When asked how many hours are required for a licensed pilot to transition to a helicopter, no two helicopter flight schools seem to have the same answer. Some say as little as thirteen hours, while others say a full forty. Section 61.109 of the FARs should help settle the answer
Sec. 61.109 Aeronautical experience. Except as provided in paragraph (i) of this section, a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with a rotorcraft category rating must receive and log at least 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training in the areas of operation listed in Sec. 61.107 of this part, and the training must include at least:
c) For a helicopter rating:
(1) 3 hours of cross-country flight raining in a helicopter;
(2) Except as provided in Sec. 61.110 of this part, 3 hours of night flight training in a helicopter that includes
(i) One cross-country flight of over 50 nautical miles total distance; and
(ii) 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport.
(3) 3 hours of flight training in prepa- ration for the practical test in a heli- copter, which must have been per- formed within 60 days preceding the date of the test; and
(4) 10 hours of solo flight time in a helicopter, consisting of at least
(i) 3 hours cross-country flight time;
(ii) One solo cross-country flight of at least 75 nautical miles total dis- tance, with landings at a minimum of three points, and one segment of the flight being a straight-line dist- ance of at least 25 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations; and
(iii) Three takeoffs and three land- ings to a full stop (with each land- ing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an oper- ating control tower.
So, by my estimation, the absolute minimum flight time required is about seventeen hours: three hours of cross country, assuming it could be done at night, satisfying two requirements; about one hour for the ten take-offs and landings; three hours dual in preparation for the test; ten hours solo, as long as all requirements are met within this block of solo time.
The actual time, however, is generally much greater, even when a pilot is capable of completing the requirements quickly. The insurance companies of most flight schools require a minimum of 20 hours dual before a pilot, any pilot, can solo in a helicopter.
Learning to Hover
First Steps to a Helicopter Rating
Story and photos by Don Mickey
The instructor pilot's voice crackled over my headset, "Okay, you have it." Careful not to move the cyclic, I pressed the microphone switch, "I got it." I held the cyclic firmly in my right hand. My feet were positioned solidly on the pedals. In my left hand, I held the collective in position and gripped the throttle like a pit bull on a slab of raw meat. I knew that all I had to do was hold each of these controls firmly in place and hovering would be a snap.
Things went exactly according to plan for about the first two tenths of a second. Then, the helicopter started drifting slowly to the right. I corrected with a solid counteraction on the cyclic. As the vibrating machine drifted back to the left, it began to rotate in a clockwise direction. "Easy enough," I thought, "just correct with a little left pedal." By the time my mind had communicated with my leg, the drift to the left was accelerating and we were getting higher. A bit down on the collective and a correction with the cyclic were, I figured, exactly what were needed. The corrections, however, must not have been quite right, because we drifted to the right and forward. A movement back and to the left on the cyclic, while dancing on the pedals to keep the helicopter facing in at least the same general direction, produced another climb of several feet and an uncomfortable feeling of accelerating backward movement. I pushed forward on the cyclic. We were descending, rotating right, drifting right, and accelerating forward.
The old, parked, military transport plane that had just seconds before been on the opposite end of a fairly large ramp was approaching all too quickly. A pull back on the cyclic and the forward movement stopped. But, we began to ascend rapidly and drift backwards and to the left... fast. "Take it," I gasped into the microphone. But I felt no change on the controls. I quickly glanced to my right. Tom, the instructor pilot, sat there calmly, eyes focused somewhere in the distance, a grin on his face. He was completely calm. I, on the other hand, while not quite panicking, was becoming quite concerned. I couldn't get the mass of moving parts under control. Finally, after remembering to press the microphone button, I squeaked out "okay," and Tom finally took control of the frenzied beast. Instantly we were still, hovering a few feet above the ground. Tom shook his head and smiled as he maneuvered us back to our starting point. I could see it in his eyes as he prepared to turn over the controls once more: "fixed-wing pilots."
