Guimbal Cabir G2 at Midwest Helicopter Academy

So this is it.
After nearly a year of studying and a few less than stellar flights it’s time to take the checkride. We scheduled it at 8am.

Stepping back a bit though…

This entire thing started when I was a kid. My pop was a pilot, helicopter, fixed wing, jet, lighter than air so being around pilots, airports or things that flew wasn’t all that rare.

The weird part was that every time we took a flight or put up the balloon was that feeling of, this is completely badass and not everyone gets to do this, and that never went away. As a kid, my days were spent climbing whatever was around, a tree, the house, a building, later mountains and dirtbike rides up to 12,000ft plus the odd unmanned construction crane… getting that better view was all I was looking for.

For some reason RC planes and gliders were also fascinating. I spent way too much time building and rebuilding balsa would models. It never got old, even in college I had a few gliders around. I took a few breaks from it but even as recent as a few years ago I built a balsa wood model from scratch with my 3 year old, I tried to explain CG and what the airfoil was but he was more interested in breaking the spars and punching things. My interest never faded even with wife or college girlfriend giving me shit about it…

Last year a lucky run in with some very awesome folks, Chris, Jess and Grant turned into one of the cooler and more rewarding things in my life. I said it in a previous post but there are a few firsts that stick with you through your life. Soloing was one of those things for me… I wish I had better words that could capture the weight of the experience.

I would like to take a second and thank everyone at Midwest that has helped me along the way.

Midwest Helicopter AcademyGrant is my instructor. He’s cranky but a very talented instructor. He’s safe, understanding and was willing to go way way way far beyond what was expected. Dude showed up to my work more than a few times to help with the ground classes I missed.

Chris and Jess run the place. They are extremely honest and hard working people. I value their friendship and believe them to be very very genuine human beings that truly care about the quality of their product and the people around them. They do not stand for mediocrity. We run our businesses the same way which is maybe why I feel so lucky to have found them.

Everyone there was EXTREMELY helpful. Everyone made time for me, everyone answered questions, everyone was of solid midwestern values. I believe anyone of them would be an awesome instructor and I hope I get to fly with them more. I think I could call Maddie or Fretz or anyone at anytime and ask for help and without pause someone would lend me a hand…

I don’t want this post to go on forever so here is what happened the day before and the day of my ride.

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The day before Grant and I went up for a spin just to knock the rust off. It had been a few days since I was up with him last. It went poorly, it was a solid C+ effort, not the A+ I was hoping for. I was missing my spot on my autos and I was flying out of trim.

We got down on the ground and talked about the oral a little bit. I told him I felt fine and after a few questions he let me off the hook. He said I needed to work through a flight plan, which I actually looked forward to, I like getting out the sectionals and doing it by hand. He also said I needed to bang out a quick weight and balance which I did without too much trouble.

We booked the time with the DPE for 8am. I got a restless night sleep and left to meet Grant at 7am at KCPS. We went over my book one last time and he asked me a few questions. I felt alright but was nervous. I failed my written and did not want to repeat the experience with my Oral or my flight. Later that night we were celebrating a late Christmas with my wife’s family and telling everyone that I failed wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Before I knew it the DPE showed up and it was time. As soon as he walked in I wished I had studied harder.

For the next two hours we talked about what I could and could not do as a pilot. What the helicopter could and could not do as a machine. What we could do and where with that helicopter.

We talked about why certain airspaces are restricted, prohibited and what requirements they have for weather and equipment. There were so many answers that were right on the tip of my tongue but for some reason would not come out in an articulate and meaningful way. I sounded like an idiot more than a few times. It’s my job to sit in rooms and chat with CEOs and CIOs of billion dollar companies and figure out how we are going to write this patent or build this software but being asked about weather requirements at 10,100 feet over this complicated airspace and I froze. DAMMIT. I needed a couple breaks to grab some water and calm down. At one point the DP did as well. He had asked a complicated question and gave me the option to look it up. Grant was right out side so in a moment of weakness I asked him where to find it in the book, he looked at me, raised his right hand and gave me the finger. Grant’s honest to a fault.

We finally finish up and I thought he was just going to send me home and tell me to hit the books. Oddly enough I had gotten through that portion. AMAZING. If nothing else I’ll get to fly today…

We walked outside and preflighted Mike Hotel. I went through every nook and cranny of that helicopter. I took a LONG time doing it. Looking back I might have taken a bit too long but it’s a habit I’ve gotten into. While the rest of my life is lived by the mantra “safety 3rd”… when in and around aircraft I take a slightly different approach. Safety 1st.

