282 "Kolibri", HH-43 Huskie
(h) Compound helicopter/Gyrodyne – McDonnell XV-1, Kamov Ka-22
(j) Tilt rotor – Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey, Bell/Agusta BA 609
(k) X-wing – Sikorsky S-72 (only experimental)
Advantages over Fixed Wing
6. The major advantages of a helicopter over a conventional fixed wing aircraft are as follows:-
(a) Ubiquity. The ability of a helicopter to operate from any/every place, without the requirement of a prepared surface, is its biggest advantage. This is also the major factor which favours extensive night operations by a helicopter, as it does not require elaborate infrastructure for night operations.
(b) Flexibility. The helicopter is very flexible in terms of task performance. It can be converted from one role to another with minimal time, resources and effort. This characteristic aids in ease of operations by night wherein there would be constraints in terms of lighted space, etc.
(c) Vertical Envelopment. Helicopters can achieve and maintain vertical envelopment without the need for a linkup.
(d) Versatility. The helicopter’s ability to fly at all speed regimes (i.e. 0 to maximum) and at very low heights, permits the use of terrain masking to improve its survivability and thus its utilization in combat scenario. This property also propels the use of helicopter in various civilian applications like survey, meteorological observation, etc.
(e) Logistic Support. Due to the above-mentioned attributes, the helicopter is the ideal platform for speedy logistic support in confined/inaccessible areas both for military as well as civilian needs.
(f) Under Slung Load. Helicopters also have the advantage of carrying the cargo/payload either inside their fuselage or, if the size/shape of the cargo/payload so demands then, outside as an under slung load, with minimal penalty.
(g) Weather. Helicopters can be flown in weather conditions like poor visibility and precipitation which would not permit flight of an airplane, owing to their versatility. Availability of better onboard avionics has improved its all weather capability manifolds.
(h) Night Operations. Owing to its ubiquity, versatility and the capability to operate in marginal weather conditions, helicopters make an ideal choice for night operations.
7. Helicopters do have certain disadvantages as well, in comparison to a fixed wing aircraft. Some of these are:-
(a) Limited Speed. Due to the characteristics of rotating rotor blades (tip speeds approaching 1 Mach) helicopters cannot travel faster than about 350 kmph[13]. These speeds are very low and unsafe in a combat area.
(b) Fuel Consumption. Helicopter consumes more fuel than a conventional aircraft in performing the same task.
(c) Limited Range. Helicopters being smaller, carry lesser fuel. This coupled with the higher fuel consumption have a severe limitation on the range of operations of helicopters.
(d) Payload. Helicopters have to strike a balance between the size and weight of the intended payload viz. their own design and manoeuvrability. The bigger the intended payload the bigger the helicopter and lesser is the manoeuvrability (applicable for both internal and under slung loads). Also, the payload capacity of the helicopter reduces more rapidly with increase in altitude, compared to an airplane.
(e) Maintenance. Maintenance is difficult due to large number of moving part[14].
(f) High Cost. Rotorcraft being complex cost many times more than conventional airplane of similar performance, both in procurement as well as in operations.
(g) Noise & Vibrations. Helicopters are inherently noisy and prone to vibrations due to the rotor dynamics. This is problem area for both civil as well as military employment of these machines.
(h) Limited Service Ceiling. In general, helicopters have a much lower service ceiling compared to an airplane. Additionally, most of the helicopters have an unpressurised cabin/passenger area, thereby forcing them to operate at much lower altitudes, due oxygen considerations.
(i) Vulnerability. Noise, low speed and limitations due load are the major contributors to military helicopters being vulnerable to enemy fire. Thus, the armour requirement for the helicopter depends on these factors.
“Any Air Force that welcomes the onset of darkness…is well on its way to victory”
– Mark Hewish
Civil Helicopters
1. Though the history of helicopter dates back to 400 BC, for India the helicopter age started in the mid 1950s when a couple of Sikorsky helicopters flew in the Indian skies for the first time[15]. These helicopters were for the Indian Air Force. The first commercial helicopter flight was undertaken by Capt. R Captain in a Hiller UH 12B in Nov 53. Helicopters in both civil & military have been in service of the nation for over 59 years. From 1953 to 1986, the commercial use of helicopters in India was limited to small Aviation companies who were involved in communication and crop spraying roles. The formation of Helicopter Corporation of India by the Govt in 1986 (later named Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited) with a fleet of 42 helicopters provided the first boost to the Industry in the country. The growth rate has registered double digit only since 2004. Since then, until 2007, the growth of civil registered helicopters has been very modest, as shown in Fig 2[16].
2. Against a global average of one helicopter per half million people, in India the ratio is one helicopter for five million. The Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), the only society of its kind came into existence in 1998 and that too due single handed efforts of Air Vice Marshal (Retd) K Sridharan. Despite the late start, the prospects for growth in civil helicopter fleet are bright. The rapidly growing economy with activities spreading to remote, inaccessible areas, increased dependence on air travel and the ever widening search for energy reserves could propel growth in the next few years[17]. Realising the potential shown by civilian helicopter operations across the country, the civil aviation ministry is reportedly setting up a ‘Helicopter Mission’ to coordinate helicopter operations and deliberate on relevant issues[18].
Military Helicopters
3. The build up of military helicopters was slow and the impetus to the fleet actually came only after the 1962 war with China, although some helicopters did see action in that war itself, primarily in the casualty evacuation role. The earliest helicopter pilots in India were former Fighter and Transport pilots who for medical reasons or ‘service exigencies’ were moved to helicopter units. They were joined by some pilots of the Auxiliary Air Force. The first ‘true blood’ chopper pilots were commissioned with the 83rd Pilots Course in 1963. As no helicopter training facility existed in India, those flight cadets who were selected to fly choppers were sent to the UK or USSR for their initial conversion before returning home to join Mi-4 or Chetak units. Subsequently a Logistic Support Training Unit was set up in Allahabad for training helicopter pilots, and this was later converted to the Helicopter Training School, which is currently located at Fighter Training Wing in Hyderabad[19]. From this modest beginning the IAF has grown in strength and capability to now participate in international exercises as well as in UN peace keeping missions all over the world.