I've always been fascinated with helicopters. There's just something about them that has attracted me ever since I was a kid. Like many pilots, I had dreams of flying. My dreams, while including large segments of high flight, seemed to always take place very close to the ground and included a lot of hovering. Like many people, however, something has always seemed to keep me from this one dream. I settled for flying airplanes because I thought it was something I could afford (insert sarcastic giggle here). I love flying airplanes, streaking along high above the earth, alone in the heavens. But, I must admit, I get a little nervous flying too close to the ground, and so far I've been unable to get my Mooney to hover. So, when the opportunity arose for me to take some transition training in a helicopter, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived at Scottsdale Helicopters at 8 a.m., ready to fly. On the ramp, several helicopters were lined up, waiting to take to the sky. I introduced myself to my instructor, Tom, and sat on the edge of my seat as we discussed the basics of flying a helicopter. I was confident that I knew everything I needed toat least in theory. A long fifteen minutes later, we walked out to a pristine Schweizer 300C, glistening in the morning sun. We did a quick but thorough preflight and strapped in. The winter day was typically Phoenix-area warm and to my delight we were going to be flying without doors. The introductory flight lesson consisted of five major areas: takeoff and climb, level flight, approach, hovering and autorotation. I was surprised at how different many of these phases of flight were from what I had expected. Takeoff and Climb
Contrary to what many of us think, a helicopter does not just lift off straight up and climb to altitude. In fact, forward motion helps to create lift, just like in an airplane. When we departed Scottsdale airport, we lifted off the and skimmed the ground, remaining in ground effect and gaining speed. Our departure was much like that of a fixed wing aircraft, although the long strip of concrete was unnecessary.
I was amazed at how similar in-flight maneuvering is to that in an airplane. Push the cyclic forward and the helicopter noses down, pull back and it noses up. Increase collective and throttle to climb. Decrease collective to descend. Apply left pedal when more collective and power are applied and right pedal as they decrease. The collective functions much like the propeller control when flying an airplane with a constant speed propeller. And, just like an airplane, the pedals serve to counteract the effects of increased torque. So, combining the use of the cyclic balanced with that of the collective with corrections made with the pedals provides for very easy climbs and descents.
Approach and Landing
Again, experience in a fixed wing aircraft helps here. Reduce power to achieve a glide path, flare at the right moment, and apply collective and power corrections (of course, balanced by constant use of the pedals) to finish the landing. Movement of the cyclic at touchdown is, however, counter-intuitive for a fixed-wing pilot. Unlike in a fixed-wing where you continue to pull back on the yoke at touchdown, you must level the helicopter with forward cyclic when transitioning from the decelerative flare into a hover for touchdown.
Man, was I humbled. I've been told by helicopter pilots that hovering is tough. But, I really wasn't prepared for what I experienced. I thought going in that all I had to do was hold the controls solidly enough and hovering would be a breeze. I was wrong. As I learned after a number of semi-aerobatic attempts, hovering requires just the opposite constant and almost un-perceivable control input corrections, especially on the cyclic. Instead of holding the controls tightly, a relaxed grip and light toes fit the bill here.
I've imagined for years what an autorotation must be likeplummeting towards the earth in a semi-controllable collection of spinning parts, waiting for the split second reactions necessary to save my life. Executed perfectly, I imagined the landing would at best compress my spine by a few inches. Wrong again. Autoration was only slightly more dramatic than pulling power in a Cessna 172 with 40 degrees of flaps applied on a steep approach. Pick a point, glide towards it, flare before touching down, pull the collective to convert the inertia of the blades to lift, and slide to a stop.
My experience flying fixed wing aircraft was a great asset in my foray into piloting a helicopter. In fact, because fixed wing pilots are comfortable with basic aerodynamics, the sensations of flight, communications, weather, navigation, and regulations, we have the upper hand stepping into helicopter. We can't forget though that helicopters are not airplanes. As Harry Reasoner said, "The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by nature wants to fly, if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other, and if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance the helicopter stops flying: immediately and disastrously."
I guess I'm really not a lot different than so many other fixed-wing pilots. I fly in and out of airports throughout the southwest, comfortable with the airplane I fly and the world of aviation I've experienced. But every so often, I'll notice a helicopter, its pilot comfortable in the world he has grown to know, and I'll stop just for a moment and watch in fascination as the whirling mass of mechanical ingenuity floats magically through the air. I've finally been privileged enough to be part of that world. There's no going back.
Scottsdale Helicopters was formed in July of 1999 by brothers Tom and Don Hawks. They started the company simply because they love helicopters. They are visibly excited about flying helicopters and cant help but transfer this emotion to others.
The company was started with a Schweizer 300C and they have recently acquired a Bell 206 Jet Ranger III. Plans are in the works for purchasing a second Schweizer to accomodate the growing demand for flight training.
Although flight training is their primary source of business, Scottsdale Helicopters also leases, does contract work, handles corporate transportation, and flies passengers on sightseeing trips throughout the Phoenix area.
The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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