The greatest part about flying a helicopter is hovering. Okay, maybe flying NoE (Nap of Earth), but you can’t really do that in a civilian aircraft. We also didn’t do that kind of flying until we got into advance tactics in the Huey. I would like most of the flight school posts to be in chronological order.
So back to hovering.
It is the second hardest thing a pilot learns to do. Well for me at least. Approaches were a bear for me to master. I could safely hover after about the third hover practice. I was hovering from point A to point B a few days of practice later. But approaches, I was white knuckling them for a week or so beyond mastery of the hover.
For those of you who have flown and airplane, you know, set power, and pitch and you have a descent. There is some finesse, to making a steady glide slope. But changes are minor. If you change pitch, power changes are not necessary. With a helicopter, every change to one control very likely lead to a change in the others. Every change in pitch to either rotor changes the how much power you need. That changes the torque, which means a change in the pedals to control yaw. It is an orchestrated balancing act that takes practice. With an approach, you are constantly adjusting power to keep your glide slope. A hover on the other hand, is pretty much steady power.
Judging by the discussion after class and in the barracks, I was in the top third for mastering hovering. We would work on the other basic flight maneuvers, level flight, take offs, traffic patterns, and approaches. Then when we were all wore out, the instructor would take us to the far side of the airfield for hover practice.
At first it was just a couple of inverted lawn mowers at a time in the hover practice area. But as we all progressed towards hovering, the practice area started to look like a helicopter rodeo. Like all aspects of flying a helicopter, it’s about learning the feel. If the aircraft dipped left, you countered with the appropriate amount of stick in the opposite directions. The aircraft settled a little, then you pulled a little pitch. If the power you pulled caused the nose to turn right, then you needed to counter with left pedal.
The problem with a new pilot, is all the corrections are excessive. We are constantly over correcting. So to the casual observer, it looks like our little orange helicopter is a bucking bronco. Spinning about, thrashing to the left, then the right, floating up, and them almost bounding of the ground. It was not uncommon of the six axis gyrations to become so erratic you would hear, “I’ve got the controls.”
That meant hands off, you were in over your head, give me control of the aircraft. There was no hesitation when you heard those words. You didn’t even look to see if the instructor did indeed have control of the aircraft. You just took your hands and feet off the controls, and hoped like hell you were not sucking it up more so than you should be.
I don’t recall if the instructor ever did have to completely take the controls from me during hover practice. For the most part I kept the aircraft under control, but I was working my ass off, and felt like a fool.
But the second or third time of hover practice, my instructor did save our asses. Well at least the chin bubble.