When planning to land or take off at an unfamiliar site, gather as much information as possible about the area. Reconnaissance techniques are ways of gathering this information.

High Reconnaissance

The purpose of conducting a high reconnaissance is to determine direction and speed of the wind, a touchdown point, suitability of the landing area, approach and departure axes, and obstacles for both the approach and departure. The pilot should also give particular consideration to forced landing areas in case of an emergency.

Altitude, airspeed, and flight pattern for a high reconnaissance are governed by wind and terrain features. It is important to strike a balance between a reconnaissance conducted too high and one too low. It should not be flown so low that a pilot must divide attention between studying the area and avoiding obstructions to flight. A high reconnaissance should be flown at an altitude of 300 to 500 feet above the surface. A general rule to follow is to ensure that sufficient altitude is available at all times to land into the wind in case of engine failure. In addition, a 45° angle of observation generally allows the best estimate of the height of barriers, the presence of obstacles, the size of the area, and the slope of the terrain. Always maintain safe altitudes and airspeeds, and keep a forced landing area within reach whenever possible.

Low Reconnaissance

A low reconnaissance is accomplished during the approach to the landing area. When flying the approach, verify what was observed in the high reconnaissance, and check for anything new that may have been missed at a higher altitude, such as wires and their supporting structures (poles, towers, etc.), slopes, and small crevices. If the pilot determines that the area chosen is safe to land in, the approach can be continued. However, the decision to land or go around must be made prior to decelerating below effective translational lift (ETL), or before descending below the barriers surrounding the confined area.

If a decision is made to complete the approach, terminate the landing to a hover in order to check the landing point carefully before lowering the helicopter to the surface. Under certain conditions, it may be desirable to continue the approach to the surface. Once the helicopter is on the ground, maintain operating rpm until the stability of the helicopter has been checked to be sure it is in a secure and safe position.

Ground Reconnaissance

Prior to departing an unfamiliar location, make a detailed analysis of the area. There are several factors to consider during this evaluation. Besides determining the best departure path and indentifying all hazards in the area, select a route that gets the helicopter from its present position to the takeoff point while avoiding all hazards, especially to the tail rotor and landing gear.

Some things to consider while formulating a takeoff plan are the aircraft load, height of obstacles, the shape of the area, direction of the wind, and surface conditions. Surface conditions can consist of dust, sand and snow, as well as mud and rocks. Dust landings and snow landings can lead to a brownout or whiteout condition, which is the loss of the horizon reference. Disorientation may occur, leading to ground contact, often with fatal results. Taking off or landing on uneven terrain, mud, or rocks can cause the tail rotor to strike the surface or if the skids get caught can lead to dynamic rollover. If the helicopter is heavily loaded, determine if there is sufficient power to clear the obstacles. Sometimes it is better to pick a path over shorter obstacles than to take off directly into the wind. Also evaluate the shape of the area so that a path can be chosen that will provide you the most room to maneuver and abort the takeoff if necessary. Positioning the helicopter at the most downwind portion of the confined area gives the pilot the most distance to clear obstacles.

Wind analysis also helps determine the route of takeoff. The prevailing wind can be altered by obstructions on the departure path and can significantly affect aircraft performance. There are several ways to check the wind direction before taking off. One technique is to watch the tops of the trees; another is to look for any smoke in the area. If there is a body of water in the area, look to see which way the water is rippling. If wind direction is still in question revert to the last report that was received by either the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) or airport tower.