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Vulcan

I flew a REAL helicopter!!

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This weekend, I did a TIF (Trial Instruction Flight) where I got to fly the helicopter for 30 minutes with an instructor. It was the second time I'd been in a helicopter, but the first time to actually control it. It was absolutely fantastic! I've done a lot of helicopter flying in FS2000 and FS2002, so I was really excited about seeing how it compared to the real thing. I'm happy to say that the sim is incredibly accurate!I was in a Hughes 300, which I take it is a fairly old helicopter, but good for training because many of the things that would be on a modern helicopter (like a governor for the throttle) weren't there. There were two sets of controls, and they were connected together so that even when he was controlling everything, I had my hands and feet on my controls and could feel the movements. I sat on the right, in the pilot's seat.We started out by lifting off, getting clearance from the tower, and heading out over the beach at 500'. After a couple of seconds, he said, "Ok, you have the controls" (what!?) :-) He pointed out that you could see the "disc" of the rotor blade out over the front of the cockpit, and by holding a constant distance between it and the horizon, you could maintain a steady speed. I'd always wondered about this, because in the sim, I have a piece of tape on the monitor to mark the horizon, and then I can tell if I'm pitched forward or backward. I should also point out that there was no VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) on this helicopter, so that was sort of by eyeball as well.Flying straight and level was pretty easy -- hardly any movement of the pedals (for left-right yaw) or the collective (in my left hand, for altitude) was necessary, and he was thankfully making small adjustments to the throttle so I didn't have to worry about that. By watching the horizon and the air speed indicator, and making small adjustments with the stick in my right hand, I was able to hold a steady 65 knots. I flew it all the way down the beach, and then made a moderately steep u-turn to retrace our path back the way we came. When we got back, my wife and friends asked how I enjoyed the scenery. I said, "What scenery?" If he hadn't said to follow the coastline, I'm not sure I would've noticed there was anything more than gauges and the horizon :-)Next we flew over to the training ground, which is just a huge empty grass area (the bigger the better, right?). He did a couple of turns and flyovers, and then said, "Ok, let's find out what you really want to know, which is whether or not you can hover it." He pulled up in a hover about 5' or so above the ground, and steadied it. Then he said, "Ok, you have the controls." Here's where I noticed a couple more differences from the sim. First, it requires quite a bit of left pedal to hold the hover -- I'd guess the left pedal has to be at least half or maybe two-thirds of the way pushed in. I was a bit too tentative with the pedals since I hadn't used them at all yet, so we immediately started turning to the right. We must have been facing downwind (in a fairly strong wind), so as soon as we turned a bit to the right, the wind caught the tail and quickly spun us around like a top to 180 degrees from where we were originally facing. The second attempt was much better, and I started to get the feel of everything. By about the third try, I was able to hover for at least a full 60 seconds, with his feet off the pedals and his hands in his lap -- I was THRILLED! :-) He said the sim must have paid off, because it usually takes people about 10 hours to get to that point. (more big grins)I have to say that it required just as much heavy concentration as in the sim to keep everything from moving in all directions. Slight movements on the stick forward, backward, left, and right, plus moving the pedals, and occasionally raising or lowering the collective to adjust the height. It took me a couple of weeks in the sim to get to the point where it didn't just fly off in random directions, and I think the real helicopter is exactly the same way. I started out on FS2000, which I think is probably more realistic on the default difficulty setting, and definitely harder than it is in FS2002. The more advanced difficulty settings in FS2002 are probably more similar to how it was in FS2000.Every once in a while (still in the hover) we'd drop down to about 3 feet, and I'd pull up on the collective to raise us back up. When I did, it was just like a giant had reached down and pulled up on a string attached to the cockpit. That was another big difference from the sim -- you feel the altitude change in the seat of your pants, as the seat below you suddenly raises up with you in it. It was very easy to control, and as I pulled up slowly on the collective, the helicopter just floated smoothly up, and was very responsive -- I