Helicopter Industry
4. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) came into existence on 01 October 1964. The Company was formed by the merger of Hindustan Aircraft Limited with Aeronautics India Limited and Aircraft Manufacturing Depot, Kanpur. The Company traces its roots to the pioneering efforts of an industrialist with extraordinary vision, the late Seth Walchand Hirachand, who set up Hindustan Aircraft Limited at Bangalore in association with the erstwhile princely State of Mysore in December 1940. The Government of India became a shareholder in March 1941 and took over the Management in 1942. HAL’S involvement with rotary-winged aircraft dates back to June 1962 when, to meet the Indian Air Force’s requirement for light helicopters, the Government of India signed a licence agreement with M/s SUD-AVIATION (Presently M/s EUROCOPTER, France)[20].
5. The first helicopter type to be built at HAL Bangalore was the Alouette Ill, later named Chetak, with firm orders having been placed in January 1965, the "raw material" production phase beginning in 1969-70. The Alouette II, with the dynamics including power plant of the Alouette Ill was specifically developed to meet the Indian Army’s stringent requirement and was christened Lama by the French (and Cheetah by the Indians). First Cheetah manufactured from raw materials was delivered in 1976-77[21].
6. Over the next twenty years, HAL’s Helicopter Division produced hundreds of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters for the Indian Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard as also for a number of civilian customers, including State Governments while a score or more were exported. This division has also produced the Dhruv helicopter (Advanced Light Helicopter-ALH) and its variants for the three services as well as for certain friendly foreign nations. It is currently pursuing the series production of the same and also developing the Indian Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)[22].
7. India’s attraction for helicopter makers is reaffirmed by strategic deals struck in the past year by key rotorcraft players. Sikorsky Aircraft has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a unit of Tata Group on the production of cabins for the S-92 helicopter and Eurocopter has expanded its manufacturing capability in India in collaboration with Mach Aero[23].
Any idiot can get an airplane off the ground, but an aviator earns his keep by bringing it back anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances that man and God can dream up.
– Walter Cunningham
1. Helicopter is a unique and very versatile machine and can be deployed in variety of roles by modifying them even at a very short notice. The various civil operations that can be undertaken by helicopters in the night are discussed in the following paragraphs. The many other roles undertaken by helicopters like, the use of Sky crane, maintenance and repair of overhead high tension cables, etc. are not discussed here as these operations are likely to be undertaken in day only.
2. Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS). Helicopters are used as air ambulances for emergency medical assistance in situations when an ambulance cannot easily or quickly reach the scene. Helicopters are also used when a patient needs to be transported between medical facilities and air transportation is the most practical method for the safety of the patient. Air ambulance helicopters are equipped to provide medical treatment to a patient while in flight. The use of helicopters as an air ambulance is often referred to as MEDEVAC, and the service is known as Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS)[24], [25].
3. Disaster Management. Disaster relief and humanitarian operations have become an increasingly important part of missions undertaken by many air forces around the world. The very magnitude of natural disasters like the massive tsunami, earthquake in 2001 and the seasonal floods in country warrant concerted efforts by various agencies to cope with the widespread destruction caused. Inevitably the helicopter had yet again featured as the primary air asset in bringing relief to the victims in these areas, be it food supplies, medical evacuation or movement of rescue parties to the hard to reach stricken areas. Tactical transport helicopters were used in a variety of multi-tasked missions from various air force bases around the region. They provided a vital link in creating the bridge for movement of personnel and materials in areas with little or no accessibility. At times, these operations had to be delayed due to the inclement weather or the absence of night capability with the helicopter in use. These occurrences reiterate the need for the nation’s armed forces as well as civil agencies to maintain a modern and effective rotary winged element that is capable of responding to these situations, irrespective of day or night[26].
4. Airborne Law Enforcement. Police departments and other law enforcement agencies, in other nations, use helicopters to pursue suspects. Since helicopters can achieve a unique aerial view, they are often used in conjunction with police on the ground to report on suspects’ locations and movements. They are often mounted with lighting and heat-sensing equipment for night pursuits[27]. The same is likely to be inducted into our Police and other security agencies, in the future.
5. Electronic News Gathering. Helicopters, due to their versatility & ubiquity, have become a popular means of electronic news gathering. The helicopters come equipped with gyro stabilised zoom cameras mounted under the fuselage and all other associated electronic equipment onboard for a direct transmission on satellite television. They are also equipped with cameras and lights for night time operations. Though this is not yet proliferated to India, the time is not very far when we’ll see couple of these helicopters operating overhead, on a 24 x 7 basis.
6. Aerial Survey. Government and industries require various surveys like damp surveys, heat loss surveys, insulation integrity, water ingress, electrical distribution inspections, aerial mapping & GIS of cities, pipeline aerial surveys, landfill site surveys for detection of methane gas and leachate flows, animal censusing surveys, sub-surface heating pipe/wiring detection and mapping etc. For their planning and development processes. These can be easily carried out by suitable equipment mounted on a helicopter. The advantage being that since the helicopter travels at a much slower speed and at a lower height compared to an airplane; the sampling rate for each parameter would be that much higher, while being able to cover large areas in an appropriate time.
7. Helitack. Helitack is the use of helicopters to combat wild land fires. The helicopters are used for aerial fire fighting (or water bombing) and may be fitted with tanks or carry helibuckets. Helibuckets, such as the Bambi bucket, are usually filled by submerging the bucket into lakes, rivers, reservoirs, or portable tanks. Tanks fitted onto helicopters are filled from a hose while the helicopter is on the ground or water is siphoned from lakes or reservoirs through a hanging snorkel as the helicopter hovers over the water source. Helitack helicopters are also used to deliver fire-fighters, who rappel down to inaccessible areas, and to resupply fire-fighters. Common fire fighting helicopters include variants of the Bell 205 and the Erickson S-64 Aircrane helitanker[28].
8. Passenger & Cargo Flight Operations. Owing to the fact that helicopters can operate from small helipads, heliports or vertiports and keeping in mind the future need for short distance air travel, helicopters are going to be in great use for hauling passengers and cargo over short distances. These operations are likely to be carried out not only by day, but night as well due to the likely congestion of traffic during day time. Apart from the regular travellers, helicopters will also be used by Oil and Energy sector companies for movement of their personnel and material to offshore rigs, remote drilling and operating locations. The offshore support operator, with the country’s largest fleet of Bell 412s, Global Vectra Helicorp Ltd has opened a new maintenance hangar at Juhu airport in Mumbai, anticipating the likely boom in the helicopter sector[29].
