Wow… What an incredible day! Pretty hard to express in written form just how great it was but I’ll start with an alliteration by saying it was exciting, exhilarating and exhausting…
Arriving at Rise Helicopters at Gloucester Airport I was introduced to my instructor Dave who, over a cup of tea, explained what the day was about while determining from me what I wanted to get out of it.
After a tour of the facilities, and some map perving (I can loose myself in maps four hours and this was the first time I’d seen the aviation variety), we made our way to G-WIRL, the Robinson R22 that was to be our Helicopter for the day. Before getting going I was shown around the helicopter and got to do my techy nerdy thing learning as much about the mechanical side as possible.
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Soon after, we were into the R22’s somewhat small cockpit, as Dave showed me the start up sequence before we set off for the first flight. Once in the air, I was given a demo of each control at a time, before trying it for myself. I was then given two controls at a time, and then three, which saw me have full control of the helicopter. With all three controls I had a go at straight and level flight (or in my case straightish and levelish flight), turns and climbs and decents. Initially it was quite surreal, actually being there and having the controls. Previous pleasure flights have seen me get past the nervous stage, although several times when the helicopter went in directions that I didn’t really intend it to did see me on edge.
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Returning to the airport Dave demonstrated the descent and bringing the helicopter into a hover after which he proceeded to show me, one control at a time, how to hover. After which I had a go on each control while Dave kept hold of the other controls.
I’ve read a lot about helicopters and hovering, and read many a time how difficult hovering is and how unlikely it is to get a go on all three controls simultaneously on a first trial flight. I was therefore pretty surprised when Dave then started giving me two controls at a time, and before I knew it all three. In fact, I remember thinking previously that I would be satisfied if by the end of the day I’d been able to get a go on all three controls for a few seconds.
Once again, having read so much, I wasn’t expecting to be able to hover more than a few seconds before Dave had to take control, saying the magic words ‘I have control’ and bringing the helicopter back to a perfect hover from the mad out of control movements it had got itself into while under my ‘control’. I was therefore surprised and elated to hold the helicopter in a hover for over 30 seconds on only my second attempt! Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a steady hover by any stretch of the imagination, but it was reasonably controlled.
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A large part of an instructor’s job is to encourage and give confidence to their students, but imagine the ego boost I got after the flight when Dave told me that he’d never had a student that had been able to hover like that within the first flight!
I was helped by several factors. Firstly I had a good understanding of the controls, their effects on the helicopter and each other before I got there. Secondly, everything I’d read emphasised small, delicate inputs on the controls. Thirdly there was little to no wind to throw the little R22 around. The fourth and possibly most significant reason, which I admitted to Dave, was that I’d been practicing on Microsoft Flight Simulator with a Helicopter Realism add on (more on that on a later post). He commented how that clearly helped, and could well save me a lot of money.
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After a break and bit more theory, we went out for a second flight of 50 minutes. I ran through the start up sequence prompted by Dave then we headed out east into the Cotswolds, with me being talked through a rather wobbly take off. I actually flew 90% of the trip with Dave only taking control to allow me to take photos, do some low level flying in a friends farm and giving me a demonstration of entering autorotation (flying the helicopter with no power from the engine). We finished with some more hovering (yup, to all those who say it is addictive, I get it) but this time with me being shown and practicing a touch down and take off.
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My final flight, which was a shorter 35 minutes, gave us time for a quick ‘circuit’ around the airfield, once again with me doing the wobbly departure and climb with Dave performing a full autorotation including skidding along the ground as we landed.
For the final 10 – 15 minutes I was able to practice more hovering, including landing and taking off. Once again, I found it surprisingly easy… It is just a question of coordination, understanding of the controls and practise. Normally, it is the cyclic control that people struggle with most, but I found the pedals to be my weak point, constantly getting them confused and turning left instead of right and vice versa. We finished off with me hover taxiing back to the hanger, once again surprised at how long Dave let my fly for. He only took control for the last 30 metres or so as he parked it in between several other very expensive pieces of kit.
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I absorbed a huge amount of information during these flights, but one key thing that I picked up thanks to Dave’s input, is that there is plenty of time when flying a helicopter. You don’t need to rush anything. Correct whatever control is most in need of it first, then correct the rest, all in a relaxed manor. And that appears to be the key to getting to grips with it.
A few minor details brought a smile to my face during the day too. At the end of the second flight when Dave talked me through the shutdown procedure he challenged me to stop the rotor postioned exactly forward aft with the rotor brake, saying that most students struggle with it. I was pleased with myself when I got it almost perfectly stopped with Dave’s input, but not as much as when on the final flight without any prompting I parked it perfectly. That, along with the hovering, general grasp of the concepts, interest in maps are all further proof to me that this is definitely my thing… All I need to do now is find the money to start my Private Pilots License course.
We’d been blessed with a beautiful sunny day, and upon leaving Rise Helicopters I stopped for a pint and a late lunch at The Aviator pub overlooking the runway. An ideal place to sit, relax and reflect on the best day I’ve had in a very long time.
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View photos from the day.
Flight Time: 2.5 hours
Total Flight Time: 2.5 hours