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Certified Flight Instructor, Commercial Pilot, Training

Autorotation Blitz

January 4th, 2015

Total Hours: 140.6


Another busy week. I am now a short 9.6 hours away from the 150 I need for my commercial checkride. I’m so close now, phew, my head is spinning! It’s exciting being so close but I’m nervous too. Am I really ready? I’m sure I am, but it’s easy to have doubts. Overall I’ve been flying well and with a week and a half left before my checkrides I think there is ample time to get my maneuvers dialed in and walk into the exams with confidence. Nonetheless I have some serious butterflies going in my stomach already!


What better way to spend the second to last week before my checkrides than cramming in as many autorotations as possible? I’ve been determined to make my autos better and the hard work of the last couple weeks is definitely paying off. I had two more sessions of full-downs this week and flew countless more autos in general. While my control and accuracy in the auto has grown I’m afraid some of my other basic maneuvers have started to fall off. No need to worry though, I’m pretty sure I can brush those back into shape with a wee bit of work.


The autorotation is a complex maneuver, perhaps the most complex that we perform. What makes it so? There are so many variables in the auto that they never come out the same. I recently read a quote that claimed each auto is like a fingerprint in that no two are the same. Sometimes I think this is true of every maneuver! But autos in particular seem to constantly require a different touch. Last week I explained that the autorotation is the helicopters equivalent of a glide. Aerodynamically speaking the interesting thing about an auto is that since the engine is no longer powering the rotors they must be driven by air being forced up through the rotor disk. In order to force air up through the rotor disk we must descend very quickly toward the ground. How quickly? Normally we fly approaches at 300 fpm but in the auto we are in the neighborhood of 1500 fpm. Five times faster! And at first it feels even faster than that.


Just this week I was reminiscing over my first autorotations during my private. It seemed as though we would enter and then about 5 seconds later we’d be done. In reality the maneuver lasts about 20-25 seconds. Wow, I never realized how short it actually is, that’s the first time I’ve done the math! Well, the interesting thing is that over time the process feels so much slower. In the beginning it is all a student can do to keep flying the machine all the way toward the ground, pull off the power recovery, and bring it into a stable hover. Of course they are supposed to be scanning for proper attitude as well as making sure that the airspeed and rotor RPM stay within limits. It’s pretty much impossible in the beginning! In the last couple weeks those 25 seconds have been lasting a lot longer though. I find myself with all kinds of time to run through the scan multiple times. So cool how the brain does that! Proof once again that time is completely malleable.


Enter the full-down. When we do full-downs instead of normal power recovery the maneuver is exactly the same except for the last 3 to 4 seconds. Those final seconds are when the “full-down” part happens. And simply knowing that the maneuver will be a full-down makes the whole process speed up again. I found the auto literally flying by. But after a while they start to slow down again. By now I have done about 20 full-down autorotations and my final ones were really hitting the mark. It’s been fascinating watching, and participating, in the whole process.


I apologize but I don’t have much more to write about this week. I continue to cram in work on my lessons and study. The time is drawing ever nearer. I’m not sure that I’d ever feel completely ready, but I’m confident that I am there no matter what my nerves tell me. I’m sure next week I’ll be all butterflies and I’m happy to say that in two weeks I’ll either have my certificates or have a weeks vacation to think about knocking them out when I get return. Either way is good with me.

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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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