Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I've been up to.

So, the reason behind the whole contract trip from hell and missing all my friends in St. Louis is this.  I'm finally putting my money where my mouth is and getting my rotory pilots license.  My planning guess-timated that I'd need about $10,000 for my private, another 15k for my commercial and after that, basically chump change to add it to my ATP.

Why, no. It ain't cheap.

So, this week I started.  I'm driving about 90 miles one way to the flight school everyday and back.  Which is a royal pain in the ass, but I've driven longer for flight training before.  It works out to an extra 45 dollars a day in gas, but if I can find a hotel down there for that, I'll just commute once for the week from now on.

This is a bit complicated.  You see, I get 5 hard days off a month.  5 days when they can't call me and put me on a charter trip.  5 days when I don't have to be within 30 minutes of my airport. 5 days when they can't call me at 2 am to go to wherever ASAP. 5 days when I can have a beer without calling 3 people to get it okayed. So, I have to cram as much helicopter training as I can into those 5 days and then let the skills rot for a month till I can get the next 5 days off.  Anyone who's taking flying lessons can tell you, that isn't the best way to do it, but it's the way I'm stuck with.

Anyway, Monday.  First hour. Sort of a combination discovery flight, first lesson.  We went off and did the 4 basics of flying.  Climbs, turns, descents and straight and level.  All flying is basically some combination of those 4.  At least for fixed wing aircraft. We then went to a big wide empty field next to the runway and I proceeded to make myself airsick.  My instructor, great guy by the way, sets up a hover and then give me the pedals.  My only job is to maintain a heading.  Keep the nose pointed at a big white pole just outside of this acre and a half field that we're in the middle of.  Not too bad.  Then he gave me the collective, throttle and pedals.  Now, I'm supposed to maintain heading and height.  A little worse, but okay.  I'm only bouncing up and down maybe 10 ft. and swinging back and forth maybe 30 degrees. Then he says he's gonna take back the collective, throttle and pedals and he's gonna give me just the cyclic. At this point I KNOW this man is insane and suicidal.

Oh, by the way, before this he'd just say, "Okay, you take the pedals now and hold heading.", or, "Take the collective too now."

Now he's like, "Okay, the cyclic is yours in three... two... one..." Right about the time he got to 'two', he had me wondering what the hell I was in for.

The first time, for about the first 3 seconds everything was fine.  Then it went... wonky.  You see the rotor on a helicopter is about the only thing that's really flying, everything else is just hanging underneath like a pendulum. And that's exactly how it went after those three seconds. I was making too large a control inputs and the lag in the pendulum that is the 'airframe' of the helicopter just got worse and worse.  So, he'd take the controls back, re stabilize, or as I was referring to it at this point, performing his voodoo/black magic on the infernal machine, and then, "Okay, take the cyclic in three... two... (for the love of god, I want to live, NO) one..." and we do it all over again.  This goes on for a good half hour. At the end of which, I'm turning green, trying to get as much air to blow across my face as I can and concentrating on non-throwup-y thoughts. 

End of my first lesson.  Looking back, I suppose each time he gave me the controls, the grace period between fine and wonky got a little longer.

Second lesson. We immediately hop over to that field and he proceeds to give me the pedals, then the collective/throttle, the the bastard give me ALL of them. pedals, collective, throttle and cyclic. and I try to hover.  I will say I managed to hover... in a field a good acre and a half on a side.  Then he has me do set downs, pick ups to hover and pedal turns.  Again, I managed to stay inside that acre and a half.  And I didn't get airsick.  All in all a good day. But, I'm still thinking of reporting my instructor to the mental health people at the local hospital.  He needs to be on a 72 hour suicide watch at the very least.

Third lesson. We discuss some of the forces acting on the helicopter and the rotor. Different types of rotors and some other stuff out of the FAA's FAA-H-8083-21 Rotorcraft Flying Handbook.  Part of me is thinking he's trying to distract me from my impending doom.

Part of me is right.

Today, he gets the helicopter off of the trailer/pad and then gives me the controls and tells me to hover taxi over to the compass rose.  This is a 15 ft. circle with the cardinal compass points painted on it.  It's a way for airplanes to swing their compasses and make sure they're accurate.

I get it there in mostly a straight line and then we do pick ups, 120 degree pedal turns and let downs for 45 minutes. All while trying to stay inside this 15ft. circle.  He basically made me stay on the controls alone the entire time.

