I left introductory flight feeling like I could fly the wheels of off anything. Kind of funny when you consider that to this point, I have not flown anything with wheels. There was so much rivalry at this stage already. Those that wanted to be Black Hawk pilots teased that skids are for kids. Never mind that they were currently flying a helicopter with skids. Chinook pilots were flying a formation that was loosely held together by 50,000 rivets. We were all on equal ground, but we also knew what direction we were heading.
I could fly the TH-55 so well that the test pilot asked me how many times I hit the limiter. For some students, if they hit the limiter, it was a major event. You could tell by watching the aircraft when a student bumped up against this contrivance. Its function was to keep us from blowing the engine. If you let the RPM get to high, it knocked the RPM back two or three hundred RPM. It wasn’t nice about it either. It usually meant the aircraft yawed significantly after the limiter kicked in. Therefore, we were expected to practice hitting it once in a while, as a recovery maneuver. Much to my chagrin on check ride day, I became quite adept at quickly correcting for it, and gave little credence to avoiding it.
“You hit the limiter how many times?” The check pilot asked when he was filling out my evaluation.
“Four or five.” I answered honestly.
He answered with a stern contemplative look on his face, then bowed to my evaluation score card. My worst flight days was check ride day. Absolutely no muscle control when the guy who could set me back two weeks was sitting in the left seat. Mind you, I was feeling pretty good about my flight that day, until he asked about the limiter.
But, as some of my instructors would say. “There is no grade on the back of your wings.” They always said this as they pulled their wings from their breast, the sound of separating Velcro rasping, and showing us the black rectangle of Velcro. Nope, no grade.
I would have liked to prove to that check pilot I was a damn good pilot.
But I passed, and now we were off to transition training. That meant it was time to learn how to fly the big boys. My beloved tadpole. The UH-1H Huey. If I recall, there was a week of ground school before we headed out to the flight line for our first flight. We needed to learn the characteristics of turbine powered, hydraulically controlled flight.
The inverted lawnmowers had reciprocating engines and direct link controls. I would soon learn, there was a huge difference between the two.
Those very first moments in a Huey almost made me give up the notion of being a helicopter pilot all together.
The UH-1H uses a turbine engine to turn its massive rotor. This a twelve hundred shaft horsepower turbine engine. It basically burns kerosene for fuel. Well JP-4 to be exact, but it is a high octane kerosene.
To start a Huey, you hit the start button, then JP-4 pours into the engine, and hopefully a fire starts before there was too much fuel, and you have a really big fire. Every start was a moment of reflection as you realized what was going on in the turbine, and what could go wrong. I don’t think we ever scrubbed a flight at start up. Or for that matter, because of a mechanical problems.