Sunday, November 7, 2010

Get to da Choppa!

Editor's note: When I saw Francis's pictures from his helicopter lesson I thought, "This is the kind of thing I would want to read about if I read my blog!" so I asked him to fill in this week. Contrary to any implications of laziness, the fact is that the weekend was so packed with awesome I have no time to write about it.

I’ve been asked to blog about my experience of flying a helicopter for your illustrious CC&G mistress. As it turns out, she is afraid of climbing into something the size of a Smart Car that travels on an X, Y and Z axis and defies gravity.

If you remember the last time I filled in for Beth so she could have a lazy weekend, you will know that I am a soldier who was recently in Iraq. One of the best modes of transportation around the country is by helicopter, so I am used to climbing aboard an aeronautic abomination. However, instead of sitting in the back staring out the doors or the back hatch (which they keep open for the rear gunners on larger military helicopters and tether the gunner in so he doesn’t fall out. Seriously, it is creepy at times), I wanted to be up front with my hand on the stick.

The company is called Helisat and it is near the Spirit of St Louis Airport. The company specializes in training pilots to get licensed to fly commercial helicopters. While I have no plan to sink the time and money into a helicopter license, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to fly one myself when I saw a Groupon for one lesson for $119.


We flew in the Schweizer 300s helicopter, and my instructional pilot was named Tim Gunther, who I would strongly recommend asking for if you decide you want to try it out. Very knowledgeable and not judgmental when it was obvious I was nervous and had no idea what I was doing.


The control panel for a helicopter of this size is simple. You have your air speed, altitude, gas, battery, engine pressure, blade rotor and engine RPM and the FAA radio. It may seem complex to a person just sitting down, but there isn’t much more to it than driving a car. You aren’t constantly looking at your engine rotation per minute while driving because you know when something really screws up.

Tim took me out and explained all the controls. In front of you is a stick which makes you go forward, backwards, and side to side. On the floor are pedals which turn the nose of the helicopter, and next to you is what looks like a hand brake, but actually controls altitude and throttle.

One of the more interesting things I experienced was when Tim dropped the altitude stick (I am sure there is a proper name for it other than ‘altitude stick', but that was a step up from ‘helicopter rise and fall thingy’). You might think from watching too many war movies that engine loss means gravity is about to make you its bitch. Instead, the downward movement of the helicopter forces the blades to keep spinning, and it allows you to still steer with the stick. I’m not going to say that I would expect the softest of landings if that happens, but you will walk away and the helicopter should be fine. We dropped to about ten feet above the ground before we rose back up.



Once we rose back up to about 900 feet, Tim felt I was ready to take control. The best thing about pilots is you can feed off their emotions easily. Tim wasn’t nervous that I was going to kill the both of us, therefore I was able to relax. Not completely, mind you, but I wasn’t clenched tight enough to make diamonds.


He had me follow a levee, which I must say I think I did fairly well. If you need a levee followed, slowly, with a jerking motion at 900 feet in the air, you can call on me to take care of it.

The lesson was only supposed to last a half hour, but he had me with him for a good 45 minutes because he said he wanted me to get the full experience. The full experience meant he wanted me to hover the helicopter. This is possibly the hardest thing to do. You have to have a light touch with stick and pedals to keep yourself in one spot. We came down to about 15 feet and I gave it a shot.


I admit that I forgot that Tim is a professional pilot. He hovered perfectly and made me think it would be super easy. Ten seconds into my first attempt, the entire front window is filled with sky as I run the helicopter backwards. Of course the immediate response is to jam the stick forward which has an equal and opposite reaction. The only thing the same about either direction of flight were the curse words emanating from my mouth as Tim laughed, righted us and gave me another shot.

I was never able to get it down, but this was my first flight, and the fact that I didn’t kill anyone or break the helicopter is a smiley sticker in my book. After all was said and done, Tim filled out my first flight in a pilot’s log book.


It’s sort of like getting the plastic wings on the airplane when you were a kid. It is something cool to show off and make you feel proud. Now I only need 39.5 more flight hours with an instructor and that part of my license requirements is out of the way. This is a legal, FAA recorded flight time, and the book is now in my fire safe in case I get rich and eccentric and really need that spare half hour to do rich people stuff.


If you want to fly, I would suggest taking a lesson. They are pricey - regular price for an hour is around $300 - but it was an amazing experience and a lot of fun. I hate roller coasters, won’t bungee jump and I won’t sky dive, but I can’t wait to fly again.

Almost forgot! What would a post like this be without Action Cam?

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1 comment:

  1. Nice job on filling in for CC&G! My stomach flipped when you talked about the hovering!