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The effect of cumulative helicopter flight time on the human body

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The effect of cumulative helicopter flight time on the human body

Old 23rd Nov 2023, 17:00
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The effect of cumulative helicopter flight time on the human body

Hello. I've been flying in helicopters for about 35 years, with about 9500 hrs. I developed hand tremors about five years ago (still flying, still passing medicals), and and wonder if the two may be linked. From online reading I'd class them as essential tremors. Does anyone here know of any research that's been done about the effect of flight hours on the human body? Thanks.
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 18:51
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I managed just over 8000 hrs in 35 years and have mild carpal tunnel in both wrists and moderate nerve compression in my elbows. Just before leaving the RAF the physios attributed both symptoms to my long career in rotary. I believe a study was carried out on US Army pilots and found these conditions common on high hour pilots.When the nerve compression flares up I get a stabbing pain between my shoulder blades but you just get used to it after a while.
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 19:23
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I guess you guys weren't letting George drive.
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 19:41
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Originally Posted by Sir Korsky
I guess you guys weren't letting George drive.
He was on the other shift.
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 20:41
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George not much use at night up against a lump of granite in a snow storm, Crab will be along in a moment to back me up!
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 21:48
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After 15,000 hrs, mostly in hand-flown, unstabilised choppers, I have some problems. Helicopter seats, particularly the B206, have zero adjustment, so there is almost no way to get into a really good position for a flight. In the Hueys as well, there is a large coaming over the instrument panel (keeps sunlight off the instruments, stops them reflecting in the windscreen at night) which requires the head to be held high. But the collective is set low down, so we slump into the seat and lean to the left to hold it. Slumped down, leaning over, head held up with a helmet on top (not a lot of noise attenuation in those days either), bounced up and down at 1:1 frequency for thousands of hours, and most Huey pilots have lower back and neck problems.

I have 3 lumbar vertebrae fused together by themselves, and the same in my neck. Uncomfortable to bend over or turn my head more than 45 degrees. Arthritis in my hands and knees add to the joys of still walking the planet. The Dept of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the back, neck and hearing problems, and pays me barely enough to buy a carton of Boag's anaesthetic each fortnight, which takes some of the discomfort away.
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Old 23rd Nov 2023, 22:20
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Originally Posted by Ascend Charlie
After 15,000 hrs, mostly in hand-flown, unstabilised choppers, I have some problems. Helicopter seats, particularly the B206, have zero adjustment, so there is almost no way to get into a really good position for a flight. In the Hueys as well, there is a large coaming over the instrument panel (keeps sunlight off the instruments, stops them reflecting in the windscreen at night) which requires the head to be held high. But the collective is set low down, so we slump into the seat and lean to the left to hold it. Slumped down, leaning over, head held up with a helmet on top (not a lot of noise attenuation in those days either), bounced up and down at 1:1 frequency for thousands of hours, and most Huey pilots have lower back and neck problems.

I have 3 lumbar vertebrae fused together by themselves, and the same in my neck. Uncomfortable to bend over or turn my head more than 45 degrees. Arthritis in my hands and knees add to the joys of still walking the planet. The Dept of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the back, neck and hearing problems, and pays me barely enough to buy a carton of Boag's anaesthetic each fortnight, which takes some of the discomfort away.
I don't think a helicopter can weld your bones together and if you did that much bouncing around, you needed better mechanics!
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 04:54
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OP raises a good question.

I did a google search using "Medical problems experienced by Helicopter Pilots" and numerous links were surfaced.

None seemed titled to show a relevance to his question but there was some interesting studies done on several different military service pilots.

As the US Veterans Administration and/or the military service offers compensation or pensions for disabilities incurred while in the service it might be a good idea for Veterans to look through some of those studies.

You might have a valid claim even well after leaving the military service.





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Old 24th Nov 2023, 07:17
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I did see a study once years ago comparing helicopter pilots to jackhammer operators (that would explain the sore back). I can easily see how bones could weld themselves together if you have enough compression to squeeze out the lining between them.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 10:16
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Originally Posted by Ascend Charlie
After 15,000 hrs, mostly in hand-flown, unstabilised choppers, I have some problems. Helicopter seats, particularly the B206, have zero adjustment, so there is almost no way to get into a really good position for a flight. In the Hueys as well, there is a large coaming over the instrument panel (keeps sunlight off the instruments, stops them reflecting in the windscreen at night) which requires the head to be held high. But the collective is set low down, so we slump into the seat and lean to the left to hold it. Slumped down, leaning over, head held up with a helmet on top (not a lot of noise attenuation in those days either), bounced up and down at 1:1 frequency for thousands of hours, and most Huey pilots have lower back and neck problems.

