CHAPTER 9—Float and Ski Equipped Helicopters

Helicopters are capable of landing in places inaccessible to other aircraft. In addition to rooftops, mountain tops, pinnacles, and other unprepared locations, there are times when a pilot may have to operate a helicopter in areas that do not offer a solid place to land. For those operations, the normal skid gear configuration can be replaced with a set of floats for water operations or skis for winter operations.

Note: In this chapter, it is assumed that the helicopter has a counterclockwise main rotor blade rotation as viewed from above.


Unlike airplanes, there is no additional rating required for helicopter float operations. However, it is strongly recommended that pilots seek instruction from a qualified instructor prior to operating a float equipped helicopter. Check the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM) for any limitations that may apply when operating with floats installed. [Figure 9-1]


Helicopter floats are constructed of a rubberized fabric, or nylon coated with neoprene or urethane, and may be of the fixed utility or emergency pop-out type. Fixed utility floats typically consist of two floats that may have one or more individual compartments inflated with air. Fixed floats may be of the skid-onfloat or the float-on-skid design. [Figure 9-2]

A skid-on-floatlanding gear has no rigid structure in or around the float. The float rests on the hard surface and supports the weight of the helicopter. With this type of design, be aware of differences in float pressure. While the pressures are usually low, a substantial difference can cause the helicopter to lean while on a hard surface making it more susceptible to dynamic rollover.

A float-on-skid landing gear has modified skids that support the weight of the helicopter on hard surfaces. The floats are attached to the top of the skid and only support the weight of the helicopter in water. A float with low pressure or one that is completely deflated will not cause any stability problems on a hard surface.

Emergency pop-out floats consist of two or more floats with one or more individual compartments per float, depending on the size of the helicopter. [Figure Figure 9-1. Float equipped helicopter. 9-3] They are often inflated with compressed nitrogen or helium and are deployed prior to an emergency landing on water. The aircraft’s maintenance manual states that the pop-out floats must be tested periodically through a deployment check, a leak check, and a hydrostatic check of the compressed gas cylinder.

To maintain the floats in good condition, perform the following tasks before and after every flight:

  • Inflation—Check each float compartment for proper inflation. Record the pressure to obtain a trend over time to help recognize leaks.
  • Condition—Inspect the entire float assembly for cuts, tears, condition of chafing strips, and security of all components.
  • Clean—Wash oil, grease, or gasoline from the floats, since they deteriorate the float’s material.
  • Flush—If the helicopter has been operated on salt water, flush the entire helicopter, including the float assembly, with plenty of fresh water.
  • Storage—Avoid placing the floats in direct sunlight when not in use.
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