February 2008

Ramona California

Ramona Airport, located 2 miles west of Ramona California, is a fantastic airport. During times when there are fires, the Romona Airport is very busy with a multitude of firefighting aircraft. When there are no fires to fight, Ramona is a great destination for pilots learning to fly or looking to perfect their take-offs and landings, GPS instrument approaches, or (as in my case) their helicopter traffic pattern and hovering work.

The day started out beautiful. A call to the CRQ ATIS phone line while en route to the airport indicated winds that were light and variable, 10 miles visibility and no clouds. The preflight turned up nothing except that 1/2 quart of oil was needed. The previous flight my strobe light was in-op and had to be replaced before we could fly. By the time I have 42G running and the main rotor spinning at 102% (408 RPM) I was ready for another couple of hours at the controls. My instructor Attilio climbed aboard and we were off, heading east bound at 2500′ MSL.

We decided to head to Ramona airport for some traffic pattern work. Ramona has a Letter of Agreement with Civic Helicopters that allows us to use taxiway Alpha west of the control tower for operations without having to call the tower each time we need to make a circuit, so its great for pattern work. I have been having trouble getting the takeoff just right. Basically I feel as though the helicopter is too close to the ground while on the takeoff run and I allow the ship to climb out of ground effect just to start sinking again. This is generally followed by a pull on the collective and I get a real nice up and down effect that causes weird looks on the face of my instructor. So basically, I need a lot more time working on traffic patterns and take off runs.

As soon as we cleared the Palomar Airport (CRQ) class delta surface area, we switched to the Ramona ATIS only to learn that the winds were reported from 060 at 20 knots gusting to 28 knots!! I immediately decided that today would be a very good day to work back at CRQ!! Attilio however decided it would be a perfect day to work at Ramona and learn how to hover, land, do peddle turns and do traffic patterns with a 20 knot wind gusting to 28 knots.

With the wind at 060, we knew that Ramona would be using runway 9 so that made using taxiway Alpha impractical since we would have to side step every time a plane needed to take off. So we asked for the south helo pad. The interesting thing about the south helo pad is that it goes downhill in two directions, laterally and longitudinally!! So Attilio and I spent the next two hours working the south helo pad at Ramona, and I can say that while I was less than thrilled to arrive at Ramona in those wind conditions, I quickly started enjoying myself and learning more about the R44 than I would have on a calm day. I even managed to make quite a few landing that we were able to walk away from, and considering the situation, I was pretty proud of myself.

So at two hours, we headed back to Palomar (CRQ) and since the wind was still light decided that we would take some time and work on landings on the cart that the R44 sits on for its trips to and from the hanger. After several half way decent landings on the cart and many, many “almost but not quite” decent landings (and a lot of backing up), we were ready to call it a day.

Had I know what the winds were at Ramona, I may have decided not to fly, but in the end, Attilio convinced me to give it a try and I feel I have a lot better feeling of the R44 as a result. I still have a long way to go, but I now know that if I end up someplace with 28 knot gusting winds, I can actually get 42G and its passengers safely on the ground.

Thanks Attilio!

2008 Robinson R44 Raven II

Well, its been just about two weeks since I picked up my new helicopter, a Robinson R44 Raven II, at the Robinson factory in Torrance California. If you look below, you can see some pictures of the Raven II that I purchased. Its a very nice helicopter!

I have been working with Civic Helicopters to go through transition training in the R44. When I learned to fly helicopters, I used the Schweizer 300s at Civic and have never flown an R22, nor the R44 before purchasing one save a single test flight in the Civic R44.

To date, I have about 8 hours in the R44 since brining it home. I thought I would share with you my first thoughts as I get started on the transition training.

First, the R44 has a lot more power than the 300s have. Why does that matter you ask? Well, in my case, I am used to pulling a certain amount of pitch during hovering, takeoff, quick stops, etc. In the R44, pulling that much pitch causes a wild ride to say the least. Because it has a lot more power, I am finding myself pulling too much pitch and then trying to compensate with lowering collective quickly. Needless to say, this causes some interesting reactions from both the R44 and my instructor. Anyone familiar with flying helicopters can only imagine what happens to someone that pulls too much pitch without realizing that at the same time you pull all of that pitch, you should really be stepping down on the left peddle! So not only do I end up with altitude excursions, but my yaw string is getting worn out from moving all over the place!

