The story behind the Vuichard Recovery
In July 2011, I was teaching one of Robinson’s foreign Safety Courses in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, a charming little town on the banks of Lake Neuchâtel near the French border. After two days of theoretical training on the ground, the course consists of a flight period with each attendee (For large courses another RHC instructor accompanies me or I use a high time local instructor). The flight portion of a foreign Safety Course is always a bit strange for me since I’m in a foreign registered aircraft, in foreign airspace, talking to foreign controllers with a foreign pilot, whose English proficiency can be challenging, sitting at the other set of controls (more than once I’ve been reduced to sign language). The flight portion consists of emergencies including advanced autorotations and recovery from the vortex ring state, so I frequently become a little wary during the flight when the local pilot says something like “Let me show you how we do it here!”
In Neuchâtel one of the course attendees was a senior flight inspector and examiner from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) named Claude Vuichard. After demonstrating the traditional recovery technique from the vortex ring state I gave the controls of the R44 to Claude who immediately said “can I show you how we do it here”. Against my better judgement but in light of the fact he had thousands of flight hours and, like myself, a few gray hairs, I convinced myself to say “Okay”. He proceeded to show me a technique he developed in 1987 after a vortex ring state encounter in the Swiss Alps which was radically different from the recovery method I had used my entire career. Instead of lowering the collective as I have always done, Claude raised the collective, kept the nose straight with left pedal and initiated a shallow right bank with the cyclic. I was amazed! The aircraft seemed to just pop up and out of the vortex and the VSI was reading zero. After practicing it three or four times, I was making recoveries from a fully developed vortex ring state with only a 30-40 foot loss of altitude.
When I returned to the US, I showed this new technique to a few of the other Robinson Safety Course instructors and told them to explore and practice it on their own for a month or two then we would get together and talk about it. When we reconvened a few months later, all agreed this new technique, although a little awkward at first, was definitely more efficient in recovering from the vortex ring state. Over the next year we refined the teaching technique, determined common student errors and in late 2012 began teaching this new recovery method in the monthly factory Safety Course at Robinson. Then in early 2013 I started including it in all foreign Safety Courses. At this time there was no name for the technique, we just referred to it as an additional technique or an alternate method and both the new and old techniques were taught in the course. I also tested this new technique in the ten non Robinson make & model helicopters I’m authorized to give FAA practical tests in and confirmed the procedure worked better in all of them from an S76 to an R22 (The technique is modified to left cyclic and right pedal in helicopters where the rotor turns clockwise when viewed from above). By the fall of 2013 I became convinced this new method to recover from the vortex ring state was much more efficient and if implemented across the helicopter industry would prevent accidents and save lives. I decided to try and convince the worldwide helicopter community “there is a better way”. First, I felt selling the technique would be easier if I branded it with a name. However, I didn’t want to use my name or Robinson’s name because people would think this is just a “Robinson procedure” when, in fact, it works across the board. It just seemed natural since Claude Vuichard showed me the maneuver, I should call it the “Vuichard Recovery”. In October 2013, I revised the Robinson Helicopter Company’s R22 and R44 Maneuver Guides and formalized the name by stating “Another recovery technique is called the Vuichard Recovery after an FOCA inspector in Switzerland.” A few months later I was struck with a terrible thought: I really shouldn’t name something after someone without first getting their permission, so I hurried off the following email to Claude telling him what I had done and seeking his okay. Luckily, he consented.
Now began the uphill battle to convince the helicopter world of the benefits
of the Vuichard Recovery. I wrote a number of articles explaining the technique that were published in aviation magazines around the world (Rotor & Wing here in the US) and with the support of the Robinson Helicopter Company, I traveled around the country (Robinson paid all my travel costs) giving my Vuichard Recovery presentation at FAA Safety Seminars, to law enforcement agencies, pilot organizations and just about anybody who requested one- 16 cities, including five HAI Rotorcraft Safety Challenges at HeliExpo sites. Of course, the monthly Robinson Safety Course at the factory included both a ground and flight demonstration and during a four year period (2014-2017) Bob Muse, from Robinson and myself conducted 29 foreign Safety Courses in six different continents (have yet to teach a course in Antarctica). In August 2015, Robinson sponsored the US Helicopter Safety Team’s (USHST) annual summer face-to-face meeting. After a Vuichard Recovery presentation in the classroom, Doug Tompkins, Robinson’s Chief Pilot, and myself gave 19 members an inflight demonstration in an R66. The team voted unanimously to endorse the Vuichard Recovery and later published a four page “Airmanship Bulletin” to help introduce pilots to the technique (The Airmanship Bulletin is available at www.ushst.org). Finally, in July 2017 the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee’s (ARAC) Helicopter Airman Certification Standards (ACS) Working Group was given the task to revise the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook. The Working Group, which included members from the US Helicopter Safety Team proposed extensive changes to Chapter 11 “Helicopter Emergencies and Hazards” and recommended inclusion of the Vuichard Recovery as an acceptable recovery from the vortex ring state. The resulting handbook (FAA-H-8083-21B), published in October 2019, presents the Vuichard Recovery technique as “the quickest exit from the hazard”, explaining the technique along with common errors.
The Preface of the 2019 Helicopter Flying Handbook states “This handbook adopts a selective method and concept to flying helicopters. The discussions and explanations reflect the most commonly used practices and principles.” Flight schools around the world now teach the Vuichard Recovery while operators like both the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department rely solely on it as the preferred recovery technique. Quite a change from the days when I’d ask my Robinson Safety Course class “How many have heard of the Vuichard Recovery?” and no hands were raised. Now when I ask the same question every hand goes up. More importantly, four or five times a year a pilot somewhere in the world contacts me with a tale of thanks.
Claude and myself when he visited the Robinson factory in 2017
Claude Vuichard is now retired from the Swiss FOCA and has formed the Vuichard Recovery Aviation Safety Foundation (www.vrasf.org) to promote not only his vortex ring state recovery technique but aviation safety in general. In 2018, Claude was awarded the Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) BLR Aerospace Safety Award at its Salute to Excellence award dinner.
When you think about it, eight years from first seeing the technique high above Lake Neuchâtel to reading about it in the FAA Helicopter Flying Handbook is quite extraordinary. A real testament to all in the helicopter community who were able to recognize and accept, in spite of tradition, when something new is a safer, better way.