My official introduction to helicopters
came via my tailwheel instructor, Kandace, a
certificated flight instructor in fixed-wing
aircraft who also enjoys logging helicopter
time and is currently working on her helicopter instrument rating. A few days after
the air show, she invited me for a hop in a
Robinson R22. She figured I could be converted if I saw just how cool it was to fly
inches above cornfields and experience the
world from a hover.
She was right. I liked what I saw.
The thing about helicopters is that you
can go places you generally can’t in a fixed-wing aircraft, and do it at slower speeds than
you can usually sustain in an airplane. When
you can safely land just about anywhere, the
separation rules are a little different, too.
You can get closer, go slower, and stand still
in the sky. When there’s a problem, you can
land anywhere your rotor blades and fuselage will fit—no need for runways or long,
smooth fields. The visibility is breathtaking
I went home from my flight with
Kandace and started doing some Internet
research since I didn’t know much about
helicopters at all. How many seats do they
have? How much do they cost to rent?
Where is the nearest place for me to take a
lesson? What would it take to get a rating?
GYROPLANES VS. HELICOPTERS
When you first start researching rotorcraft—
helicopters and gyroplanes—things can be a bit
deceiving. Gyroplanes are rotorcraft, covered
in the FAA’s Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, and
share a practical test standards booklet with
helicopters, but they’re a different animal.
In the most basic terms, a helicopter has a
powered rotor providing lift and propulsion. A
gyroplane has an unpowered rotor that only
ensures lift. A traditional propeller provides the
propulsion. As such, a gyroplane’s rotor is in a
constant autorotation, whereas a helicopter only
enters autorotation when the engine quits.
The list of differences (and some similarities)
is extensive and worth looking into if you’re
considering what to build or have specific
desirable flight characteristics in mind for the
type of aircraft you’d like to fly.
More information about gyroplanes
and helicopters is available from the Popular
Rotorcraft Association; visit them at
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PIERRE KOTZE
The answers to many of these questions
left me with more questions as my mind
started warming to the possibility of trying it
myself. I called my nearest helicopter flight
school ( 123 miles away) and booked an introductory flight.
PRIMARY VS. TRANSITION
One of the things that intrigued me right
away is that, as a private fixed-wing pilot,
the helicopter certificate is an add-on rating.
This means no written test, as long as you’re
going for the same grade of certificate, i.e.,
private, commercial, etc. Once you’ve soloed,
you can exercise all the privileges of a private certificate except carriage of
passengers. A note to sport pilots: The definition of light-sport aircraft specifically
excludes helicopters, so you would need to
obtain a medical and pass another written
test to earn a helicopter certificate.
While there are some benefits to transitioning from fixed-wing aircraft, Bill
Coolbaugh, owner of Lakeshore Helicopter
in Kenosha, Wisconsin, told me it’s only a
slight advantage over a complete newbie.
(Yes, you can start with helicopters!) A helicopter is such a different beast that everyone
is starting from scratch on the controls. It
takes an average of five to six hours to learn
how to hover. A private pilot will take an
average of 40 to 45 hours to reach the checkride; a new student will take about 50 to 55.
SO WHAT’S ENTRY LEVEL?
My introductory flight was in a four-seat
Robinson R44, but Lakeshore also operates a
smaller two-seat R22. Talking in terms I
understood, Bill compared the R22 to a
Cessna 150 and the R44 as more like a 172.
The R22 is the most common trainer on the
market today and most flight schools charge
about $250 an hour for instruction, which
varies depending on location. That said, I
also found flight schools operating the
Schweizer 300C, Enstrom 280, and Bell 47,
which all generally cost more because of
higher operating costs.
Robinson helicopters have special training and experience requirements before a
student or certificated helicopter pilot is
able to take the controls. Special Federal
Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 73 of Part 61
requires awareness training, including a
ground school session conducted by a certificated flight instructor (CFI) who has at
least 200 hours in helicopters, 50 of which
must be in Robinsons. The ground instruction covers energy management, mast
T YPE-CERTIFICATED MODELS
SKYBLAZER www.eaa.org 43