Discussion in 'Rules and Regulations / Flight Safety / Better Pil' started by TXFlyGuy, Jun 16, 2019.
Ahhhh....... when the young are too dumb to protect against what the aged embrace.......
Sorry for the late chiming in here. I have been so busy that I have not had time for the forum.
Like most things in aviation and science, the answer to the existence of unequivocal benefit from helmets is "it depends". Things like the variables of the crash (impact velocity, flightpath angle, post-crash fire, etc), aircraft construction (whether the seat strokes, the cockpit remains in take, the restraints hold, etc), restraint type and use, the fitness of the occupant (particularly the strength of the neck muscles), the height of the occupant (increased height = greater strike envelope) etc all play a role.
My first caution for everyone is to not extrapolate from two cases involving a very high performance aircraft that was designed before much thought was given to the pilot's survival in a crash.
As a general rule, in your average GA crash, wearing a helmet would offer some benefit by reducing the risk of head injuries. However, it comes with a trade-off.
Having three-point (or preferably four- or five-point) restraints firmly anchored is ideal as it restrains your torso. However, for those who insist on not using these, if you're going to chance smashing your head into the instrument panel or the other cockpit structures, your odds of not being lethally injured significantly with a helmet. Hence why they are considered mandatory in military rotorcraft operations and are widely used in ag aviation.
The trade-off is that if you have your torso effectively restrained, the mass of the helmet can increase the loads on your cervical spine. This is why auto racing went to using the HANS device after the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (his memory has proved to be a blessing in that way). That is not to say at all that the helmet CAUSED the basilar skull fracture that killed him. It's completely plausible that the impact would have, even without the helmet, would have slammed his chin into his chest (the autopsy report revealed a contusion just below one of his clavicles likely from his chin) and transmitted the force through his mandible into the skull base via the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Having well developed neck and upper shoulder/back muscles can help minimize this risk.
Similarly, if you have a strong vertical loading along the spine (from a flat impact or a "tail slap" or "nose slap" phenomenon) the added mass of the helmet may pose an increased risk of skull or upper cervical spine fracture. However, there is a far greater risk from NOT wearing a helmet and either being thrown into a cockpit structure OR having the cockpit partially collapse and strike you. It should be noted that general aviation aircraft fuselages have this documented tendency to spring back to a lesser degree of vertical distortion causing people to underestimate the frequency and seriousness of this problem. However, having personally seen seen hair, blood, or even pieces of scalp on the structures, it leaves little doubt as to what happened.
All in all, I would recommend a helmet. Ideally, you would want something that meets the Army rotorcraft crew certifications.
Any questions, let me know.
Let's just say that a lot of the investigation agencies, unless that section of the main report was written by their survival factors folks (which it seldom is), write reports with this attitude of "The crash killed the pilot, so nothing would have saved them". It's this weird sense of fatalism that is partially drawn from lack of knowledge of the subject matter to an adequate depth and partially because they see themselves as focused on PREVENTING crashes and see survival research/investigation as a distraction from that laudable purpose. I'm literally involved in an ongoing discussion with one of the NTSB survival factors folks lamenting this, that the lack of documentation of safety gears (hell, a lot of time, the "regular" investigators--especially the local FSDO folks-- don't even document whether a person was restrained, if the restraints failed, etc), and how to figure out a way to overcome the stifling effect this has on the ability to do in-depth research and improve things.
Helmets are a complex subject. They can reduce injuries in some circumstances, but increase them in others. they are not a magical solution to all head injuries. My worst head impact was head first into a stone wall at around 25mph. I have the dent in my skull to prove it. I didn't feel up to riding my bike home afterwards, but did push it, so I wasn't too badly hurt... While helmets can reduce the peak g load on the brain, this isn't always a good thing. Injuries can often be just as bad, though different. Yes, an impact without a helmet does seem to hurt more as the flesh suffers more, but what it does to your brain is more subtle.
Studies on cyclists and helmets have shown that those who wear helmets are at a greater risk of serious injury, though the rate of head injury is slightly reduced. Did i say it was complex subjest? To simplify it, put a helmet on, you feel safer, and take bigger risks. You end up less safe. Volvos have a higher accident rate than most cars, probably as they are promoted as being 'safe'.
