Everyone would do it.
Last spring, I took a man — we’ll call him Doug — on a scenic helicopter flight. He was interested in learning to fly and although I’m not a flight instructor and could not put the dual controls in for him, he seemed satisfied enough to fly around with me for an hour. During that time, I suppose we chatted a bit about flying and how the controls worked. I really can’t remember. I fly hundreds of people every year and most flights simply don’t stand out in my mind these days.
At the end of the flight, I passed along the business card for another helicopter pilot in the area, Ryan, who flies a Hiller and does mostly agricultural work. I figured that since Ryan’s card mentioned he was a certified flight instructor (CFI), he’d be able to give Doug some hands-on experience.
I didn’t hear anything from Doug or Ryan after that.
Until October. Doug emailed me to remind me that we’d flown together and that I’d given him Ryan’s card. He then went on to say:
I did fly for an hour with Ryan in his Hiller hb12c. I did not like it. I felt stressed the entire time trying to manage the copter. As such I have not flown again. So….my question to you is what would you recommend I do now?
I admit that I didn’t understand what he was getting at. I assumed he simply didn’t like the Hiller — which really wouldn’t surprise me. The Hiller is an older aircraft and lacks some of the pilot workload-reducing features that my Robinson has, such as hydraulic controls and an electronic governor. I’ve never flown one, but I have to assume that it’s a bit tougher to fly, especially if you have to manage the throttle to control rotor RPM all the time.
I advised him to sign up with a flight school and suggested he check Moses Lake or Seattle.
He replied with the following:
My real question is “do you think I should fly another helicopter other than the Hiller before I give up on flying a heilicopter?
And that’s when I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the Hiller that was giving him a problem. He’d gone into his first lesson thinking it was going to be easy to fly a helicopter. Then, when he discovered he couldn’t do it, he began wondering if it was the Hiller that was a problem.
I really can’t say. I have a friend who swears by Hillers. Robinson R22s are notoriously squirrelly, but that’s what most pilots learn on. If that was your first experience flying a helicopter you should not be surprised that you couldn’t do it. It usually takes 5 to 10 hours just to learn how to hover.
And that’s the truth. The hardest thing to learn is how to hover and it usually takes 5 to 10 hours to be able to do it. I learned to fly part-time with several days between each hour-long lesson and it took me 7 hours of total flight time to be able to hover. At the time, my flight instructor told me that a good percentage of student pilots give up before they get that far, assuming that they’d never be able to do it.
(If you’re reading this and feel that way, don’t give up! One day it will just “click” and you’ll be able to do it. Really.)
His response reminded me how a lot of people must think about flying helicopters:
Thank you! I just expected it to be a lot more fun I guess……?
It can be fun — once you know how to do it. But think about each of the fun things you’ve learned to do: drive, ride a motorcycle, ski, etc. Were they fun from the moment you began learning? I doubt it.
If it was easy, everyone would do it.