The following descriptions are my PERSONAL impressions of the main stages and activities involved when learning to fly helicopters. As the title suggests – this is all about flying. And you will fly a lot – after all you are here to learn to fly! The flight training exercises can be divided into four different types.
- Upper-Air Training
- Airfield Work
- Navigation Flights
All types of flight training are unique, but will often be combined in your lesson, depending on your personal progress and daily weather conditions (wind, visibility, cloud base etc.). In one day you can fly up to two flights with a duration of roughly an hour each.
The skills and experience built up during the training follow a tight but straightforward schedule. In each lesson you will progress further learning more and more exercises to the point where you are flying hands on by yourself at all stages of flight.
The instructor will work very closely with you. He starts immediately to recognize your ability to learn and he will be able to anticipate your development straight from the first flight.
You will never lose time on unnecessary repetitions of lessons or exercises. With every lesson, you eliminate mistakes and fine-tune your learned skills while progressing through the course.
During the course more and more elements of flying are introduced. You are constantly close to a brain overload. You must really concentrate but relax at the same time. Your brain will reach saturation point, pushing you to learn new skills and multi task effectively.
However, this never feels uncomfortable. Walking over to the helicopter, starting up the engine and hovering gets as usual as crossing the street. But I won’t tell you more and steal the suspense – just one remark: All steps are breath-taking, build unforgettable experiences and memories and fill you with deep euphoria.
2. Airfield work
“ Flying is magic – Hovering is divine ”
Hovering aspect of flying is one of the major differences between helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. You will learn to hover by yourself right from the beginning. Handling a helicopter is not a walk in the park during the initial first lessons. However, the learning curve is fast and steep. You might think it is totally unachievable at your first attempts. You will be extremely relieved, there is an experienced instructor next to you that immediately takes over control when you start losing it.
In the end, it’s all about pure aerodynamics, logical physics and relaxed maneuvering.
Again – you build up skills form the first flight and pick everything up much faster than you’d expect. You will get really addicted to airfield work in no time at all.
1. Upper Air Training
Straight from the first flight you will fly away from the airfield and learn your first turns, your first climbs, your first descends and even the introduction to your first autorotation.
From now on, you will experience your “first” whatevers almost every day and this continues throughout the whole training course.
You will not yet be able to properly hover and land the helicopter on the ground before you fly your first circuits and cruise around the airfield. After a few flights, climbing out of the aerodrome, circling around it and getting back down to ground level, you will start to get the hang of “a circuit”.
It’s really astonishing, how all stages of the course build up together. After some time you will really get familiar with this little bird.
All of a sudden the different parts of the puzzle will fit together. Before you have time to think about it, you will fly the majority of the flights yourself.
You will continue however to fine tune your skills before flying around the aerodrome all alone – your first solo – the milestone pilots remember for the rest of their life.
4. Navigation Flights
You will have had an exciting journey up to this point. Now navigation exercises are thrown into the puzzle. Putting all the parts together will probably overload your brain. Fear not, it’s all part of the training.
You’ll be given a route from point A to B to C before returning back home. You will draw the route on the chart and calculate all necessary information such as distance, bearing, track and time. All calculations are based on forecasted weather which can vary substantially from the actual weather conditions you will encounter. For all this, you will be fully prepared under the watchful eye of your instructor.
Afterwards you hover taxi to departure, take off and fly the planned exercise. Again, similar to the airfield work, with every flight a new element will be added. It may feel like an overload of information with every new mental task, but you will soon get used to it. Your instructor will guide you through your training step by step until you can juggle all of the tasks on your own.
Finally, when you get back to your home airfield, your mind is overloaded with overwhelming impressions – I really miss the accurate word to describe the unreal feeling – must be something like “wow-some”?
Groundschool is the theoretical lessons required during the course. This includes a “Briefing” and “Debriefing” of each flight.
Obviously this happens “before” and “after” every flight.
As with every flight exercise, there is always a pre-flight exercise explained to you.
Followed by a post flight discussion and evaluation after.
As mentioned previously, you will fly a lot. That said, you’ll have even more ground school which is crucial and very helpful. After only a few flights you will be very grateful to be provided such an intensive and personal “Briefing” and “Debriefing”. During the course, you will get curious about many aspects of flying and these briefings are a great opportunity to answer any questions you may have and ultimately help you improve.
The briefing makes every flight exercise much easier, more productive and relaxed. It also gives you a break from the books. It is not replacing the essential reading, but every bit explained to you by your instructor is directly saved in your mind.
Studying & Exams
Of course, you will have to study as well. There’s no getting around it, there are many pages to read.
All together you have 10 exams to pass – usually, you would group some similar topics, but that’s totally up to you.
– Air law
– Operations & Procedures
– Human Performance
– Flight Planning & Limitations
– Radiotelephony (written exam) & separate practical skill test
– Aircraft General Knowledge & Performance
– Principles of Flight
Do not make yourself crazy about the exams and all those books. It’s many, yes, but:
First of all, every topic has practical elements. There is also lots of this required information learnt as part of your briefings. But keep on continuously reading or you will lag behind. If you lag behind the reading, you will eventually have to stop flying to catch up.
For example, you start to control the helicopter right from the beginning, so you might read about aerodynamics which will help make sense of the practical challenges you face during your lesson. And of course, you will be confronted with the weather and experience different visibilities and winds – that is basically Meteorology. You will start to talk to the tower at some point, that is Radiotelephony etc.
As you start to finish the books you will begin to test yourself with some mock-up exams and you may get frustrated at your poor results, it’s exactly the perfect timing to sit down with your instructor and go over the questions. You can brush up on all the relevant aspects of any topic.