9. Adventure Tour Operations. Along with the increase in commercial/ chartered passenger utilisation, the need for use of helicopters for adventure tours is also likely to increase manifolds. At present the adventure enthusiasts have to make do with road transports to travel to the remote places of their interests and where there is no road connectivity they either trek to or forego the spot, However, with the helicopters assuming an important role in transportation these enthusiasts are also likely to fetch up to these machines for their needs. Since these are adventure activities, it’s only a short time before these people shift their operations by night.
10. Unmanned Helicopter Operations. Now, unmanned helicopters have become affordable and easy to operate. These UAVs can hover steadily for long durations while shooting quality videos. These can be operated by relatively untrained people and can takeoff from anywhere, even a roof of a car. These machines are being used for Electronic NEWS gathering, crop spraying, surveillance with normal/IR camera by Law enforcement agencies, etc[30]. Also, TGR Helicorp is developing an unpiloted full-sized alpine rescue helicopter; the ‘Alpine Wasp’, for rescuing up to two mountaineers from none other than Mount Everest itself[31].
“A military that ‘sees’ at night has a distinctive advantage over its adversary”
– Anonymous
1. Future military usage of helicopters focuses on combat support and maritime roles. The highlight is on the emerging trends and evolving technologies on combat power of helicopters. Use of helicopters in armed forces now range from high intensity war to low intensity conflicts, counter terrorism, disaster management and other numerous roles. Air Chief Marshall Fali Major put the point straight across. “Advances in technology improve the survivability and effectiveness of military helicopters more than of most other weapon platforms. This highlights the need for focused attention to ensure timely upgrades; because otherwise, ‘flying low and slow’, the helicopters are more vulnerable in tactical scenarios. IAF takes this seriously, and suitable upgrade programmes are underway”. Deployment, survivability, interoperability have become key issues in the chopper industry. In the West, over the last two decades, tremendous technological advances have been made by the manufacturers to introduce fail-safe or damage tolerant design, piloting aids, all weather capability, health and usage monitoring systems and crashworthy systems in the helicopter to enhance safety. Enhanced capabilities in the form of armaments, avionics, EW and night vision packages are available for use by military helicopters .The newly developed tilt rotor Aircraft V-22 which flies at the speed of a fixed wing aircraft, covering longer ranges and operating out of restricted areas has already entered operational service[32]. The various military roles have been discussed in the following paragraphs.
Combat Roles
2. Observation and Reconnaissance. Militarily, reconnaissance is the active seeking to determine a foe’s intentions by collecting and gathering information about an enemy’s composition and capabilities along with pertinent environmental conditions, via direct observation, usually by scouts or military intelligence soldiers especially trained in critical surveillance, or by electronic means, by using aerial platforms. Helicopters are an excellent platform for recce owing to their ability to hover for a prolonged period of time, when required. For recce by night, the helicopter needs to be equipped with suitable electronic means.
3. Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD). These are the actions taken by a force to suppress the ground based air defence of the enemy, like the surveillance, fire control radars, etc. The primary weapon used by helicopter may be Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs), rockets, Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) or cluster bombs. Helicopters are best suited for this task as they can carry out Nap-Of-the-Earth (NOE) flying to avoid detection by radar and thereby achieve its task.
4. Battlefield Air Strike (BAS). It is defined as the ‘air action against hostile targets which are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of friendly forces’. The primary task for any attack helicopter is destruction of enemy ground force at decisive points. These helicopters can be used in conjunction with ground manoeuvre Units during battle operations. Also these helicopters are most effective when used in mass, in continuous manner on the enemy’s flanks and rear. Integration of airplane and helicopters for this purpose will allow the commanders to take full advantage of complementary but distinctly different, capabilities of these different platforms.
5. Air Assault. These operations are those in which air assault forces employing the mobility, protection, firepower and total integration of helicopter assets in their air or ground roles manoeuvre on the battlefield to engage and destroy forces or to seize and hold key terrain[33]. These operations are inherently complex and require full synchronisation for a rapid deployment. These operations assist ground forces in overcoming obstacles in the process of capturing vital grounds/points and in follow up support to preserve the momentum of attack.
6. Special Heliborne Operations (SHBO). The operations where in helicopters are used for insertion and extraction of combat forces are called SHBO[34]. These operations are highly dependent on surprise and deception, thus these operations are also edging towards the night time. These also include high-value, high-payoff missions conducted by specially trained, equipped and organized forces. Special Operations Units are trained, equipped and manned to support both special and conventional operating forces[35], both during day as well as night.
7. Helicopter-Counter Air Operations (H-CAO). With the increase in utilisation of helicopters in various roles and due to their limited range, armed forces are forced to build and employ Forward Area Rearming and Refuelling Points (FARRPs), closer to the border/Forward Line of Own Troops (FLOT). These are used for the operations of Attack/Armed Helicopters and thus, store a large quantity of fuel and ammunition. Therefore, helicopters can be employed in CAO against these FARRPs to attack on the enemy’s fuel, ammunition and helicopters present there.
8. Anti-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)/Anti-Helicopter. A large number of UAV/helicopter are employed by the enemy to gather intelligence, especially during night. Since the fighter aircraft have considerable difficulty in acquiring and shooting these down, due to their slow speed and small size, Attack Helicopters can effectively and efficiently be employed in anti-UAV/helicopter role.
9. Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW)/Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Platform. Helicopters are ideal platforms to be employed in these roles due to their characteristics. Once again these operations were predominantly carried out in daylight, however, with the battle tanks acquiring night capability the helicopters are also forced to take up these operations by night.
10. Theatre Missile Defence (TMD). This is real and increasing in nature. Proliferation of Theatre Ballistic Missiles (TBMs) presents a serious threat to our forces during many potential contingencies. They offer various choices of warhead; have extended range and are relatively inexpensive. TMD is a joint mission. It is established in the form of an interoperable BM/C4I (Battle Management/C4I) that permits the joint force commander to destroy enemy’s TM capability by offensive action against Missile Launchers, C3I, logistics facilities and other infrastructure. Though there are many challenges, Attack Helicopters offer unique potential to the commander, when properly planned for employment in TMD operations[36].
11. Support by Fire (SBF). This is a mission given to Attack Helicopters, directing them to establish a base of fire or an over watch position. It can be used to engage a target while ground or air manoeuvre assets move to or bypass the same target area. It may range from suppression to destruction of the target[37]. Fire support is often critical to mission success. To achieve the support needed, fire support must be precise and timely. However, it must not reveal the objective of the mission[38].
