In a couple of other stories about flight school, I brag about how I could hover a TH-55 so well, that you would think it was sitting on a pedestal. I loved hovering, and took great pride in keeping the helicopter rock steady while hovering. Regardless of the conditions.
In fact, I was so confident in my ability to hover a helicopter, that when they said there would be and adjustment period when transition to the UH-1H, I scoffed. I understood the concept of hydraulic leg. Never experienced it, but I understood what the instructor in class was telling me, and I was certain my confidence would overcome muscle memory and inexperience.
There was several differences between the TH-55 and the UH-1H. The TH-55 was a reciprocating engine with a few hundred horsepower. The UH-1H was a turbine powered aircraft with over a thousand shaft horsepower. The controls of the TH-55 were direct linkage with no assist. Wasn’t needed, the control surfaces were relatively small, and easily manipulated with little effort. Any input was instantly transferred to the control services. The UH-1H on the other hand was hydraulic and any input into the controls did not immediately translate to a change in the aircrafts flight characteristics.
Not an issue, once you become accustomed to the leg, it is almost imperceptible.
But it was enough, to once again make me question my decision to become a helicopter pilot.
Like any new aircraft, we learned basic flight operations first. Takeoffs, traffic patterns, and approaches. You never really landed a helicopter. You just brought it to a hover, and taxied to your pad. But those final few feet to hover was done by the instructor until we mastered hovering.
Like the TH-55, the instructor took us to a secluded part of the airfield, and practiced hovering. Unlike the TH-55, I was not one the first one to coral this beast I referred to as the tadpole. In fact it got so frustrating, that after my second or third attempt at hovering, I wanted to go back to my beloved TH-55.
I could tell that even my instructor was getting frustrated with my lack of progress. I eventually decided that there was something inherently wrong with the much more powerful aircraft.
I was hanging around the operations office one day after returning from the flight line, when one of my former TAC officers asked.
“So Candidate McDonald, what do you think of the Huey?”
I weighted my response for a few seconds, then said.
“I don’t know sir, I think the aircraft is a bit unstable.” Looking at him with a sidelong glance to hide my bruised confidence and ego.
The TAC officer smirked, then laughed a little before responding.
“You sure it’s not you that is unstable candidate McDonald.”
“It could very well be sir.” I responded without much hesitation. “I am sure I will get the hang of it in the next flight or two.”
“I’m sure you will candidate McDonald, I am sure you will” He retorted and chuckled as he walked on down the hall, then he looked back and said. “You will learn to love the old girl.”
I was truly frustrated, and imagined a world where I could fly into combat in an orange TH-55, guns a blazing.
The next time I attempted to hover a Huey, it was like night and day. It was as if something clicked, and the aircraft was once again responding to my commands. Within days, I felt like my old self, the Huey was mine!
Not long after that, my old affections for the inverted lawn mower passed, and I had a new sweet heart.