I went to see Zero Dark Thirty with a couple of my friends, which is to say with a couple of helicopter pilots (since virtually all of my friends have ratings it seems). We were super-excited to see the helicopter scenes but they ended up looking like someone had pointed an iPhone at an 8-year-old’s elementary school diorama.
Comparing the movie to the Wikipedia page on the operation, it seemed reasonably accurate. The helicopter stuff was horrible, though. A pilot, just before the helicopter crashes, says “We’re losing power.” If the problem had been settling with power or vortex ring state, as officially explained by the government, it seems very unlikely that the pilot would have said that. None of the three of us were satisfied with the helicopter action in the movie or the explanation of the cause of the crash. Further, the replacement helicopter shown was another Blackhawk whereas in real life it was a Chinook.
Speaking of vortex ring state… I’m surprised that there has never been an investigation into the loss of the $21 million Blackhawk during that raid. A theory about the walls of the compound causing vortex ring state has been put forward, but much simpler problems such as being too heavy to hover out of ground effect and/or hitting the tail rotor on a tree or wall are the cause of a lot more crashes. The standard way to get into settling with power is descending relatively fast while not moving forward much, e.g., if you were trying to land in a confined area without giving the folks on the ground a long opportunity to take a shot at you.
It has been nearly two years… why hasn’t a aerodynamics grad student done a simulation of whether or not the walls of the compound could significantly contribute to a settling with power situation? This seems like a great master’s thesis topic!
[Update: I ran into a Blackhawk pilot, who had also served in the Army’s test flight program, and he said that no part of Army helicopter training ever mentions the possibility of terrain shape making settling with power more or less likely. As far as he was trained and had experienced, the only factors in settling with power were the standard ones that civilian pilots are taught to avoid, e.g., moderate vertical sink rate with little to no forward airspeed. He said “It was hot and high and probably they were too heavy.”]