Combat Support Roles
12. Airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC)/Fire Direction Duties. Helicopters are extensively used for controlling and directing the attack aircraft coming in for BAS/Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI). At places where the artillery fire cannot be directed by ground observers, for various reasons of terrain, visibility conditions, etc., helicopters are used effectively. Though these tasks are being performed extensively during day time, the shifting of battle/combat into the night will automatically usher in these operations into night mode.
13. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). Though we have fought a few wars after independence there is no instance of rescuing a downed aircrew in the enemy territory. Our doctrine is also not very descriptive about this issue of CSAR. In future operations there will be more probability of an aircraft being shot down or the pilot having to abandon his plane over hostile territory, due to the sophisticated Air Defence (AD) weapons available with the enemy. IAF needs to formulate CSAR plans and train people for the same. In these operations helicopters would be the most suited platform and these would also be done at night to avoid detection by enemy.
14. Air Movement. Air movement operations are carried out to position men and required material in support of current or future operations. These operations include both air landings as well as air drops. As used in Vietnam, the helicopter provided unprecedented troop mobility and supremacy on the battlefield. Helicopters may also be used for administrative relocation of personnel; equipment, supplies and material and their intra-theatre air lift.
15. Electronic Warfare (EW). EW is used in conjunction with multidiscipline counterintelligence to protect friendly C2 while attacking the enemy’s C2 structure[39]. ELINT/ESM suites used for heliborne intelligence gathering provide high accuracy bearing measurement, radar identification and fully automatic signal sorting. These can be integrated with the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system to offer the advantages of correlated radar and ESM intercepts using one airframe for both AEW & ELINT roles[40]. Indian Navy employs the Kamov helicopter for AEW role.
16. CASEVAC. This includes pickup of casualties from the battlefield, with or without ability to provide emergency trauma care during the flight (distinct role from air ambulance)[41]; to the initial treatment facility and their subsequent movement to treatment facilities within the combat zone. For these missions, helicopters have proven to be the indispensible, near-ideal machines.
17. Communications Duties. This entails flying military leaders and specialists from one Headquarters/Unit to another. Once again helicopters have proved to be an ideal platform for this task.
18. Patrolling Duties. Helicopters can be effectively utilised for patrolling of vital areas/installations like ports/harbours, especially when high value Naval assets are berthed; the international borders between two nations; nuclear installations, etc. this task can be performed both during peace as well as during hostilities.
Modern Concepts
19. Military Operations in Urban Terrain. With the advent of 4th generation warfare, the battlefield has not only lost its dimension but also has moved into the urban area. Troops and armoured regiments are finding it extremely difficult to fight a war under these conditions. It has now been realised that Attack Helicopters are the only and ideal answer to such situations. Some of the tasks that need to be carried out under these conditions are:-
(a) Aerial Surveillance/Observation/Tracking
(b) Precision Targeting
(c) Time Sensitive Targeting (TST)
(d) Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC)
(e) Rapid deployment of small groups of troops at the point of application
(f) Timely movement of men and material (Logistics support)
20. The above mentioned tasks can efficiently be carried out by none other than helicopters, especially in an urban area. Army aviation officer Timothy A. Jones outlined the capabilities of attack helicopters in urban fighting in his 1996 Attack Helicopter Operations in Urban Terrain. He cited the psychological effects of helicopters on Panamanian enemy forces during Operation Just Cause combat actions in 1989 and noted that Cobra attack helicopters provided needed fire support in instances where strict rules of engagement (ROE) precluded the use of indirect fires.
21. Low Intensity Conflict Operations (LICO) Scenario. The post Cold War world has been marked by an explosion of low intensity conflict, and a significant increase in ‘Operations Other Than War’ (OOTW). The various aspects of helicopters, in such a scenario, are discussed below:-
(a) Such operations place great emphasis on the expeditionary capability and rapid deployability that helicopters enable.
(b) There is often a requirement for patrolling, which requires relatively small numbers of troops to be moved rapidly and safely around large areas.
(c) In theatre, responding effectively to ‘hit and run’ attacks requires rapid reaction and great agility in deploying forces.
(d) There is also often a need to extract small units from unfriendly territory where road transport would be in real danger of ambush or bombs. The threat posed by irregular forces may make routine movement by road prohibitively risky, placing a further premium on helicopter lift.
(e) With a need to minimise collateral damage and friendly casualties, firepower has to be applied with ever greater precision, and the best attack helicopters frequently offer greater accuracy and more discriminatory close air support than many fast jet platforms.
(f) Naval helicopters are also kept busy. Obviously, amphibious lift can allow troops to operate from the relative safety of a ship, but few nations have sufficient amphibious lift capacity, so some specialised ASW helicopters have been pressed into service in the transport and assault roles. Offensive naval helicopters have also seen action, protecting civilian and military vessels from attackers using very small craft.
(g) In both land and maritime environments, unconventional and irregular enemy forces pose particular intelligence problems, since they tend to be extremely fast-moving, and often hit and run. This places great importance on accurate and responsive ISR, and helicopters have already proved well-suited to this role.
22. Afghanistan and Iraq underline the need for better hot and high performance, and this has helped to drive a continuing move away from the use of single-engine aircraft in all roles, along with an increased emphasis on the larger medium and heavy helicopters. The main market demand is still led by medium twins, but with an increasing interest in heavy lift rotorcraft, perhaps stimulated by the success of today’s larger helicopters, including the Merlin, Chinook and Mi-26. Many believe that tomorrow’s transport helicopters will carry more than a single squad of troops. As important as size is versatility, and recent operations have only served to underline the importance of being able to rapidly recon for other roles, from MEDEVAC to configurations tailored to allow participation in aid and reconstruction work.
“There is no other weapons system, save perhaps for the fully equipped infantryman, that has the potential of the attack helicopter to contribute across the complete spectrum of conflict, from peacekeeping operations to general war, in such a predominant manner."
