Bell-AH-1-Cobra attack helicopter

A major component of the FAA’s mission is to improve the nation’s aviation safety record by conveying safety principles and practices through training, outreach, and education. The goal to reduce the number of accidents in the ever increasingly populated airways means safe flight practices are an important element of flight instruction. It is the CFI’s responsibility to incorporate flight safety into the program of training.

Do not become complacent about safety while instructing. The CFI must always be vigilant about safety and must instill a safety-first attitude in the student. According to statistics from Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Five-Year Comparative U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Trends, the ratio of instructional/training-related accidents to total accidents in the United States has increased more than 18 percent between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2006. Interestingly enough though, the total number of helicopter flight hours has increased by 37 percent, while the accident rate per 100,000 flight hours has drastically decreased—by 42 percent in the same time period. The entire U.S. Civil Helicopter Safety Statistic – Summary Report can be found at

Accidents happen quickly during flight instruction, as this recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident report reveals:

During a training flight, a helicopter collided with terrain. Weather was visual flight rules (VFR) with no flight plan filed. This was the CFI’s first instructional flight with this student. They conducted the preflight inspection of the helicopter together, started up, and departed for the practice area.

Once the student had a general understanding of the controls, they did an approach that terminated in a hover. The CFI set up the helicopter for a slight right quartering headwind to compensate for translating tendencies, then allowed the student to manipulate the controls. During hover, the helicopter exhibited pendulum action that is common for new students learning to hover. During one of the right lateral oscillations, the helicopter unexpectedly lost altitude. The right skid contacted the ground, and the helicopter rolled over onto its right side. Within seconds, it ignited. Both pilots exited immediately.

Since the helicopter and engine had no mechanical failures or malfunctions during the flight, the accident might have been prevented by:

  • Maintaining a proper skid height during instruction at all times.
  • Stopping the lateral and aft movement sooner.
  • Restricting hovering flight to later lessons after the student has gained some insight and appreciation of the control responsiveness and sensitivity of the helicopter.

The CFI also should have stayed on the controls longer to give the student more time to become familiar with them. The CFI violated the building block principle of simple to complex. The student had no experience to build upon. Helicopter students learn best by beginning in the air where there is a greater margin of error and then learning to fly closer to the ground.

Accident data at the NTSB offer CFIs excellent scenario material for safety discussions. Updated daily and located at, descriptions of more than 140,000 aviation accidents can be searched by a variety of factors, such as date or aircraft category.