I have 3 lumbar vertebrae fused together by themselves, and the same in my neck. Uncomfortable to bend over or turn my head more than 45 degrees. Arthritis in my hands and knees add to the joys of still walking the planet. The Dept of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the back, neck and hearing problems, and pays me barely enough to buy a carton of Boag's anaesthetic each fortnight, which takes some of the discomfort away.
I am sorry to hear this. I can only say that I concur. When manufacturers designed those helicopters, they didn't consider seating positions, comfort, basic understanding of ergonomics or bloodflow let alone act upon these considerations. I imagine the conversation by the designers went as far as 'What do you mean this "L" seat with minimal padding, sharp 90-degree corners, and no lumbar support is uncomfortable? Blasphemy, here are the most convenient positions for these controls, use this Pry-Bar to contort the pesky pilots, if they complain use the secondary feature of the said Pry-Bar"

Bell (and many others) should be tried in The Hague for the tortures they have inflicted on pilots worldwide. When found guilty, the punishment should be life strapped inside a Bell 206, suspended on four washing machines stuffed with blankets, on continuous spin-to-rinse cycles

This won't help you Charlie, but to anyone else reading who wants to get ahead of this issues before they catch up to you. When you're at the gym, at the end of the session do 3-4 sets of face-pull exercises. It both stretches the front and tightens the rear shoulders/back and is one of the most effective exercises in correcting the helicopter pilot hunchback
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 10:31
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For a short time, in the 60s, CFS Whirlwinds had some 'bead cushions' (a short-lived car seat fad) issued for trial. From memory, even less comfortable than the normal.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 11:25
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I remember seeing reported in Pilot magazine that helicopter pilots tend to the fathers of more girls than boys, accounted for by the effect of vibration on the, er, sweetbreads.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 11:30
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Smile Medical implications of helicopter flying

16,000 hours and 50 years later.........had right hip replacement surgery after retiring. It was a great success. Prior to surgery it was rubbing bone on bone. Bloody painful. I cant really say that it was brought on by sitting in the cockpit of numerous types. Interestingly , the most comfortable seat I ever strapped in to was the original Squirrel (AS350B) seat. It being a simple (high backed) fibre glass bucket seat with foam cushions. In my last years of flying (As332L , L1 and EC225) it was painful to watch me getting out of the cockpit after a 3 and a half hour offshore round trip.It would take me a good half hour to get back to normal walking posture as opposed to staggering around like an old man...which I am now at 73. Surprisingly , Shell Anduki had Puma seats fitted to their 61's as a comfort improvement but the flights were only short hops and I cant remember getting much benefit. I was much younger then as well. We certainly did not have the comfort or ergonomics of a Boeing 747 seat which a good bar story alluded to it being able to do everything but have sex with you. A number of my helicopter (pilot) buddies have come down in later years with back problems of various sorts and extremes. Prior to hip surgery , xrays showed small back bone chips that the Dr thought may have occurred after somehow hitting my bum hard. Was that as a result of a rather heavy landing in PNG in 1975 ? (the engine had quit and the auto was not nice) Who knows. Regardless , it would be interesting to see a survey of retired helicopter pilots focusing on their various muscular-skeletal problems. Under no circumstances would we want to see such a survey to include our past drinking habits !!!!

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Old 24th Nov 2023, 12:44
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We certainly did not have the comfort or ergonomics of a Boeing 747 seat which a good bar story alluded to it being able to do everything but have sex with you.
Yes, they are good, if new, but 30 year old seats can be a bit worn down and out. (Try writing up a bad seat: Can not duplicate, OK for service)

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Old 24th Nov 2023, 13:50
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Peter,

Bell Helicopters would not want me on the Jury deciding that case!

I would leave them wearing the proverbial wooden barrel for clothing.

Early in my flying I wound up herding Chinooks around per very long flying days that averaged 8-10 flying hours daily and anyone that has been inside the cockpit of one KNOWS NOISE generated by the Forward Transmission that is just above your head. Can you say "deaf"?

Being around two former Chinook pilots having a conversation is an interesting experience as there are about three or four conversations going between them as neither can hear with any clarity. We say "Huh" a lot!

