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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot, Training

Full-Downs

December 28th, 2014

Total Hours: 131.6


This week I continued my quest to build hours. At home I am working every day on revising lesson plans and studying, but the main focus is getting those hours up. At times I am feeling pretty stressed though overall things feel more under control than during my private. In all reality I can hardly believe that I am this close to finishing my commercial and CFI certificates. I’m trying to finish the ratings before I leave for the Robinson Safety Course in January and a part of me wishes that I was not under this (self-imposed) time crunch.  Maybe it’s a good thing and it will push me along. I don’t think it can hurt anyway, but sometimes it does feel a bit rushed.


Over the course of building hours I had a few interesting experiences this week. My first opportunity to practice full-down autorotations happened. I’m not sure that I’ve gone into much detail about autorotations so I’ll brush over it again here. The autorotation is a maneuver we practice to handle engine or drive train failure. Autorotation gives the helicopter the ability to glide and while we cannot glide as far as an airplane we have far more options when it comes to landing. The crux of an actual engine failure is normally not entering the autorotation, or maintaining the glide, but the landing. Because the landing is so tricky we normally practice the autorotation with a power recovery. Essentially in the final 50’ we roll on the throttle so that we can use engine power to finish the maneuver in a hover. A real world autorotation would end on the ground and the control inputs made in those final seconds are a bit different from the ones used in a power recovery. To learn these final inputs we practice full-down autos that end on the ground without any power recovery.


It is fascinating that while a private pilot learns how to autorotate they never practice the full-down maneuver. I think that this comes down to liability and odds. Autorotations are a bit dangerous and taking them all the way to the ground makes them a bit more so. On the other hand engine failures rarely occur. So there is some argument over how much risk students, instructors, and businesses should be exposed to in order to train for an event that very rarely happens. Be that as it may we do learn, and practice, full-down maneuvers as part of our CFI training. The goal of any autorotation is not to save the helicopter but simply to be able to walk away. This is a reasonable goal and as an instructor I want to feel that I could provide that outcome under normal circumstances. For my introduction to full-downs the instructor demonstrated one and I tried three. They came out fairly well although the second was quite rough. A rough autorotation occurs when all the energy in the helicopter has been used but there it is still a bit a space left between the skids and the ground. That final drop can create quite a shake! I’m pretty excited about doing some more full-down practice. It is very rewarding to see that I can successfully land the helicopter without engine power and I think this adds a feeling of confidence to other aspects of my flying.


Another experience I had this week was on the opposite side of the scale. It was one of those days where things just don’t go right and there is no explanation whatsoever. All I know is that right from the start I couldn’t seem to get the helicopter to do what I wanted. At the end of the hour-long flight I felt frustrated but it’s not getting me down. It is a mystery to me why we have these days but I know that all the pilots I’ve talked to seem to have them occasionally. Even the instructors have days when they can’t perform a good demonstration for the student! I was caught off guard because going into the flight I was feeling so positive. I have been making great improvements with my flying lately and I felt blindsided by my lackluster performance. I think the reality is that it is better to get these days out of the system before the checkride! While we all have our bad days it is rare that we have two in a row.  Thank goodness!!


My last flight of the week was a sightseeing trip with some friends visiting from the mainland. I can’t take anyone out with my private certificate alone because while the FAA allows it the school won’t rent me a helicopter! That comes down to insurance and liability once again. In addition, to take two other people flying we needed to use the R44 and I don’t have enough experience to fly that machine as the pilot in command. To work around these restrictions we simply flew with one of the instructors. We planned out a trip around the island in an attempt to see the volcano, check out some lava, and then visit the valleys on the north side. While the weather looked good leaving Kona we ran into a wall of vog (volcanic fog) as soon as we turned the shoulder of Mauna Loa to the south. From there things got worse with rain showers all over the place. Unfortunately we could not get near the Kilauea crater and even Pu’u O’o had too many clouds to approach closely. We did have a chance to check out the flow burning its way to Pahoa but overall I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t check out Pu’u O’o a bit better. From there things improved with nice views of waterfalls around Hilo and very clear conditions in the Kohala Valleys. It was a nice end to the week especially after my flat performance the day before.

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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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