Now that I have my pilots license and an earth shattering 70-something hours I asked Grant if we could head up in a 22 so I could check out the difference. I flew a R22 when I basically had no time so it was a little lost on me. Today I got a little more out of it. I’ll keep score and tally it up at the end of the post.

Midwest Helicopter R22 and G2


I showed up at the airport and we preflighted the helicopter. The R22 is the type of helicopter that only a mother can love. I’m not saying it’s ugly but its not the prettiest thing to look at. The G2 has some nice lines and the fenestron is pretty easy on the eyes. Plus there is storage. Why would a trainer need storage? Good question, I have no idea, but a few months back we ferried a G2 3+ hours and stayed the night.  It was nice to bring a few things with us.  But, Dan, the R22 has under the seat storage.  Right, it does, but it’s tiny and probably smells like gerbils.

We also shot some video with a drone a while back, throwing a couple cameras and a mid-size drone in the luggage compartment was easy. Doing that with the R22 would have meant having a crew drive out to meet us and where we went… no roads. 1 point for the looks of the G2 and .5 of a point for the luggage compartment.

Also… 3 blade rotor? Come on it just looks cooler but that’s subjective so no points. (also inertia)

Guimbal Cabri Luggage


The inside of the R22 was a little… dated.  Don’t get me wrong everything worked and served it’s purpose.  The instrument cluster, the seats, the seat belts, the cyclic and collective – they all did exactly what they were supposed to.  Everything worked as expected but there was a little left to be desired.  I ran through the checklist and the R22 fired up like a champ. I can’t be sure or not but the R22 might be a faster startup then the G2, who knows.  Also, I got the feeling that there has been hundreds of thousands of hours on this airframe so everything that was in that helicopter had been through the paces.  It was old – but sometimes old is good.  I can’t award any points to it for being old though.  Grant did mention R22s have a special place in his heart and I can understand why, dude has like 800 hours in it.

Anyway, as much as I like old.  The new hotness has it beat.  I don’t think I need to do much explaining with the image below. 1 point to the G2.  I mean come on. Look at that glass.  Also the cyclic and collective just felt a little more like what I thought a helicopters controls would so…

Instrument Guimbal Cabri G2


So again, grain of salt here because no one should take the word of a pilot with 70-something hours.  I see the world through one type of lens.  I only know what I know which in the helicopter world, ain’t much.

But here are a few thoughts on flying the two…

Picking up the 22 today was a little tough.  Not because it’s a hard helicopter to fly, it just felt really really touchy, almost skittish compared to the G2.  Once I picked it up pedal inputs required a light touch.  A really light touch.  The cyclic was loose and oddly sensitive, how can something that is that loose be so sensitive.  I chased the helicopter a lot because of that… not good.  picture-7Grant flew it over to 12L then let me back on controls.  I spent some time hovering (poorly) but got it after a minute or two.  I actually liked the super sensitive pedals after a bit.  +.5 for the R22.  The cyclic was brutal and weird and wrong.  +1 for the Guimbal. I can’t describe why that cyclic is so wrong other than it feels like a limp wristed handshake with someone that you don’t want to be shaking hands with.  Flying the G2 feels like holding a Colt 1911 which is the best handgun in the world and that is not up for debate.

He gave me the nod to take off and we ran down the runaway.  The stages of takeoff were WAY more pronounced in the 22.  I could feel transverse flow and ETL in way more detail than I can in the G2.  Not sure how to quite capture that correctly but you can, just, feel the helicopter more.  +.5 for the 22.

After take off though… the G2 has the 22 beat by a long shot.  The G2 is easy to trim out and VERY easy to hold in a level flight in whatever crosswind. +.5 for the Guimbal.

Autos also seem easier in the G2.  I don’t think I can honestly declare a winner here since I’m so low time, so I won’t, but… inertia.  It counts for something and the G2 has more.  Again, I can’t declare a winner because I’ve watched Grant shoot an auto into a 4 foot area in a 22 that he called from 1000 feet higher with variable winds but yeah.  The G2 wins in my opinion.

Hover autos are also much much easier in the G2.  You have 2 or 3 seconds to do your thing.  In the R22 you have no time.  You simply go through the motions and before you know it you’re on the ground with a thud.  +1 to the Guimbal.


The G2 wins with no disclaimer… In my very limited view of the world I’m a firm believer that the G2 is a far better trainer … for me.

There is a part of me that wants to believe if you can fly a 22 you can learn to fly just about anything because it is a difficult aircraft to fly.  Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not…

After the flight I was talking with Grant, he mentioned I had good control of the aircraft and could transition over to a 22 and have it down in a few hours -but- the G2 seems to be a modern & safe aircraft and that is precisely what I was looking for when I started.

I wanted to learn in something that was safe, built specifically as a trainer, and something that would provide a solid foundation for me in the future. I want to fly ECs at some point in the future and this seems to be the right path to get there.


Finally… and this really shouldn’t influence your decision making but… See this picture below?  I’m not small.  I’m about 6’4 and weigh 210 pounds.  Grant isn’t a small guy either, well, maybe on the inside, not sure that dude has feelings.  Anyway, see how unhappy we both are, that’s because we’re crammed in that little helicopter rubbing shoulders for an hour – not cool.  That thing wasn’t build for me.  The Guimbal is like a Lincoln Continental compared the 22.


A break in the weather and the work schedule allowed me to grab a quick flight with Grant today.  The wind was at 15knts and the clouds were broken.  This is only my second instrument flight but turns out I’d actually improved.  Honestly it might have been the sim time I had the week prior.  The sim allowed me to screw stuff up without worrying about wasting time up in the air.  For a while I thought sim time wasn’t as valuable but now I’m actually thinking about buying something I can run on my computer just so I can get the VOR stuff down.  Anyway, on to the flight.

We picked up into the wind and headed north to the same smaller airport we had gone to last time.  We dialed in the airport and off we went.  I am trying to work on my scan which is tough.  If you take your eye off of anything at all it changes immediately.  I still don’t have my scan down yet but I think that’ll come as soon as I spend more time in the aircraft.  The wind had picked up a little at altitude and keeping us lined up was difficult to say the least.  I’m positive if you were to look at our GPS track it would have looked like I was trying to weave in and out of cones.  Altitude I was able to keep fairly level but I’d drop collective unknowingly and at least twice Grant had to tell me to pull some pitch.  After the second time I made a mental not to scan the RPM and how much power I was pulling every 5 seconds.  Midway through the flight I had a rhythm down.  Grant mentioned a few times that I was doing great but I couldn’t really tell if he was BS’ing me or if I had really improved from the first flight.  I have a hunch he was being forthright because he asked me to look up and we were pretty much where we had intended, headed right in to the center of the runway on 14L.  We made our departure and ran a couple more approaches.  Each one was pretty solid.

I felt good about the progress and we decided to head home.  On the way he asked that I close my eyes and take my hands and feet off the controls.  I wasn’t feeling awesome already and I had a hunch Grant was going to try to make me feel less awesome.  He said we were going to get into some unusual attitudes and then I’d try to recover quickly.  I shut my eyes and he banked left, right, up, down… roller coaster stuff.  He asked me to open my eyes and recover just by the instruments.  We did it 3 times and I think I pissed him off that I did it so easily.  Take that Grant.  The next thing he did was to ask me to get into a standard turn right bank and then close my eyes and tell him what I felt the aircraft was doing.  I watched it on video and after about 3 seconds I had started into a left bank and continued to point the nose into the dirt.  He let it go on for a little bit then asked me to open my eyes.   Whoops.  Not good.  I threw in some aft cyclic and wondered who decided flying around in clouds was ok.

That was it for the lesson.

Big lessons learned?

