Saturday, 16 May 2009

Helicopter Solo!


Well, I did it! Today, after exactly 24 hours of helicopter dual, I soloed. You might reasonably wonder what consititutes a solo in a heli... three two foot hovers? But it's just like fixed-wing, three times round the traffic pattern. Except that each take-off involves a clearing turn, so actually it counts as six landings.

As with my other solos (fixed wing, and the Pitts), I was so concentrated that I didn't remember to be nervous. That's probably a good thing. Disappointingly, I didn't get to see the Collings B-17 taking off from adjacent Moffett Field during my solo - things seem to be very quiet there this year.

The first five hours or so of heli training are about the most humbling experience you can have, in flying anyway. The aircraft seems completely uncontrollable as you zoom backwards, forward and sideways, desperately trying to stand still and failing utterly. Then, when you've oscillated too far from your spot, a 10,000 hour instructor takes the controls and with perfect precision plops you back in exactly the right place, before saying "your controls". And it starts all over again.

Actually flying the heli isn't too bad, at least if you have airplane experience. In flight it behaves pretty much the same, except that it is a lot more sensitive to the slightest movement of the controls.

Most of my 24 hours dual time, once I could take off, hover and land with reasonable accuracy, was spent on emergency procedures. Mainly, this means autorotations. A heli will fly just fine without an engine, though not for long, and unlike an airplane, it doesn't need a runway. I think autos are probably terrifying at first - unless you are used to landing the Pitts, in which case they seem very gentle.

Now on to 10 hours of solo, 3 hours of night flight, and more emergency procedures...

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