– General Sir Charles Guthrie, KCB, LVO, OBE
Chief of the British General Staff
1. For a number of years, there have been researches conducted into developing technologies for both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft to operate 24 hours a day in Degraded Visual Environments (DVE). The challenge to develop a true Day/Night All-Environment (DNAE) capability is three folds; the development of a suitable multiple sensor suite; the definition of the necessary system architecture; and the provision of a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that can be integrated into the existing helicopter fleet, enabling them to operate safely in the most demanding circumstances. A true DNAE system will need to be a ‘system of systems’ to provide the required awareness of terrain, flight path, threats, landing zones and obstacles to aircrew[42]. Various requirements that come into play for the night operations are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
2. Night Physiology. The operators must possess adequate knowledge of the physiology of the eye, its mechanism of night adaption and peculiarities of night vision.
Night Vision Devices (NVD)
3. The main problem with night flying is the reduced contrast of the objects around, which is commonly referred to as reduced visibility. This is due to the absence of a light source. Whenever adequate lighting is provided this limitation is overcome and we are able to see better. However, it is not possible to provide the necessary lighting at all the places. Therefore, other means of enhancing the night vision are developed. Basically there are two methods of enhancing the vision in night. These are:-
(a) Image Enhancement. This works by collecting the tiny amounts of light, including the lower portion of the infrared light spectrum, that are present but may be imperceptible to our eyes, and amplifying it to the point that we can easily observe the image[43].
(b) Thermal Imaging. This technology operates by capturing the upper portion of the infrared light spectrum, which is emitted as heat by objects instead of simply reflected as light. Hotter objects, such as warm bodies, emit more of this light than cooler objects like trees or buildings[44].
4. Based on these two principles there are various types of NVDs that have been built. Some of these are:-
(a) Night Vision Goggle (NVG). In this a conventional lens captures ambient light and some near-infrared light. The gathered light is sent to the image-intensifier tube. The image-intensifier tube has a photocathode, which is used to convert the photons of light energy into electrons. As the electrons pass through this tube a number of similar electrons are released through the use of a micro channel plate (MCP). At the end of the image-intensifier tube, the electrons hit a screen coated with phosphors. The energy of the electrons causes the phosphors to reach an excited state and release photons. These phosphors create the green image on the screen that has come to characterize night vision. The green phosphor image is viewed through another lens, called the ocular lens, which allows you to magnify and focus the image. The NVD may be connected to an electronic display, such as a monitor, or the image may be viewed directly through the ocular lens[45]. These are the most common device used as it is light weight and portable. Only requirement is that the helicopter’s cockpit lighting needs to be modified for use with these goggles. If not modified the cockpit lights would appear too bright in the goggles and might temporarily blind the pilot.
(b) Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). This is a form of radar in which multiple radar images are processed to yield higher-resolution images than would be possible by conventional means. Either a single antenna mounted on an airplane is used to illuminate a target scene or many low-directivity small stationary antennas are scattered over an area near the target area. The many echo waveforms received at the different antenna positions are post-processed to resolve the target. SAR can only be implemented by moving one or more antennas over relatively immobile targets, by placing multiple stationary antennas over a relatively large area, or combinations thereof. SAR has seen wide applications in remote sensing and mapping[46].
(c) Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR). An airborne, electro-optical thermal imaging device that detects far-infrared energy, converts the energy into an electronic signal, and provides a visible image for day or night viewing. Since FLIRs use detection of thermal energy to create the "picture" assembled for the video output, they can be used to help pilots and drivers steer their vehicles at night, and in fog, or detect warm objects against a cold background when it is completely dark (such as a cloudy, moonless night). The wavelength of infrared that FLIRs detects differs significantly from that of Night vision, which operates in the visible light and near infrared ranges (0.4 to 1.0 micrometres)[47].
(d) Infra-Red Line Scan (IRLS). A passive airborne infrared recording system which scans across the ground beneath the flight path, adding successive lines to the record as the vehicle advances along the flight path. The received signals can be displayed in the cockpit on a suitable display for use by the pilot.
(e) Low Light Television (LLTV). This is a type of electronic sensing device, usually a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) camera with a frequency detection range extending above the normal "visible" (0.4 to 0.7 micrometre) wavelengths, and into the short-wave Infrared – usually to about 1.0 to 1.1 micrometres. This allows viewing of objects in extremely low light levels, where they would not be seen by the naked eye[48].
(f) Thermal Imaging. In this a special lens focuses the infrared light emitted by all of the objects in view. The focused light is scanned by a phased array of infrared-detector elements. This then creates a very detailed temperature pattern called a ‘thermogram’. This process takes only about one-thirtieth of a second. The thermogram created by the detector elements is translated into electric impulses. The impulses are sent to a signal-processing unit that translates the information from the elements into data for the display. The signal-processing unit sends the information to the display, where it appears as various colours depending on the intensity of the infrared emission. The combination of all the impulses from all of the elements creates the image[49].
5. Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS). One of the most difficult things during night flying is maintaining a continuous awareness of the terrain, due to reduced/absent depth perception and poor light conditions. To overcome this problem the helicopters have incorporated the TAWS. This device incorporates an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) and alerts the pilot in case of reduced margin with respect to terrain, obstacles, etc.
6. Identification Friend or Foe (IFF). Keeping track of a helicopter on the surveillance radar is difficult owing to its size and the low heights that it flies. Therefore, at times it becomes difficult/impossible to provide necessary support for the helicopter’s operation. To overcome this problem the modern helicopters have started having the IFF system onboard. This system, being a secondary radar, enhances the range of pickup and makes it possible to keep the helicopter in radar contact. It can also be used to indicate emergency situations onboard, to the radar controller and expect timely assistance when required.
7. Situational Awareness (SA). Maintaining SA during night operations is most vital to flight safety. Various systems need to be installed to assist/enhance the pilot in maintaining the same. One example of this is the HAWKOWL system. The HAWKOWL system was installed in Sea King Mk 4X ZB506 and included a colour head-down display (HDD), a wide field of view colour panoramic NVG, a monochrome display NVG (DNVG), display generators, helicopter terrain-following (HTF) processor, on-board mission planning system (OMPS) enabling real-time route generation, precision integrated navigation system, electro-magnetic head tracking system (HTS) and a versatile cockpit HMI. In addition, a real-time image fusion processor was installed to selectively fuse imagery from a TI and night vision camera mounted on the nose of the helicopter[50].
8. Weather Minima. Weather is a major element in night operations. Most of the accidents in night operations have been attributed to disorientation. Bad/marginal weather can degrade the situation manifolds in night operations. Thus, the weather minimas need to be clearly specified and followed.
