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on the first day of actual flight you give your ip a nickel

This morning at 0455 I was on a bus to the flight line. After some briefings, at 0800 I sat down in a helicopter–the first time I’ve done so in my life. Less than half an hour later, I was flying it without assistance from the instructor.

Actually, flying at cruise speed and altitude is significantly easier than near-ground hover operations, which was the other thing the instructors were supposed to give us all a taste of this morning. Unfortunately for us, the surface winds were gusting at 15-25 knots. Technically speaking, as the effective translational lift for our helicopters kicks in at around 20 knots or so, this meant that with each gust of wind came a wild surge upwards and away from the wind. At the peak of this surge, our rotors would come out of ground effect at almost the exact same moment that we picked up enough velocity from the gust to cancel out the ETL. Losing both sources of lift simultaneously sent us plummeting towards the ground, hauling on the collective. In practical terms, this meant that instead of practicing sedate hovers three feet off the ground at no more than a walking pace, we were instead fluttering about like dry leaves in a fall windstorm. This may have been because all of us are flight noobs, but the IPs were unanimous in insisting that it really was bad weather for a first flight.

Fun money facts! In my hour of flight today, I personally burned about $100 of jet fuel, incurred probably five times that between scheduled maintenance and the salary of the IP, and earned under $20. That’s fine; the real payment for any aviator is the flight itself.

An engineer from Bell emailed me back; apparently, the reason the Army didn’t give us any equations for flight planning was that Bell doesn’t generally provide any to the Army or any other end user. I can still hope for backchannel release of the equations–it seems likely to me that the equations themselves would be generally applicable to rotor-wing aviation, and that only the particular constants are specific to the model of helicopter–but it’s a much slimmer possibility than it was before. It looks like manual chart-reading will remain a major pastime in my future.

I feel more like Peter Pan than I ever have in my life: all it took was a whim, a happy thought, 20 months, and a little bit of effort, and I’m flying! Also, I spend my time surrounded by lost boys who had the same idea. Give it just a bit of time, and I’m sure I’ll be flitting around doing perpetual battle with Osama bin Hook.

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Comment by kadath
2008-01-30 18:49:50

If it’s a trade secret, I won’t be able to get anything, sorry.

Comment by coriolinus
2008-01-30 18:56:21

No problem. I do appreciate the offer.

Comment by ultimatepsi
2008-01-30 19:05:34


Comment by silversliver
2008-02-01 18:02:14

Sounds like an awesome day! Congratulations on making into (and out of) the cockpit. :)


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