Friday, April 18, 2008

My 1st Helicopter Lesson (12/2006)

Getting a helicopter lesson has been something I have been curious about for a while. To get a rating is very expensive, so I do not know about a rating. But an intro lesson sounded interesting. Then I found out that intro lessons for helicopters were inexpensive like they are for airplanes. Well... almost as inexpensive anyways and a lot less than a normal lesson. Around $99 I believe which includes 1/2 hour ground and 1/2 air time.

I had been talking about it and one of the people at work has been taking helicopter lessons, so I lucked out. For my birthday, my coworkers got me a certificate for an intro lesson at Rotors of the Rockies. Very cool.

  • I had heard that helicopters were sensitive
  • I had heard that there were a lot of controls to work all at once
  • I thought that some of my airplane experience would help

What it was like

It has been a little while since I had the lesson (12/10/2006), but I remember all those things being very true. For a 1/2 hour lesson, it seems like we did a fair amount. The helicopter I received my lesson in was a Schweizer 269C: N2092J.

We talked a little on the ground, but not too much. He walked me through the preflight, and I had lots of questions. We went over a few of them this time leaving more questions for a future lesson.


We first practiced some hovering. There are three main controls (plus throttle which I did not do much with during the lesson). The Cyclic is the stick in the center and it controls your tilt effectively. The pedals (Anti-torque pedals) control your twist. The collective is the lever of sorts next to the seat and it controls the altitude of the helicopter during hover. Wikipedia has a decent article on the helicopter controls.

First, he would have me just to maintain position and then try moving position. For Cyclic it was tilting and moving over 20'. For the pedals, it was rotating 90 degrees each direction and all the way around. For the collective it was gain or lose 10'. Then he had me try all the controls at once. Quite a challenge. Just maintaining position was hard and then actually moving with control was harder yet.

Everything took very minute adjustments; it is hard to describe. For the Cyclic trying to use a loose grip with the thumb and forefinger seemed to work. Almost no movement was necessary. Just thinking about it was almost enough. The pedals and collective were not quite as hard, but still touchy.

Forward Flight

Ok. Enough hovering practice for a short intro lesson. So we call tower and off we go. Transition to forward momentum from hover was a little different. When going forward there is a shift of lift and you drop a little, then quickly start gaining altitude.

During normal forward motion, the helicopter was not too hard to operate. All the controls were a little closer to a plane. The one thing that confused me a little was gainging or losing altitude. It seemed to be a careful coordination of Cyclic, Collective, and Throttle. All the while watching for the RPM to stay in the green. In the end, the instructor handled the throttle so the RPMs stayed in control.

Noise in the helicopter was a little different than I expected. You don't hear the blades as you do on the ground. Inside the helicopter there is noise of the engine and general noise, but not cavitating noise.


One thing I wanted to experience was an autorotation. My friend at work had talked about them quite a bit and I was curious what it felt like. We left the Class Delta space and he showed me a quick autorotation. It was not what I expected. I thought it was going to be approaching 0 Gs, but it just seemed like a steep descent. We didn't have time to do the entire procedure, but I got a small taste of it.

Back to the Airport

Then back to the airport and landing. It seemed like a fair amount of time had passed. I thought I had gotten a good deal and maybe had close to an hour lesson. In the end, it was only 0.6h. It is amazing how you can accomplish in a short time.

It was a very fun experience. I wonder how many more intro flights I can get. Or can I get somebody else to pay for the lessons? Or can I justify it somehow sometime? Or maybe win the lottery?

Well, we will see if I do much more helicopter flying. But I recommend everybody try it once.


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