Turning a Rotor

Why does that phrase stand out in my mind after all these years? Because, as I stated a few paragraphs back, my instructor was a large man. Especially by the standards of the day. He wasn’t obese, but he was as tall as I was, and his waist band stretched further than anyone else’s in that briefing room. I was, and still am 5 – 11 ¾ and back then weighed 165. So between the two of us, I was sure that the inverted lawnmower we were assigned to fly that day was not going to “pop” into the air.

But that is exactly what it did!

The two weeks of playing the upper classmen’s bitch, was also a time to learn. We needed to know everything about the TH-55 before we ever were allowed to “turn a rotor”. Its capabilities, limitations, flight characteristics, and how to perform a proper preflight. Weather, aerodynamics, and how they related to helicopter flight was crammed into our little pea brains.

On this morning, I performed my first preflight. We then got into the cockpit, did a prestart check and fired the bird up. I was now putting what I learned to practice. My instructor did all the starting, all the while explaining to me what he was doing. All I was doing was reading off the checklists, and carefully watching everything he did.

There was no significant vibration once the rotor started to turn. This little old bird was very smooth. When he plucked it off the concrete pad and brought it to a hover, I was elated! I was flying in a helicopter. The sensation was more than I imagined it would be.

We taxied to the departure end of the runway, and my instructor called for clearance. I heard the tower grant us clearance, and my instructor did just as he described. He nosed the aircraft over just a little bit to get it moving. In a few feet, it flew out of its own ground effect, and POPPED into the air.

I envisioned a struggling, laboring, painfully slow ascent as this poor little aircraft worked to get us to the thousand feet we were seeking.

Instead, we climbed as smoothly and easily as if we were in an express elevator. Everything I hoped for and dreamed for was happening. I was watching the ground rapidly fall way from under the glass bubble at my feet. Around me, the landscape was opening up, and the horizon expanded.

I flew that day. I flew a helicopter. I was in control. They were just basic in flight maneuvers.

But I was flying!

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