Little tiny corrections.

Things happen really really fast.

Learn how to scan the instruments in a efficient manner.

Weather here in the midwest has been particularly annoying. Windy, rainy, low ceilings. No one has been flying. So instead I got a few ground schools in and some sim time.

Midwest helicopter Instrument rating

Unfortunately I haven’t had a ton of free time but I am reading and re-reading this work of literary genius:

I’ve been sitting on a lot of planes lately – trying to read and pay attention to what we’re doing in the air.  It’s pretty cool to track the plane on foreflight.  Amazingly enough we track on victor airways and turn on VORs.  Crazy how that happens.

So on to the lesson.  The weather was garbage so instead of ground we decided to get some sim time.  The simulator at midwest is pretty cool.  It’s 3 huge screens and has a full instrument cluster / controls.

Grant threw the conditions into IFR and have me the brief rundown of what to do.  At first he left out any crosswind which was nice. All I had to do was point the nose of the aircraft into a specific radial and try to keep from porpoising / serpentine-ing (I don’t think that’s a word but it sounds better than swerving).  Anyway, I just tried to keep the aircraft pointed where I wanted, at the speed I wanted and at the altitude I wanted.  I didn’t do well but managed to find the airport.  He set up the same approach with a hefty crosswind and, well, I’ve done better.  It’s tough to fly in-trim and get to where you need to when every control input you make seems to amplify 1000 times throughout the helicopter.  Lordy.  It’s not simple.

He’d also give me vectors to follow as the tower would which was tough because he’d rattle off 3 or 4 commands while I was just trying to scan the instruments and remember where I was trying to go.  In short.  There is a lot going on and one mistake little mistake can turn into 20 pretty quick.

After an hour and 10 minutes I was done.

The big take away?

Get into a nice scanning pattern.  Spend 2 seconds on each instrument and move on.

At first I neglected or ignored the GPS.  Don’t do that.

Little corrections, tiny corrections, itsy-bitsy corrections.

Midwest Helicopter Simulator

2.4 hours as an instrument student…

Back in the saddle.

After copious amounts of celebrating and patting myself on the back I decided to call Grant for the instrument intro. He told me to bring something to puke into. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding. Turns out he was only kind of kidding.


We talked a little bit about what it’d be like and what the goal was. I have looked at plates before but this is a whole new world. We printed out some approach plates (are they called plates?) and he described the document. I caught / understood 10% of what he was saying. Damn. This will be difficult. We watched some youtubes, he drew some terrible sketches of teardrop patterns, and told me what books to by. We talked about using VORs and what kind of patterns we might be making, etc.. It was a ton of info and I need to do my best to study everyday. Lots to absorb on this one. WAY different than the PPL. Damn again.

After not understanding 90% of what he was saying we decided to go fly the helicopter.

We called our departure and took off to the north. I put on the bonnet of shame and he gave me fairly simple instructions. “Keep this line here and this mark there.” He also said if we keep X amount of power with the atmospheric conditions of the day we should end up here after X time. I was having trouble just maintaining level flight and doing standard turns. At one point I think I might have pointed the nose directly and the ground because I glanced at the rate of decent and, well, it wasn’t good.  Also why are we doing 100 knots all of a sudden.  Whoops. I tried to develop a pattern of looking over the instruments as he suggested but that was tough to say the least.  SO MUCH HAPPENING SO FAST.  I thought about the first person that decided flying in IFR conditions was a good idea and why you might ever consider that.  Sort of like the guy that decided to eat an oyster or a lobster the first time.

We successfully navigated to the VOR and decided to try to point the helicopter at the airport.  As luck would have it we found it and ran a lap, I was surprised when Grant told me to look up…  Holy dammit. We’re at an airport.  I wonder if it’s the right one.  I asked Grant and he confirmed we were most likely at the right one.

We decided to head home and mercifully he handled the radio.  He asked that I listen as they vectored* us in.  I caught most of it and stayed the course / altitude / airspeed.  We got 3 calls from the tower, I think… Again, massive amount of effort just to keep the helicopter, in trim, on target, at altitude and at the airspeed.  He told me to look up and, again, huge surprise we were at KCPS.  I have a new found respect for pilots that fly IFR without incident.

We landed and I felt like a complete newb again.  Also slightly nauseous.

Key learnings:

Grant likes to point at instruments.
Spacial distortion is very very very real. (my body was telling me I was turning left when in reality I was turning right and down)
This is going to be difficult.
The bonnet of shame makes you look stupid.


NEW WORD: “vectored”
Aircraft vectoring
is a navigation service provided to aircraft by air traffic control. The controller decides on a particular airfield traffic pattern for the aircraft to fly, composed of specific legs or vectors.

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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.


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

This all took place from mid December to a few days ago.

Grant suggested I do a pre-checkride with Maddie, one of the other instructors.

It was rainy and cold and pretty average flying from me.  I started the flight with her with around 59.4 hours and ended it with about 1.2.  I preflighted and we departed to the north.  We went to a confined spot and I rushed into the landing a bit but she assured me it was passable.  Mental note: SLOW DOWN.

Guimbal Cabri Slope landing

The slope she had me do was a little mechanical.  There was moss on our spot and I thought we might slide so I came in very gingerly and gently.  I was worried about dynamic roll-over but I don’t usually twist on my slopes or my set downs but that stupid moss made me tense up a bit.  Not terrible but not an A+.

We rejoined the pattern and did some run ons, some autos and some hover autos.

They were all ok in my book but not great.  I think Maddie was making me nervous, she’s known to be a great pilot but she has this quiet way about her that makes her seem like she’s judging you harshly which is exactly what she’s paid to do.  She offers good advice but every time I fly with her I have a hunch she just wants to grab the controls and say, “watch this dummy.”  I outweigh her by double but I think I might be frightened of her?  She can certainly fly circles around me…

Anyway, we ended the flight with a few more autos and called it.  I demanded she give me a letter grade and she thought it was a B-.  I thought she was being kind and gave myself a C.


Guimbal Cabri G2 Confined LandingThe next 3 flights with Grant are all preparation for my checkride.  We’re thinking it might be around 12/20/16.

The flights with Grant aren’t anything new.  It’s autos and it’s run ons and it’s confined landings.  I polish and Grant picks at what he can.

I feel ready.

I’m at 64.8 hours.

My ground is good.

I’m ready?


In middle November I asked Grant if we could head up and drill on some 180s.  He agreed and we did so for an 1.2 hours.

It wasn’t the most exciting footage so we’ll just say it went as expected.  I was tightening up and smoothing my autos and all went well.  We did happen to shoot the footage in a new and exciting way but we’re debating showing that.  Working though that… and if we decide to publish it I’ll make a note of it and embed it on this post.  I hope we get to show it because it really is a new and novel way of showing more precise input controls.

Anyway, I left that flight with 56.4 hours.


The next flight was a long cross country.  I wanted to plan another long XC, do the weight and balance, check the weather and set off my own again.  It was important for a few reasons.  I spent the evening with the charts then foreflight.  I got up the next morning, checked the weather again, reviewed my sectionals, checked the weather and drove to the airport.  It was a perfect day.  The wind was light and variable and you could see for a million miles.  There are a ton of reasons I wanted to go on the flight, some are personal some are not but in the end I got to spend about 3 hours flying a helicopter solo over southern Missouri.  I set down at KFES and looked around counting my blessings, picked up and went to KFAM, did the same and then lifted off again.

All of my calls were solid, my approaches were where I wanted them to be and my landings were smooth.  This concluded my solo cross country portion of requirements and while I was sad to see that part be over it was a very fitting ending.  I headed back flying a little slower than I could have.  I did about 60 knots just enjoying the day and the time and feeling completely blessed.  I’ve been hitting the books super hard and work hasn’t been easy but this day was amazing.

