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first time helicopter flying experience
Paul Heuts

A 3 blade rotor chopping 1 meter above your head, a small screaming engine under your seat and rock solid ground 1000 feet below you. Oh, and because it is hot we left the doors off the helicopter so each time we bank the little Schweizer 300CB to the right I get the feeling I’m going to drop out.

About death grip and chasing helicopters.

Needless to say that my first helicopter flying lesson was a nerve wrecking experience. Even the first couple of lessons after that I did feel nervous and stressed whenever the wind bumped the helicopter or we made a tight turn to the right. That is why most student pilots tend to tense up on the controls, just like I did. And this tensing up makes flying helicopters very difficult indeed, tightening your grip on the controls leads to over correcting and making matters worse. Fortunately, the human species is very adaptable and after 10 to 20 hours you’ll grow accustomed to the bumps and shakes and start to relax. But your next hurdle is keeping your eyes outside of the cockpit. Fixating on the instruments is another bad habit a new student quickly picks up and what happens is that you’ll end up chasing the gauges instead of flying the helicopter. This feeling of chasing the helicopter and not being in control is certainly annoying and gave me the feeling that I would never be able to learn how to fly these darn machines. Patience from your instructor and listening and following his or her advice will also get you over that hurdle, and it is at that point when the fun starts.

Your instructor and you.

All those hard hours in the beginning will eventually turn you into a relaxed and in control student pilot. This is the point where your training will accelerate because you can focus on flying the manoeuvres instead of chasing the helicopter and making matters worse with a “death” grip on the cyclic and collective. This is where the fun and excitement of helo flying really starts. The single most important aspect of helicopter training and getting to the point where the training starts to come together, is the compatibility between student and instructor. Asking for a demo flight with your potential new instructor can be a good opportunity to gauge the compatibility between the instructor and you. If you are ever in doubt about your progress because of the quality of instruction you’re receiving or because of compatibility problems, you must be open and talk this over with your instructor and the school. Don’t let it slide and spoil your (expensive) training experience. Remember, you are the customer.

A typical session.

So, what is a typical helicopter training session like? The session usually starts of with a thorough pre-flight check of the helicopter. The purpose of the pre-flight check is to make sure it is in good flying condition and won't drop out of the sky halfway through the lesson. A good check takes at least 30 minutes, even for small helicopters. After that your instructor gives you a quick briefing about the flight and what kind of manoeuvres you will be training for that day. Training flights range from staying in the airports traffic pattern to practice approaches to flying cross country to another airport. You'll also be practicing all kinds of manoeuvres during those flights from the basics; hover, straight and level, turns and ascent/decent. To a couple more fun and challenging manoeuvres; quick stops, straight in autorotation, settling with power and hover autorotation. Because of the amount of concentration and hard work necessary to fly a helicopter and taking in all the information given to you by the instructor a lesson is usually not longer than 1 to 1.5 hours. Back on the ground your instructor will debrief you on your performance and discuss what will be done in the next training session. After that it is a good idea to hit the study books.

Book worm.

My experience of helicopter training so far has been that the practice of flying is far more difficult than the theory. Radio communications is a good example of this. Studying radio communications from the books and software is pretty easy, but when you’re out there and have to make the calls or read back instructions it all seems to be a lot more difficult. I guess the reason for this is, when you’re up there you a have a lot more to do than just talk to the tower, like flying the helicopter for example. Sitting on the couch with your nose in the books and practicing radio calls is by far easier. Don’t get me wrong, you will still study at least 3 hours for every hour of flight training. Sit down with your instructor and discuss the best ways to prepare for lessons and what to study at that specific stage of flight training. You will have lots of tests to take. To obtain a private pilot license you will have to pass a written test, an oral exam and a check-ride. Usually the school itself also requires you to pass a few tests of its own; at my school for example they have a pre-solo written and pre-solo check ride test.

Resources and tools available to you.

As a student pilot you’ll find that you are hungry for information about all aspects of helicopter flying and aviation in general. Luckily, there are plenty of information resources available to you. First stop, of course, should be your instructor. Next are the study books you’ll need to prepare for the exams. Experienced helicopter pilots are also a good source of information, however, they are not usually hanging around answering questions unless you get online and visit one of the many websites and/or discussion forums. But I guess if you are reading this you have found the best and most fun helicopter site and discussion forum of them all! A very useful tool is the PC based computer flight simulator. These simulators are the best way to have fun while practicing navigation and using navigation aids. I am using Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 for trying out my navigation logs and flight plans and to practice radial intercepts on a VOR. This will save you actual hours of expensive flight training.

The reason why we do this.

I want to finish by saying that it is important to have fun during your training. There will be times when the training seems to be less fun and more like hard work and you don’t seem to progress at all. All students hit these “training plateaus” from time to time. When this happens ask your instructor for an easy and fun type of lesson. For some, that’s practicing auto’s

 

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