Any car can be made statistically the safest in the world with one simple modification. A razor-sharp knife on the steering wheel aimed at the driver's chest.
Probably wouldn't sell many, though.
Curiosity is somewhat killing me on this topic. My helmets are older CF/RCAF surplus - but they're definitely uncomfortably heavy...
I may be grabbing a new one soon for BULA (basic ultralight) Canadian rules. Surprisingly the CARS regulations only state "an appropriate safety helmet" no further requirement for certification/standards/ratings. I hate when they're open to interpretation...
I probably need to get to Oshkosh or one of the big US gatherings to test out a bunch of options, see what's light and feels right.
But I'm curious, does the FAA or others mandate a rating etc? Maybe I'm too used to having an ansi z whatever rating or DOT/CSA rating to look for, seems crazy there's no real guideline other than "appropriate".
One problem I have is tha I have about 0.75" of headroom in my Maule. No chance of lowering the seat. In an open cockpit biplane for example, I'd definitely wear a suitable helmet. I've personally know a couple of guys who crashed in a Harmon Rocket; one died from his head impacting the panel and the rear occupant very nearly did. Severe head trauma and he lost an eye. Helmets might have made a big difference. They had shoulder harnesses but the fuselage bending up on impact meant there was enough slack to let them hit their heads.
Well I finally finished wiring my helmet for my CEP's so ofcourse I had to take it flying to test it out. It worked great. I still need to do a little fine tuning on the angle of the ear muffs, and placement of some of the pads, to reduce pressure points and make the fitment perfect. But first impressions of flying with a helmet.. AWESOME...
The modern mythology is that in WW1 the Brits did a study of injuries, and discovered that very minor holes in the head were fatal while the same shrapnel in the chest would be survivable. Then went to steel helmets.
it's true, but incomplete. They simply copied the archer & man at arms helm from the 12th century, where they already understood that head injuries were often fatal and a lid that took the impact of swords and arrows, etc. AND prevented penetration injury, some times, if the angle was good, made for less replacement peasants. The professional warriors had better helmets with more coverage.
The Germans in WW1 also did helmet studies.
No, if a crash crushes your chest or tears off your head, the helmet doesn't help. So what? It helps by a huge margin over the rare times it hurts.
And I'm openly biased in favor of a helmet. Everything I've ever flown has hard stuff my head can break in a crash. Both personal experience, and being first responder at motorcycle accidents, has convinced me to wear a helmet, I feel naked without one.
I'm also pro choice on the matter, and am well aware that healthy 18 year old riders without helmets are the best source for fresh replacement organs. There's a direct statistical correlation between helmet laws and transplant availability, State by State.
My view is wear a helmet will only help on bailing out. Crashes at flying speed will usually be fatal no matter what's on your head. Landing crashes should be low speed (I know many aren't). I'm more concerned about what happens in a bail out. Many attempted bail outs failed because the wearer was not conscious to pull the rip chord. My reasoning is a helmet must protect against slow speed knocks to the head sustained when jumping out. If the helmet is heavy and uncomfortable I won't wear it. That's why I use a helmet designed for parachuting with an in-ear headset. I pretty much only wear a helmet when I'm wearing a chute, and I almost only wear a chute when in an aerobatic aircraft flying aerobatics.
If you think you risk bonking the head on a bail out, ( true ) which is low speed, then you should acknowledge the risk in the cabin, as the plane tumbles through a tree or down the field.
Feel free to tell yourself it's just for bail outs. I'll know it's useful if you don't, and we're both happy.
The actor Gary Busey dropped his motorcycle & slid head first into the curb, slow enough He was back on tv a week or so later, where he mocked helmet use.
Some years later on a talk show, he was asked about that, and was vehemently pro helmet. When asked why he changed his mind he said he was brain damaged and full of it.
I know there are negatives, the extra mass risks neck injuries, but the odds are well researched and very rare. The odds on a fatal bonk in the head are much higher.