It was 5ish when I got back to KCPS and they cleared me straight in to hanger 12.  I landed and wondered if that’ll be the last time I solo in a helicopter.  I pulled the helicopter into the stable and called it a day.

Three hours in the books and I’m at 59.4.

Guimbal KFES


Guimbal KFAM


Guimbal Over River


IMG_8941So I happened to be out in Seattle, WA and Portland OR for bidness and decided I would check in on some friends of Midwest.  It’s a company called Precision Helicopters. They have a bunch of Guimbals, A-stars and a few other odds and ends.

I got in touch with them a week before I went out and had a loose plan.

I finished up with my meetings and started heading south.  The drive from Portland to Newberg was pretty sweet.  Nice country out there.. it’s all wine and logging.

I met Nigel and we went through a quick ground and risk assessment.  All looked good so we grabbed a G2 and walked around it for the preflight.  We hopped in and fired it up.  We were around 3000 MSL and had around 18 gallons of fuel on board.  The idea was we’d very slowly and carefully introduce me to mountain flying.

We made our calls and we were off.  We flew past a few vineyards and within 5 minutes we were in the foothills.  Nigel demonstrated a bunch of pinnacles and a running takeoff.  I followed on controls for most of it then we started in on a few pinnacles.  AMAZING.  Everything is different.  You come in sort of like a steep but your spot is an imaginary place above the ground by 10 feet.  You plan for your ditch so far in advance and at a moment in time there is a go / no-go point.  If it feels right you continue down to that spot that is 10 feet above where you are really going to put your skids down.  We drilled on that for 15 or 20 minutes then Nigel demo’d another running takeoff.

Every landing was a slope and every takeoff was close to a max performance. So so so cool.  I learned so much in just 1.5 hours.

We headed back and we did some autos that were… possibly the coolest display of control I’d ever seen.  I hadn’t seen an auto done with such surgical precision.  (When I left I actually went out and bought the dude a bottle of bourbon and drive back to the airport because I was that impressed.)

I met David the owner, thanked him for the time and left with a huge smile on my face.  I didn’t get to shoot any video but it was eye opening to put it VERY MILDLY and I promised myself I’d head back out.  Hopefully this spring I can find a window to head out when the air is nice and cool.

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I started these two flights with 52 hours and ended it with 55.2.

Grant let me know it was about time we knocked out the 3 hours we need at night.  Living in the midwest the sun sets around 9PM in the summer so we waited until the fall to grab the hours.  It was a perfect night for it.  The wind was calm and it was clear.

I got there pretty early for no particular reason but I’m glad I did.  I watched the sun set for an hour and took my time preflighting the Mike Hotel.

Guimbal Cabri G2 Night

We decided to head up north to an airport that wouldn’t be busy to do a little work.  This is the first time I got to key the radio and see the lights flip on which is amazing on it’s own.

We then turned west to a more rural part of Missouri.  There was no moon that night so we were floating above inky nothing.  Pretty cool feeling.  We were heading to an airport that I haven’t been to before and should have been pretty quiet but there was another helo there doing some auto work at night.  He was an EMS guy that cleared out while we did our work, thank you anonymous helicopter pilot that let me be super cautious and slow.  I couldn’t imagine doing autos at night but I guess he had night vision?  Who knows.  After we did some work there we flew into KSUS.  There is an amazing steakhouse near the airport so I asked Grant if we could take a little break and grab some dinner.  We did and it was one of the better, more memorable meals of the last few months.  We had flown to an airport, borrowed a car and then had an amazing steak while we watched others drink wine. The water was refreshing though. We talked about some of the stuff I’d need to start for my oral and checkride and a few things I needed to improve upon.

Guimbal Cabri G2 at night KSUS

We headed back to the airport and gave the once over to the helicopter.  We jumped in, preflighted and took off.  We flew over St. Louis at night on the way to KCPS and I was blown away by the view.  I wish I could have more time to enjoy the view but had my hands full flying the helicopter.  It was an eye opener though.

We did the same thing a few nights later and it was just as amazing.

Guimbal Cabri G2 Grant Midwest

I’m combining a few flights because we literally just worked on autos and run ons.  While it was very interesting to me, it likely won’t be interesting to you.

I’m starting this group of flights with 46.8 hours and leaving it with 52.  For those 5.2 hours of hours Grant and I solely worked on autos.  Straight-ins, 180s and hover autos.

We broke up the time a little bit with a confined or two but really we spent much of our just getting autos nailed down in different types of wind conditions.  For some time 180 autos gave me a bit of trouble.  I would try to do everything at the same time.  The spot would pass over my shoulder, I’d drop collective and throw in some aft cyclic and left pedal as I turned, as soon as I was nearly done with the turn I would roll off the throttle, pull collective to fight the high rotors because of our tight turn – it would get as messy as that run on sentence…

After watching me struggle with a few Grant suggested I do one thing at a time.

Drop collective.
Left pedal.
Aft cyclic.
Set airspeed.
Roll off.
Set airspeed.
Pull collective.
Put collective down.
Roll on.
Sync needles.
Pull collective.
Put collective down.
Land like a boss.

It’s as easy as that… wait… that sounds terrible.

It’s not really that bad as all that but it does take some practice.

The trouble is practice is sometimes few and far in between.  Imagine being a toddler that only gets to try to walk 3 times a month, that toddler might take a while to learn.  I am a toddler. In a helicopter.

The good news is everything really started clicking and I felt more and more comfortable.  I guess the one take away is that at 20 or 30 hours a new helicopter pilot can go through the motions of an auto but at 50 hours you might also have a better understanding as to how to tweak a tiny control input to get the desired effect.  You’ll also have a better understanding of what outside forces are acting on your aircraft and what they are doing to your auto.  The first time I did a 180 in winds greater than 10 knots I ended up in a much different spot than I thought I would.  Understanding what DA will do to your aircraft on a hot day will also change how you manage your aircraft.

It all takes time and understanding.  I wonder where I’ll be at 100 or 200 hours.


I flew yesterday so today should have been awesome but it was not. I seemed to have forgotten how to do anything but sit in the helicopter. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a bad night sleep or maybe I’m thinking about work to much but I’m starting with 45.7 and for the next 1.1 hours nothing really good happens.

Well, one good thing happens… I flew one of the new G2s with Aspen glass in it. It’s right under the EPM, you can make it out but I’ll get close shots of it next time I’m in that helicopter.  Basically the Aspen has everything you need all in one tiny little package.  Since I don’t want to talk about regression and how crappy my flight was I’ll mention what the Aspen has in it:

• Airspeed, attitude, altitude, turn rate, slip/skid, magnetic direction and vertical speed
• Horizontal situation indicator (HSI)
• DG and HSI pilot configurable for either 360 degree or 100 degree arc views
• HSI version provides full interface with navigation receivers



To be honest the flight wasn’t that terrible but I was making rookie mistakes and watching the video is painful so I’ll spare you the pain of watching it as well.  Grant and a few other pilots I spoke to said a little regression here and there is normal just make sure you turn it into a learning experience.  Here’s the learning experience. Don’t fly like a newb and when you’re having a bad day just shake it off…

1.1 hours go in the books that I wish I could (mostly) forget.

It’s been 2 weeks but I finally found some time to head up. I’m at 44.6 hours and the weather is perfect.

Between storms and work there hasn’t been much time but I Grand had a window for a quick flight. I’m rusty and want to work on autos and settling with power again.

To kick it into settling power we do a few laps to make sure we have a nice place to ditch if it comes to that then we climb to around 2000 feet.

