Dealing with questions about the R44 Raven I vs. Raven II and weight and balance, and instruction from a non-pilot.
The other day, I flew with a client who has been taking helicopter flight lessons for about a year. We’ll call him Don. I’m not a CFI, so I can’t train him. He’s flown with at least one CFI in R22s and R44s and, more recently, with an experienced ENG pilot now flying an R44 Raven I for other work.
Observations and Instructions
Don was the first of my two passengers to arrive for the flight. He climbed into the seat beside me as I was shutting down. For the first time, he really seemed to study the R44’s simple panel. He began pointing out the differences in what he saw: no carb heat control or gauge, mixture in a different place, Hobbs meter in a different place, etc. I attempted to explain that it wasn’t just the absence of carb heat that made the R44 Raven II different. The performance charts were also different. But not having the Raven I charts handy, I couldn’t really explain.
When the second passenger arrived, Don passenger insisted on putting him in the seat behind me — despite the fact that I always put the two men on the left side of the aircraft. They each weigh in at under 200 pounds, so balance is not an issue. But Don had learned that the larger fuel tank is on the left side of the aircraft, thus making that side naturally heavier. Someone had apparently “taught” him that it was better to put a second passenger behind the pilot to better balance the aircraft. For the record, it didn’t really matter to me — I’ve flown my helicopter in all kinds of balance situations. I admit that I was amused when he tried to justify his decision on takeoff by observing that it seemed more balanced when I lifted into a hover. I honestly didn’t notice a difference.
During the flight, Don made quite a few observations about the wind and weather conditions. None of them really affected the flight, although the wind did kick up and storm clouds moved in a little later on. (I had been monitoring the weather on radar while we were on the ground and they were in meetings.) But what kind of bugged me is when Don began telling me how to land in the off-airport landing zones that I’d landed in before. He explained that that’s how he’d done it when he was with the Raven I pilot he’d been flying with recently.
While I listened to his input, I did it my way, which, in some cases, was the same as he advised. After all, I am the pilot in command and I don’t blindly follow the instruction of non-pilots.
What his nearly constant string of advice told me, however, was that he trusted the other pilot’s judgement and guidance more than mine, despite the fact that I’d been doing charter flights for his company for two years and had obviously gained the trust of his boss, who happened to be the other man on board.
I held my tongue — after all, this was a client — but I admit that it really got under my skin after a while. Not only had he overridden my usual loading setup, but he was telling me how to fly. I ended the mission hours later with a bad taste in my mouth from the experience.
Setting Him Straight
Since I had already promised to send him my R44 weight and balance spreadsheet that would clearly show him how it was next to impossible to load an R44 out of CG laterally, I figured I’d address all of his concerns with one instructional email. The following is drawn from that email with names changed, of course, to protect my clients’ privacy. I think it might be helpful for student pilots trying to understand how what they’re learning applies in the real world — and why not all pilots do things the same way.
I just wanted to follow up on our discussion regarding R44 Raven I and R44 Raven II performance, as well as weight and balance.
I’ve attached the performance charts for IGE and OGE hover ceiling for both models of R44 helicopter. As you can see, performance for the Raven II is far superior to that of a Raven II, especially out of ground effect. Frank Robinson designed the Raven II for better performance in high density altitudes, and that’s why I paid the extra $40K to buy one. In Arizona, I routinely operated at elevations above 5,000 feet and temperatures over 90°F. I recall one particular flight when I was able to take off from Grand Canyon Airport, elevation 6609, on a 86°F day at max gross weight. Another time, I was able to depart with 3 adults and some luggage on board — at an estimated weight of 2300 pounds — from Bryce Canyon Airport on a day when the AWOS reported density altitude over 10,000 feet. Both of those flights would have been impossible in a Raven I.
Some of the kinds of flying I do for your company would be very difficult in a Raven I — particularly the confined space landings and departures with 2 or 3 passengers on board. As you know, a maximum performance takeoff makes a “ground run” impossible, putting the pilot on the left side of the power curve until clear of obstacles. On a day when carb ice is possible, additional power is robbed by carb heat in a Raven I. It would take a lot of pilot skill to avoid a low rotor horn (or worse) on a departure like that in a Raven I.
The Raven II also has an extra 100 pounds of payload. That’s what makes it possible for me to take you, Alex, and Walt together, since we often depart the airport at max gross weight for those flights.
So the difference between the two aircraft is considerable. While a Raven I is great for cherry drying, photo work (with one photographer on board), and other low-payload missions, I think the Raven II is more flexible and reliable for charter operations.
We also talked a little about weight and balance. I almost always put both of my passengers on the same side of the aircraft and I do so for a reason: so they both have the same view. I’ve witnessed the frustration of passengers on one side of the aircraft talking about something that they see that’s impossible for the person behind me to see. To avoid that frustration, I seat people together. This is especially helpful in hot loading situations where it’s impossible for me to keep an eye on both sides of the aircraft at once.
While it is true that the larger fuel tank is on the left side of the aircraft, making that side heavier, that additional 80 pounds of fuel weight does not make a significant difference when loading the aircraft. This can be confirmed with the W&B spreadsheet I created and use for my flights. You can play “what if” with it all day long and find that it’s extremely difficult to load an R44 out of CG laterally. I’ve attached the spreadsheet for your reference; I pre-entered the information for Wednesday’s flight with Walt sitting behind you. Putting him behind me simply shifted the weight to my side — in either case, the weight was about 1-inch off center. Now if you were both 230 pounds, things would have been different! Play with the spreadsheet and see for yourself.
I’m glad to see that you’re enthusiastically learning all you can about flying helicopters. It’s also great that you’ve had an opportunity to fly with so many pilots. You can learn from all of us, especially since we all have different backgrounds and experience. I hope you keep in mind the fact that I’ve put more than 1700 hours on my Raven II (and more than 1400 hours on other helicopters before it) and have a pretty good handle on how to load and operate it. I know how it will react in just about any circumstance. I hope you’ll continue to quiz me as you work toward your private pilot certificate. It’s my pleasure to help you learn!
What do you think? Did I get my point across without getting rude?
April 27, 2014 Update
Less than an hour after I sent the above email message to Don, I got an email back from him that was followed up by a phone call before I’d even read the email.
Don thanked me enthusiastically for sharing the information, including the spreadsheet. He told me that he’s flown with 6 different instructors in R22, R44 Raven I, and R44 Raven II helicopters over the past year. He’s so early into the training process that he hasn’t even practiced any autorotations yet. He confirmed from his own experience what he’s noticed about the power differences between R44 I and R44 II helicopters. He believes that working with so many instructors has been a good learning experience.
My point is, he took my message in the spirit in which it was intended: as a tool for learning. So I guess I did okay.