Sunday 24 May 2009

chirari-to (ちらりと)

One of the many things that makes learning languages fascinating is the completely different way that other languages view and express the same thing. Even between similar languages like English and French, this can sometimes result in words that are absolutely impossible to translate without a lot of context, moche for example (probably most simply glossed as "not very nice", but it can be "ugly" and a whole range of "not nice"-like meanings).

With completely unrelated languages like English and Japanese, this happens all the time. Thanks to my teacher, I just came across an especially nice one, chirari-to, written only in hiragana (
ちらりと). It's so hard to translate that most Japanese-English dictionaries don't even have it as an entry. If they do, they just give it in one or two fixed phrases like chirarito miru, to glance at.

But in fact, it can be used in made-up phrases and has a stand alone meaning all of its own, which is something like "glancingly". Combined with "to hear",
chirarito mimi ni iru, it means "to overhear by chance". My teacher agreed that chirarito nioi o kagu (i.e. with "to smell") could mean "to catch a whiff". She didn't think that chirarito yomu (with "to read") is something people would say, but then I found it on someone's blog (chirari to yonda manga - a manga that I happened to read).

Which makes me wonder how far you can take this. I wonder whether in the right context you could use
chirarito korosu, "to kill by chance and without it being really important", as some samurai might say about a peasant he'd beheaded for being in the way on his journey home? Best yet would be chirarito haru, since haru (broadly, "to stretch") is another of those impossible-to-translate words with dozens of meanings depending on the exact context. It's enough to give a translator nightmares.

(Apologies for the romaji, when I tried to type hiragana I got very unexpected results and it was just too hard to do).

Monday 18 May 2009

Off Airport

The two main reasons for using a helicopter, rather than an airplane, are (a) to land where there is no runway and (b) to hover in place. So, naturally enough, these form part of helicopter training. Tonight we did a bit of both. Both are harder than they look. We went out to a remote area and landed on hilltops and on gravel tracks. After circling round to look for animals, power lines, fences, people, houses and so on, you try to land on a hilltop. Compared to an airport (a) you don't know the altitude, so you have to judge everything by eye (b) it's surrounded by hills and other inconvenient obstacles (c) typically there are trees whose distance from the target you have to judge from afar (d) surfaces look deceptively smooth until you get up close. So when we finally got to a landing hover above our first chosen location, we realised that the grass was eighteen inches high. Probably you COULD land there if someone's life was at stake, but it's too risky for a training exercise - you have no idea what is under the grass until you get the skids on the ground, and there's always the risk of tail-rotor damage.

Off to the next place. We find a gravel track winding around the contours of some hills, and make a couple of approaches to it. But the chosen landing spot looks awful small until you get very close in. It's hard to believe you can get this big helicopter (relatively speaking) into that tiny postage stamp of gravel, surrounded by trees. I confess that as my instructor flew the short final I had visions of our rotor blades thwacking into the adjacent bank (forgot to mention that part). In fact there was plenty of room, or adequate anyway. But then you have to get off again, with said bank directly in front and trees on either side. No problem (if, like my instructor, you have 10,000 hours of heli time) - lift off into a 5 foot hover, 180 degree pedal turn, and swoop back off the way you come. But it takes nerve and experience - which of course is what the training is all about.

We survived all that, and went off to practice high-altitude hovering - OGE is the technical term, short for "out of ground effect", i.e. far enough away from the ground that it doesn't interfere with the down-draft from the rotor, which provides extra lift when close to the ground. It's surprisingly hard to enter a hover smoothly. For a fixed-wing pilot the idea of stopping just doesn't come naturally, so as the airspeed gets down to 40 knots or so it already feels like you're standing still. It takes very careful control of the cyclic and collective to get to zero airspeed without losing control of altitude - either climbing or descending. We were doing this just under a Class B shelf, which made it more important not to gain altitude - as my instructor pointed out rather forcefully when I got to within 100 feet of it.

Then you have to stand still. The ground is a long way away when it comes to judging position to within a few yards, and a 25 knot headwind didn't make it easier. The GPS helps a lot, although you have to remember that a ground speed of 10 knots can be in any direction - the GPS doesn't know which way the heli is pointing.

So after a bit of practice at that, we took advantage of our hover to practice "settling with power" also called "vortex ring state". This is one of the peculiarities of helicopters. If you descend too fast with very low airspeed, the rotor falls into the downward-rushing column of air that it is creating itself - and stops providing any lift. Recovery, as long as you have enough altitude, is similar to stall recovery in an airplane - push the nose down and accelerate out of it. If you don't have enough altitude, you will hit the ground very hard - which is why it's best to practice at altitude (also like stalls).

Then back home. If all goes well, my next flight will be another solo.

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...