call to the factory and I was scheduled to attend phase one (hover)
flight training at their factory flight training school. Now being
an experienced fixed wing pilot and on my third airplane by that
time, I was sure that I was going to amaze the Rotorway staff with
how rapidly I would catch on to and master flying their training
After my first 45 minute session with my instructor,
I was devastated. I could not make that little helicopter do anything
except go totally out of control. All the instructor seemed to be
doing was keeping us from crashing as I abused that little Exec
by slinging it this way and that across the tarmac. After that first
flight I told my wife, “I don’t think that I can do this, it just
seems impossible to control”. Welcome to Humility 101! I quickly
learned that flying a helicopter was the most challenging and difficult
skill that I had ever attempted to master.
Well, the week at the factory flight training school
progressed and by the time Friday had rolled around all 4 students
had amassed a whole 6 hours of flight instruction each in the factory
trainer. At the school with me for phase one flight training were
Walter and Dave Domanske, who each owned an Exec and who now produce
the Kiss kit for the Jet Exec. I was endorsed for solo hover with
six hours in helicopters in my log book, was I ever jazzed!
We returned home and out came my pride an joy,
I was going to finally fly my own helicopter! The factory at that
time recommended that us new “test pilots” take several precautions
when lifting our new helicopters into the air for the first time.
Now remember that my helicopter had never before been flown, and
now a student pilot with only six hours of instruction became a
test pilot on that never before flown machine. This was a recipe
for disaster and all too often that is what came out of the oven.
The factory folks told us to tether the helicopter
to the ground by tying ropes to the upper part of the frame near
the swashplate and then going down to anchor points on the ground
at a 45% angle on each side of the helicopter. I did this and left
the required 6" of slack in the ropes to allow the helicopter
to become airborne, but not too high. At only six hours total helicopter
flight time I was ill prepared for hovering my new helicopter but
I was too inexperienced to know it. I strapped into the pilot seat
and went through my pre-start check list- all was in order. The
engine started just like is was supposed to and after the proper
warm up I brought the rotors up to speed. Funny, I didn't remember
the factory helicopters shaking as much as mine did, perhaps it
was just my nervousness that caused me to feel the vibrations more
intently. At that point in my flying career I had never heard of
dynamically balancing the rotor system.
Well, no time like the present, I told myself as
I slowly began to lift the collective lever. Oh, one more point
that the factory had either neglected to tell me or I just forgot,
the helicopter picks up totally differently with only one person
on board and of course, solo flight means one person. As I added
collective and the helicopter became light on the skids it began
to slide to the left due to translating tendency(the lateral anti-torque
force applied to the tail boom by the tail rotor thrust). It did
not have to slide very far before it used up the slack in the right
tether rope and with the next pick up attempt the helicopter skids
again slid to the left but the mast stayed put. This put the helicopter
at strange angle with the rotor tipped to the right, and the left
skid off the ground.
It seemed that the way to undue this was to try
to pick up again and this time apply left cyclic. Oops!! Now the
helicopter was at a very dangerous list to the right with the left
skid even higher off the ground. What to do? I conceded defeat and
shut the engine off, crawled out and looked at the mess I had made.
There sat my little helicopter at an angle to the ground with the
right tether rope so tight that I could play a note on it. It was
obvious to me that this was not working out well and that I needed
some expert guidance. I was able to lower the helicopter skid to
the ground by working with the ropes and wood blocks. Once it was
firmly on the landing pad, I put the wheels on and put it away.
What to do next?
By this time I had joined a local Rotorway helicopter
club in California and had met a number of really great folks who
shared the same passion for helicopters that I had. One of those
members was Bill who was regularly flying his Exec around his home
on Lake Berryessa in Northern Ca. I called Bill and told him of
the troubles I was having getting the helicopter into a hover. He
suggested that I go flying with him and he could give me some pointers.
It was about an hour drive up to Bill’s home and soon we launched
off his hillside helipad out over the tops of the trees that were
down the slope and off we flew.
