A fantastic helipad

Good fantasy fiction – rather simply fantasy fiction – is defined not by a freewheeling re-imagination of reality but one that is re-imagined as much as contained in a self-consistent, coherent and substantive framework that is logical, cultural, political, aesthetic or a combination of some/all of them.

With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at the regulations in India concerning the construction and situation of helipads. This came up as a topic of conversation between two friends and myself yesterday morning over tea, after one of them wondered aloud about what it would be like to have his own helipad. The other person replied saying perhaps one could be constructed at the end of a boom extended from the top of a building, dangled on chains of steal.

If you read this in a fantasy fiction book that claims to be serious, would you believe it? The reason good fantasy has to be situated in some system of self-consistent, and preferably generalisable, rules is so that (a) the physical consequences of the world-building paradigm don’t distract from or conflict with the book’s principal narrative and (b) the aesthetic spirit of the world’s (natural and synthetic) infrastructure isn’t out of place vis a vis the tone and tenor of the book.

So what kind of world would it have to be where helipads and landing sites for VTOL aircraft in general are hung from overhanging structures on tall buildings? (I’ve always thought this is a useful perspective on world-building exercises: to ask yourself what you can tell about the zeitgeist of a fantasy world based on what it looks, smells and feels like. The most fruitful world-building exercises are those that axiomatically give away the story as well.)

In our real world, here are some of the more important rules that apply apropos helipads (quoted verbatim from here):

  1. The site to be used for temporary helicopter operations should be a level piece of well-drained ground, either good grass or solid surface free from loose stones, debris.
  2. Before undertaking any such flight, the helicopter operator and/ or his pilot must satisfy himself by his physical inspection on ground/ air and/ or obtaining required information from district authorities that surroundings are free from obstacles and the site suitable for operations of type of helicopter being operated and there is sufficient open space to force land, if necessary.
  3. At least one 12 kg [dry chemical powder] fire extinguisher shall be available at the landing/ take-off area, clearly marked and situated so that it can be used quickly in case of fire. A first aid box shall be placed within easy reach and clearly marked. The box shall be maintained in accordance with the instructions and its contents shall be supplemented whenever used.
  4. While manoeuvring the helicopter in a low hover, helicopter should be manoeuvred in such a manner that its centreline is not closer to any objects/building than 1.5 × rotor diameter or 30 metres, whichever is the greater.
  5. Approach and departure shall be performed within sectors which as far as possible shall be in direct continuation of the take-off and landing directions, respectively. The sectors shall be without obstacles in the entire width and in a vertical distance of at least 35 ft from the approach and departure surfaces.
  6. Approach and departure shall be performed in a way that forced landing can be carried out on a suitable emergency landing area at any time, unless a helicopter with one engine out of operation is capable of clearing any obstacle in the sector with a clearance of at least 35 feet.
  7. The minimum dimensions of the TLOF [touch-down and lift-off area] shall be 2B × 2B, where B equals the wheel base or the side base of the helicopter whichever is more, of the helicopter used. A TLOF shall be capable of supporting the weight of the helicopter intended to be used.
  8. TLOF shall be encompassed by a FATO [final approach and take-off area]. The minimum dimensions of the FATO shall be 1.5A × 1.5A, where A equals the maximum overall length of the helicopter used. This area shall be without obstructions. The surface shall be suitable for forced landings and free from loose objects, which may endanger the safe performance of the flight.

With these rules in mind, it would still be possible to go with the boom-borne helipad idea but it would be a remarkably silly-looking thing, installed that way either because… actually I can’t think of anything other than ‘because’. The mind that came up with that must be truly remarkable.