don't remember feeling any delay whatsoever.Next he did a few figure-8's, which are a lot of fun, but sort of hard to describe. Imagine a piece of string laid out on the ground in the shape of an 8. Then grab each end of the 8 with your hands and lift it up, but leave the center part on the ground. That's sort of how it was. We'd zoom down a few feet over the ground, and then shoot up in the air, do a steep u-turn off to one side, and then zoom back down over the center point again, and come up again on the other side -- fun! (needless to say, I just watched during this part) I should also mention that there were no doors on this helicopter, so it was completely open on the sides :-)Then he demonstrated an auto-rotation, where he simulated losing the engine, and still making it down in one piece. I've done this in the sim, so I knew pretty much what was involved. The web page I read that described it said to cut off the engine, immediately put the collective all the way down, and just sort of ride the elevator down at about a 45 degree angle until you get "uncomfortably close" to the ground, then pull back on the stick to flare, raise the collective slightly (adjusting the pedals as you do all of this of course), and then just skid into the ground and come to a stop. Of course, it's much easier said than done, but I've done it successfully a few times in the sim. He started at 1500'. He didn't actually shut off the engine, but just put it in idle, so it had the same effect. This is where I noticed another big difference from the sim, because for that second or so that there's no power, and he hasn't lowered the collective yet (to change the pitch of the rotor blades), the whole helicopter just drops out of the sky like a big steel brick! I'm pretty sure we were free falling for about a second, and then the blades caught the wind and we started riding smoothly down at about a 45 degree angle. And I must say that the phrase "uncomfortably close" is very accurate in describing the moment just before the flare. Then he just twisted the collective to bring the throttle back up, and we zoomed off somewhere else.We came back into the airport area and followed a small airplane down the taxiway, and he let me control everything again. I really got to use the pedals here, and guide us down the taxiway following a yellow line. It's a good thing my friends were out of sight at this point, so they couldn't see the helicopter swinging back and forth like a drunk driver :-) But I did pretty well after a few seconds, and guided it back to the parking area where he put it down on the ground.So -- a full 30 minutes that felt like about 5 :-) I could've continued for a few more hours, it was so fun! I highly recommend it to anyone that's interested in helicopters.And as I said, I'm amazed at how accurate the sim is compared to the real thing, especially on the more difficult levels of FS2002. I'll have to try some tests to see, but I'd guess at least the half way mark on the difficulty scale -- I've read others say that one level down from the hardest is best (?). I've also decided that I probably have my stick tuned a little too tightly, and can probably put a little null zone back into it. I have it set now so that there's basically no null zone at all, but I think it'd be more accurate with just a *little* more movement.Thanks for giving me a place to re-live the experience and write about it :-)Russell

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Thanks for the great insight Russell, Ive been thinking about doing the same thing for some time now, I think you have inspired me to go ahead and do it now!!!... Cheers Pete..(FlyingBear)keep smilin'[/b] :-waveAviation by Simulationhttp://www.geocities.com/pete_yep/

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Thank you for sharing your experience Russel. I too have thought about taking an introductory lesson in a helicopter to find out how close the sim is to real life. I'm a licensed fixed wing pilot and can compare the sim to RL fixed wing but have only a moderate idea how the RL helicopter would feel.

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Great story Russell. Reminds me a lot of my first time up in a Cessna. Especially the part about not noticing the scenery. I was so focused flying the plane that I didn't even realize I was flying in a plane. I promise you its something you will never forget, but I'm sure you already know that. Do you plan on getting your liscense? Good Luck!I was wondering, Are helicopters as affected by turbulence and wind sheer as GA aircraft?-------------Holding Short

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Great item Russell, and you lucky so-and-so, and I'll bet that grin stayed on your face for quite a while :-)I, like many others, gave up on the 'cake mixer' as being too difficult and illogical; your item might just tempt me up again.Thanks for sharing.

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