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 of January.

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 autorotations.

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 helicopter home.

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 HERE

Orv Neisingh