HE­LI­COPTERS

Pilot - - WHERE TO FLY GUIDE 2019 - Words: PHILIP WHITEMAN Photo: KEITH WIL­SON

More ex­pen­sive to fly than aero­planes, but very sat­is­fy­ing to mas­ter

Many fixed-wing pi­lots shud­der at the thought of fly­ing he­li­copters, and shake their head at the idea of be­ing held aloft by a sin­gle, spin­ning ro­tor. How com­pletely these peo­ple miss the point: I was hooked on my first ex­pe­ri­ence, fly­ing as a child pas­sen­ger in a fam­ily friend’s Hughes 300, op­er­at­ing from a he­li­pad be­hind his of­fice. The view, unim­peded by wings, was fabulous, and even to a child the free­dom of be­ing able to fly from the back­yard was ap­par­ent. And yes, I learned that a he­li­copter can glide safely down to earth, en­gine-off: it’s called au­toro­ta­tion.

In the years since, he­li­copter fly­ing has been brought within reach of the av­er­age wage-earner al­most sin­gle-hand­edly by Frank Robin­son. Throw a stone at a he­li­copter (please don’t) and you will hit a Robin­son of some kind – ei­ther the two-seat R22 or four-seat R44. And now the French have joined the party with the Guim­bal Cabri G2… These air­craft may still be ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate by fixed-wing stan­dards, but they are ro­bust, re­li­able ma­chines that of­fer the best view in the sky – and, once you have learned to fly one, you too could be fly­ing from your own back­yard.

A typ­i­cal les­son starts with a walka­round to check all is well – as with a fixed-wing air­craft – and to re­veal the in­ner work­ings of the ma­chine. The he­li­copter’s aero­foil-sec­tion main ro­tor blades act like the wings of an aero­plane although, un­like the fixed-wing ma­chine, the down­ward flow of air through the he­li­copter’s ro­tor makes it in­her­ently un­sta­ble – so you have to fly it all the time. The twist­ing force of the power-driven main ro­tor is coun­tered by a tail ro­tor that acts like the rud­der of an aero­plane. How­ever, in the case of the he­li­coper this yaw con­trol is ef­fec­tive right down to zero air­speed, in the hover.

You in­spect the Robin­son’s ro­tor drive through a hatch in the side – it looks like a set of loosely fit­ting car fan belts. At rest these belts are slack be­cause, like a car, the he­li­copter’s clutch must be dis­en­gaged to al­low the en­gine to be started. Drive is en­gaged by ten­sion­ing those belts with a jockey wheel: seem­ingly crude – but it works! The con­trol rods are also vis­i­ble, and when you work the tail ro­tor pitch con­trol

rod with your hand, you will see the ped­als move too. Out­side checks complete, you can climb in and ap­pre­ci­ate the view. Most of the di­als are sim­i­lar to those in fixed-wing air­craft: air­speed indi­ca­tor, al­time­ter, at­ti­tude indi­ca­tor, com­pass etc – but one dual-nee­dle instrument is very dif­fer­ent. This gauge in­di­cates en­gine and ro­tor rpm and it’s crit­i­cal. Match­ing nee­dles con­firm that all is well with the ro­tor drive.

The cyclic is sus­pended from an odd­look­ing tilt­ing yoke shared by in­struc­tor and stu­dent, and con­trols pitch and yaw (like the con­trol col­umn in an aero­plane). Beside the seat is the col­lec­tive, which al­ters ro­tor blade pitch as it is moved up and down and, to­gether with op­er­a­tion of its twist­grip throt­tle, makes the he­li­copter climb or de­scend (or, with suit­able cyclic in­put, fly faster or slower). The ped­als en­able the pi­lot to coun­ter­act the torque ef­fect of the main ro­tor, which varies as the col­lec­tive is moved. Tak­ing off is done at a run, with for­ward speed and at a shal­low an­gle: it’s con­sid­ered bad prac­tice to shoot up ver­ti­cally.

You will start to get the hang of it quite quickly when your in­struc­tor gives you con­trol, so long as you use small move­ments of the cyclic and ap­ply just the right pedal pres­sure (one tip is to rest your fore­arm on your leg, which in­hibits any ten­dency to over con­trol). Then there’s just the hov­er­ing to mas­ter!

“I was hooked on my first ex­pe­ri­ence... the view, unim­peded by wings, was fabulous”

He­li­copter as­cen­dant: Robin­son’s R44 Cadet is a ded­i­cated two-seat trainer based on a four-seater that has a bet­ter safety record than not just other he­li­copters, but fixed-wing air­craft!

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