A Great Weekend of Rotorway Flying


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 POSITION???”

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 the bottom.

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 big iron.

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 “let’s see”.

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,

Fly safe.

Orv Neisingh