'Since the rotors of a helicopter rotate at very high RPMs, if they hit an obstacle -- for example a tree, wire or pole, the result is catastrophic.'
The Mi-17 V5 helicopter carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat which crashed in Coonoor is one is one of the most modern and reliable helicopters of the Indian Air Force.
It is a preferred mode of transport for VIPs.
Mi-17 V5 units are positioned in different parts of the country, including one at the IAF base in Sulur near Coimbatore.
The chief of defence staff, his wife along with other officers and personnel arrived at the Sulur air force station from Delhi today en route to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.
They boarded the Mi-17 V5 which includes a crew of two pilots, a flight engineer and a gunner.
Any aircraft selected for VIP sorties is thoroughly checked for serviceability of all components.
Pilots also undertake trial runs on the route before flying a VIP.
Once the aircraft is ready, it is guarded and kept under strict vigil. No one can approach the aircraft till the time the crew arrives before takeoff.
There are some pilots in each unit who are specifically cleared to fly VIPs. Many a times, the commanding officer flies a VIP mission.
The helicopter carrying the CDS was headed towards the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington in the Nilgiris.
The flying time was approximately 20-25 minutes.
To reach Coonoor the helicopter has to fly up to 7,000-8,000 feet to clear the peaks of the area and then descend to 5,000 to land at the DSSC helipad.
"Helicopter pilots generally fly with the ground in contact even if they have the most modern equipment and automation in the cockpits," says IAF veteran Air Commodore Nitin Sathe, who has over 36 years of flying experience -- half of those spent on the Mi-17 -- to Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
"Bad weather poses greatest risk to helicopter flying," the air commodore, whose last posting was as a senior air instructor at the DSSC in Wellington, adds.
Pilots are forced to execute a precautionary landing on an unprepared site in case of an emergency or bad weather.
"A hydraulic failure will entail immediate landing -- in such a situation the pilot looks for a field or an open ground to quickly put the machine down."
"Since the rotors of a helicopter rotate at very high RPMs, if they hit an obstacle -- for example a tree, wire or pole, the result is catastrophic."
After a crash, the hot engines and sparks generated due to friction along with the large volume of fuel is enough to set the aircraft ablaze.
Every year the CDS address the students at DSSC which includes mid-level officers of the army, navy and air force and also includes foreign officers from friendly nations.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com