Honestly. I figured we'd go from an acre and a half field, to an acre to 3/4 of an acre... you know, work me down to something less than a football field in nice easy steps.  Nope.

And to be honest.  My hovering skills are getting better.  As long as I remember to keep my control inputs small, smooth, and relatively slow, I can hover inside a 15ft circle and within 3 to 5 ft. of the ground.  Then we went out and looked at power/collective settings for 60 kt cruise, 80 kt cruise, and climbs and descents at both air speeds as well.  Then did an approach back to the airport to a spot landing, then he hovered over to the trailer and end of lesson.  I still think he's suicidal and I'm pretty sure now that I can take the helicopter with me when I crash, rather than somehow killing myself as I walk up to the machine.

If the weather holds, I'll have 2 more lessons this week before it's back to work for me.

By the way, the place I'm training at, Vertical Aviation in Lebanon, OH, uses Enstrom F28's for training.  The big difference between Enstroms and the more common Robinsons or Hughes 300's is no governor.  You see, Robinsons and Hughes both have engine governors that keep the engine rpm's in the green for any given collective setting.  Not the Enstroms.  You change collective, you adjust throttle, and vice verse. You move the pedals, you adjust the throttle, you move the collective and vice verse.  You move the cyclic... well, you get the idea. So, I actually set out and made learning helicopters harder than I could have.

Yes, I'm kicking myself over that. No, I don't need your help there.

Actually, I did that on purpose. I figured if I can learn to fly helicopters without the governors. Actually manipulating 4 controls to fly rather than just 3, I should be a better pilot in the end.  At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, so far, 3 hours of training, so good. Another 30 or 35 hours to go. I'll post updates as I fly. 

Oh, and as for the question, why am I learning to fly helicopters?  Well aside from the obvious coming zombie apocalypse.  It's just plain old fun.


Old NFO said...

Um... airsick=fun??? We need to talk... :-) Fly safe and learn those skills!!!

JRebel said...

Heh sounds just like what a helo pilot told me when I took a ride as a kid.

"Basically we're sittin' on top of a giant ball that's top heavy and always wants to spin around and turn over. All I'm doing is not letting it."

Given that he had thousands of hours flying time between commercial, private and Vietnam, I figure I was in good hands. Almost 20 years later I still remember that flight. Somewhere out there I hope he's still flying. He truly seemed to have been a part of the machine. Anyway, good luck to ya Jim.

ZerCool said...

Shiny side up.

I'm all kinds of jealous.

And one question - the 3-5 foot hover: isn't that really a ground effect hover? (Not knocking your abilities at all, I'm just trying to figure this all out. I was allowed to try taxiing a Cessna once and the pilot took it away from me after I tried to rear-end the regional in front of us.)

Rev. Paul said...

Sounds like fun, in that twisted, pilot-y sort of way. :) Looking forward to the next installment.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

I follow your reasoning - I would have been a much better pilot if I'd learned in a tailwheel.

I would have been a far better pilot if I learned in a helicopter, but I probably would still be trying to find enough money for private pilot lessons.

NFO - it's too late to have that talk. I've seen this before. They go helicopter and they don't come back. Something in the brain breaks, and they believe that helicopters are far, far more fun than simple "seized-wing" flying.

So all we can do is tell him "Good luck, have fun, stay safe, and hope your skills stay sharp!"

aepilot_jim said...

Yeah Zer, it's in ground affect. Basically anything under 36ft. (The rotor diameter) is considered ground affect. We want to stay there because it reduces the amount of power needed to hover. Hovering out of ground affect takes a lot more power, which mean more more torque which means less tail rotor to play with for maneuvering.

Oh wing... You do know that I was a blackhawk helicopter crew chief in the army many yonks ago. I've always been this way. Now, I'm not saying there isn't something to flying 500ft above the ground at 300 mph all the while making screaming jet noises. But there is something to sitting there 5 ft. off the ground knowing I just made this area of air my bitch.

Kevin said...

Didn't anyone tell you that helicopters don't really fly? They just vibrate so bad the earth rejects them.

Too cool. Wish I could afford to fly a whirlybird.

Julie said...

your definition of 'fun' and mine vary wildly .. however as it's your 10+K enjoy :) and hopefully survive.