Learn to fly helicopters

I’ve been asked this question many times.  The standard answer some instructors use, and one that I find amusing, is as follows: “It’s like trying to learn to ride a unicycle while it’s balanced on top of a basketball.”  Also, standard thinking is that it is very expensive and only for the rich.  I think the experience varies from student to student, some finding it more difficult, others less. The generations that play home video games have developed amazing eye-hand coordination, and I have seen this type of student hover a helicopter within a few minutes.  Expense comes up frequently, and it is more expensive than airplane flight training in comparable-size aircraft; however, it is by no means out of reach or only for the Donald Trumps of the world.  My own experience was more on the difficult side.  Being an initial pilot in helicopters, I had nothing else to which to compare the experience.  I was personally in a position where I was bored and burned out in my current job and looking for something better.  It didn’t occur to me, at first, that helicopters could be that better thing.  I was simply curious and approached it as an interesting new hobby. The first few times I tried hovering, I had very little success and experienced great frustration. Straight and level flight was a little less challenging, but still frustrating.  Eventually, as if by magic, it began to get easier.  However, as I learned one skill, a new one surfaced to try and master. The challenge never ended and this was the real lesson in my training. There would always be some task to challenge me and a great deal of focus and effort would be necessary to complete it.  I have always heard that aviation has its way and it was at this point that I believe aviation began to change me.  It was beginning to make me a stronger, better person. Little things in my life that used to bother me didn’t anymore.  I became more organized and more detail-oriented. As a student pilot, and later on seeking my Commercial and CFI ratings, I experienced numerous instructors, some of whom were part of the challenge of learning to fly.  I experienced instructors who were patient and some who were very belittling and had obviously forgotten what it was like to be a student.  As a student, I had the choice of moving on to a different school or dealing with them and trying to learn the skills I needed despite their attitude (wouldn’t recommend the latter option for everyone). I chose to stick it out with the “screamer” instructors, which in looking back was a mistake. The first time someone screams at you in the cabin, or belittles your efforts to learn, should be your last lesson with him or her.

The awesome feeling of success, whether it was demonstrating a maneuver successfully, or getting my Private Pilot Certificate was very rewarding and kept me motivated. I can remember the first time I soloed, feeling both terror and exhilaration! My first solo cross- country was very exciting; the challenge and feeling of success in making it there and back to base were like nothing else before! My first off-airport landing in my instructor’s back yard is still one of my greatest moments and memories! On top of all of this the view from a helicopter made every flight memorable, especially when seen from a hover one thousand feet above the ground.  Going on for further ratings got me out into the world of aviation and helped me gain valuable experience, which I believe is measured better in years than hours. I have two hours in airplanes.  I have almost 500 in helicopters.  I don’t feel I have enough experience in airplanes to make a comparison versus helicopter training.  I can tell you that it is a lot of hard work and can be expensive to learn to fly helicopters; but if the right things are motivating you, you will do it. Learning to hover requires an understanding of what the controls do, skill at coordinating those controls, and lots of practice. That’s it!

 Some of the emergency procedures, and the training necessary to master them, can be very intense. The autorotation comes to mind. An autorotation is simply a power-off, gliding descent practiced in case of engine failure. This is the big emergency maneuver that must be mastered in helicopters. This maneuver requires a large pilot workload; trading altitude for rotor RPM and airspeed in order to effect a controlled descent. This allows the pilot to make a safe landing if the engine were to fail.  I found this maneuver very challenging when I first learned it, and still find it challenging under gusty conditions. It is important to train and practice to remain proficient, as with most maneuvers. Aviation in general, and for me helicopters in particular, offer a rewarding, adventure-rich experience.  The view is great and the people you meet are even better. Aviation is a close-knit community, and the helicopter sector reminds me of a close-knit family. The obstacles for each potential pilot can be substantial, but the potential for reward is huge. I saw a great deal of support, sometimes from unexpected places. You will learn a lot about yourself, and if you are looking for a challenge-this is it!  If you are looking for a career change, there is no better time than now in helicopter aviation!  The number of jobs is increasing and the number of applicants shrinking. Salaries are trending upwards from where they were 10 years ago. There are no guarantees, of course, but there is lots of opportunity. Not everyone will get the ideal job flying tours in the islands, but I believe most good pilots will get a job they like. I am currently working jobs, my old career and my new career as a CFI and Commercial helicopter pilot. I look forward to the day when I transition completely to aviation, and if I had it to do all over again- I would!  Good luck and God Speed!

                                                                                                                               By Carl Bianchini

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