Rotorway Helicopters Help Make Dreams

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 5 years.

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 helicopters? Impossible!

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 machine.

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