For those of you that do not know me my name is
Orv Neisingh and for some years I was heavily involved in the
Sierra Rotorcraft Club. I was twice elected president of the club
and consider those years working on and flying Rotorway helicopters
some of the most adventuresome and rewarding years of my life.
Many friends have been made over the years through contacts with
other Rotorway builders. During the building of my helicopter
I enrolled in the Rotorway pilot training program and found out
what a challenge it was to get the hang of flying a helicopter.
I was a fixed wing pilot and just knew that I would be flying
that little factory Rotorway trainer within minutes, was I ever
surprised! It took a lot of hard work just to learn to hover in
one spot but by the end of the week of school I had accumulated
7 hours and my solo endorsement.
I went back for phase II training several months later and then
a few months after that attended for phase III and my rotorcraft/helicopter
rating. As it turned out I was the first person to complete all
three phases of the Rotorway International flight school and for
a number of years the photo of Stretch Wolter handing me my rating
was hanging in the Rotorway headquarters. I was one of the few
rated pilots in the Sierra Rotorcraft club at that time so I was
able to spend many hours teaching other builders how to fly their
helicopters, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I was told over
and over that I should get my CFI rating and instruct with the
authority to sign log books and give endorsements but I just never
seemed to find the time to do it. Besides that I was having so
much fun flying everyone else’s helicopters that I could not see
going to school just so that I could sign their log books.
During those years the Sierra Rotorcraft club was very active
and we did a lot of flying together. We would choose a location
and agree to meet there the next month with our motor homes, vans,
trailers, and of course our Rotorways. After work on Friday we
would all drive from our respective homes and set up camp and
rig our helicopters. There is just something special about waking
up early in the morning after a good night sleep in the camper
and hearing the Rotorway helicopter engines firing up and the
slap of the main rotor blades beating air. Soon the ramp, field,
pasture, or parking lot was a beehive of activity with everyone
anxious to be airborne and off on new adventures. This would go
on for two days of flying, food, and fellowship. Several times
we would awake in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of
a heavy wind or rain and everyone would scurry out to insure that
our precious Rotorways were secure and safe. I miss those days!
We moved from California in 1996 to the Ozarks of Missouri and
here we built our own airstrip and helicopter training facility.
Shortly after moving here I began working on my commercial rotorcraft
rating and after that I really worked to earn my CFI rating. It
has been a long time dream for me and now I am doing what I truly
love to do, teach people to fly helicopters. I should add that
in 1998 our Rotorway was stolen so we were without our helicopter,
but life goes on.
There are a lot of new helicopter pilots out there and I thought
that some of you might benefit from a few words from an old time
Rotorway flyer. When I took my Phase II training at Rotorway we
only did a couple of autorotation practices and then I was signed
off or solo flight within my practice area. I returned home with
my new solo-to-altitude endorsement and was anxious to get airborne.
At this time I had around 50 hours of hover time on my Rotorway
so I was pretty comfortable with it. I set my ballast weights
correctly, did a very thorough preflight, used the restroom, checked
the ballast weights again, and finally ran out of excuses. It
was the hour of reckoning: this is what it was all about!!! I
was scarred spit less! As I sat in my helicopter hovering at 24”
altitude over the helipad, I felt real secure. What had my heart
pumping and my body sweating was the thought of leaving the security
of the hover and actually going high enough to get hurt and of
being all ALONE without my flight instructor to make sure that
I would be safe.
Finally I said to myself, c’mon wimp, go for it. The take-off
was beautiful and I had flown for at least 40 seconds when out
of the corner of my right eye I perceived a movement. Looking
right I saw that the Velcro-attached seat cushion (they were about
12” square in those early ships) had become un-Velcro ed and was
laying on the passenger seat. I immediately heard Stretch tell
me “make sure everything in the cockpit is secure before flight
so that nothing flies out the door and into the tail rotor”. STAY!
I thought as loud as I could, but that cushion had it’s own agenda.
