Helicopter - Introduction

Here’s the plan, such as it was.

I was going to drive to my new helicopter school at the airport, pay my subscription fee, be shown around the place, get my piloting instruction book, and then drive back home to study the art of defying gravity in a big inverted Mixmaster.

The first thing that went wrong is that it's colder here than I expected, I’m not dressed properly and the wind isn't helping at all. My city slicker leather jacket was fine for urban roving, but not for tooling around at the end of a runway in the middle of a Canadian winter. Freezing my tail off was definitely not according to plan. Things would get worse in a few minutes.

I paid my subscription fees and was ready to be on my way back home when I was informed that I was to start right off on practical flight training.

Right. Now.

The school's head honcho comes down and introduces me to my instructor. I can tell he's assessing me. He invites me to follow him into his office and he walks straight up to the blackboard with a chalk pen and a plastic demonstration helicopter and he points me to a chair.

Even before I sit down, he literally takes off on flight theory. He's passionate and he knows his shit. As the board get fuller and fuller and I look at the visual aid helicopter he's swinging around, lifting, turning, tipping forward and backward all over the place. I'm beginning to wonder : is this what the real thing's going to be like, or is it just an exxageration for demonstration purposes? So I asked him. His smile told me he was expecting the question. He answered by a question of his own.

- "Do you play video games?"

I smiled back. Yes, I do.

- "It's going to be easy then." he said over his shoulder as he left.

Now the short introduction was over. We went right out to the helicopter pad and, teeth chattering, I strapped myself into the chopper’s co-pilot seat, more or less ready to learn the basics of piloting. I was beginning to have doubts about the whole shooting match. I was to learn how to use the cyclic, commonly called a joystick, and If I was good enough, we'd move on immediately to the anti-torque pedals.

So how does the cyclic react? is it sensitive or is it stiff? How does the wind affects the controls? How does one compensate for that?

I can tell you this : you can really feel absolutely everything that's happening, every change in attitude, every touch of the controls, every gust of wind. Every mistake.