We slow the heli to about 0 IAS then drop at a rate greater than 300 feet per minute. It’s an uneasy feeling and I don’t like it, the controls are mush and when you pull power, nothing happens. Ugh. Not awesome.

When we’re in it and Grant has proved his point we nose foward, lower collective, gain some speed and fly out of it.

For the rest of the flight we worked on autos. Nothing new there, just shaking off the rust. We called it after 1.1 hours which puts me at 45.7.

I passed the damn written on the second try.  For the past 3 weeks I traveled relentlessly for work and while sitting in every airport, I studied.  At home after the kids were down for the night, I studied.  Weekends, I studied.  I bugged Grant for help with VOR + weight and balance advice then, I studied.  I also watched every terrible youtube out there.  I was averaging 85% on my practice tests and decided it was time I gave it a shot again.  Work is going super busy in about a week so might as well…

I took about 45 minutes to get through the exam then went though it again to make sure.  I knew I passed it but I also knew I missed some…  The questions I missed were not easy ones and there were answers that could be considered “more” correct than others.  Anyway, it’s over and I passed and I got a decent enough grade.  I know I need to keep studying for my oral and practical but that seems like a million miles away.

Here’s the thing, getting your helicopter PPL is 70% ground and studying.  Flying is only about 30%.  Obviously flying is the fun part but you can’t really have one without the other.  I’m glad for all the studying lately.  Makes me feel like I’m becoming less of an idiot up there.  Things are slowly starting to click.

On to the flight.



It’s been almost a month since I’ve flown a helicopter.  I’m at 43.5 hours and like I mentioned work has been getting the better part of me lately.  I’ll be rusty.  Poor Grant.

Weather is good and I’m looking forward to an hour in the air.  I pull out the Mike Hotel and run through the pre-flight.  I fire it up and we’re off.

Today we’re going to work on run-ons and autos.

My autos are still a little chunky and my run-ons feel pretty mechanical. Not a lot of smooth flying going on but I’m grateful for the time up in the after cracking the books for a few weeks.

As stated in other posts, a good (practice) auto starts when 15 seconds before you dump the collective.  Get setup, set that airspeed, make sure you’re in trim, make sure you know where the winds are coming from, make sure you’re at the right altitude, be aware of what’s happening at the tower and with the other aircraft around you… Generally on the last few seconds of my downwind I check the outside of the helicopter, usually the towered has cleared me for the option so I look at my spot, look outside the helicopter then I look inside.  Check that all the lights are off, gauges are in the green and we have good fuel.  Then we’ll turn base and I can set my speed and altitude.  Then I turn final and if I haven’t screwed it all up, we’ll enter depending on where Grant tells me to land it and the wind.  If the wind is gusty or variable we might do a little S-turn to put it where we need to.  Again, they are chunky but coming along.

Run-ons are a little different.  We run a normal pattern, but on base to final we’re loosing a little bit of altitude.  We make a shallow approach and as we get closer and closer to where we’re going to put the skids we’re trying to keep the helicopter on the good side of ETL.  ETL is Effective Translational Lift, basically what that means is we have nice clean air coming through the rotor which give us some good lift.  Why would we need to do this?  We’ll maybe the DA changed from the airport we took off from or we’ve got a rough running engine or we’re heavy, either way we can’t sustain a hover so we need to run on.

It feels a little wrong to be coming in at 20-30 knots knowing you’ve got metal skids under you and you’re going to grind the crap out of them but… you deal with it.  I tend to come in a little ass low.  I’m not sure why but it’s common as I watch other students.  Level is just a bit further forward then I think.  You also have way more pedal power than you think you do so keeping on the pedals keeps the nose nice and straight.

1.1 more hours and I’m at 44.6.  It’s going to be 2 more weeks at least before I can get up again but even that short 1.1 hours did me good.

I’m at 42 hours and today I get to do something new. Winds are around 10 knts from the SW, clouds are broken and it’s around 85. Not a bad day to head out.

I’ve spent the last few weeks flying solo patterns but today we’re going to go try something different. We’ll purposely put the helicopter into settling with power and then we’ll work on recovering. We’ll also work on some confined landings.

I run a preflight, call for fuel and we’re up in no time. We’re headed North, a change of scenery is welcome. We get to a nice big open area with zero power lines and lots of options if things don’t go as planned. Grant and I talk about what settling with power is and how you recover from it. I have a pretty good idea what it is since we’ve talked about it for months and I’ve watched a ton of videos about it. We talk about how we’re going to enter into it and steps to get out. What I wasn’t expecting was how it… felt. It feels like someone kicks the chair out from under you. The setup feels terrible. You bring the helicopter to a hover, you start a decent rate at greater than 300fpm and then, damn, nothing works right. I followed on controls LIGHTLY but it’s pretty obvious you have mushy pedals, the collective doesn’t do anything and nothing feels right. The nose pitches from right to left and you have the distinct feeling nothing is going as planned. After what feels like 10 minutes you drop some collective, pitch forward a bit and a couple hundred feet lower the world is good again.

My turn. As I set up it took a little more time to get us to just a hover… in space… It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t reduce airspeed for some reason. I know there is inertia stored in the rotor but bringing the helicopter to zero IAS that high AGL seems wrong. Then throwing it in a decent rate seems like the worst idea ever. Finally after fiddling around with the controls, we’re in it. Settling with power feels wrong. The helicopter is bucking around, there is a weird vib and your controls aren’t doing what you want them to do. You lower collective, push forward and all of a sudden when you get just a bit of airspeed back and you’re out of the downwash everything is perfect. I ask Grant if we can do another.

Next up is confined landings.

Generally the name of the game is to follow some pretty simple rules. You fly a high reconnaissance(1000’AGL), you check the wind (trees, water, weeds, smoke, whatever is moving take note), look at overall suitability, make sure your power is fine. You also want to understand places to ditch if something unexpected were to happen, I look for a way out when if I get into a low recon and don’t like it. For the most part you don’t take your eyes off the prize but keep an eye out for power lines or more importantly transmission towers since power lines are pretty much invisible. If you feel the place will work you go in VERY cautiously for a low recon(500′ AGL). While you’re taking laps run through the 5 S’s. Size, Shape, Slope, Surface, Surroundings. If everything fits you might want to take a run at it knowing you can bail and you don’t have to commit.

Not a bad way to spend a day and it’s a lot more interesting than making right turns for an hour.

We head home after an hour and call it a day. 1.5 more hours puts me at 43.5.

I’m taking the test in a few days… so notes on that coming soon.

I have 41 hours and this flight wasn’t that interesting so I’ll write about studying for the test a little bit too.  I’ve registered to take the test in 1 week.  Yikes.

On to the flight.  I ran through the preflight, Grant in, I made 15 or so approaches.  I landed.  Wash.  Rinse. Repeat.  Takeaways?  Not too many on this one.  I need to get through 10 hours of solo time and this is the last of it.  I will miss being up in the helicopter alone but I’m looking forward to learning new things.  Those new things are awesome… settling with power and confined landings.

OK.  The written.  You sign something when you register to take the test that specifically states you will not talk about the test and what’s on the test so I WILL NOT do that.  I’ll talk about how I approached studying for the test which was to buy a few apps, the Far AIM and the 2016 ASA TEST PREP.  I also bought the AIRMAN KNOWLEDGE TESTING SUPPLEMENT FOR SPORT PILOT, RECREATIONAL PILOT, AND PRIVATE PILOT  FAA-CT-8080-2F.

The apps I bought were the Dauntless GroundSchool and the ASA PrepWare Private Pilot.

I bought an EB6 and a CX2 calculator.

I learned how to chart with the EB6 and do my fuel calcs with both the EB6 and the CX2.  I also learned how to do my weight and balance by hand and in the calc.

