By Jannie Matthysen
I've been wondering if anyone's actually been reading any of my previous articles. The published account of my Lake Kariba antics finally seemed to touch a few nerves. I received a number of responses - some positive, but others filled with scathing ridicule. The more encouraging spin on all this that I actually received a few legitimate questions from true enthusiasts and qualified pilots alike. This reminded me of the agony columns. The questions assembled here are real, although abbreviated. The names have been changed. The responses may be of questionable value. You decide.
Q: I am in the final stages of completing my PPL training. The flying has been fun, but the exams a total nightmare. What a relief to finally get through that painful experience! I am now preparing for the PPL skills test. My instructor assures me that I’m ready, but there are so many horror stories about these tests. I’m terrified. What do I need to do, and how should I prepare for the test? Thanks, Deon.
A: If your instructor is confident, there is usually nothing to worry about. I suggest that you meet with the instructor / DFE who will be conducting your skills test beforehand. He should be able to give you a concise summary of what the test will be about. The definitive guideline should be the CAA Helicopter Skills Test form (CAA 61-04.04). This form details the aspects that you will be tested on, as well as the expected accuracy and tolerances. Most of the items listed on the form are compulsory for an initial PPL skills test.
Students and instructors alike often forget that the first stage of this test is oral. This covers aspects such as Air Law, Human Performance, Aircraft Performance, Navigation, local procedures, et cetera, et cetera. It is also very important to be intimately familiar with the characteristics, limitations, systems, and performance capabilities of the specific helicopter that you'll be flying. If a PPL candidate cannot explain in detail the dangers of "low G" and the resulting mast bumping in a Robinson R22, for instance, he is obviously not adequately prepared for a skills test. Your performance in the oral test gives the DFE a very good idea of your level of competence long before you even get close to the helicopter. It is important that you are well prepared for this oral examination. Many candidates fail the test in this aspect because they are unsure of themselves, or simply not well prepared. This part of the test can take up to an hour.
The flight itself starts with the pre-flight procedure. This is where DFE's should be careful not to deviate from what the aircraft Operating Handbook prescribes. Many instructors and DFE's add their own little pearls of wisdom along the way, which often contradicts what the aircraft manufacturer has prescribed. My suggestion is to be very familiar with the pre-flight, start, and shutdown procedure. There should be no "gray areas" and the procedures according to the manual should be strictly adhered to.
The skills test should, in theory, cover all the aspects that you learnt during your PPL. This includes navigation. The CAA is also suggesting that flight into IMC conditions, and the resulting recovery should be covered in this test by way of simulation. I don't necessarily agree with this, and there are many opinions about this exercise. Many helicopters are not suitably equipped for this aspect, and according the test form itself, it is fortunately not a compulsory item.
The DFE is allowed to omit certain aspects at his discretion provided that it is properly motivated. Don't bank on that! In summary, your best option is to be very well prepared using this CAA form as a guideline. Make sure that you arrive early for the test to prepare the aircraft for the flight. Check the fuel and oil during a thorough pre-flight, and make sure that the aircraft is ready on time. You should also have a weight-and-balance calculation ready and be very familiar of the specific areas and airspaces where the flight will take place. Ignorance is no excuse. Good luck.
Q: I have just completed all my helicopter CPL exams and I'm now preparing to fly the final 25 hours of my CPL training. I have some decisions to make. Do I get a turbine rating on the Bell Jetranger, or should I do my instructor's rating instead? Any advice? Thanks, Phillip.
A: This is a difficult decision. The turbine rating is valuable only if there are opportunities for you to fly the Jetranger in the foreseeable future. The worst thing that could happen is that you spend a lot of time and money getting the rating, and then not fly the aircraft for a year or two. If you qualify as a CPL with a Robinson R44 type rating (as most CPL students do), for instance, it will put you in a position to do similar work and fly the same category (in terms of performance and handling) as the Bell 206. The more experience you have on the R44, the easier the Bell training will eventually be.