9. Noise Level. Helicopters are inherently noisy machines. One of the problems of operating helicopters at night, in a large scale would be the noise. Certain nations have strict noise level limits and these would hinder the operations of helicopter in the vicinity of residential colonies. Perforce the operations in the night would have to be from heliports/helipads away from settlements, at least till the time the helicopters become a quieter machine. The noise is a giveaway for the military helicopters too. During actual operations during night, a helicopter’s approach would be made out only by its noise. Thus there are plenty of researches being carried out on the noise reducing techniques for the helicopters.
10. Aircrew Training. Another important aspect of night operations is the training of the aircrew. Night operations are different and many times more difficult than day operations. Therefore, the aircrew needs to be trained extensively and exclusively for night operations. The training itself may be more strenuous than the training during day. The aircrew needs to be trained not only in the flying aspect but also wholly in crisis management, Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), team building, etc. for efficient night operations.
11. Modern Avionics. Modern avionics and instrumentation are required for helicopters to be able to carry out night operations. Helicopter need to be Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) certified for carrying out dark night operations. Without this certification the helicopters can only fly by moon phase and that too in the vicinity of the aerodrome, keeping the beacon in sight. Similarly, weather radar is a mandatory requirement for the helicopter to be able to fly in marginal weather conditions.
12. Infrastructure. Helicopter night operations require suitable infrastructure in terms of lighted helipads/heliports/vertiports with Turn Round Servicing (TRS) facilities, parking facilities and hangars, adequate and comfortable aircrew rest rooms, adequate passenger/cargo handling facilities. Apart from these the operations would depend heavily on a robust communication network, a round the clock surveillance radar system. The safety of these operations would depend on the quality and availability of Radio and Navigation Aids (RANADS) and also electronic approach aids at landing sites for operations in marginal/poor weather.
13. Rules and Regulations. The rules and regulations for helicopter operations at night have to be different from that for fixed wing operations or even from that for helicopter operations by day.
“Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the change occur”.
– Giulio Douhet
1. Helicopters have come into prominence only recently. Being a complex machine the developments have taken a longer time compared to a fixed wing aircraft. However, the full potential of the helicopter is slowly unravelling itself before the world. India has begun to accept this versatile machine as the machine of the future and is aiming to develop the helicopter industry as well as the service to a great extent. This being just the beginning of a long term process, there are a few challenges that we need to overcome. Some of these challenges that we are facing are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Civil Sector
2. Lack of Awareness. The public, including the user and the administrators in the government are not fully conversant with the versatility of a helicopter. They consider helicopter to be an unsafe, non-robust machine, unlike their fixed wing counterpart. This misnomer needs to be eradicated from the society. RWSI, which is a member of International Federation of Helicopter Association (which has an observer status in ICAO), has been the only agency in India, which is carrying out activities to promote the helicopter.
3. Procedural Delays. Since helicopters were part of a minority society, the procedures for hiring, chartering and operating a helicopter are lengthy and time consuming. The angle of national security also adds to this delay. Invariably, the person/company wanting to hire/charter a helicopter would end up going by road/rail rather than continue struggling to obtain the permission.
4. Lack of Infrastructure. Required infrastructures, as stated in the previous chapter, are far from reality. There are plenty of helipads in our country but most of them are private helipads owned by business tycoons and are not available for public use. The state of RANADS is far from the desired status. None of the heliports have an approach aid.
5. Lack of Manpower. Shortage of Pilots and Engineers. There is a severe shortage of pilots and engineers trained on helicopter systems. This is primarily because till now helicopters did not command their respect in the aviation society.
6. Certain factors, which affect the helicopter operations as a whole and though not specific to night operations, contribute indirectly to the lower scale of night operations in India, are:-
(a) High Cost of Fuel. Aviation Turbine Fuel continues to attract very high sales tax that makes helicopter usage unaffordable.
(b) High Tariffs. Radio Navigation Facilities (RNF) charges, Landing, Parking, and Passenger Service Fee (PSF) etc. add to the already high cost of operations.
(c) High Customs Duty. Import of helicopters & spares by private operators involves high customs duty. Due to this the number of helicopter operators is very few in our country.
(d) No Separate Traffic Rules for Helicopters. The traffic rules for helicopters are the same as that for the fixed wing operations. This leads to gross underutilisation of the helicopters as the capabilities are totally different from those of a fixed wing aircraft. Helicopters being more versatile can operate in conditions where airplane cannot; however, they are not permitted to operate under these conditions as per the existing rules.
(e) No simultaneous operations. Simultaneous operations of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are not permitted in India and this is another cause for sub-optimal utilisation of helicopters.
Military Sector
7. Lack of Awareness. The full capability and potential of a helicopter is probably known only to the few who operate it or deal with its mission planning in the IAF. Though, IAF is a service which is omnipresent in all types of combat/non-combat activities undertaken by other arms of our defence services, the awareness in other services about the capabilities and utility of a helicopter is lacking. Therefore, the platform often goes sub-optimally utilised.
8. Lack of Infrastructure. As in civil the armed forces are also severely short on infrastructure, especially for night operations. Whatever, infrastructures are available are far too less and are at specific places only.
9. Shortage of Trained Manpower/Specialists. The number of trained/ specialist personnel available are short in numbers for the services to be able to undertake optimal helicopter operations by night. To some extent, this is attributed to the following:-
(a) Lack of Training Facilities. Presently the helicopter ab-initio training is undertaken at only one place. After the basic training on the Chetak helicopter, the pilots proceed to another place for advanced training on the Mi-8. Therefore, the load on the training infrastructure is quiet high for these institutes to be able to undertake dedicated night flying training for all the available helicopter pilots. Each helicopter Unit does undertake its own night flying training but these are restricted to meet the requirements of upgradation of status of a new pilot in the Unit or merely to maintain the currencies of the available pilots. This is owing to the other operational commitments of the Unit.
(b) Platforms with Lower Technology and Numbers. The above mentioned problem is also due to the fact that the armed forces are employing the helicopter with outdated technology and the existing strength is quiet low even to meet the daily operational commitments. Due to the old technology either the helicopter are not capable of undertaking night operations or are poor in serviceability state. Like the Cheetah can fly only in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions and thus cannot undertake night operations when moon light is not available. Non-availability of advanced avionics like weather radar, and approach management systems prevents the military helicopter from being IFR certified. This poses a great limitation in the operability in the night. Also, the number of Units which have the modified helicopters with night capability are far too less to cater to the training of aircrew for night operations. IAF is in the process of acquiring helicopter with latest technology and this situation is likely to be overcome in the future.