The Chinook seat was pretty good...it had vertical and fore/aft adjustment plus tilt, the pedals were adjustable, and the cyclic could be adjusted but rarely was for some technical reasons. Vibration could be an issue and a well worn forward Swash Plate could generate a rather pronounced vertical bounce. If the Thrust Lever (Collective) mag brake failed or got weak....that also presented serious vertical bounce. So we lost our High Freq hearing very quickly due to the frequency of the transmission whine, our necks, backs, and hips took a lot of wear and tear. Various helicopters seats were better than others but not one outside the Chinook seat ever came close to being properly fit for purpose.

Long Line Pilots really have back and neck problems if they do that kind of flying for any long period of time due to the posture you have to use to see what your line is doing.

As Peter noted.....12,500 hours and two hip replacements later, back problems, my right shoulder needs surgery but I am John Wayne'ing it and refusing the surgery so far, arthritis in my back, neck and shoulders.

Then for good measure there are the Agent Orange related gifts that keep on giving.....but I am still kicking....not very high but kicking yet.

The burns and bullet wound were part of the deal too but only as flying put me in the wrong place at the right time.

For the record, Demon Rum has never crossed my lips.....am still looking for that brand but no luck yet.

For a yarn.....years ago while stood with my Chief Pilot at one of the places I worked....we observed one of our older pilots whose last name was "Knotts" walking out to his helicopter for the days work.....he had undergone several back and neck surgeries and walked all bent over forwards to the extent he had to raise his head to see ahead.....which gained him the nickname of "90" as his posture was similar to the pitch attitude of a Huey at that speed. The CP quipped....."If he does. not straighten up I am going to run him off!".
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 13:50
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The worst seat was the Gazelle which didn't support the back of your legs very well leading to problems for some people with sciatica and lower back pain. I only ever flew short sorties in it due to being in a training environment but you certainly knew about it after a long navex.

Myra is correct re 'george' not being much use when precision hovering is required, especially with one of your mates on a 200 plus length of winch wire.

Many more recent ex-mil pilots have neck problems due to the widespread use of NVG/NVD.

The fact is that getting old is sh*t but its better than the alternative. You don't know what issues you would have had if you hadn't spent your life in a helicopter - my BIL had lots of back and sciatica problems and he was a desk jockey for all his career.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 14:33
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For any Brit Mil rotary pilots who might soon retire and find these stories familiar, have a look at the War Pensions scheme before you leave. I was able to make a claim as MOD accepted responsibility fo my condition and although I was not damaged enough for an annual pension, I received around 6k as a lump sum. You just have to fill in the paperwork and have a medical history to back up your claim.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 21:42
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Well just done 8 hours line work in a 500, only saving grace is a heated seat, makes the pain in backside go away. Long term damage after 10000 hours ? Mrs 500 says I m not the man she married 33 years ago, work that one out.
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Old 24th Nov 2023, 22:13
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I once visited a chiropractor who asked me to stand in front of him so he could assess what he needed to straighten first. At that stage he’d asked no questions about what I did for a living. Before he even laid hands on me he guessed that I was a helicopter pilot from my posture (main problems being crooked neck, spinal twist and drooping left shoulder).

I never found an RAF Helicopter with anything like a comfortable seat, in all my time flying them. In my early days on the Puma, most of the seat cushions had gone completely flat so there was no padding under your behind and I flew sitting on a pack of maps much of the time until the seat bases were modified to take a backside shaped dinghy/survival container, which also raised the sitting height. Unfortunately they didn’t raise the rear seat belt attachment point, so the tighter you had the shoulder harness, the more you were forced into a crouched down position because the straps went upwards to go over your shoulders. A further mod was done to raise the attachment point when it was realised that there was no forward restraint in a crash until the strap went straight but by then you would be bent in half. The armoured seat was far better for comfort but I reckon in a crash the armoured breast plate would break my jaw, if nothing worse.

Sikorsky did a much better job with the S-76 and S-70 (but the Whirlwind and Wessex were designed for someone of very different shape and dimensions to me). Agusta did quite a good job with the A109. AeroSpatiale not too bad with the AS355.
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Old 25th Nov 2023, 02:34
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I must be an outlier, 80YO, 20,000 in the book, short arse in stature, only problem is with both knees which I manage with exercises prescribed by my physio, one knee could probably do with replacement. Never found a problem with helo seats, usually the setting was pedals right back (short legs) and seat full up (to see over the coaming). Never did anything that required cockpit gymnastics such as long lining.

Spouse on the other hand is five years younger but crippled with spasms and pain in her legs, arthritis in neck and hands, two spinal operations, regular spinal injections due trapped nerves, has always been a home body with gardening, painting and sewing (daughter in ballet) as her interests, always told her her ailments come from a very active sporting career in her youth, but really its just genetics I think.
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