Many think only VIP helicopters or a few military helicopters have air conditioning units. This attitude stems from the belief that air conditioners are a luxury item. But that is not the case. The recent legislative push for air conditioners to be installed in Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) is evident that air conditioning is necessary for helicopters. Also, the comfort required for aircrew performance is another reason the air conditioner is vital in helicopters.
This article will be brief and answer all the questions about air conditions in helicopters. Without mincing words, let us get down to business.
Are helicopters air-conditioned?
Yes, helicopters are air-conditioned. This is not a recent phenomenon, as it has been around for a while. Newer planes now feature the vapor-cycle systems, which are more environmentally friendly, the HFC-134a (R134a) refrigerant. Though some helicopters still possess the old CFC-12 (R12) refrigerant.
What is the function of air-conditioning in a helicopter?
Physiologists and Physicians have long studied the effect of aircraft cabin temperature and ventilation and how it affects crew performance.
The study led to a correlation between how heat stress can affect crew from accomplishing their mission.
Thus, there is no surprise that most helicopter OEMs now have air conditioning in their new models.
The availability of air conditioners in helicopters has led to HEMS operators being flight ready and performing optimally. Also, it has ensured a step-up by an expert in helicopter maintenance practices.
Notable Air Conditioning Helicopters
The Rotorcraft Services Group (formerly Integrated Flight Systems of “IFS”) is a manufacturing organization approved by the FAA PMA to manufacture, modify and distribute the finest quality air conditioning for varying models of helicopters. The options listed on their website include:
• Airbus H125 (Eurocopter) Cabin Air Conditioning
• Airbus AS365 Cabin Air Conditioning
• Airbus AS355 Cabin Air Conditioning
• Airbus H130 (Eurocopter EC130) Cabin Air Conditioning
• Agusta Westland A109 Cabin Air Conditioning
• MD Helicopter 369/500 Cabin Air Conditioning
Do military helicopters have AC?
Yes, some military helicopters have AC, but the provision must be based strictly on the mission requirement. This is not how it is in Commercial helicopters where air conditioning is standard. The reason why not all military helicopters have air conditioning units is because of the weight. They avoid its installation to reduce weight and to up performance.
Boston.com reported that during a flight test in Southern California, the temperature in the cockpit on the UH-721 Lakota soared over 104 degrees. A point at which the Army said that shutdown in communication, navigation, and flight-control systems was inevitable due to heat.
The Army had to take an unusual step of installing air conditioners on 322 helicopters to fix the problem.
When there was opposition to the wastage of funds to solve the problem, McCuin said it was a concern to those on the field, and thus, it was necessary to address the issue.
The air conditioning systems found on most military helicopters are called Environmental Conditioning Systems (ECS). And their benefit to the cockpit include;
- Heating, cooling, and air-conditioning
- Cockpit Pressurization
- Windshield anti-fog and anti-ice
Therefore, the presence of air-conditioning in most military helicopters is to address the concern of cockpit heat and discomfort rather than the general notion of luxury and comfort as found in commercial helicopters.
Are helicopters cold inside?
No, it is not necessarily true that it gets cold inside a helicopter. A helicopter ride is generally comfortable, and you will quickly adapt to the temperature as it is not always harsh.
Although, the temperature of a particular area determines how cold or warm it is inside a helicopter. The air at a higher altitude is colder as a helicopter gets high up in the air, and it would be cold than it is on the surface.
Another factor that determines whether it is cold inside a helicopter is if it is an open-door type or the closed-door type of helicopter. With the open door, you will feel all powers of the temperature outside the helicopter, whereas the closed door does not have this problem.
Most Aviation Tourism uses closed-door helicopters for their safety. In addition, modern helicopters have a climate control system to manipulate the temperature in the cockpit to suit the passengers’ requirements.
Can helicopters fly in extreme heat?
Yes, helicopters can fly in extreme heat, but the performance will be affected.
The effect of temperature on air density is one of the biggest challenges faced by helicopters that fly in extreme heat. As the helicopter gains altitude, the air gets thin and less dense. Where the air is thin, the engine has less oxygen for the combustion process which resulted in reduced power.
Less lift produced by the blades due to outside heat is an impact.
Even maneuvering by the pilot can lead to the rotor blade stalling.
Though helicopter pilots receive training to fly under these conditions, the problem can become very complex to control.
The situation can be worse if the engines are not generating sufficient power and the rotor blades cannot create the requisite lift. The combined effect of this could lead to the machine becoming a slug.
A clear example was the unfortunate crash of a helicopter in the Washinton State Mountains where the takeoff temperature at an elevation of 4,961 ft was 70 degrees F (21 degrees C). The density quickly changed to 6,841 ft altitude at the descent. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board came to the conclusion that the high density at a higher altitude caused the loss of control.
From the above, it would seem possible to read the chart before takeoff, but the planning will only hold true for the prevailing weather condition at the time of takeoff.
Do Apache helicopters have air conditioning?
Yes. According to Airliners.net, the Apache helicopters have an air conditioning system.
The Ah-64 is renowned to have air conditioning that works well. Sources claim that with doors closed, the air conditioning comes in handy in the summer.
Modern helicopters now have air conditioning systems. But having them installed is based on comfort during extreme heat. Some Military helicopters have air conditions due to the necessity to regulate heat in the cockpit. Hopefully, new discoveries will be made in the coming decades, and more and more helicopters will be able to have Air Condition and still fly safely.