10. No Simultaneous Operations. Even with the employment of advanced radars and other avionics, simultaneous operations between helicopter and fixed wing aircraft are not permitted. This lays down a severe limitation on the times for operations. This is because the rules and regulations for helicopter are the same as that of fixed wing aircraft, though both are characteristically widely apart.
11. Lack of Terrain/Obstructions Map. Military helicopter flying is unlike civil helicopter flying, wherein the civil helicopter follows standard laid down airways and waypoints. Military helicopters often fly over areas that are not surveyed. Since the knowledge of terrain and obstructions in the operating area is an implicit requirement for any night operations, the helicopters are also restricted by the area of operations due to the lack of availability of surveyed maps for all the regions.
12. Services Integration/Joint Operations. ‘Jointmanship’ and ‘Services Integrated Operations’ are the buzz word today. From the various campaigns across the world, it has been learnt that for any operations to be successful in the most efficient manner all armed forces of the nation have to act in a synergy, complimenting each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses. Indian armed forces have also realised the same and have taken steps to build up this aspect. However, the desired levels of Jointmanship will take some time to accomplish.
“In the history of human conflict the emergence of new technology has all along played a significant role on the conduct, and in many cases, the very nature of the warfare”.
– Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (Retd.)
1. It is often said that the “only permanent thing in this life is change”. The change in technology is very rapid and anyone who does not remain contemporary with it is likely to be left so far behind that it will become impossible to catch up again. The developments in the field of helicopters are also similar. It is only going to speed up further when people realise its full potential and capabilities. Therefore, we must not let this opportunity, of catching up with the technology, slip away from our hands, lest it becomes impossible thereafter. Some of the suggestions for improving and optimally utilising the potential of a helicopter, by night, are given in the following paragraphs.
2. Development of Heliports/Vertiports. The following are recommended for the development of heliports/vertiports:-
(a) Public Use Heliports. AAI needs to take up development of heliports/vertiports for public use in our country. For this purpose it is recommended that AAI establish a separate ‘Heliport Wing’ to oversee the development of Heliports, Vertiports and Heli-routes in our country. Suitable sites need to be identified for the creation of these, keeping in mind their commercial usage. Vertiports need to be constructed so as to employ the futuristic Tilt-Wing rotorcraft for commuting within 300 Nm radius, thereby increasing the propinquity of air travel to all parts of the country.
(b) Medical Evacuation Helipads. National Highways Authority, Home Ministry and various speciality hospitals/trauma centres need to develop helipads for quick evacuation of accident victims by helicopter. The helipads could be built at a distance of 100 – 150 kms along all the national highways. Similarly, every village/town may be provided with a helipad for this purpose. The funding for the same could be drawn from Government, Hospital Marketing Tool, Corporate Donations (flying billboard), Fee for Service, Membership Programs and/or combination of any of these.
(c) Government Helipads. State government should encourage development and maintenance of heliports at all State capitals, District Hqs and large commercial activity centres. These could be later utilised at times of disaster relief, casualty evacuation, etc.
3. Separate rules, regulations, procedures and routings need to be planned and brought in force for efficient and economical entry and exit of helicopters from the heliports/vertiports.
4. Standard operating procedures need to be worked out for simultaneous operations of airplane and helicopters so as to avoid delays in landing and departure of helicopter traffic.
5. Government needs to promote the helicopter operations by providing suitable incentives to the operators and training academies, by reducing the tariffs and reducing the custom duties on import at least till HAL comes up with suitable, indigenously built helicopter.
6. DGCA and AAI need to develop a comprehensive network of RANADS for use by all aircraft.
7. Ministry of Tourism needs to construct helipads/heliports at important places of tourist’s attraction for promoting heli-tourism and adventure tours.
8. Indian Armed Forces also need to develop new and improve the existing infrastructure for enhancing helicopter operations.
9. The forces also need to procure more number of helicopters with advanced avionics and IFR certification for increasing the night ops capability. The operational helicopters may also be equipped with Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids System (HIDAS) for better survivability under hostile/combat situation.
10. The aircrew and ground crew training needs to be redesigned so as to have qualitative and quantitative training to have adequate number of personnel available at all times, to optimally utilise the helicopter for night operations.
If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life.
– Igor Ivanovitch Sikorsky
1. Just over a century after achieving the first flight, helicopters are emerging in a big way. They are now being accepted and their full competence is being comprehended. They are not only in a position to take over some of the tasks off the fixed-wing counterpart like BAS, short distance transportation, etc. But also are here to make their presence felt in places where the fixed-wing would not have been of much help like in a MOUT, LICO scenario, HEMS, etc. Helicopters developed much faster in military than in civilian application. This was due to their invention and development during the years of war. However, now the civilian applications are as developed as any military application.
2. The development in India was slightly later as we were under the British rule during this time. Even after independence the helicopter development has been slightly lacking in terms of development of infrastructure, training and availability of both men and the machine, due to the unawareness of the people about the capabilities of the helicopter. However, with the global interaction and the rising economy of our nation the helicopters have also found a foothold in our aviation industry. The growing demands in global scenario have their effect on Indian environment also. Recognising the importance of helicopters in the field of aviation our Civil Aviation ministry declared the year 2008 as the ‘Year of Helicopters’. This also is indicative of our understanding of the trend and acceptance of the fact that helicopters are going to be serious players in tomorrow’s aerial situation. The scenario is also indicative of the fact that night operations are preferable over day, for both military as well as civilian purposes.
3. Having fully understood the global trend, India needs to take concrete measures to improve the infrastructure, training facilities and procure new rotorcrafts with the latest technology, in terms of avionics, engine and composite material airframes, etc. These helicopters need to be essentially IFR certified so as to be able to undertake night/marginal weather operations without any hindrances. DGCA, AAI need to setup more agencies like the RWSI to monitor and advice on the aspect of growth of the helicopter industry as well as to spread awareness about the versatility and uses of a helicopter. India has already initiated steps to keep abreast with the global scenario in this field of helicopter operations and in the future will endeavour to maintain the lead status in this field, with indigenous manufacture of HAL Dhruv and LCH.
