Flight Simulator Enjoyment
What a beautiful moring it was. 58 Degrees, no wind in the northern Texas panhandle. I couldn't have asked for a better day. My Dad drove me out to Flap Air Helicopter Service of Canadian, Texas, owned and operated by Trey Webb.
Honestly, my main concern was the weight limit. I'm a big guy, 6'4" and pushing 270. It turns out Trey wasn't too concerned, he had heavier people before without problems. I discussed with Trey my involvment with HC, and all the hours spent on Flight Sim. I explained to him I had used it as a tool, and learned the basics of Helicopter Flight, but was in no way expecting too much. All I really wanted was to "feel" the controls as he flew the machine.
Well, we wheeled the R-22 out onto his Helipad. He had performed the pre-flight inspection before our arrival. We performed a quick walk around to ensure all cowl doors were shut and secure, checked radio antennas, and lights. We climbed into the machine, and Trey handed the checklist off to me. The checklist is identical to that which is provided in Flight Sim. I went through the list and Trey had explained the function of each check.
I turned the key and started the engine. Since the engine was cold, we had to wait for the machine to reach operating temperatures. Cylinder Head temperature and oil temp were the two we watched. After the machine reached the operating temperature, we began the flight.
We started with Trey applying collective just until the skids were light. All the while he was explaining the torque and pedal input adjustments. We lifted up from the ground to a hieght of about twelve feet into a hover. Trey moved the heli out away from his pad and hangar, to an open area the size of a football field. Trey then asked if I wanted to hover. I eased my feet to the pedals, and lightly grasped the cyclic and collective. He gave me a bit of time to get familiar and turned me loose. This is important, I hadn't flown the helicopter in straight and level flight yet. I was all over the place in the initial hover. I couldn't find the sweet spot. The machine was not recklessly out of control by any means, I could hold the altitude, but not the hover, or the yaw of the aircraft. After a few attempts, the last attepmt improved quite a bit. I was under more control, just not rock solid in a hover. Trey took the controls and transitioned into forward flight.
At approx. 800 feet, he asked that I give forward flight a go. I took the controls and everything went very well. Initially, still looking for the sweet spot, we had a very shallow dive, which I was able to correct quickly and easily. I asked to make a left turn, and then a right turn. The turns were somewhat simple compared to the hover attempt. I was able to maintain altitude, input pedal (what little there was)and fly rather well. I have never flown a real helicopter. This was my first attempt. The forward flight was far from perfect I know, but I feel I performed rather well.
I turned 180 degrees, and headed towards the airport. We were going to try approaches and transitions to forward flight. I followed his commands and entered the pattern for a right hand turn on final approach. Trey took the helicopter, and I left my hands on the controls just for the feel. The approach was accomplished by pulling back lightly on the cyclic, and reducing collective. When the collective is reduced, more pedal input is required. At 1/2 mile our airspeed had slowed to approx. 40 knots, and he had explained that there is no hurry to an approach, and to liken the approach to a slow walk on groundspeed. The collective is then utilized for the controlled descent. Increasing and Decreasing to keep our desired landing spot in sight. This is also called a "running landing", because there is little flare and hover before touchdown. We reached the numbers on the runway and at 6 feet or so Trey had flared the machine,very slight, and a hover was present for just a split second before touchdown. We were virtually moving in forward-descending flight up until the point of the brief hover and touchdown. We were on the ground for a brief moment, allowing me to readjust my position, and then I tried forward transition into flight.
This was my most difficult challenge. That transition from a hover to forward flight was tough. Here's why...translational lift. When we transitioned from hover to forward flight, Trey had told me the manifold pressure (the torque indication of a Robinson, although that's not really what it is measuring) really should not have to exceed 22 inches. In the sim, I've usually increased the collective to 80%, or the maximum green, which provided me with plenty of lift. Well, in this bird, that's not how it works. You apply forward cyclic until enough forward airspeed is available to provide the lift instead of the pitch of the blades. (I may be corrected by the professional pilots here, but I wish to explain so everyone may understand) My mistake occurs in this way; as I applied forward pressure, the machine feels as if it is "slipping" towards the ground. It was a strange sensation that my brain wanted to correct by pulling back on the cyclic, which in turn is a bad move as well. Very good thing Trey was hands on to prevent me from pulling back too far. This point at which I wanted to pull back was the point at which the spinning blades were just about to provide the lift neccesary for the forward, smooth ascent. My last two transitions were far from perfect, but I was able to "push" through the translational lift point. My brain was reacting to a situation that felt somewhat strange and unconventional, but the moment I was able to push through, the transition went well.
My approaches were executed well, but far from perfect. Really, the most difficult aspect was keeping in alignment with the runway. Every approach I made, I wound up ten feet to the right of the runway. I actually made a couple of very decent landings. I had lined up and manipulated the collective just as Trey had done previously. It was good that I had the opprotunity to "feel" how it was done before, as it helped tremendously. It was actually the same technique shared with me while flying the sim at Bell Helicopter on my approach to an oil rig platform.
After two takeoffs and landings, I figured it was a good time to try the hover again. Trey allowed me to take off from the ground. I eased into the collective enough to set the pedals, and lifted off from the ground. The hover was a bit shaky at first, but I had finally found the "sweet spot" and was successfully hovering the R-22. Important note...My first attempt was made at his helipad with NO stick time, I had no feel for the machine until we flew for a bit. After the time of getting acustomed to the controls, hovering was successful. I had set the machine back down on the ground, and told Trey that I was ready for some pedal turns. I lifted off, twelve to fifteen feet from the ground, stabilized my hover, and began my turns. The turns were slow and methodic, and went very well. If we were above a hovercircle, I would not have left the center circle. A very interesting point here, Trey knows my Dad, brother and step brother quite well, and during the turns we were actually having a conversation about family, my child, my child on the way, raising children, etc. and I believe this actually helped my hover and turns.
After my last 360, we had hit the 53 minute mark, and I had 8 minutes left for my hour flight. I transitioned to forward flight from my hover, still rough I might add, and headed to my Dad's house. My Dad lives just outside of town, and has plenty of real estate to land a helicopter on. I climbed to about 800 feet, and maintained level flight, performed a fly by directly over the house, to see the whole family there in waiting. We had performed this landing twelve years ago, and I wanted to duplicate the landing for my three year old son. Seems he has a thing for Helicopters as well. I had lined up for the final approach, and Trey took over, as there are some serious power lines on the East end of Dad's place. We approached to find a very excited 3 year old, a pregnant wife behind a video camera, Dad snapping pictures on the digital camera, and my step-mother snapping pictures on her 35mm.
It was a very good experience. I can honestly say that Flight Sim DID prepare me for the flight. If anything, I obtained the basic flight physics of the machine from the sim. Could I have done this without Flight Sim? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I may not be able to pinpoint exactly what I carried into the flight from Flight Sim, but something trained me to the point of understanding the flight characteristics of Helicopters.
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