I have always been fascinated by helicopters and from the time
that I saw the first episode of “Whirly Birds” on TV featuring
a Bell 47, I knew that someday I was going to learn to fly one.
When I was in college the Viet Nam War was raging and my draft
number was called. The US Army decided that I was going to join
their ranks so I applied for training as a helicopter pilot. The
army decided that I should become a Drill Instructor so my dreams
of learning to fly helicopters courtesy of Uncle Sam vanished
due to poor non-corrected eye site, I wore glasses.
Years passed and the dream of learning to fly a helicopter seemed
a distant fantasy. One day my wife told me about a Rotorway helicopter
fly-in that she had read about and it was only a few hours from
our home. We loaded up the kids and a couple of their friends
into the family Cessna T210L and off we went. I saw my first Rotorway
helicopter, an Exec 152, and it was love at first sight. There
were around 8 Rotorway Exec experimental helicopters in attendance,
some flying, some not. I was like a kid in a candy store. I had
to have one. The first person that I talked to at the meet was
Ruffin Apperson who had a beautiful bright red Exec 152. Ruffin
and his wife Lois were so kind to spend a lot of time answering
my questions and letting me crawl all over their little helicopter.
To this day some 20 years later they are still great friends and
we try to make it a point to attend the Sierra Rotorcraft Club
annual Christmas party at their home overlooking the beautiful
Napa Valley every December.
It only took me a month to find my own second hand Rotorway helicopter
and I purchased it on the spot. Unfortunately it turned out to
be much less than was represented to me by the seller and was
in need of a complete tear-down to the frame and total rebuild.
In reflection that was actually a good thing because I learned
every part and function of my little flying machine. I felt that
I was in Heaven, life was good!
I was very fortunate that my wife enjoyed riding in our Rotorway
as much as I enjoyed flying it. We traveled all over northern
California accumulating over 350 hours over the course of around
It was obvious that many of the folks that had Rotorway helicopters
of their own did not fly them at all. There were very few folks
that were willing to instruct in experimental helicopters so I
began helping others learn to fly. Eventually I earned my helicopter
CFI and began flight and maintenance instruction full time, much
of it in Rotorway helicopters.
In 1995 my wife had a cardiac arrest and needed to be transported
by helicopter from our little rural hospital to Stanford University
hospital over 100 miles away. As the medical crew was prepping
her for the flight I spoke with the pilot who told me about the
life and rewards of flying Helicopter EMS (Emergency Medical Services).
Now THAT is something that I would love to do, I thought. It seamed
that nearly all of the EMS pilots that I spoke with had gained
many hours of flying experience in the military and then began
flying air ambulances once they entered the civilian work force.
Time passed and as I continued to fly Rotorway helicopters, I
dreamed of some day flying the big ships, but how would I ever
get turbine experience when nearly all of my time was in Experimental
This past summer I was instructing a student in his Rotorway
Exec 162F at a small rural airport. When we landed for fuel we
were approached by a gentleman who was curious about the cute
little helicopter we were flying. He introduced himself and said
that he did hiring for the country’s fastest growing helicopter
ambulance service. As we chatted I told him how I had long dreamed
of flying helicopter EMS but knew that it would never be able
to due to my lack of time in larger helicopters like the Bell
206 Long Ranger that his company operated.
He asked me to set up an interview and to bring my log book.
I jumped at the chance and within a few weeks I was hired by the
company as a student pilot in their air ambulance training program.
They required 2000 hours of flight time of which 1500 had to be
PIC in helicopters. There was no stipulation between Experimental
and Certified helicopter time. All that was required was that
each new hire had the required time, a helicopter instrument rating,
and possessed the helicopter flight skills to pass the course.
I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of being in a class with
everyone else having thousands of hours in large turbine helicopters,
and the bulk of my experience being in the little Rotorway Experimental
ships. I had been told by the fellow who recruited me that pilots
of small helicopters like the Rotorway, Robinson R22, and Hughes/Schweizer
269-300 helicopters actually did better in many cases than the
pilots of the larger multi-engine machines due to the delicate
control feel that we develop as we fly.
