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6/28/17    Home | Articles | Training | Instructor's Corner | Airplanes | Travelogues | PIREPS | For CFIs | ATPs | Pilot for Hire


Copter!
By Ryan Ferguson

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It's a Different World (from where you come from)

Schweizer 300CB The Schweizer 300CB.
The world I come from is different. A fixed-wing pilot learns to guide his airplane. The astute master treats his winged steed as a partner, and nudges the airplane along its most natural path to produce a smooth result. Not so with the helicopter; every slight change in pitch, bank, power, or yaw is a new mini-adventure requiring constant inputs to maintain stable flight. There is no such thing as guiding a helicopter; the only proper relationship is one of command and control.

After some basic airwork, we set up to fly some approaches to land. Andrew is relaxed, maybe even a little bored, but is doing a good job of letting me flail around without hurting people or damaging property. We end up on the west side of the airport, facing towards the tower; at the center of the field are some small pink paint splotches. As we approach, Andrew finesses the power and collective, while pulling back on the cyclic to arrest our forward speed. The spot remains in a fixed position on the windscreen as descend and decelerate. I squint as I notice what appear to be long grooves in the pavement, slashing through each spot. We're aiming for spot #2; Andrew expertly ends the approach with a hover three feet above the target.

"At the last minute, Andrew hauls back the collective control, converting the energy to lift, and 'flares' the helicopter with aft cyclic pressure. The helicopter's descent is arrested and we slide smoothly onto the pavement with about 10 knots forward speed."

Again, the controls are mine. After a couple of minutes of learning just how precise, metered, and miniscule my control inputs must be to stay in place, I manage to hover the helicopter over the spot. It takes just a nudge of forward cyclic pressure to counter the northerly wind.

Schweizer 300CB With a cruise speed of 84 knots and a Vne of 94 knots, you're not going to get there fast in the 300CB. But you'll have a lot of fun getting there.
We fly another 500 foot pattern and approach to land again. This time, Andrew announces his intention to demonstrate an autorotation on the count of one, two, thr-the engine 'fails' by virtue of the throttle being closed, and Andrew dumps the collective. We are descending very quickly and on a steep glidepath, although our pitch attitude remains fairly level.

Air rushing up through the rotor blades keeps them turning; just because the engine fails doesn't mean we don't have stored energy in the form of rotor RPM. At the last minute, Andrew hauls back the collective control, converting the energy to lift, and 'flares' the helicopter with aft cyclic pressure. The helicopter's descent is arrested and we slide smoothly onto the pavement with about 10 knots forward speed. Well, that explains the grooves.

A helicopter pilot is born

After a few more trips around the pattern we taxi back to the ramp. The taxi and takeoff experiences thrill me more than any any other; I love the sensation of effortless and unlimited freedom of movement this close to the ground. Andrew places the skids of the helicopter directly on the helipad's 'H' symbol. We shut down and talk about helicopters.

"This is a good airport to fly out of," says Andrew as we wait for the engine to cool off before shutting down. He's referring to the many acres of undeveloped land to the southwest of the airport. "Our school came here after noise complaints finally drove us out of California." Of course, that airport had been operating peacefully for many years as housing built up around it; a classic aviation tale. "We're careful always to fly just in the practice area, and never over houses." The school takes noise abatement seriously.

We walk inside the school building to debrief. From the main operations room, one has a good view of the ramp. A perfect formation of 23 shiny, new white helicopters sit with their rotor blades tied down, trunions and masts covered with fabric. This is a serious operation - pilots are here to train for careers. There are not many pleasure flyers. The relative expense of flying helicopters is, perhaps, the reason why.

I feel the spark of interest fanning into flame. "So, think you'd like to take it up?" I'm asked. This has been my first flight in a helicopter. I look down at the 1.0 hours of rotary wing time logged in my logbook. "The decision's already been made," I reply. I'm a helicopter pilot in training. A different world - and a fascinating mode of flight.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please submit any comments to me at ryan@fergworld.com.