4. In this paper I have brought out the various aspects of helicopters and their operation by night and have made some recommendations for optimal utilisation of these marvellous machines keeping the future trends in mind. The ways of safe employment of the helicopter is however, left to the imagination of the user/operator. This is likely to have a great bearing not only on the civilian life but also is likely to have a bearing on the results of any future conflicts. Our endeavour, though, should be to exploit the tremendous potential of this versatile craft, for our benefit.
1. Leishman, J. Gordon. Principles of Helicopter Aerodynamics. Cambridge Aerospace Series, 18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. pp. 3f.
2. Harrison, PG. Military Helicopters. Brassey’s Battlefield Weapons Systems & Technology Series Vol XI. 1985. pp. 1-9.
3. Heath, John Everett. Helicopters in Combat. Arms and Armour Press. 1993. p. 93, 137 & 180.
4. Mike Spick and Bill Gunston. Modern Fighting Helicopters. Salamander Books Ltd; Revised edition 1998. p. 188.
5. Indian Armed Forces. Joint Doctrine. 2007. p. 55 et passium.
6. Carey, Keith. The Helicopter. Wellingborough, 1986.
7. Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide. Chapter 6. March 2006. pp. 6-1 to 6-6.
8. Joshi, Amitabh. ‘Hello Helicopter’. International Aerospace Jan-Feb 2008. pp. 14-16.
9. Ahluwalia, Air Vice Marshal HS, (Retd) YSM, VM. ‘Helicopter Operations in the IAF’. Security Research Review. Vol 2. 2006. p. 53.
10. Presentation by RWSI on Helicopter Operations in India. New Delhi. 2009.
11. Chaudhry, Air Marshal GS (Retd). ‘Choppers Make a Mark’. SP’s Airbuz. Issue 5. 2008. pp. 24-25.
12. Geoff Clarkson, Dean Moore and David Thorndycraft. ‘The Helicopter Day/Night, All-Environment Challenge’ October 2007 Rusi Defence Systems. pp. 48-51.
13. Force Technology. Maritime Aerodynamics Services. ‘Helicopter Operations on Ships and Offshore’.
14. Alpert, Geoffrey P. ‘Helicopters in Pursuit Operations’. U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC. 1998.
15. Abraham, Suresh. ‘Tactical Transport Helicopters in Humanitarian Relief Operations’. ADJ April 2009. pp. 16-18.
16. Tourism, Government of India Ministry of-. Guidelines for recognition as an approved adventure tour operator [with effect from 27.08.2007].
17. Thomas, Mr. Timothy L. ‘Air Operations in Low Intensity Conflict: The Case of Chechnya’. Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS.
18. Expert Panel Review of Helicopter Utilization and Protocols in Maryland Baltimore, MD. November 24-25, 2008
19. Doss, Capt R.A. ‘Night-time Helicopter Operations in Built Up Areas’ Universal Military Abstract 1990-91. Vol IV No 2. pp. 31-32.
20. ‘The Independent Army Aviation Corps: the story till now’. Vayu IV. 2005. pp. 16-18.
21. Suri, Col AK. ‘Helicopter Operations at High Altitude’. Vayu IV. 2005. pp. 20-31.
22. A Review of Selected Urban Operations Literature. Chapter Two. pp. 5-8.
23. Syms, Raymond A. (& Associates). Heliports General Information. New Jersey.
Web Sites/Internet Addresses
J. Gordon Leishman. Principles of Helicopter Aerodynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. pp. 3f.
[2] Retrieved: 02 Oct 2009.
[3] PG Harrison. Military Helicopters, Brassey’s Battlefield Weapons Systems & Technology Series Vol XI. First Edition.1985. pp. 1-9.
[4] Katie Kimmet and Amanda Nash. “History of the Helicopter”, A Research Project: Retrieved on 07 Nov 09.
[5] Retrieved on 12 Dec 09.
[6] Ibid
[7] Kimmet. Loc cit.
[8] Air Vice Marshal HS Ahluwalia (Retd) YSM, VM. “Helicopter Operations in the IAF”. Security Research Review. Vol 2. 2006. p. 53.
Amitabh Joshi. “Hello Helicopter”. International Aerospace. Jan-Feb 2008. pp. 14-16.
[10] Retrieved on 02 Jan 10.
[11] Joshi. Loc cit.
[12] Retrieved on 02 Jan 2010.
[13] Retrieved on 02 Jan 2010.
[14] Ibid
Air Vice Marshal HS Ahluwalia (Retd) YSM, VM. “Helicopter Operations in the IAF”. Security Research Review. Vol 2. 2006. p. 53.
[16] Presentation by RWSI on “Helicopter Operations in India”. New Delhi. 2009.
[17] Air Marshal GS Chaudhry (Retd). “Choppers Make a Mark”. SP’s Airbuz. Issue 5. 2008. pp 24-25.
[18] Ibid
[19] Ahluwalia. Loc cit.
[20] Retrieved on 01 Dec 2009.
[21] Retrieved on 01 Dec 2009.
[22] Ibid
[23] Chaudhry. Loc cit.
[24] Retrieved on 12 Dec 09.
[25] Presentation by RWSI on Helicopter Operations in India. New Delhi. 2009.
[26] Joshi. Loc cit.
[27] Retrieved on 12 Dec 09.
[28] Ibid
[29] Chaudhry. Loc cit.
[30] Retrieved on 11 Dec 09.
[31] Retrieved on 11 Dec 09.
Amitabh Joshi. “Hello Helicopter”. International Aerospace. Jan-Feb 2008. pp. 14-16.
[33] John Everett-Heath. “Helicopters in Combat”. Arms and Armour Press. 1993. p. 93, 137 &180.
[34] Indian Armed Forces. Joint Doctrine. 2007. p. 55 et passium.
[35] Retrieved on 11 Dec 09.
[36] Retrieved on 12 Dec 09.
[37] Ibid
[38] Retrieved on 11 Dec 09.
[39] Mike Spick and Bill Gunston. “Modern Fighting Helicopters”. Salamander Books Ltd; Revised edition 1998. p. 188.
[40] Retrieved on 12 Sep 09.
[41] Retrieved on 12 Sep 09.
Geoff Clarkson, et al. “The Helicopter Day/Night, All-Environment Challenge”. Rusi Defence Systems. October 2007. pp. 48-51.
[43] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[46] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[47] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[48] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[49] Retrieved on 05 Sep 09.
[50] Clarkson. Loc cit.

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