I started really buckling down about a month ago.  I took the practice tests, made flash cards and watched videos on YouTube.

When you start studying everything is new, completely confusing and horrible.  YouTube only helps so much.  Talking to other pilots or student pilots is EXTREMELY helpful.  The trouble is that I am traveling nonstop so… I rarely have the option to hang out at the school.  My iPad and books are about the only interactions I get with anything related to aviation so do yourself a favor and stick around the school as much as you can… if you can’t do that find other (student) pilots to talk to.  As much time as I spend in airports it’s hard not to go up to the commercial pilots and start asking them questions…

The Dauntless app is ok but you see the same questions over and over again, you begin to memorize the answers by repetition which is NOT what I wanted.  I wanted to actually learn the formulas and why clouds form at this altitude in these conditions.  I did not want to regurgitate.  I think I’m giving up on the Dauntless app and moving on to the 2016 ASA TEST PREP book.  It has all the same questions as the Dauntless app but it has more of an explanation that lead into the questions.  I’m also watching more and more videos on YouTube.

Specifically this video:

I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to Cindy talk about airspace.  I hope I run into her one day… I’m going to buy her a beer.

I’m getting 70% – 80% on my practice tests.  I still don’t understand parts of VOR and airspace but I’ll meet with Grant this next week and knock out as much as I can.

Anyway, I’m reading, reading, and reading some more.  I study about 2 hours a night and I’ve been doing so for about a month.  I’m working about 60-70 hours a week so I know I’m not retaining everything but at least my flying skills are sharp!  I really to spend more time studying but between the kids, work, the house and flying it’s a lot.  1st world problems.



I have 39 hours and it’s been 10 days since that long XC solo. I thought about that flight for a long time in the past week and a half. It wasn’t a bad flight but it wasn’t the easiest either. I’m hoping to work approaches and landings. I need to tighten up my approaches…

The weather is perfect, light winds from the east and not a ton of traffic in the pattern.

I went through the pre-flight, called the fuel truck, and fired up Mike-Hotel. Grant jumped in and we went over to the ideal ramp. He hoped out and I made my call to the tower. I ran a few laps paying as much attention as humanly possible to putting the helicopter exactly where I wanted it on the 1000′ markers. I made sure I cruised at 80%, I made sure I was in trim, I checked my spot when I was abeam… I cleared the outside of my helicopter as soon as the tower cleared me for the option. I checked my lights, gauges, checked my fuel. It felt good to be in the pattern again.

About halfway through one of my downwinds I noticed a Delta 767 taxiing. Huh. That’s a big jet… later I found out that the St. Louis Cardinals fly out of KCPS. Anyway, as I turned final he was on the move… I stayed a little higher than normal so as not to get in his wash. I also noticed a blackhawk had just landed at Hanger 12’s ramp. Awesome. Those things are massive.


I stuck around in the pattern for about 2 hours just drilling making my approaches as perfect as possible. I wanted everything to be repeatable. I focused on keeping the nose as straight as possible, my climb outs at 50kts, my turns in trim. I may have been making left hand turns for 2 hours but it helped me in more ways than I can count.

I called it quits with about 5 gallons of fuel and went and landed. Grant met me out at the ramp and he let fly to the hanger to work on my confined skills.

I shut it down and called it a good day.

That solo work brought me up to 41 hours.

I have 37 hours and I’ll add to that by 2 more hours today.  The weather is perfect.  Light winds and just a few clouds.  It’s also not super hot and stormy like it’s been for the past week.

Grant and I had flown this route a week ago.  It’s a long flight but to some fairly remote airports.  With any luck they’d be free of any traffic jams.  The wind was pretty calm and coming from the south west.

The night before I looked over the sectionals, looked for obstacles and easily identifiable landmarks.  I built the flight plan in ForeFlight but wanted to have it on paper as well.  I wrote down the frequencies I’d be on and finally hit the sack.  I thought I’d plugged in my iPad but when I woke up… oops, 8% power.  Damn.

I plugged in the iPad, grabbed a quick shower and took off to the airport.  When I arrived I noticed a lot of traffic and the iPad had only charged to around 15%. Oh well, I’ll be stuck with all my hand written notes and the extremely expensive Garmin guiding my way – but what’s with all the traffic in the pattern.

I talked the flight plan over with Grant and did a pre-flight on the Guimbal.  I would be flying Mike-Hotel which has a spot for your iPad and it should have a charger but as I’d find out later in the flight, it didn’t work.

We fired up the helicopter and since I’m not able to do confines yet we went over to the Ideal Aviation ramp.  There we were greeted by two gentleman.  The where interested in the Guimbal and walked over to chat.  We talked about the helicopter a bit then they let us know a group of pilots were at the airport giving kids rides around the pattern.  Most of the guys were from an uncontrolled airport out in western MO.  Knowing how busy the airspace is just on a regular day I was thinking about my friends in the tower.  They will have their hands full.

Grant and I spoke for a little bit longer then I hopped in, spun up the helicopter, listened to my ATIS and got into a hover. I listened to all the traffic calling the tower.  Whoa. It’s busy.  Lots of people talking and someone just reported fuel coming out of their wing?  hmmmm.  Today is going to be a day.  Grant was probably curious why I was sitting in a hover for so long but I was waiting my turn to talk to the tower.  Finally there was a break, I called and got a pretty large amount of commands from the tower.  I got the approval to head out which I did with a quickness but not before a student came on the radio that was on a 3 mile final.  He wanted to know if I’d be out in time.  Very valid question.  I had cleared the outside of the helicopter – meaning: tower had cleared me and I had checked for traffic.  I just finished clearing the inside of the helicopter – meaning: lights were out and gauges were in the green, good fuel when he asked his question. Tower responded while I was getting on the move so it all seemed to work out but as I was departing the airport and over some trees they were still talking… did I just cut someone off?  He cleared me.  I looked for traffic did I miss him?  He was 3 miles out.  Where is he now?

I was maybe 400 AGL and moving out of the space and worried I had done something wrong.  A few minute later I was a few miles from the airport and heard him talking to the tower / ground so we did have a good distance between us but man…  The thought that I made a mistake lingered for a while.

I thought back to ADM and thought about the situation.  I was not impulsive nor being macho – I was following the commands the tower gave me and very aware of who and what was around me.  Well, if I had stepped on anyone’s toes I’d hear about it when I got back but right now I need to concentrate on the ship and my flight.  I settled down and punched in my route down to KFAM on the GPS.  I also opened ForeFlight and looked at the flight plan there.  Oh awesome, the iPad is at 12% still, the charger doesn’t work.  Guess I’ll use the GPS and my notes.

ForeFlight is really easy and what I wanted to use. When you’re a mile out it gives you nice HUGE view of the airport so you know patterns and frequencies.  No biggie.  I have everything memorized and written down and in the GPS.

I passed near KFES where I flew my first cross country and making my calls, everything is good no problems… wait, what is that line of clouds and why are they so low?  Shoot.

I drop down a bit to get a better gauge of their altitude and what looked like a wall of clouds is only some scattered and broken clouds.  They are really small and burning off pretty quick so I don’t think I have to do anything or bail on the flight.  I keep my distance and start thinking about my approach to KFAM.

I switch my frequency over and am welcomed by 3 or 4 people in the pattern.  Well… guess I’ll start talking to them sooner rather than later.  I make my call on my 10 mile.  I get 3 responses of people letting me know they are with me on the pattern.  Make another call at 5, 4 and 3 miles.  Each call is answered with other pilots in the area telling me what they are doing.  I make sure to let everyone know I’m a student pilot and they can likely tell I’m nervous.  I call again at 2 miles then at 1 and slip in behind someone. To be honest I probably wasn’t being as brief on the radio as I should have been but it seems crowded and I’d -maybe- already been close to someone on my take off. 