I had heard that the Bell 206 flight simulator at the training
academy was really difficult to fly and was a bit intimidated
by the thought of trying to operate it. On the second day of class
I was scheduled for my first simulator session. Word was out that
if you “crashed” the simulator when it went IMC (Instrument Meteorological
Conditions) (IFR) you were asked to leave the training program.
I climbed into the simulator with it’s 9 foot tall wrap-around
screen and found myself sitting in a Bell 206 Long Ranger cockpit
on a helipad somewhere in Indiana.
The instructor went through around 20 engine starts with me where
I learned how not to start a turbine and the consequences of not
paying attention to new things like N1 rpm, TOT, N2 rpm, and Torque.
What on earth is a hot start? Oops, I “woofed the engine”. This
was definitely not like just hitting the starter button on the
Rotorway or Robinson helicopters, there is an art to starting
an Allison 250-C30P engine. Do it wrong and the engine is toasted.
After I had destroyed several virtual engines, I started to get
the hang of it. Blades 90 degrees and untied, rotor brake stowed
and locked, throttle full open, back to idle, depress the idle
release button and roll the throttle to full off, fuel valve switch
on, set the timer, clear, left hand on the throttle, right index
finger depressing the idle release button and the right middle
finger depressing the starter.
This is where it gets busy. As soon as the starter in engaged
the N1 gas producer turbine begins to spool up. When it gets to
exactly 11% rpm you roll on just a touch of throttle so that the
engine fires at exactly 12% N1. Too much throttle and the engine
hot starts, back it off and you “woof” the engine = kill the fire.
In any case the starter button must not be released until the
TOT is below 150 deg. C if the engine start is not successful.
At 25% N1 the main rotor blades must be turning, keep holding
the starter down and modulate the throttle to keep the TOT in
the yellow band between 741-791 deg. C. Apply just a bit too much
throttle and it spikes over 927 deg C, you have ruined the engine.
At exactly 58% N1 the starter is released and the engine settles
into a beautiful purr at 63% N1 flight idle.
Wow, that is a lot to learn for a Experimental helicopter pilot
EMS want to be. Several weeks of classes going from 6 am to 11pm
with study and around 3 hours sleep per night seemed to be the
norm for all of the students. About the time that we were all
walking around like the walking dead, it was time to start flying
the real machines.
I have to admit that there was a lot of apprehension from most
of the student pilot “new hires” in the class. Most of the other
students were worried that they would not be able to fly such
a small helicopter to the required standards to pass the FAR part
135 check ride. When I said “Man, that is really a big helicopter”
they wondered where I had come from.
I had never been in the front right seat of such a big helicopter,
what a rush!
I performed my first every Bell 206 engine start and to my relief
the engine started and ran up just like I had done this for years,
thank you simulator. Following the check list I got the helicopter
ready for lift-off. Ever so gently I applied up collective, just
a touch of left pedal to keep the nose straight, a little more
left cyclic and the helicopter levitated from the ground. Now
this was cool.
I quickly found out that the Bell 206 Long Ranger is far easier
to fly than our little Rotorway Experimental helicopters. It is
stable, has much better tail rotor authority, far more power,
hydraulic assisted flight controls, and all around an amazing
My Rotorway flight experience fully prepared me for having a
light touch on the 206 flight controls. I passed my part 135 check
ride, gained hours of experience in the 206 day and night, and
by the time you read this article I will have flown 2 months of
helicopter EMS flights in the Midwest.
Thanks little Rotorway helicopters for helping me achieve my
dreams, I am in your debt.
Since then one of my former Rotorway students whose story will
be covered in the GRADUATES section of this web site, Jim Dorman,
has converted his Rotorway flight hours into a EMS helicopter
pilot position with Air Evac Lifeteam. His Rotorway helicopter
and the flight training that he received in it made this dream
of his also a reality-- Jim purchased the Rotorway with just that
intention after talking with me on the phone about the best way
to gain hour for such a job.
With much Gratitude,
Orv Neisingh R/H CFI, UFI
Sho-Me Helicopters, LLC