Collin’s Interview: Helicopter Pilot – Part Two

We continue our interview with Collin; a millennial who has earned his helicopter and airplane pilot license as well as flown gliders. To catch part one of this interview, look back on last week’s post!

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Touch of Flair: Tell us more about your experiences in helicopters.

Collin: Going to Southern Utah University, I had the choice to continue with my airplane training or to start flying helicopters.  I wanted to try something different, so I went with helicopters. I was assigned the R-22 Robinson.

I knew it would feel different flying a helicopter, however I figured I could pick up the skill quickly just like I did with fixed wing training. Not only that, but I had my private pilot airplane license, so I thought the skill set would transfer over.  Quickly, I learned that would not be the case.

In a forward flight profile, the helicopter had similar movement characteristics as an airplane; except the moment you begin to enter a landing profile, or a hover, all my prior experience and knowledge seemed to be rendered useless.

In the helicopter, the sensation I got by flying slow and remaining in one place was so different from an airplane! No matter how much I studied prior it felt impossible to prepare to do myself.  Thankfully I had my flight instructor, Sean, there who always kept me from screwing up too much.  Hovering took a while to get used to. Despite the challenge, 12 flight hours later I started to get the hang of hovering.  Once I mastered that, I began training for more complicated hovering maneuvers such as turning around a point with the nose or spinning around the tail. We even practiced a maneuver called pirouettes; accomplished by taxing forward while at the same time spinning and maintaining position over the taxiway center line.

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The next semester involved more in-flight maneuver practice and long-distance trips. What I was really interested in learning was how to complete an off-airport landing. When I finally practiced these, I knew I had found one of my favorite things to do in aviation; land at a location that is surrounded by nature.  Helicopters combined my love of the outdoors as well as my passion for aviation.  It was a lot easier getting to the top of a mountain via helicopter than having to hike up.

As I gained skill, the off-airport landings got harder, requiring my skills at the flight controls to be more accurate. Being tasked with landing on the side of a hill, surrounded by bushes, trees and boulders which pose a threat to your aircraft, made for some of the most rewarding experiences I have in aviation.

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Another reason that I enjoy flying helicopters is for an excuse to fly low. I am addicted to the adrenaline rush of flying below the ridge line of a canyon.  In airplanes, I do not fly low most of the time. Normally, the lowest profile I fly is on final approach to land at an airport; and even then, I am too busy to enjoy the view as I have other operations to concern myself with.

 

Helicopters are just the opposite.  I rarely broke 2,000 feet above ground level unless I was preparing to climb over significant terrain.  Most flights, I always flew as low as I could, given the area I was in.  Flying low gave me an addictive rush and I felt like a little kid jumping for joy. Not only that, the challenge of flying low while maneuvering with the terrain gives you some pretty awesome stories to share!

Check back for the final part of our interview with Collin! We will be finding out more about his college experience and his flight time in gliders!