The guy that is in front of me calls and lets everyone know he’s off the runway.  I setup and come in much faster than I should.  I should be making my approach at 50 knots but I’m a little faster.  I buzz the runway and then make my left crosswind.  I let everyone know I’m departing north and get out of there.

I make my calls departing the airspace and punch in KFES.  Cool.  I know this runway well and it’s pretty uncrowded.  Wait, why are those clouds back.  Ugh.  I see another line of broken clouds but determine I can stay away pretty easily.  No problem.

As I’m making my way to KFES I hear a lot of chatter on the radio, then the most annoying feedback loop I’ve heard.  Loud enough and long enough that I have to turn down the radio a but.  After 5 minutes of that noise if finally goes away and I’m approaching KFES.  I make my calls and don’t get anything back in return.  Awesome.  The sky diving company must not be working today.  One less thing to worry about!

As I’m on my final I notice something on the runway.  What is that?  Oh, it’s a mower.   Well, I’ll fly around him.  I make my approach and then depart north.

I tune in my ATIS to listen to KCPS weather and then punch in the radio.  Oh good it’s busy there too.  I make my calls and the tower tells me to call back at 2 miles which I do.  I’m cleared for the runway I want.  I’ve made this approach a bunch of times, wait did that dude just turn into my flight path?  That’s a little odd.  He’s a couple hundred feet above me and a mile away but I’m not entirely sure he was cleared to do that. I went back and listened to the audio of the tower and its unclear if he was given permission but we have more than enough separation so no harm no foul, just not what I was expecting.

I drop a bit of altitude just to stay clear of him. I’m still set up perfectly for a shallow landing.  Tower tells me to hold on the numbers which I do.  I get permission to go land and that’s it.  My longest flight solo is in the books.

So, did I cut that guy off?  I go and find the instructors that were up in the air with me and ask Grant if he heard anything.  I’m happy to say that I did not cut anyone off.

Again, not the most perfect of flights but nothing to complain about.

Takeaways?  For this flight there are a ton.
Make sure you hear and understand the commands given to you by the tower.
Make sure you hear and understand the talk on the radio.  KFAM was really busy and it was nerve racking but I relied on training and even with my sub par radio skills I got through it. (Announcing myself over and over probably helped)
The clouds gave me a little concern but I followed the rules of the airspace.
Make sure you charge your iPad, make sure you have an alternative flight plan with everything you need if your iPad doesn’t charge or work.

Today will be awesome, I’m 35 hours in, and I get to fly over some cool parts of Missouri. It will also be the longest flight across the most varied terrain I’ve flown over. (That’s not saying much though)

The weather is perfect. We’re setting this flight up so I can get a feel for the terrain and the airports for my long solo XC.

We’re leaving from KCPS and heading down to KFAM, then up to KFES and finally back to KCPS. Round trip it should be over 100NM. I know this area well, I’ve camped and ridden down here all my life and it will be cool to see it from above. I’ve ridden dirt bikes through much of this area, mainly on powerline service trails and through parks. There is a bunch of elevation change and lots of bluffs.

Planning was simple. I entered airports into ForeFlight and… well, that’s it. ForeFlight takes the fun out of planning so I pulled out paper and pencil. Maybe it’s overkill to do it on paper but I was traveling non-stop for work and missed so many ground school classes that I need to reinforce the maths and algorithms used to actually plan a flight.

Learning weight and balance was painful and took me too long to get it right. It’s incredibly simple now that I look back but when I first looked at the ARM, MOM and the graphing it made ZERO sense. I forced myself through it several times with no success. Grant took me through it a few times over lunch but I still didn’t get it, I just nodded along hoping not to seem like an idiot. It’s not his fault, he’s a great instructor but I just don’t absorb things in class – I need to do them by hand several times. There is some weird misfire in my brain and learning new algorithms takes a bit longer with me. It does, however, explain much of my academic career… and very likely caused my parents to want to pull out their hair. I’ll be watching my kids for the same issues, I can already see it in my boy. I digress… Anyway, if you are having trouble email me. I’ll tell you what is working for me since so many things didn’t.

flight planningBack to the flight planning, so, ForeFlight sucks all the joy out of planning your flight so I went out and spent $11.00 on the paper sectionals and looked over it, drew on it, then I taped it up in my office. I highlighted the obstacles and memorized the airports, airspaces, and their frequencies. All of this planning didn’t help. As soon as we were in the air I hugged a bluff and got way off course but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I met Grant at the hanger and checked the weather. We were going to get lucky! (The weather has been terrible for a couple weeks.) I did another weight and balance and we called the fuel truck. We added 18 gallons which put us close to the limit. Still very safely inside the margins but close. We were flying in 969MH so we’d get to have an iPad on the counsel with us. Guimbal made this cool flip out holder which (supposedly) powers the iPad which means we can use ForeFlight and the stratux ADS-B I built. Sweet. In-flight weather and we get to see the traffic around us. Anyway, I did an extended preflight and got ready.

Getting out of KCPS was rough, there was a TON of traffic. We sat in a really long hover and when we did finally get out we were uncomfortably close to traffic. I was glad to have Grant there, I would have not been able to remain as calm if I was solo. [foreshadowing for my long solo xc] KCPS is a busy airspace, it certainly teaches you to be on the ball. I should note: even with all the stress of a busy airport I’d rather learn how to enter a pattern in a controlled space than in some untowered space. [more foreshadowing for my long solo xc] Anyway, we got out and headed south.

I had planned this flight really well or thought I did but somehow I managed to not follow my plan whatsoever. I punched in the airport in the GPS, did the same in ForeFlight and I had my paper plan with obstacles and markers to look for with me. For some reason I started tracking this bluff and just followed it. I have zero idea why I did that but instead of checking any of the 3 navigational aids I had in front of me I just followed the landscape for way too long. Grant kept trying to get me to follow my plan but for some reason I just tracked that bluff while he asked me questions about settling with power and landing in confined spaces. Finally he had enough of me flying to the south east and slapped my wrist. We turned more westerly and headed in to KFAM. On the way down there we saw a Bell doing some ag work, we adjusted our course and watched him work the fields for a bit, he was low, super fast and doing amazing things. That’d be a cool job. Goals.

I made the appropriate calls as we passed other airports and we slid into KFAM without seeing any other traffic. We turned out of the airport and headed north to KFES. The wind was light and variable and as I made my approach it changed 180, we were effectively coming in with a very slight tailwind at the very last second. It literally changed as we passed the tetrahedral. Weird. We turned northly and headed back to KCPS.

I tuned in KCPS and the approach was uneventful. We set down with little effort. Man that was cool.

All in all it was an awesome flight. Just under 2 hours of flight time brings me to 37 total and I felt comfortable to fly it by myself.

Here are takeaways…
I’m downplaying getting out of KCPS a bit. By busy I mean it was BUSY. KCPS has news helicopters based there, medical helicopters, regional jets(I’ve seen a larger Delta jet take off from 30R), military traffic, tourist flights and a large university’s flight school all in this little old class D. The controllers had their hands full that day. It’s important to be brief on the radio. Know what you are asking for and be ready to respond when they get back to you. Also keep your eyes out for traffic. Again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Learning at some tiny airport where you were never be around traffic would be a HUGE disadvantage and scare the crap out of me when you finally get around an airspace that is busy. I’m not saying you should go learn at LGA but if your intent is to be a professional pilot you need to understand what it’s like to be in an airspace that has a reasonable amount of traffic.