We jumped in and I started the preflight inside. I also took my time here. For some reason I just go slow on this part probably to the annoyance of anyone in the cockpit with me but that’s life… I also listen to the ATIS three times. Which came to bite in the ass later.

The pattern wasn’t super busy which was awesome so once we popped up we departed north. We went over to spot to do a confined landing. I’ve been here before but the DPE wanted to land in a new spot. It looked tight for an entry and an exit for where I thought the wind was out of.  We talk about LTE and what I could have done better and then I pull 969MH into a max performance.  I keep it right at 99% on the way out.

I shake it off and we head to join the base of 30R. He pops off the governor and we come in for a fairly shallow landing. I’m doing my best to keep the RPMs right in the green and did ok. Solid B effort. We do a lap and come in for a stuck pedal which I’m not super comfortable with yet but it went alright. We did a run on with that stuck pedal and I don’t know if he was on controls or not but it looked pretty damn awesome from my seat, I give myself an A on that one.

After the run ons we did some Settling With Powers which took forever for us to get into but I was able to fly out of without any effort. I let one go on for a while because I thought he wanted us to be in a little more of a obvious state of Settling With Power but turns out he just wanted me to get in and out. Whoops. I should have communicated that I was going to hang out in the decent for a LONG time. I noted that and started talking a lot more about what I was doing and thinking.

We moved on to autos and while I feel good doing those he had slightly different technique than Grant does. To be completely honest mine might be slightly behind the aircraft, I don’t preemptively move the collective expecting the rotors to do something because I’m a little worried that the ONE TIME physics will fail me and I’ll drop the RPMs too low. It’ not a reasonable concern but still… The DPE tended to roll on slightly earlier than I do with Grant and he really wanted to see the RPMs stay right in the green the entire time, never ever let it touch the yellow. It’s a little tough to perfect that but he let me know we should not fly that helicopter out of it’s limits at anytime. I agreed and selfishly wanted to sit and do autos all day with that dude. Not that Grant isn’t a great instructor, he is a GREAT instructor (he’s probably reading this so I have to say that(kidding)), but the DPE must have had thousands and thousands of hours in rotor craft, he just had a different way of doing things and has likely shot an auto for real.

After the straight in and 180 autos we went to do a slope and hover auto. The slop was fine, a solid B but that hover auto… friends, if you could have seen that hover auto. It was probably, in the history of rotorcraft flight, the most perfect in both function and form. I’ll set the scene as it was more dramatic than that scene in Apocalypse Now when they come in with that song Ride of the Valkyries and bombs exploding everywhere….

The wind was mightily blowing 29007KT with mechanical turbulence all around. The sky was an ominous clear and blue. It was frighteningly quite, not another helicopter, fixed wing or jet around. The control tower was eerily quiet as well. We had just discussed dynamic roll overs and the DPE said, well head on over to the numbers on 23 and we’ll do a hover auto. I moved over with all the precision of a 60-something hour pilot and he said go ahead. Time slowed down, seconds seemed like minutes. I rolled off throttle, threw in my pedal input, pulled collective all at the absolute perfect time. We gently drifted down to the earth like a leaf with a parachute landing on pillow. We did not yaw even 1 degree. The DPE was clapping and trying to shake my hand as I threw down the collective … I can imagine Grant was sitting in his office being angry about something while a slow smile creeps across his face and a feeling of well being over came him.

OK. So NONE of that hover auto stuff really happened except the awesome execution on my part. If I did one thing right it was that auto. Truly was a thing of beauty and I will pat myself on the back for that one thing.

He asks me to put it back on the ramp and that’s it.

I grab the checklist and power the helicopter down. We don’t say a word. I know I failed it but hey, that hover auto… I get the blades stopped and we’re hop out.

He says, well, “you met the standard”. I want to hug the dude. I want to thank him for his time. I want to ask him to go grab lunch and a beer and tell me all the stuff I did wrong or right or whatever. I’m beyond happy. It was amazing. I don’t know how long we stood out there talking but it seemed like a while. I had so many questions but didn’t want to take away from his day. I do remember asking him one thing. I paraphrasing but I asked him if I was a good pilot. I told him I have a family, I have kids, I have 15 people at work that I’m responsible for… If I’m not a good pilot or there is no skill level there I don’t want to do this. He mentioned that was not the case, I am a pilot as of today and there are many things to work on but I have met a standard. We chatted for a while and walked inside to do the paperwork. We had a quick conversation about a few things that I reserve the right not to talk about on this blog but he had a really really great perspective on life and work in general.  He gave me advice on how to think like a pilot once I crossed the yellow line.

That was it. It was an amazing day.
Next up. Instrument.

Guimbal Cabri G2 at KCPS