Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Helicopter Rating

As a fixed wing pilot I felt pretty accomplished. I had commercial single engine land and sea and multi engine ratings. I am an instructor in seaplanes and land planes. I even teach tailwheel training. I had always had a fascination with choppers. My neighbor at the lake has a Hughes 500 chopper that he lands on his specially built dock. I think that is really cool. He thinks my seaplane is kinda cool too. I have watched him land and take off for years and I have even flown with him in the chopper and the seaplane. I have also taken the tourist flights over New York City and the Grand Canyon. I even bought several videos on helicopter and watched them several times.

One day while we were visiting the nearest $100 hamburger joint I noticed a guy doing patterns in Hughs 269 helicopter. I asked a guy at the restaurant and learned that there was someone giving lessons in my own area. I had looked at going to Atlanta for training or buying my own helicopter and getting someone local to train me. This was great news. I waited for the chopper to land and talked to the instructor for a few minutes. I called him later to setup a time for a demo flight.

The instructor turned out to be, Greg Turley, the Chief of Police for Pell City, Alabama and he was just getting his school setup. He was super nice and easy to get along with. I signed up for lessons right after the demo flight.

The helicopter is amazingly responsive and maneuverable. It is not however very stable. You are very busy most of the time while you are flying it. I was horribly uncoordinated trying to mesh all of my current knowledge into this new contraption. Not all of the old knowledge applies. Some of our airplane knowledge is counter to what the chopper wants to do. I was going to learn lots of new stuff. I was jazzed.

The cost was reasonable compared to my other options and the time involved is minor. Most of my general aviation knowledge applies like FARs, Navigation and Airport Rules. You learn a lot about gyroscopes and their properties. There are many spinning things on a helicopter. It takes 30 hours in the helicopter (as an airplane pilot) to apply for the rating and there is no written test if you are a private airplane pilot.. The reading and studying is pretty easy if you are the least bit mechanical. The PTS maneuvers are pretty simple once you start to master the machine.

I soloed after about 15 hours and I was every bit as giddy as my first airplane solo. I told everyone I knew and sent them photos. By the time I was ready for the checkride things were feeling pretty natural. I was not having to think before every action. Mark Newman was my examiner and everything went really well. I learn yet a few more things about helicopters during the ride. As long as you know the required material examiners usually like to teach you something extra.

So if you really want something to challenge your brain give helicopter flying a try. The view from a chopper is incredible and controlling this most versatile of machines will really get your juices flowing. If you live in the Birmingham area you should look up Greg Turley of Alabama Helicopters and

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