Planning a flight is important. I’m writing this after I’ve flown my long solo XC and something I depended on didn’t work out as planned. Redundancy is important. Plan, plan then plan some more. Don’t depend on ForeFlight or a GPS as your entire flight plan. Know how to use the instruments in the aircraft you intend to fly.

We as humans tend to follow natural landmarks or highways. Don’t do that. Follow your GPS track or maps.

Lastly – hindsight is 20/20… flying is cool, ground school is boring and painful… keep up with your ground school and when you can, tie them into your helicopter time. Look at the instruments, see that VOR, it isn’t there just to look weird and not do anything. It’s going to be on your written and might be on your oral and you WILL have to know how to use it. Have your instructor dial in a radial and explain how that works when you are in the air so PRACTICAL EXPERIENCES MATCH THE BOOK LEARNING. I promise a VOR will make far far far more sense if you see one in use and then your instructor explains what it actually does. I hate VORs.

It’s about 80, winds are light and variable, I have 34-ish hours and today I get to fly to another airport. ALONE. I’ve been looking forward to this since I soloed. I’ve been stuck in the pattern for a few weeks. Don’t get me wrong the pattern is better than nothing… between flying the worst most annoyingly crowded pattern on the hottest day in the most uncomfortable helicopter and not flying at all, I choose the pattern. And actually I shouldn’t bag on the pattern, it teaches you how to interact with the tower, other newbs and if you get worried or screw something up the airport is, conveniently, right below you.

Grant and I flew to KFES just the other day, the weather is almost identical so it should be fairly uneventful. After doing the flight plan I got some fuel and ran through the pre-flight and startup checklist. For the first time I lost my place on the checklist(not really but first time in a while) and forgot to do something. Another student pilot came up and asked me a question, I answered and went back to what I was doing, wait, what was I doing? After turning on the fuel pump, flipping the switches for the magneto and plasma I cleared my tail rotor and pushed the starter button. It tried to start but nothing. I pushed it again, nothing. Huh. This is a brand new helicopter. Niner-Mike-Hotel has like 30 hours on it. What gives. Grant must have been lurking behind me somewhere in the shadows because he was right there asking me what I broke. I said he was the last one to fly it so it is likely his fault. He saw the issue in about a 1/2 a second… Checklists are important. Lesson learned. When you get interrupted, go back up to the top of the list or you’ll look like a dummy in-front of your instructor.

I fired up, we went to the other ramp and I made a really bad call to the tower. So bad that I cut it out of the video. Ugh. If only there were some way to learn how to talk to the tower without having to actually talk to the tower. Email me if you have any suggestions. Anyway, I got up and out without an issue. I followed my flight plan, what little there was and made my calls at 10, 7, 5, 3 and 1 mile out. I know, overkill. There wasn’t anyone around except a little ultralight up there with me so the run to FES was really pretty low key. It went by so fast. I made my approach, and was back on my way north in about 20 minutes.

There wasn’t anything remarkable about the flight other than I was doing it alone and it was probably the best feeling in the world to fly a helicopter 25 miles away from home. I wish it could have lasted longer, infact I slowed it down to around 60 knots in some parts just to enjoy the view a bit more. Amazing. This doesn’t get old. How much trouble would I get in for liberating this helicopter and taking it to Mexico? Alot. Jail forever.

The approach back to KCPS was pretty uneventful too. I got right in to the runway I wanted and landed without much grace. I still need work on setting down. I don’t exactly know where my skids are.

So, what are the key take-aways from this flight?

Well, that Ultralight surprised me, even though he was pretty far away – he was flying directly opposite my heading. We were probably 1000ft or more away from each other and had a small separation in altitude. Everything was well within the standards… I heard his call and he heard mine. I announced myself on the radio a few more times than I had to knowing that it was a pretty nice day and someone would be up there with me…

The other take away is the checklist. Not sure how I managed to forget to turn the fuel on but it’s all a learning experience at this point. Repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s easy to get distracted and forget something.

I have some more solo time in the pattern in this stage, then it’s on to my long solo. After my long solo and I have 10 hours of PIC I get to learn a few more things that I’m looking forward to. Slope landings, confined landings, putting yourself into settling with power and a few other odds and ends.

So that’s it. Another hour in the books brings me to 35. I’m studying hard for the written and should be taking that soon…

I’ve logged a massive 33 hours and it’s time to plan my first cross-country. It’s a little warm today and the winds will be at our back. We’re headed to Festus, MO. It’s 25.2 NM away from KCPS. It should be a pretty uneventful flight but I’m looking forward to it.

Flight Plan

So, the way do your first XC is to draw up a plan. I did a few the night before the flight by hand with the sectionals and whiz wheel then I did some in Foreflight. Foreflight is pretty awesome, it does everything for you. Once you enter your aircraft, the fuel burn and all the details Foreflight tells you EXACTLY what will happen and when.

Doing it by hand on paper is actually not too tough. You enter your true course, altitude, predicted wind direction / velocity, temperature, planned TAS, the wind correction angle, the true heading, and the magnetic heading. Then you enter some checkpoints, we put ours in about every 10 miles. Bridges, rivers, lakes, power plants… anything that is easily identifiable.

After you add in your checkpoints you start on the fuel computations. You enter the distance and your ground speed and then figure out the fuel burn. I made some notes and a sketch of the runway and added in the field elevation, runway orientation, and radio frequencies. I folded up the piece of paper and put it in the knee board.

For some reason, and I’m not sure why, it was reassuring to have a paper flight plan. I ended up never looking at it when I was on my solo but if everything went to hell at least I could figure out my radio frequencies.

On to the flight. I did the pre-flight, grabbed 16 gallons of fuel, fired up the Guimbal and we got on our way. We headed straight south. I don’t know the Garmin or the radios all that well. I should have spent some more time studying those but I feel comfortable with them now. Grant usually handled those when we were in the pattern work so I never really paid attention. He told me about a Garmin practice app that is super helpful. Download that here.

The flight down went too fast.  I could have ambled along following the river / railroad tracks for hours.  Instead it was like 15 minutes.  Damn.  We announced ourselves at 10 miles, 5 miles, 3 miles and on our downwind.  I made a decent approach and we got on the go.  The way back was as uneventful as the way down.  I made my calls when we were 10 miles out of KCPS, then at 2 miles and we got home safe and sound.  Apparently I’m ready to fly away from my home airport.  Awesome.  I’m excited to see some new landscape or at least some hills… another 1 hour in the books brings me to 34.


So key learning’s… Learn how to do the whizz wheel.  I hated it the first few times I used it and it took me an unholy amount of time to figure it out.  But now that I got it down I’m faster with it then with the CX-2.  Which one will I bring to my written?  The CX-2.  I keep reading that the whizz wheel isn’t as precise as you need it to be for the written.

The next thing is to ALWAYS do a paper flight plan.  Why?  Because you will forget to charge your iPad and halfway though your long cross country it’ll die and you won’t have anyway to remember all the different radio frequencies, airport orientations and whatever else.  Backups are good.  Backups are great.  God bless backups.

Learn the GPS and the radio.  It’s my fault I didn’t ask more questions earlier.  They are just as important as any other part of the helicopter so figure that stuff out and figure it out early.

The final key learning… this is all going too fast. I’m learning a ton but I wish I wasn’t 70% through the class.  Work has kept me from moving as quickly as I want but this whole thing feels like it’s just cruising right by.  Thankfully I have the videos to look back on and annoy my friends and family with… and it gives me something to do when we get weather and I can’t fly.  Anyway, take is slow.  Enjoy what you’re doing.


It was in the mid-90s, winds were calm and I was hoping for an uneventful flight. I have 31.5 hours.

