writeknight in Philadelphia is doing 29 things including…

fly a helicopter


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writeknight has written 2 entries about this goal

the flying

Off and on since I was young (see “the motivation” entry) I thought it
would be neat to have my own helicopter to fly around in. It always
seemed much more practical than an airplane, since I could commute to
work in it sorta like George Jetson. Sure, I know that’s not
practical either, but work with me here! :)

Maybe someday a Jetsons-like commute will be practical
above the congested streets. Until then,
I took a few hours of helicopter flying lessons at a local flight
school. It was quite fun and exhilerating. The lessons were offered
in a specialized trainer helicopter that was pretty small. It was an
older model of this one and looked just like it:

It had two seats, pilot and copilot controls, and no doors.
They liked to leave the doors off which made it extra exciting
for me.

We of course did our preflight checks. While doing that, my
instructor made sure that we thoroughly checked the “Jesus nut.” That was
a giant nut about 1.5 inches across on the very top, center of the
rotors, with lots of glue around it to make sure it couldn’t loosen
up. It basically fastens the rotor blades onto the driveshaft. My
instructor explained: “If that nut comes loose, we meet Jesus.” After
the preflight we hopped in and went through the entire startup
procedure. After it was all running and warmed up, my instructor
lifted us off. For about the first 10 minutes I was struggling to pay
attention to what he was explaining because I was so fascinated just
to be in a helicopter. Then he wanted me to take the stick: “you have
the cyclic.” “I have the cyclic.” I really didn’t feel I was ready
for that, but he just wanted me to hold us in level flight and get a
feel for it. No problem. He demonstrated some various things, and
then had me making some gentle turns in flight. It was that easy! I
could have been doing this when I was 12. :) Well, no, I couldn’t. I
was only controlling the cyclic (main stick) at that point, and he was
doing the anti-torque pedals (foot pedals), collective (elevation
control), and throttle (a twist-grip on the collective).

Next we went down to practice hovering. He demonstrated, and then let
me control just the anti-torque pedals. That was tricky, but after
several attempts I was able to keep it pointed pretty much in the same
direction. Next he let me try just the cyclic. Yikes, that was hard.
I was over-controlling, so the aircraft just started going wilder and
wilder from side to side and forwards and backwards. I was grateful
when he quickly took back the cyclic: “I have the controls.” I tried
a couple more times with the same result.

I found the hover to be the most difficult part of it all. On
subsequent lessons I did start to achieve a decent hover using all the
controls, but my best was only about 10 seconds. Somebody
else on here described flying a helicopter in terms of
“riding a unicycle on a tightrope while juggling a couple of chainsaws.” As someone who can unicycle and juggle (though
not at the same time),
I think there is some truth to that because it
is unstable and requires you to develop reflex actions
to be able to control it correctly.
The closest experience I have for the controls is the
old arcade game Robotron 2048. That game had 2 joysticks,
one for moving and one for shooting, so it required
both hands to control your character, and the action
was very fast. I was never very good at that game.
In the helicopter, you have the cyclic,
collective, and the pedals: 3 things to worry about. If
you count the throttle, which you don’t have to worry
about as much, you’re up to 4. It’s hard and
trying to deal with all 4 completely overwhelmed
my brain at first, but it’s very satisfying as you
see yourself developing the appropriate reflexes.

We also practiced
some “hover autos”, which is a simulated engine failure while in a
hover just a few feet off the ground. That was pretty cool. Another
fun one he demonstrated for me was an inflight autorotation. This
simulates an engine failure while way up in flight. The neat thing
was that he had full control over where we were going even as we were
hurtling toward the ground at a high rate of speed with our engine
disengaged. As we neared the ground he lifted the collective, which
slowed our descent enormously, just like a parachute opening for a
skydiver. It was clear we could have had a nice soft landing if he
had wanted to (instead he throttled up the engine and we continued

For this reason, my instructor (who was also an airplane flight
instructor) felt that helicopters were actually safer than planes,
because in an engine-out situation a helicopter only requires a small
clear spot to land on, whereas a plane still needs a long runway such
as a road.

After taking the little bit of lessons I did, I have a huge respect
for the pros, expecially rescue helicopter pilots. Holding one steady
at night in a high pressure situation with driving rain, wind gusts,
and whatever else seems mind-boggling to me.

The only problem with helicopters is that they get very expensive. To
get a private license takes about 50 to 60 hours of training. That’s
somewhere around $14000, give or take. Once you’ve got that, what can
you do? Well, you can buy your own helicopter (or maybe own one
jointly with several people) or rent one when you want to fly (for
about $250 per hour plus fuel costs). You can fly yourself and others
around, but you are not allowed to charge your passengers money. For
that you need a commercial license, which of course requires more
hours of training and practice.

If you’re going to make a go of it, especially for a career,
the flight schools can often help you get a low interest rate
student loan to pay for the lessons.

I decided to be thankful for a taste of it and leave it at

the motivation

I’ve wanted to fly a helicopter since I was about 12
years old. About that time I found an ad for a kit
in the back of Popular Mechanics magazine. For just
$20 you could send away and get plans to build your
very own “mini jet helicopter.” There was a little drawing
of it too. It even said that no license was required
to fly it. Wow, I could build my own helicopter and
fly around! Then I wouldn’t even need to wait until
I was 16 to drive a car. And who needs a car anyway
when you’ve got your own mini jet helicopter?

I told my parents I wanted to get the plans and build
one. I also explained to them how useful it would be.
For example, if we were ever missing some ingredient to
make dinner, my dad wouldn’t have to go get it. I
could fly the mini jet helicopter over to the
mini market and pick it up instead. And since I could
fly straight there instead of following the roads,
I could have the missing ingredient really fast!
Surely this would be great for me and the family.

Unfortunately, my parents weren’t enthused at all.
They were worried what would happen to me
if the mini jet helicopter crashed. Crash? The
plans are advertised in the back of Popular Mechanics!
I would build it! I would fly it! I could do cool
tricks on my bike. How could I possibly crash a mini
jet helicopter that I built myself?
But ok, if they were worried about crashing,
I would wear a parachute. Problem solved. But
my dad said the mini jet helicopter flew too low,
so a parachute wouldn’t have time to open if there
was a problem.

And so my dream of flying around in a mini jet helicopter
remained a dream, and I had to wait until I could get
my learner’s permit and drive a car like everyone else.


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