NOTE: Helicopters are no longer maintained on the Healy unless called for by a specific cruise plan. Please contact the Marine Science coordinator for requests.
From a cruise planning standpoint, Helo Operations affect science operations in a variety of ways. What follows is some general guidance to set expectations and assist with cruise planning. Please direct any specific questions to the Marine Science or Operations Officers.
In 2006 Healy used contracted helicopter support for the first time. Support was provided by marintimehelicopters.com. The helicopters were Bell Long Rangers. Helicopter support for 2007 and 2008 will be provided in the same way. Depending on the configuration and gear, the payload for this helicopter while deployed on Healy will be less than advertised. The size and number of helicopters on each cruise will vary depending on science requirements.
Aviation support is available 24 hours a day, however, flight operations are not usually conducted at night unless there is an emergency or a compelling science objective to do so. Safety factors for required aircrew rest sometimes limit flight hours and advanced planning of flight operations is helpful to mitigate those issues. Furthermore, flight operations involve a large percentage of the crew besides the pilots, who perform a variety of functions such as traversing, securing and unsecuring, fueling, firefighting standby, rescue boat preparation, and communication and control elements. Additionally, weather parameters must be adhered to, thus reduced visibility, high winds and rough sea state occasionally preclude flight operations in non-emergency situations.
It is possible to conduct some science operations during flight operations, but careful planning is required and the individual circumstances must be considered. It must be remembered that the ship is required to keep a constant relative wind across the flight deck during the launch and recovery evolutions. What this means is that any science operation that requires shiphandling, such as dragging or towing gear, probably interferes with flight operations. The aft weather decks are secured during the launch and recovery of an aircraft, meaning no one is allowed outside at those times (up to 30 minutes.) It is often possible to plan flight operations between over the side evolutions so as to minimize any disruptions.
A single helicopter flight will last up to 2.5 hours, depending upon the mission. As discussed above, if a certain evolution takes less than 2 hours, it can sometimes be completed during the time that the helo is away completing the mission. As a planning factor, the launching and recovering of a helo will suspend science operations for up to 30 minutes. In order to maintain a proper relative wind, please remember that the ship may have to make way on a steady course. This necessity may mean moving away from the science station, which will cause further delays to reposition after flight operations are complete. Thus, the total time from start to finish of a single flight evolution could be up to 3 hours. The Senior Aviator and Operations officer will work with the chief scientist to minimize interruptions.
Scientists can and do fly on the aircraft for official purposes. If you are joining the ship in a port where Healy cannot moor, you will be transported in a helicopter or boat. On occasion, science party members fly in helos for research purposes as well. All requests for this will come from the Chief scientist to the Commanding Officer through the Operations Officer.
The cost of maintaining the helicopters is included in the daily ship rate. Thus the additional cost of flight operations is the amount of fuel expended.
If any special gear is required for scientific purposes, particularly bulky equipment or items that must be mounted to the aircraft, this must be cleared with the Aviation personnel. Please notify the Operations Officer of any such requests as early as possible in order to avoid potential problems. Any device or equipment that requires mounting to the helo, or wiring to the helo's electrical system will require prior approval. This evaluation and approval process requires significant lead-time, up to six months. Stand-alone electrical devices may require the same approval process.
Landing on the ice is possible, but requires some planning. The aircraft must be fitted with skis in order to distribute its weight. The installation of the skis may take up to eight hours. Any requirements to operate on pack ice should be discussed with the Aviation detachment and the Operations Officer prior to the cruise.