#294: Learn to Fly a Helicopter

Getting ready to fly the helicopter

Getting ready to fly the helicopter

LOCATION: American Helicopters. Manassas, Virginia

I’ve been wanting to learn how to fly a helicopter for a while since flying a plane was a lot of fun. Troy, graciously got me a certificate from Xperience Days for my birthday to do just that. The location was in Manassas VA, which is about 3.5 hours from my house in Virginia Beach. Needless to say, we were prepared to drive up there, do an hour of flight lessons, and drive right back home. That’s a long day for one bucket list item!

The lessons started off with a short classroom discussion of how a helicopter works. The type of helicopter I was flying was the R22 Robinson.

The Robinson R22

The Robinson R22

A very small helicopter that was easily manipulated by outside elements, such as wind, but was great for teaching capabilities. After the brief classroom instruction it was time to check out the instruments in the aircraft. There were so many computer dials to look at. My instructor, Eric, went over everything sort of fast since he would be directing me more in the air. I really needed to pay attention to the speed and altitude though. I never knew how complicated a helicopter was until I sat at the controls. There are three major parts to flying a helicopter; the collective, the cyclic, and the foot pedals. The collective was an emergency type break lever in the middle of the two pilot’s seats. This raised and lowered the helicopter. The foot pedals had one left pedal and one right pedal. When used simultaneously, it helped to hover the aircraft. They also aided in tilting the aircraft left or right. The cyclic was used as the momentum and turning device. Basically, you pull toward you to go faster and move up for left and down for right. Pushing forward would slow you down. Sounds easy right? NOPE.

Helicopter cyclic and controls. Photo by www.helitrade.at/

Helicopter cyclic and controls. Photo by http://www.helitrade.at/

Eric maneuvered us up in the air and hovered close to Troy so he could get a picture before we were off in the air. Helicopters are a little unsettling to me since you ride in a naturally forward state. It is just a weird feeling since I’m not used to it like a plane. Flying this definitely made me nervous.

Flying a helicopter!

Flying a helicopter!

Eric got us up in the air and had me control the cyclic. Once high enough, the cyclic was the main control in use unless I wanted to gain more height or lower, which I would use the collective for. The cyclic was nothing like the control in a plane. While it did the same function, the smallest movement on the cyclic would dramatically increase or decrease the speed on the aircraft. I could see why helicopters go out of control so easily. After flying around for 20 minutes, Eric decided to bring me back to the airport to attempt a hover. To hover, you must combine a motion of the collective, cyclic and foot pedals all at once. Doing this about 30 feet from the ground was very nerve wracking. I can move two hands at once, but moving both hands in different directions as well as my feet alternative directions just made me feel like I was rubbing my stomach and patting my head. Concentration was key! I can’t imagine what my hover skills looked like to an observer. Possibly drunken air turns at best. I was able to manage 3 hover practices before my nerves got the best of me and I needed to rest. Soon after, my lesson adventure was over but never forgotten. I left with a great experience from a very knowledgeable instructor and I left with a huge respect for helicopter pilots. They really have to take on a lot.

*Thank you Troy for the wonderful birthday present and accompanying me on this adventure.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?: In a heartbeat!!! American Helicopters was so great to work with. I’m surprised that it was cheaper to take a lesson than it was to take a tour in a helicopter somewhere. I felt safe the entire time even though my nerves were on fire.


American Helicopters: http://www.americanheli.com/

Xperience Days Adventures: http://www.xperiencedays.com/


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