Bill wanted to give me a tour of his local area
before we got down to the serious training so he directed his helicopter
out over the lake and descended to about 20 feet over the water.
Since he wanted me to be able to see everything he kept the airspeed
to around 25 miles per hour as we flew across the lake and around
several boats pulling water skiers. This was late in the summer
and the lake level was quite low. Bill wanted me to see the remnants
of the town that was buried when the lake was filled. As we made
our way over to the shore in the area of the town he slowed the
helicopter down so that I could get a good look.
I noticed that the main rotor rpm was dropping
as he pulled his helicopter into a hover 20 feet over the water
and mentioned it to him. He told me that he had to land ASAP as
he was out of both power and lift so he planted it on the bank of
the lake with the nose pointing up hill and the tail rotor only
feet away from the water. I was a bit concerned that the helicopter
would slide down the hill as it was steep enough that walking on
it was a bit of a challenge, but the helicopter just sat there with
it’s blades turning and with us looking up hill at the sky above.
Bill decided to shut the helicopter down and assess
the situation from the outside. Once the rotors had stopped we got
out and took a good look at things. There was no apparent damage
to the Exec from the impromptu landing so Bill looked to me and
asked “ how do you suppose I should get us out of here?” After a
few seconds of thinking about it, I told Bill that I thought the
best solution was to get his rotor RPM up high and then just pull
collective and take off. Remember that at this point I had only
the 6 hours at the factory, a solo hover endorsement that meant
that I was legally endorsed to test hover my helicopter, and did
not know at all what I was talking about. Bill thought that my suggestion
had merit so we got back in, secured our seat belts (tightly), and
started the engine.
Bill brought the rotor RPM up to speed but when
he lifted the collective the slightest amount, the helicopter would
begin to slide backwards toward the water. We decided that he needed
to be more aggressive so he ran the rotor rpm up to the red line,
he pulled hard on the collective and we popped up into the air and
rearward clearing the water and the uphill bank. Bill then dropped
the nose of the helicopter as it made a left turn and gained airspeed
above ETL ( I had no idea of what ETL was at the time and I doubt
if Bill did either). When we arrived back a Bill’s landing pad I
asked him how long he had been flying. He told me that it had been
over a year since he taught himself to fly. I then found out that
up to that point Bill had not received any formal helicopter training
past the few introductory lessons he took in an R22.
That settled it, I was not all that excited about
having Bill give me instruction in my helicopter nor was I willing
to get back into his with him. They say that ignorance is bliss,
but with helicopters, it can get you killed. I had assumed that
Bill was a trained and rated pilot because he seemed to be flying
a lot. I did not know enough about flying a helicopter at the time
to recognize the number of dangerous mistakes Bill made during our
flight but now I shudder to think that I flew over that deep cold
lake with someone who had no idea of the danger we were in due to
his lack of training.
I decided right then and there that the best solution
was to get someone to come to me and give me hover training in my
own helicopter. I needed someone with enough experience in my type
of helicopter that he could really bring me up to speed with the
skills that I needed to become a safe pilot. I found an instructor
with Rotorway experience and scheduled him to travel to my home
to provide me with the flight training that I needed. After several
days of additional training I was a hovering dynamo in my own eyes.
He helped me get the rotor system smooth and learn to safely pick
up, hover, and set the helicopter back onto the ground.
I learned several important lessons from these
events. The first is to never blindly trust that someone is a safe
pilot just because you see him/her fly. The life you loose could
be your own. Secondly get the best training available so that you
will be a safe pilot and will not put yourself, your family, or
your helicopter at risk.
I hope Stu and Kathy have great success in this
endeavor. If they decide to publish this production on a regular
basis, I will share many more experiences that I have had as a student
pilot, private pilot, and helicopter CFI.
Fly safe and keep the greasy side down . (Note:
Stu and Kathy's magazine is EXPERIMENTAL HELO and can be viewed
It covers all experimental helicopter and related events.
Orv Neisingh R/H CFI,
Sho-Me Helicopters, LLC
8844 Co. Rd. 9790
West Plains, MO 65775