My second thought on the R44 has to do with the hydraulic controls. This effects both my collective movements (see above) as well as my cyclic movements. The bottom line is that I find myself way over-controlling the helicopter. I am told that going from the fully articulated rotor system on the 300 to the semi-rigid rotor system of the R44 brings with it its own set of issues, but add to that the effects of a hydraulic system powering the cyclic and the collective and you end up with a 300 pilot used to the wide latitude and judicious use of controls who now has to relearn the proper control inputs for the R44. My instructor tells me to think about moving the cyclic as opposed to actually moving it and that should help smooth things out!

My third and final thought for today on the R44 is about the T-Bar Cyclic. I have to admit, if there was anything at all about the R44 that I thought I would dislike, it is the t-bar setup. I know this is an ongoing topic with everyone (and then some) trying to be heard on the subject. The bottom line is that Frank designed the R22 and the R44 to be inexpensive helicopters. Having only one set of cyclic controls with a teetering bar keeps things simple and cheap. After 8 hours in the R44, I find myself not really thinking about it too much. Would I like a “normal” cyclic? At this point I would say yes, but ask me again in 10 or 20 or 50 hours and I would most likely tell you that it does not matter. I guess overall its a personal thing, I am sure no matter how many hours I have in the R44, I would like the design better with actual dual cyclic controls, but in the end, it did not keep me from buying the R44 over something else. In the end, the benefits of the R44 outweighed the t-bar – at least for me.

2008 Robinson R44 Raven II

Let me start by saying that I am an airplane driver. Anyone that knows me knows that I enjoy flying airplanes more than any other hobby that I have, and believe you me, I have a lot of hobbies…but that is a story for another day.

I learned to fly over 20 years ago while in the Marine Corps. It seemed the thing to do at the time – lots of free time on my hands, a fantastic airport (Oceanside Airport, KOKB), a great instructor and pretty much the best weather money could buy. I took to flying like a duck takes to water. Private, Instrument, Commercial (Single and Multi-Engine), Flight Instructor, and Instrument Flight Instructor. I began teaching and learned that I love teaching flying almost as much as I enjoyed the flying itself. The satisfaction of watching a student “get” a maneuver or seeing them step from the plane after their first solo, or the look on their face when they pass their first check ride – all things that make me enjoy teaching the art of flying.

So I use my love of aviation as an excuse to go flying, for pretty much any reason. The Boy Scouts, EAA Young Eagles, Angel Flight, work, play, pretty much any reason. I have owned multiple aircraft over the years, some in clubs, some fractional ownership and some just by myself. I have immersed myself in aviation for so many years, its like an extension of my personality. Anyone that knows me for very long is generally a guest of mine in 314A, my Cirrus SR22 which I lease from a fractional ownership company called OurPlane.

I have always been someone that likes to expand my knowledge. I am currently working on my ATP and a type rating in a Citation business jet. But about three or four years ago, I took a radical departure from flying airplanes when I decided to get my rotorcraft rating – I decided that I wanted to fly helicopters!

Like anything else I do, I did plenty of research. I visited 3 or 4 different helicopter schools in San Diego and the surrounding area. I wanted a top notch operation, with great instructors and a good location. After interviewing several schools, I finally choose what I still consider to be the best helicopter training school in Southern California – Civic Helicopters. Civic is located at McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad California.

Civic Helicopters

After 20+ years of flying, I am pretty picky when it comes to flight schools and flight instructors. I am a network engineer and I don’t just want to learn to fly something, I want to know what makes it fly (besides money). I want to fly with someone that can answer all of my questions, simple and technical, from the very basic to the most advanced and everything in between.

