UH-1 Tailboom Motion Detection System

On September 16, 2013, about 1535 Pacific daylight time, a Garlick UH-1B, N204UH, experienced a tailboom separation while logging in heavily wooded terrain about 3 miles east of Detroit, Oregon. The pilot, who was the sole occupant on board, was fatally injured. The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom, main rotor system, and fuselage.

Witnesses reported that when the helicopter was just above the trees, they either observed or heard the load of logs release early and impact the ground hard. After looking up, they observed the helicopter's fuselage separate from the tailboom; both descending through the trees. The fuselage impacted the ground inverted and the tailboom came to rest about 140 feet away.¹

At the memorial service for the pilot, Bart Colantuono, UH-1 operators and mechanics in attendance sat down at table and discussed the accident, causes and possible solutions to alleviate losing any more aircraft or pilots in the same type of accident. Many UH-1 operators are already aware that the tailboom fittings in UH-1 helicopters can be fractured after years of service and those in attendance immediately focused on this as the cause.

As far as a solution, the idea of a tail boom motion detector was proposed during the impromptu gathering. Aircraft Structural Repair’s president, Dustin Wood, from Stevensville, Montana worked with operators of UH-1’s and developed a working tail boom motion detection system, called the BART system, to initially install into UH-1B helicopters with a tailboom plug. Currently three of the systems have been installed and approved through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 337 Major Repair and Alteration. Installations for UH-1H's are also available.

“It is nice to see operators and mechanics working together to come up with solutions that can save lives,” said Dustin Wood “Being proactive about finding a life saving solution so Bart did not die in vain was important to us all”

The system was put to the test on February 14, 2015. A logging pilot in the Northwest was performing 133, external load operation in an UH-1B helicopter with the BART tailboom motion detection system installed. While flying a load of logs the pilot heard a loud bang and immediately noticed the master caution light was on and the caution panel was illuminated with the “TAILBOOM” light.

The pilot immediately removed all left pedal input, released the load, and landed with as minimal left pedal as possible – without incident.