29 December 2007
My helicopter training began around a year ago when passing Gloucester aerodrome. I was at the time involved in a number of hobbies such as collecting and restoring gas turbine engines and other time consuming interests, all of which were time and fund consuming, but none of which were entirely satisfying or really posed any form of challenge. I am a gas turbine engineer by trade and the hobby of collecting turbine engines and restoring them in addition to the career and also the small freelance engine inspection and minor rectification business I was running was making my life one big work period. I desperately needed a change. The HELIFLIGHT sign leapt out at me as I passed the main entrance and I felt I just had to investigate further.
Barbara and I were welcomed by Jon and Nick and introduced to the crisp and modern premises, and shown around the large fleet of helicopters operated by HELIFLIGHT. These Included the Bell 206, R22, R44 and the exquisite Augsta 109. (Now even a Hughes 500 which I am desperate to get my hands on)
I decided there and then to purchase a one hour trial lesson with Jon in an R22 which would later turn out to be my training aircraft for the following year
(I was later to build a 1/5 scale radio controlled model of G-OASH only to cause its demise through my over confidence and disorientation, that though is another story).
After a brief by Jon we strapped into the helicopter and after a rapid exchange of at the time incomprehensible pilot language with the tower, Jon lifted off and departed for a trip around the local area. Almost as soon as we left the ATZ Jon began to demonstrate the effects of the controls, and to my delight passed control over to me. I immediately tried to “row the boat” in accordance with Jon’s previous instructions, unfortunately however the helicopter was at this time able to fly itself better than I could fly it. Each control input would lead to oscillations and sensations which were quite incomprehensible to me. Each correcting input from me would cause the helicopter to do something completely opposite to that expected. Jon was clearly used to this and as I was sweating profusely and utterly convinced that one needed to be a magician to fly these, he sat there as cool as a cucumber allowing me to make my own mistakes within reason and correcting as I went along.
After around 45 minutes we returned to the field and Jon allowed me to attempt a hover. First Jon passing me control of the yaw pedals only, then the collective only and then the cyclic only. We gradually progressed to my manipulation of all three together and after lots of wobbling around and intense concentration I managed to achieve a reasonable hover (even if the hover was only a brief pause of movement as the helicopter transitioned from one direction of its own choosing to another).
Once we had landed and I had composed myself I realised that in addition to being exhausted, I had found the pursuit for which I had been looking. An interest and hobby that is unique and requires commitment in the form of self study but one for which the rewards are incredible, and the feeling of privilege is overwhelming and has only become more so as time progresses.
(One of my collection of turbine engines)
I grasped the new found passion and progressed through the required training exercises and enjoyed every minute of them, often to return from the quick stop practice to discover Nick in stitches and between helpless gasps speaking of balloons and how my quick stop efforts would be better placed at a nice birthday party.
I had heard the term “magic carpet ride” referred to in relation to helicopter flying but had no comprehension of the ACTUAL feeling as you skim over the ground sat behind a large Plexiglas bubble, it really does feel as though you are perched on the edge of the flying carpet. The feeling of being able to hold ones position a few feet above the ground and control with infinite precision (the precision comes later) is impossible to describe.
So having had the exhilaration of the first solo and the first solo nav ex I am well on the way to achieving the PPL. I have one exam to complete and the qualifying cross country to complete, some more practice, and I should be there.
I have recently decided to alter my career path to facilitate the onward qualifications after PPL completion. Although staying in the gas turbine field I am leaving for Saudi Arabia on the 10th of December to instruct on gas turbine theory and gas turbine engine overhaul for the Saudi Royal Air force. This move has frustratingly and temporaily stalled my training but will provide the wherewithal to complete my PPL and transition straight into the CPL and onwards, and spend much greater blocks of training time every 15 weeks.
So In the space of around a year I have found a hobby and interest more rewarding than any other I can think of and am intent on progressing far enough to develop that interest into a career.
The amazing thing being that after a year of flying and 50 or so hours I am still as exhilarated as I was on the very first lesson, more so in fact as you realise that there is no super human requirement or magical ability required to fly helicopters. Occasionally you catch yourself being able to do things which a few months earlier seemed physically impossible, even the radio language begins to make sense and its then that a real feeling of achievement washes over you. The first time that you actually realise that you are hovering over a spot in control of this wonderful new thing it makes you want to keep going and going and going and going…..and HELIFLIGHT with their plethora of helicopter types permanently resident from R22s up to large and luxurious twin turbine instrument rated helicopters and the bank of highly qualified instructors are equipped ideally to provide the training and equipment to make it a reality.
So my bags are packed, I have consumed 50% of my baggage allowance with helicopter training material, I have placed most of my accrued turbine engines into storage and now am faced with 15 weeks of sunshine and poolside living before I can rush back and once again continue with my training.
Paul Davidson HELIFLIGHT Gloucester student
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