What Is Going On With This Helicopter?

Illustration for article titled What Is Going On With This Helicopter?

Those are not flares or artificial lighting or a Photoshop job. And it's not a teleporting sequence from a sci-fi movie either. It's the Kopps-Etchells Effect. This is how it happens, according to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger:

Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as materials of dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust. It occurs on the ground as well, but you don't usually see it as much unless the aircraft is landing or taking off. The most common time is when fuel is being pumped. When large tankers are being fueled they must be grounded to prevent static electricity from discharging and creating explosions.

Originally, this effect didn't have any name, but the always awesome Michael Yon—former US Army, now war photographer—found one: The Kopps-Etchells effect. He named it after American Corporal Benjamin Kopp and British Corporal Joseph Etchells, two soldiers killed in action in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where these pictures were taken.

Illustration for article titled What Is Going On With This Helicopter?
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Etchell's last wish was to be cremated and launched over his childhood favorite park inside a firework. It seems like a fitting name for a beautiful effect in the middle of such an ugly war. [Michael Yon]

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DISCUSSION

I miss my old job (flying 47s).

I don't miss my old job (being in the Army).

The effect is incredible when you're wearing night goggles. The disc is far more pronounced.

As you come in for landings and take offs you can see the tilting of the rotor disc from the control inputs. From the outside you can see the forward and aft rotors as they mesh together mid body while spinning. Everyone has heard the "wop wop wop" sound that comes from a helicopter. Well when this effect occurs you get an inner disc and a pulsating outer disc. The inner disc is the rotor blade cutting through the air. The outer disc is the sparkling material sluffing away outward. As each rotor blade swings pass the entire Kopps-Etchells disc pulsates with the "wop wop wop" as the following blade slices through sluffing off material.

The nickel/titanium part of the blades are just on the leading edge the rest of the blade is a kevlar wrapped compound with a honeycomb core. They're actually pretty light given their size. If I recall they're about 200 pounds a piece.