After choosing Civic, I talked to several instructors and eventually started flying with Chin Tu, the owner of Civic. To say that Chin is a great instructor is like saying that Alexander the Great was an OK military strategist – just a bit of an understatement. One thing that I am very aware of is the importance of a good student-instructor relationship. For me, Chin’s personality mixed with his flying abilities and experience in both airplane and helicopters was an immense help to me since he was able to determine the “bad” fixed wing habits that I was trying to apply to flying helicopters. Anyone that flies both can tell you that some of the things you do in an airplane can get you killed if you do them in a helicopter. Part of learning to fly was learning about those things in an environment that fosters growth and understanding. The training that I received went beyond the “just don’t do that” and into the whys and hows as it related from the only vantage point that I brought to the table – that of a fixed wing pilot.

Over the course of the summer, I went from knowing nothing about helicopters to getting my Private Pilot Rotorcraft rating added to my Fixed wing Commercial. I had done all of my flight training in a Schweizer H300 instead of the less expensive Robinson R22. I enjoyed the 300 and it was a larger helicopter that I enjoyed looking at as opposed to the R22. It just “seemed” more substantial to me when I first looked at both of them, so that was what I learned to fly.

Several years passed from the time I added the Rotorcraft-Helicopter Rating to my license. Work was expanding, we were growing and while I spent a great deal of time flying my Cirrus, I spent almost no time flying helicopters. Then I decided the time was right to get checked back out and to really spend the time flying that I wanted to do. While working with Chin to get back upto speed with the 300s, I also began to look at used helicopters. I knew that I wanted my own helicopter as opposed to renting, but I really didn’t know what I wanted.

I spent a lot of time reading, and more than a few hours at a fantastic forum called Vertical Reference. I got a lot of great advice from pilots of all backgrounds and all types on the VR forum. If you are interested in helicopters, I would highly recommend reading the VR forums. They are fantastic!

Vertical Reference

Chin was very patient with me as I emailed him and talked to him about used turbine helicopters. I really thought the Bell 206 or the Schweizer 333 was going to be the aircraft of choice for me. But after searching and searching, I could not find anything that was a real good buy. Anything in my price range had 10,000 to 15,000 hours! Needless to say, I was not impressed with the what the market had to offer, so I went back to the drawing board. I started looking at a new Schweizer H300c and, of course, a new Robinson R44 Raven II. These are two of the more economical piston helicopters. . . . . . .

Since Civic was a Robinson dealer, I went back to Chin and he suggested that I go fly the 44 with him. We went up and the first thing I noticed was how much power the 44 has over the 300! I was amazed at the performance. The other real nice thing was the governor. I had been flying the 300s, so I was always adjusting the RPM and the idea of the governor seemed like a real good one to me. After the flight, I sat and talked to Chin about the benefits of the R44 over the 300 and vice versa. the cost for each ship outfitted with the same avionics seemed comparable with the 300c coming in a bit lower. The wait times for a new ship were the same in both cases.

As you no doubt know, I finally choose the R44. I liked the idea of air conditioning, having learned how splendid it can be in the summer thanks to my Cirrus SR22, and was able to get am immediate delivery position on a brand new ship waiting at the factory for its new lucky owner. And as luck would have it, that owner was me!

So what is next you ask – well, I have to learn how to fly the darn thing now! I can tell you after almost 10 hours now in it that the Schweizer 300 sure seems a lot easier to fly. I am back to the basics just learning how to handle the 44 including hovers, taxiing, quick stops, and actually landing on the cart! My initial R44 work is with a good natured instructor at Civic (Attilio Rosset). Our personalities match one another closely. He is wise enough to know that sometime teaching another instructor can be difficult. Since I am already a rated rotorcraft pilot, I am very interested to learn how much I can make the R44 do on my own…Attilio is willing to go along for the ride and provide the much needed safety aspect. Not only that, but he a great pilot and instructor.

So for right now, I am trying to fly two or three times a week with the goal of perfecting my ability to fly helicopters in 42G. Chin and Attilio will keep me safe, impart wisdom and continue to do what thousands of flight instructors do every day – help me to enjoy aviation and the pride and thrill when I accomplish something new. I am not sure how long it will take, but something that I learned long ago – it really doesn’t matter – I enjoy the journey as much as I enjoy the destination!

Check back often as I will be updating the site as I make progress each time I fly!!