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Private Pilot, Training

Hurricane Week

August 10th, 2014

Total Hours: 41.1

This has been an odd week. I only flew three days because of the threat of Hurricane Iselle. Thursday morning the school decided to take the blades off the helicopters in case the storm ended up being a whopper. Many people doubted the storm would have much impact on the west coast of the Big Island because we are in the lee of three very large volcanoes. Nonetheless, no one wants to gamble with expensive machinery. Because of the unknown outcome of the weather, and the decommissioning of the ships, the school closed down Thursday through Sunday. This gave me a break, perhaps one I needed more than I’d like to admit. This continues to be the theme for me as anyone who is reading this blog regularly can see. I am working on being patient and not being hard on myself and to be fair I am making progress in this regard.

Despite the short week I still had a few firsts. One was a quick night flight. While I had predicted that flying at night would feel dramatically different I was still surprised by just how much. What makes it so different? The lack of outside references. Normally we use outside references like the horizon for most of the feedback about our flying. You may remember my writing about my issues with banking and the horizon, an excellent example of using outside references. At night I could really see how much I use outside reference in all aspects of flight. Lifting the aircraft up wasn’t too bad but my hover was initially wildly unstable. Almost as bad as my first attempts! The biggest challenge was judging my height off the tarmac, which was a bit unnerving to say the least.

The approaches weren’t much easier. We tried some with the landing light on and some with it off although it didn’t seem to make a huge difference in either case. It was hard to judge distance and hard to judge the rate of closure (groundspeed). Everything felt completely different from daytime flying. We also made a short cruise over town. This was easier than I imagined and in some ways I felt steadier than during the day. After a quick circle around Kailua Bay we returned to the airport for more hover practice. This was certainly the most challenging aspect of night flying and the area where I needed the most work. After my experience I am surprised that all a private pilot needs is three hours of night flying before being turned loose on the world, whoa!

The other big step this week was the completion of Stage 2 of my flight training. I still wasn’t completely satisfied with my performance during the stage check but I can say that I did much better than my Stage 1 check. I also wasn’t as nervous, which was a huge step. All the same it is hard to imagine what my final checkride will be like. I’m getting nervous just thinking about it! You might be wondering what kind of material did we covered during Stage 2. Mainly we continued to review maneuvers with an emphasis on engine failures and autorotations but there was some new material including off airport operations and slope landings.

I have really enjoyed the off airport trips because it feels like “real” flying. We don’t fly far from the airport to go to our practice area, but it feels good to be going somewhere. And the skills for operations off airport feel more applicable to the jobs I hope to one day have. During the training we cover selection of a suitable landing site, judging wind direction, choosing the type of approach and departure, and thinking of emergency outs. It is challenging trying to read the terrain and wind direction but it is also quite rewarding to be flying away from airport.

Slope landings are just like they sound, setting the helicopter down on an uneven surface. To practice we put one skid on a large pile of rocks that is about a foot high while the other settles to the ground. While working with slopes we have to be very aware of dynamic rollover. Dynamic rollover occurs when the machine rolls around a fixed point and the lift of the rotor system becomes more horizontal than vertical. This lift becomes thrust which then pulls the machine over. All of this happens very fast. An easy to imagine scenario is a helicopter hovering sideways and striking an object with the leading skid. The rollover action starts around the stuck skid and if left unchecked by the pilot it will quickly result in disaster. Now imagine the helicopter hovering with one skid on the aforementioned pile of rocks and the other a foot or so off the ground. If the pilot applies lift with the collective too quickly the machine can rotate around the uphill skid instead of lifting off it.

The goal is to lift the helicopter to a level position and then lift off the slope evenly. I’m sure I’ve never lifted it more than a few degrees past level, but it feels much bigger than it is! That’s probably just a result of the pucker factor. As a result throughout the entire maneuver there is a slightly unsettling feeling about just how much the machine is rotating. All of this makes slope landings one of the more exciting maneuvers I’ve learned.

As I move into the next week of training I will start my cross-country flying. This is the final skill I will learn before preparing for my final checkride and (hopefully!) my private certificate. Tune in next week and I’ll let you know how it’s going. Thanks for reading!


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


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