And the "knocked out, didn't escape fire or drowning" are rare too, but I witnessed a skydiving fatality at the New Years Boogie held after the Collegiate Nationals at Deland FL. Padded ribbed cloth Snoopy helmets were popular with the cool crowd back in '77 and one cool guy hit another with a real helmet, head to head, midair, and lost consciousness. Unconscious body assumed an inverted delta, head first and accelerated. 3 guys chased him, one deployed at about 2000, ( normal safe altitude, and he had zero chance at catching up ) one deployed about 1000 feet,and the last only deployed in his target's impact, and had a 1 1/2 second canopy ride before landing. I was among first on the scene and attempted CPR, but no go. The FAA debrief wasn't fun either. ( wearing a dayglo pink t-shirt with a mace wielding troll and "Team Safety Nazi". )
Aesquith brought up several good points.
Back in 1992, I was seriously injured during a jump-plane crash (King Air). I suffered a concussion, broken nose, torn forehead [9 stitches]) etc, even while wearing a Pro-Ted helmet. They released me from hospital at midnight.
The worst injures wore a French leather “frappe hat” and suffered such massive brain injuries that doctors kept him in a pharmacological coma for 3 years and it took him another 3 years to recover enough to regain his driver’s license.
Tough old paratroopers messing with (insurance company) predictions!!! GRRRR!!!
To go off at a bit of a tangent, why are so many instrument panels strong enough to inflict fatal trauma to a pilot? They only need to hold the instruments in place under normal flight and ground loads. It seems that many are way overbuilt. My cockpit is going to be very cramped, I want it to yield should I headbutt it...
Some panels are structural. Mine is. Perhaps even the ones that are not probably have enough mass attached to them to not yield readily to an incoming meat sack?
Because it was mostly designed in the 40s and 50s before seatbelts when we died like men impaled on steering columns smoking and drinking scotch?
Instrument panel needs to be strong to support the old school guages... I had my AI in hand from my Mooney about 2 months ago, I swear to God that thing weighed 5lbs+, 1971 vintage. Work the torque back hanging off the panel almost 10"... Then put 6 tightly together and work it again... The 1960s IFR kit would have been close to 100lbs all together.
Yielding vs crumpling is an interesting discussion though...
Voidhawk & Hephaestus have it right.
Assuming a simple crash with deceleration front to back, if the panel hasn't torn loose then the mass of the instruments, panel, and mounting hardware are a stationary item your face is trying to accelerate. Even if it only takes an ounce more pressure to break it free from it's mounts, inertia is high. Think if it as hitting your face with the panel tossed at the same speed as your head in the crash. Minimum.
Which leads to helmet coverage arguments. A full face helmet with small eye slot is best for protecting the front of your head, including the face. But only some race car drivers wear that kind of lid. The lateral G's and nature of the cockpit mean that a Formula One car driver isn't moving his head much and vision straight ahead out of a low position just peeking over the instrument panel is all you need. Looking up isn't needed, and peripheral vision is limited, ditto. Motorcycle riders have a bigger eye slot to allow for vertical head position changes from upright to head down for best aerodynamics. However, peripheral vision is still limited by structural considerations.
Open face & half helmets give better vision at the cost of coverage.
In the end, the most important thing about a helmet is that it fits you.
Otherwise you won't wear it. Or will be distracted by the pain on a long flight.
Keeping in mind that head shapes vary, different motorcycle helmet makers build to their test subject's shape. Thus a Shoei fits one kind of head better, and Suomy fits another. So try before you buy, and walk around the shop long enough to detect "hot spots". (15 minutes?) Replaceable pads allow customization, but also allow more ways to not fit.
After fit, then mass, ventilation, and other features should be considered.
I'm assuming you begin the selection process with needed features, like headphones, then try on the reduced selection. No need to try on gear you wouldn't buy because it doesn't fit your basic needs.
So, why not mount the panel so it tears itself loose and under 3 g rearward acceleration? I can't think of a non crash scenario that would cause that acceleration.
Tear-away gets sketchy too though. Think hitting a tree or poweline - if it tears during the first impact what happens to it during the 2nd 3rd or 4th?
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