An instructor's rating, on the other hand, can be very useful in the short term. You first have to ask yourself the question of whether you are the right type of person to become an instructor. This has nothing to do with your level of experience, or lack thereof, nor is it about your abilities as pilot. It has everything to do with your temperament and people skills. There are already too many instructors who are motivated only by building hours, or stroking their fragile egos. The next consideration is where you'll end up working. In my opinion, you won't be learning anything as a freelance Grade III instructor. Your lack of experience makes you a potential danger while teaching students. As a Grade III instructor, you should be working under supervision for the first 200 hours, until you become a Grade II. This means that you should find a flight school where you can work in a supervised and protected environment. By "protected" I mean that you should be protected from making the mistakes that have been made many times before by other instructors. You should only be instructing exercises that you are very comfortable with and that you should be allowed to grow in experience at your own pace. Your colleagues and the Chief Flying Instructor should be mentors in your process of gaining experience and teaching other people the wonderful experience of rotor wing flight. Finally, as an instructor, you really begin to learn about flying.
Q: I notice in the Robinson R22 and R44 the warning "Low G pushovers prohibited". I can't seem to find any additional information. What is this all about? Stephen.
A: The warning that you saw refers to the Robinson Safety Notice SN-11, which was first issued in 1982. This notice should be in the back of any Robinson Pilot's Manual. It is a very dangerous condition of flight that all teetering rotor systems such as the Robinson and two-bladed Bell product ranges suffer from. This low G condition leads to mast bumping. Not enough emphasis is placed on this extremely hazardous occurrence, and I'll therefore try and simplify the aerodynamic sequence of events as much as possible.
When a two-bladed helicopter with a teetering rotor system is in straight and level flight, the helicopter's fuselage hangs from the rotor system in normal 1 G (gravitational force matched by an equal amount of lift) equilibrium. Any control inputs cause the rotor disc to tilt in the desired direction, and effectively pulls the fuselage along with it. Whenever the G-loading reduces due to excessive forward cyclic movement or even turbulence, the fuselage no longer hangs from the rotor disc. The helicopter fuselage effectively floats in a low G state, independent from the rotor disc. The lateral thrust generated by the tail rotor has until now not been very apparent, although it has been present all along. With the rotor disc no longer manipulating the fuselage, the tail rotor thrust causes the helicopter to roll to the right (assuming that the main rotors turn counter-clockwise). The pilot's natural reaction to this roll is to counter it with opposite (left) cyclic input. The rotor disc reacts by tilting to the left while the helicopter fuselage continues its tail rotor-induced roll to the right. Clearly, this conflict is not healthy, and the final effect is that the main rotor disc separates from the helicopter due to the main rotor mast severing. This is a nice way of saying that the helicopter instantly smashes itself into a thousand pieces.
The remedy to this situation is to avoid any low G condition of flight in the first place. If you should experience low G, the first control input should be aft cyclic, which will regain a positive G condition. The worst thing you could do is to try and counter the roll. The whole process described here could take as little as 3-5 seconds, and the roll to the right is often so subtle that most pilots would counter the roll without giving it any second thought. Beware!
Q: I'm a CPL (A) with over 1000 hours. I'm cautiously fascinated by helicopters. What can I expect if I start flying helicopters, and what are the skills that I need to acquire? Johnny.
A: Well Johnny, first of all, congratulations on exploring beyond the planks, or as you call them: aeroplanes. Nothing compares to the thrill of flying these eggbeaters that we call helicopters. The most important thing that you have to do is change your appearance. You have to let the world know that you're a helicopter pilot. The cool shades, the faded flight suit, the arrogant swagger... they all contribute to getting your message across. Learn to use slang on the radio. "Affirmative" becomes "A-firm". Clearances should be read back in shorthand: "Romeo India Whiskey is at One Five, finals next." We could just not be bothered with your protracted aeroplane jargon.
Once you have acquired the appropriate image and lingo, it becomes time to learn the rules about converting from planks to helicopters:
1. You should learn to stop before landing. This business about landing, then stopping does not work in helicopters.
2. There is no such thing as a rudder pedal. They are called "tail rotor pedals", "anti-torque pedals" or just "perrils" for short.
3. As a helicopter pilot, you do not know what ailerons are, nor do you care.
4. Learn to fly slow. Very slow. Much slower than your stalling speed. When you start squirming in the seat and expecting the craft to fall from the sky, slow down even more!
5. Learn to fly backwards, sideways, anyway you like except upside down.
6. Be fascinated at what you've been missing peering out of your cockpit. You can actually see outside for the first time!
7. Runways are for sissies. Real pilots land wherever they like.
8. No helicopter will ever have enough power or carry enough fuel.
9. Don't ever be concerned with IFR conditions again. Helicopter pilots only encounter marginal VFR conditions.
10. And finally, when someone asks "So what do you think you are? A chopper pilot?" you can answer "A-firm" without batting an eyelid.