It slowly moved toward the door opening, I had to stop it but
I was 200 feet in the air, what to do? First I tried holding the
cyclic with my knees so that I could just very quickly grab the
cushion, as soon as I released my death grip on the cyclic the
helicopter dipped and I had to grab it immediately. I next tried
to stay in a left banking turn but the wind caught the cushion
and out it went, I knew that I was dead meat. Miraculously the
cushion missed the tail rotor and I was still flying.
I headed for home where my wife was still videotaping my first
flight and I found that I still had a problem. You see, as all
of the club members know, my property was only 150’ wide and I
had only made landing approaches onto a runway at the Rotorway
school, and that was around 2 miles long. Stretch always said,
“keep that airspeed near 60 mph throughout your approach until
you have to slow down, that way you are always ready with enough
airspeed to do an autorotation and a flair in the very unlikely
event that the engine should fail”. I tried and ended up doing
a beautiful low altitude fly-by, just missing the neighbors antenna
in the process. This happened several times until I just slowed
at around 100 feet, sorry Stretch, but I needed to use the restroom.
I then just did a full power descending hover to the pad and parked
it. My wife told me that she got some great footage of my flybys
and then wondered why I was sweating so profusely in the middle
The thought that took all of the fun out of the solo flight without
a flight instructor with me was "what if something breaks
or quits, I have too much money and time invested in this helicopter
to have it or me damaged". I think that this thought has
occurred to most of us at times and is most likely the reason
that we see so many Rotorways for sale with very low time on them.
I decided right then and there that I needed more training in
My good friend, the late Bill Cunningham, and Steve Lewis who
is still active in the Sierra Rotorcraft club- I believe, were
at Rotorway for Phase II training. During a practice auto in which
Bill was at the controls in the factory ship 56Tango, the instructor
noticed that the engine had failed. The instructor took the controls
and finished the auto, sans engine, to the runway. There was a
problem though. This instructor had never done a touch-down auto
in the Rotorway, only in Robinsons, and as usually happens the
helicopter rocked forward and then onto it's left side totally
destroying itself in the process. This happened several times
to the factory helicopters that I know of and is something that
I did not want to experience with my ship. I should tell you that
both occupants emerged through the kicked-out front windscreen
without a scratch. Steve Lewis did show-and-tell at our next club
meeting with the photos he took at the scene.
Knowing that I would not go back up any higher than a hover without
proper autorotation training I began looking for an experienced
Rotorway instructor. After many phone calls and references I found
a flight instructor who had built two of his own Rotorway helicopters
and was presently flying the surviving one. He had experienced
an engine failure and while touring with his wife and after doing
a beautiful autorotation and flawless run-on landing he crashed
the helicopter, destroying it. It seems that after doing everything
right the helicopter tipped up on the front of the skids and then
rolled over onto the left side thrashing itself to pieces with
the main rotor blades. This fellow was a friend of Bob Thorensen
who was at that time Rotorways test pilot. Bob had numerous times
performed touchdown autos with the Rotorways and without hurting
himself or the ships. This flight instructor, Jim Sergaser, asked
Bob how to do a proper ROTORWAY touchdown auto. Bob told him that
Rotorway's had the nasty habit of wanting to rock forward (due
to a high center of gravity and short front skid extension) and
to the left when they contact the ground with any forward motion.
He said the "trick" was to repeat to yourself all the
way down "make it stop!" The idea is that you need to
hold your final flare at the bottom of the auto long enough to
completely stop all forward motion of the helicopter before leveling
the ship and then set it down with 0 mph ground speed. Without
the forward motion the helicopter will not rock forward onto the
skid tips and roll over.
Dan Van Duesen and I together hired Jim to teach us autorotations
and we did hour after hour of them until they became second nature.
