I usually receive a number of positive responses
when I write about actual Rotorway flying experiences that I have
had. One particular past weekend was packed with a number of such
experiences so I thought I would share them with you. Dr. Bob
Kearbey of Oroville, Ca. took less than a year to build his 162f.
Bob, a private rated helicopter pilot and fixed wing CFI, next
hired me to provide Rotorway transition training and instruction
in proper Rotorway autorotation techniques (a must if you fly
a Rotorway) .
I headed out from my home in Missouri at 3:00 am on Friday and
by around noon I was with Bob checking out his beautiful helicopter.
He did an exceptional job building it and it was ready to fly.
I first took the helicopter out and hovered it solo to check it
out, and it was all systems “GO”. Next I took it around the pattern
and did a few approaches. The plan for the week-end was to insure
that Bob was proficient in emergency maneuvers in his helicopter
so I did an autorotation to see how it felt, and again it was
flawless in it’s performance.
We were now ready to begin our time of instruction together.
I pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Bob explaining
that we NEVER get into the helicopter without first using the
PRE-BOARDING check list. This list is used each time ANYONE exits
or enters the helicopter- without exception. Prominent on the
checklist are items like: are the skids clear of obstructions,
are the fuel caps on tight, are the ground handling wheels removed,
and the real Rotorway Killer “ IS THE BALLAST WEIGHT IN THE PROPER
We worked our way through this very short check list, moved the
ballast weight from the solo position on the skid to the dual
position under the tail, and continued. Once the list was complete
(it takes about 60 seconds to perform and can save you a couple
of years of rebuild and $30,000 in parts) we strapped in and went
flying. The first day we concentrated on straight in autorotations
to a power recovery. Bob did autos until it was getting too dark
to safely continue much longer.
The next morning we were up early. His lovely wife Anna cooked
us a great breakfast, then we were off to the airport. Following
a good preflight we wheeled the helicopter out into the cold January
air and readied it for flight. As soon as we buckled up and closed
the doors the windscreen fogged up. Bob started the engine and
turned on his newly designed defroster, and VIOLA! The windshield
cleared. The heater/defroster that Bob had installed was a very
simple design that worked wonderfully. I have included a photo
of Dr. Bob showing off his very effective heat muff. The muff
was installed after a portion of the heat wrap was removed from
the pilot-side exhaust and an in-line boat bilge blower was installed
to force the heated air through the defroster vents at the front
of the wind screen.
We performed a number of straight-in autos from various altitudes
until Bob was having no trouble timing his flare and “Making the
helicopter stop” all forward motion in the recovery. This is crucial
in the Rotorway and is the only way to insure that it will not
rock forward and roll over upon ground contact.
Once Bob was nailing the straight-in autos it was time to introduce
him to the ninety degree auto. When you are flying a helicopter
you must be aware of the wind direction at all times. It is very
important to perform the flare, at the bottom of the autorotation,
as much into the wind as possible. If there is any significant
amount of wind at the landing area, a down-wind flare will most
always result in a rollover in the Rotorway. While flying we are
constantly updating our awareness of the wind direction and know
immediately which way to turn into the wind should an emergency
occur. Knowing this we also are aware of potential landing areas
within auto rotational gliding distance on the upwind side of
the helicopter, be it to the front, side, or behind us.
Bob caught on to the 90 degree autos quickly so we went on to
the 180 degree autos. This maneuver is actually the easiest to
perform once the proper technique is learned. After a few repetitions
Dr. Bob was nailing the 25’ landing area with the nose of the
helicopter flaring into the 8 - 15 knot wind. As the wind changed
both speed and direction Bob learned how to adjust his entry and
turn to repeatedly find his mark with a complete-stop flare at
It was now around noon and time for lunch. Bob is an avid golfer
and regularly plays in the pro/ams. Where else should we go for
lunch but to the local golf course. We landed in the parking area
and had a great lunch prior to returning to our training. Here
is a photo of N511RK on the golf course parking area with Bob
at the controls.
Once assured of the helicopters performance Dr. Bob wanted to
see how well it would do in a confined area landing at his downtown
dental clinic. We flew to downtown Oroville and performed a high
recon of the landing area. Once the all of the aspects of the
recon were completed, we made our approach and set the helicopter
down in the parking area of the clinic (photo enclosed). There
is a meadow-like open area that runs behind his clinic that is
perfect for approaches and departures over an un congested area.
It was exciting to land at his clinic, a maneuver that he had
dreamed of for years. We next discussed the best way to leave
the clinic and clear nearby buildings safely and with a minimum
of noise. By utilizing the maximum performance of the helicopter
we lifted off then safely and rapidly cleared all obstructions
in our departure. I need to note that many cities have ordinances
restricting aircraft from landing within the city limits. Bob
had previously checked with the authorities to insure that a landing
at his clinic was permissible.
