November 16th, 2014
Total Hours: 102.2
I had a couple of firsts this week. Well, actually they were just this weekend. They were my first flight in a R44 and the start of external load training. Two pretty exciting things for me! I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might be like to fly the R44 in the last month. I believe this came about because I am finally getting truly comfortable in the R22. As I feel comfortable in one machine it is natural to wonder what it’s like to fly another. Besides the opportunity to fly a R44 the external load training itself is a aspect of flying that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. My goals in the aviation world revolve around long line operations and I’ve been eager for a taste of what it’s really like. I wasn’t too worried about whether I would like it, but it’s good to be sure!
So, what are my first impressions of the R44? Is it really just a big R22? In the looks and the build style it is essentially a big R22 yet it flies quite differently. Being a bigger ship it has a lot more power, but what I noticed more than the power was the smoothness of the controls. This is partly due to the hydraulic assist for the collective and cyclic but I think there is also an inherent stability in the bigger rotor system. Think of inertia, anything with more mass is more stable in its path. Not everyone likes the hydraulics because the controls do not have any feedback. By this I mean they move effortlessly in any direction. What I liked was that the lack of pressure allows for a more relaxed grip. The collective is also much steadier than any of the R22’s I’ve flown and the fact that it stays where you put it also leads to more relaxed control. Some people say the controls are more sensitive, but I’m not convinced. The reason I can’t make an honest comparison is that my only flying in the R44 has been working with external loads and this type of flying exposes the smallest control imperfections. Thus the controls seem more sensitive, but I doubt I’d be doing any better in the familiar R22! Overall I am very pleased with my brief 1.5 hours in the R44. I look forward to getting more time in this ship in the coming months.
Now lets talk a little bit about external load work. It is just what it sounds like and I’m sure most of you have seen a picture of a helicopter with a long line attached to the belly with something dangling from it. Other forms of external loads include hoist work, external platforms or carriage systems, and even people! For now we are working with a 100’ long line and a big tire. And believe me that is more than enough! In a way it feels like learning to hover all over again. On the first day we set up with the long line and the big tire and our task was to simply pick up the tire without making it swing like a kid on the playground. Naturally we have to hover over one hundred feet off the ground to take all the slack out of the line and pick the tire into the air. Keep in mind that we normally hover 3-5’ off the ground. Once again visual references make all the difference. To make things more challenging we cannot simply keep our eyes outside looking at our familiar references on the horizon. Instead we have to monitor the load below the helicopter and that means flying with our heads out the door looking down at the ground. A simple analogy might be to imagine skiing or bike riding. I know the first times I looked down between my feet on skis or on a bike I was in for a surprise! We don’t balance well when looking down, particularly at moving terrain, and in the helicopter it is no different. But of course with time I learned how to ski or ride my bike while looking wherever I wanted. And I’ll learn to hold a steady hover while staring down at the ground too. But it will take time.
Day two might have been better but we were faced with a new challenge. The first day was dead calm but on the second we had a strong crosswind. I would like to think that the wind is mostly to blame for the difficulties faced on day two, but it probably wasn’t. Just like fly fishing the wind is a common, but often blameless, scapegoat in aviation! Either way I felt that I struggled much more on the second day than the first. But this doesn’t trouble me. I know that progress will be made in the coming week as I build up about 5 or so hours with the long line. This type of work intrigues me and I can see that it will just get more and more interesting as I gain proficiency. I always wanted to be a crane operator, now I get to work from a flying crane! I should have more to share about this exciting development in next week’s post after we complete our course. In fact I am hoping to continue beyond the basic training since this is exactly what I hope to do for work. The more practice the better, and ideally I will be able to train others once I start instructing. All that is down the road though, right now I just have to work on holding that damn tire still!