About 6 months later the time came to prove the concept. Dan and
I were flying Wayne Berry's beautiful Scorpion II and at about
250' altitude the engine quit. Jim's instruction to us paid off
as we executed a 90 degree turn into the wind and set the little
helicopter down without a scratch saying "Make it stop"
all the way down. We found that the single ignition coil had failed
so I hiked home and got another one, installed it, and flew the
The practice procedure was to go up and do about an hour at a
time of autorotations from 500 feet. When the flair was completed,
the helicopter was leveled, and power was applied the forward
motion of the helicopter should be Zero. With many hours of practice
we just got better and better. It helps to have someone present
initially that knows how to do a proper Rotorway autorotation
so that they can critique your performance and give you pointers.
I made it a habit to do at least 5 autorotations each time I would
go out for an hour of flying. I also was constantly aware that
at any time I may need to actually do one for real, there is usually
no warning, it just happens and you have about a second to react
or you are in a heap of trouble.
When I attended the Helicopter Adventures Inc. flight instructor
course it was very intense. They believe that every graduate of
their flight instructor school should be an able enough instructor
to be qualified to teach in their own flight schools. We did no
less than 50 to-the ground-autorotations. It is quite unnerving
to take a perfectly flying helicopter and cut power, knowing that
it is not coming back on unless you really mess up the procedure.
We always landed into the wind and with several knots ground speed.
I got pretty good at it, I thought.
Due to the FAA examiner going ground hog hunting during the time
I was ready for the Practical CFI exam I elected to arrange to
take it once I returned to Missouri, I knew where I could rent
a helicopter for that purpose. After the 5 hour oral exam for
the CFI rating I was ready to fly. The flight portion of the CFI
practical test went without a hitch until the examiner asked me
to land and he exited the helicopter prior to having me do the
touchdown auto. I had never done one in a Hughes 269B(HAI uses
Schweizer 300CB’s), never in any helicopter solo, and to top it
off the examiner wanted to view it from the ground and at a safe
distance. As it turned out the Hughes 269B has low inertia blades
compared to the 300CB. It is flown solo from the left seat while
the Schweizer 300CB that I trained in is flown solo from the right
seat so everything was a bit different. The other factor was that
at HAI I always had performed the touchdown autos into the wind
with my master instructor for ballast and on the day of the check
ride here in Missouri the air was dead calm. I did the auto, but
without the wind I was going too fast as I approached the 30 foot
circle in which I was required to stop. To slow down I did a rather
radical flair (ala Rotorway) and then leveled the helicopter with
the collective firmly in the pocket. Before I could raise the
collective I noticed that the helicopter was sitting squarely
on the ground, no bounce, no slide, it had just rotated forward
and set perfectly and lightly like a feather. I was a bit unsettled
as I had not had the opportunity to complete my part of the maneuver
because the helicopter had already landed and the collective remained
firmly in the down position. When I exited I was greeted by both
examiners (I was honored to have an FAA examiner in training watching
the entire test along with the examiner who was giving it) and
the owner of the helicopter. They told me that it was one of the
neatest and cleanest touchdown autos that they had seen and I
was appropriately congratulated and passed on the PTS.
What actually happened was that although I was flying an unfamiliar
helicopter from an unfamiliar position with no wind, once again
my training took over when I needed it and the result was a near
perfect Rotorway set-down with no forward motion. Some habits
are hard to break and that is one that I will always stick with.
The real point is that you all have a small fortune tied up in
your helicopters. Be sure to practice your autos until you feel
very comfortable doing them and your power recovery flares are
smooth and right. When you level off the helicopter should have
"0" mph ground speed. Both Robinson and Schweizer teach
that some ground run is acceptable but it is not quite the same
in the Rotorway.
Always keep in mind, it is not "if an autorotation will
be needed some day, but when". Always be ready for it, keep
a landing spot within reach at all times, fly over open areas
whenever possible and if not possible climb to an altitude that
will allow a safe auto to a safe landing area. Train by doing
practice autos regularly, and you, your passenger, and your helicopter
will come out in one piece.
George Hamilton experienced a catastrophic engine failure following
autorotation training with me. To read George's story and to see
the photo of his ship on the road CLICK