After a bit more training we were both getting thirsty so we
landed at the local Taco Bell (we actually landed on Bob’s lot
next to Taco Bell) and walked over for a soda. One problem that
we encountered with our landing was the attraction the helicopter
had for anyone around. We had to be very careful to insure that
no one approached the helicopter while it was running.
Once our thirst was quenched we returned to the airport and refueled.
Since we were near gross wt. We thought it was a good time to
check out the helicopter’s altitude performance. Bob steered the
little helicopter towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains
and maintained a climb rate of 900 to 1000 feet per minute at
60 mph while pulling around 32-33 inches manifold pressure with
the ACIS equipped engine. As we crossed Oroville dam, the largest
earthen dam in the world, we were at 5000’ msl and still climbing
at 900 fpm. Bob continued to guide his little dream machine upward
at 60 mph until we reached 10,000 feet above sea level. It is
amazing how small you feel in a tiny helicopter while that high
up, looking down on the tops of clouds. In fact we were looking
down onto the tops of the snow capped mountains of the Sierras.
I was looking for 747’s as it felt that we were flying with the
What amazed both of us was that at the time Bob began to level
off at 10,000’ msl the little helicopter was still climbing at
just over 500 feet per minute. Once Bob leveled the helicopter
at 10,000’ we flew to a position over the Oroville dam which is
approximately 6 miles from the Oroville airport and Bob’s hanger
and helipad. I asked Bob, “do you think you can autorotate to
your helipad without using any power until the flare?” He responded
Bob lowered the collective and entered a steady state autorotation
in which we had a 70mph forward air speed and a 1500 foot per
minute vertical descent rate. It seemed that we were just floating
up there and the airport 6 miles in the distance just ever so
slowly seemed to approach us. It took a full 6 minutes of autorotation
with the engine uncoupled(we kept the engine rpm just under the
rotor rpm so that the relative rotation of the over-running clutch
would be minimal for wear and heat build-up)from the main rotor
until Bob made a 90 degree turn into the wind and a perfect flare
to a power recovery hover directly over his helipad landing spot.
How could it get any better than that? The sun was about to touch
the horizon so we post flighted and stowed N511RK for the evening.
That evening we relayed the experiences to Bob’s wife Anna who
has had a bit of anxiety about her husband flying in a home-built
helicopter. She decided that she needed to see for herself how
this little machine that her husband had built actually flew.
On Sunday morning after a morning flying session Anna arrived
at the airport and Bob strapped her into N511RK
After the required passenger briefing we lifted off and went
sight seeing. At first Anna was quite nervous but soon she was
pointing out familiar landmarks to me as we climbed to 4000’ to
give us enough room to safely autorotate to open areas while we
were flying over the lake and forests. Bob and Anna have their
home in the beautiful little town of Paradise near one of the
fingers of Lake Oroville’s 200+ miles of shore line. Anna decided
that she would love to see her home from the air so off we flew
in that direction. The scenery was breath-taking with the green
California hills, oak and fir forests, and the back-drop of the
snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the East.
As we approached Paradise we located the Kearbey home and circled
it. Anna asked me if we could land there. Their home is located
in the foothills and away from the city. Anna assured me that
all of her neighbors were anxious to see the helicopter that Dr.
Bob had been building and that it was OK with all of them for
Bob to land at his home. I replied that if she wanted to land
there, and our recon showed that it was safe to land and depart,
we would do it. After circling the area and looking for obstructions,
wires, trees, vehicles, and persons, we made our approach and
landed in their front driveway. All of the neighbors came out
and even thanked us for the great show. They were all excited
about finally seeing Bob and Anna’s new helicopter.
I did not have my camera with us but Anna went into the house
and took a number of photos. She also called Bob at the airport
and told him that we are at the house parked in the driveway.
What fun!! After meeting all of the neighbors, hugs were exchanged
and we boarded. I wound up the rotors, and lifted off over the
beautiful meadows and lake populated by numerous Canadian geese.
For safety we climbed to 5,000’ msl and headed toward the airport.
I asked Anna if she would like to experience an autorotation from
5,000’ to the near sea level landing area at the airport. She
said that she was having so much fun and that sounded like a great
way to end the flight. Down went the collective and we floated
down for over 3 minutes to our flare at the landing pad about
100’ from the hanger.
When Anna got out of the helicopter she told Bob that she loved
the ride and was looking forward to the two of them flying to
some remote meadow in the mountains in their new helicopter and
having a private picnic (it was their anniversary).
It was a real pleasure working with Bob and meeting his family.
One great thing about my traveling around the country providing
flight instruction in the builders own helicopter is that I make
so many new friends.
The Rotorway helicopter is proving itself to be a great machine
if it is built and maintained correctly and if the pilot receives
the training that he needs. There are a number of individual flight
instructors that have Rotorway experience as well as the flight
training school at Rotorway so there is no excuse to not get the
training. Most builders have invested between $60,000 and $100,000
in their helicopters. A few thousand dollars spent on proper Rotorway
Training is cheap insurance. Get the training you need, it is
the best insurance that you can purchase.
Until next time,