Have you heard the story about the 99 who planned to move into her new home over Thanksgiving weekend and instead began helicopter training? The home builder missed the boat and she caught a spinning disk. Today she passed a major milestone, soloed the Enstrom 280FX, or as another 99 would say, temporarily mastered a slippery weasel. And that it is!
This was never a life goal, but once I laid eyes on the sexiest helicopter ever seen by human eyes, I couldn't forget his sleek lines, low-slung body and turbo-charged engine. I was smitten last March, but found my interest set aside due to other pressing demands - air racing season was quickly approaching. It wasn't until Thanksgiving weekend, the builder was a month late and my move was once again on hold that four days loomed with no plans. The Enstrom leapt into my mind and I scheduled my first demo flight. Yes, I was immediately hooked and my training began the following weekend.
Flying a helicopter demands infinite patience on the part of both student and instructor, learning not only the control inputs, but also about terms such as ETL, settling with power, retreating blade stall, all the performance numbers and would you believe, four, yes four operating envelopes - all with different max airspeeds. This helicoptering was far more demanding than I ever imagined.
Little things are big things. As the hands are totally occupied from the moment of pickup, tower frequency is set and ground never used. The childhood saying "look ma, no hands" definitely does not work here. More appropriately it's "look ma, no hands available". With my left on the collective controlling not only blade pitch (aka up and down) but also the throttle setting (blade rpm), right hand on the cyclic with trim controlled by my thumb and "pull to talk" a trigger for the right index finger, and my feet counteracting each and every collective input, the pilot becomes VERY busy very quickly. An itchy nose stays that way.
This 99 finds that a thorough preflight still takes 25 minutes. There's lots of windshield to clean and a plethora of bolts to check for. This is not a time to hurry. The manufacturer kindly designed steps into the side so that mast and blades can be thoroughly gazed upon. Always count to three before starting the next mast checklist item. The Enstrom has a fully-articulating three-bladed rotor system. Quite smooth and less noisy than a locomotive. The engine is a Lycoming turbo-charged four-cylinder 0-360 developing 225 hp. Not much to really check, but accessories galore that can catch grass and trash during the endless pursuit of a controlled hover. Fluid reservoirs abound and must all be checked, belts, swash plate, tail rotor, landing gear, yes, it's all carefully pre-flown. The aircraft is a real fuel hog. Burns almost 15 gph with 40 gal usable. Definitely not designed for cross-country use, eh?
Next are the start procedures. After using the three page pre-flight checklist, the start only requires two pages, small type no less. Two things are triple checked before starting -- collective down and locked and clutch (rotor) disengaged. The start checklist must be thoroughly followed because of a dearth of hands once pulled into a hover.
Control? What control? Finally airborne and commencing the taxi to the appropriate departure point, watch out for the tail boom. It wants to swipe every other aircraft, light pole and fence nearby with its rotor. Just one more thing to be alert for. Although we are trained to beware of the effect of our rotor wash (flipping a Citabria would definitely be frowned upon), student pilots can be a bit unsteady. Wisdom says, just stay as clear of everything as possible. The easy part is the departure. Just push the cyclic forward and be prepared for the effect of ETL (effective translational lift). Could this be the only transportation devise that requires no additional power to gain forward momentum?
If the departure is a piece of cake, the approach is anything but. Closing in on the ground at near zero airspeed and adding power in the last few seconds is contradictory to my 20 years in fixed wing aircraft.
The training has been more challenging than I ever imagined, but the reward unparalleled. Once more I have experienced the joy of flight as only a novice student can.
About the home, the project manager and crew chief were both fired this week. Completion is now scheduled for March 1st -- maybe.
Webmaster note: Susan moved into her new home in June, 1997 and passed her checkride three months later.