The last couple flights were not what I was expecting but they did teach me a fair amount. First and foremost, if you have problems in flight address them quickly but not without weighing your options. Think. Rely on what you learned from your instructors and in class.

I have to admit I was a little nervous climbing back in, it had been 8 days since I was last up… I wasn’t doing myself any favors by sitting on the sidelines. My schedule at work has been brutal but a weather window appeared and I took it. I went through the pre-flight, tested my headset (made sure there was a spare headset within reach) and off we went. Grant and I took a couple laps then I dropped him off.

I made my call and muscle memory / training kicked in and I joined the pattern. My headset was working perfectly and everything felt good. The Guimbal had plenty of power and the wind was in a good spot coming right down the runway. The pattern traffic was really light so I spent the entire hour on nailing my approaches, staying in trim, staying right at 1000 feet, hitting the 1000′ markers, keeping the nose straight, etc.

All in all it was the most boring and longest flight I’ve had solo, no weird traffic issues, no headset issues, no nothing. Everything went as planned and I was thankful for that! I really really REALLY enjoyed the flight. It might have only been 10 laps around the pattern but it was 10 perfect laps around the pattern.

So, this might be the shortest post I’ve written but sometimes a flight just goes as planned and that’s fine by me. Another 1.3 hours in the books puts me at 33-ish hours. Awesome.

I think we might be going to another airport in 2 or 3 days. I’m looking forward to that. I love making a bunch right turns but… heading somewhere new is a welcome change. Don’t get me wrong if it’s a choice between flying a pattern for an hour or not flying, I choose the pattern. Anyway, I know the airport we are heading to and it will be a pretty awesome trip down there. I’ve been working on the flight plan and we’ll fly down along a bluff, over some rivers and land at an older airport with swamps at both ends of the runway. I can’t believe fixed wing guys land there, seems sketchy to me.

If you have questions of any kind get in touch here:

Thanks to those who are getting in touch lately. It’s cool to hear from you.

It was hot, winds were out of the west at 10knts and I was excited for my 2nd solo. I have 31 hours and this flight did not go as planned. I cut it real real short.

My first solo was 2 days ago. I thought it went well, no issues, the radio calls were ok and I flew the helicopter reasonably well. I could not wait to get back up into the air and make a bunch of right hand turns.

It started out just like every other flight. I worked my way though the pre-flight very carefully, Grant and I ran the pattern 3 times then I dropped him off at the Ideal Aviation ramp. He gave me the low down, called the tower to let them know I’d be up for my 2nd time then unplugged and walked off. I was nervous but felt good.

I picked up the G2 and made my call. The tower put me in the pattern and off I went. As soon as I made my first crosswind and cleared my right side my headset started acting up. Dammit.

What do I mean by acting up? This video should give you a good idea. Basically all the audio cuts out completely. I can’t hear myself or the tower. It’s just blank. No static. No mic, no nothing. In previous videos you can see me checking my headset or wiggling the wires but this time was way way worse and I was by myself in a busy pattern without Grant. Dammit.

So I had just made my crosswind turning downwind. As I looked to clear both sides the radio was completely out, I was checking the mic, talking to myself and there was… just… nothing. If you haven’t had an aviation headset on before it’s a little odd. You can hear yourself when you talk or exhale or chew gum loudly. Wind noise can be particularly annoying but you get over it. To talk to the tower you push a button on the cyclic.

Having both hands full at the time (cyclic and collective) I bumped the wires with my shoulder and it clicked back on. The tower was giving me the option on 30R. I only caught the last of it but repeated it back and concentrated on my approach.

I scanned my site picture trying not to move my head that much. I got down and immediately was on the move again. I should have landed. I should have hover taxi’d back to the ramp and called it a day but I thought that when I bumped the wires with my shoulder it “fixed itself”. It did not, as soon as I looked right on my upwind it clicked off again. DAMMIT. It came back on quicker this time but I spent the next 5 minutes checking the mic by blowing in it to make sure it was on.

The tower called for my 2nd option. I repeated back and started to figure out my plan. Keep in mind I have only been up for about 7 minutes…

Honestly, why don’t I just stay up and fly and not look to my right. I can do this. I’ve got nearly 32 hours, I’m a pro. Wait, what? That is the worst idea.

Oddly enough I immediately thought ADM, Aeronautical Decision Making. School, learning, process!! This goes back to the first ground school class almost 5 months ago. I didn’t step though each part of the process, I just remembered the “macho” analogy. “I can do it”. Nope nope nope nope. This is a terrible idea. I need to fix this right now in case I miss a call on the radio or the tower tells me there is traffic 2 feet from my right and I didn’t look right because I am dumb. I NEED TO FIX THIS NOW – NOT ON MY NEXT APPROACH. I let things go a few minutes too long in this fight, and in hindsight, too long period. I should of sent that headset back in the first time it happened a month ago.

BTW any of you that are thinking about becoming a pilot or you are currently a student, here are the steps for good decision-making:
1. Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight.
2. Learning behavior modification techniques.
3. Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.
4. Developing risk assessment skills.
5. Using all resources.
6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s ADM skills.

-I’m not saying I went through each piece in a timely manner but I made a good choice in a stressful environment as soon as humanly possible.

So back to the flight.

What are my options? I have the option on 30R. I can land, fiddle with the headset or try to fix it in the air. I don’t like pulling my hands off the collective yet. It feels like doing a wheelie on a dirtbike at 50mph and pulling your hand off the throttle. I know it’s fine to do that, I have to change frequencies on the radio / do stuff to the GPS all the time but it doesn’t make it feel any more right.

OK. Let’s figure it out. I glanced to the right and the headset clicked off again, yep, time to make an adjustment right now. I rolled on some friction, checked the connection between my headset and the helicopter. Nothing. Then tried to push in the connection between the actual headset ear piece and wire. I have a pair of new David Clarks that have a removable main cord. It was tight but as soon as I touched it there was static. That was the issue. I pushed it in as hard as I could and got my hands back on the collective. Ugh.

The approach was good and I thought I fixed my issue. I got on the move and started into my crosswind turning downwind. Nope, as soon as I looked hard to my right again the headset clicked off again. I had been in the air for a total of 12 minutes at this time but I’d had enough. I constantly checked to make sure my headset was still working by cursing for 3 minutes straight. Finally the tower called and gave me the option. I repeated back and could not get down fast enough.

I got down and hovered on the runway then called the tower. I said I had some “comms” problems and would like to hover taxi back to the Ideal ramp. Not exactly standard but the INCREDIBLY nice and helpful woman in the tower took pity on me. She told me to follow a diamond ahead of me and that’s exactly what I did.

I arrived back at the ramp after less than 20 minutes of flying. Grant walked out looking at me with concern or confusion, not sure which. I had him put on my headset and turn his head and he said, oh yeah, that shouldn’t happen. My 2nd solo was not as much fun as I thought it’d be.

I was not pleased. I emailed David Clark and they asked me to overnight the headset on their dime. I did that, they found and fixed the issue then overnighted me them back. They did good by me but man, not an awesome 2nd solo flight. I spoke to Grant and some of the other instructors about it. In the end it was a very small issue but it made me think about how fast things can go wrong.

From now on I’ll fly with one of the old spare headsets…

I took my written pre-solo test a few days ago.  It was 4 or 5 pages long and mostly procedures to follow if a warning light flickered on or 9HH had an issue.  All of these procedures were burned into my memory months ago.  The test was not a big deal but a good refresher.

Midwest Helicopter Guimbal CabriI grabbed my gear and walked out to the helicopter.  On the way out I passed Chris, the owner/operator,  he said, “If anything happens put the collective down”.  I know he meant much more than that but, sound advice…

The winds are out of the south at about 10knts, it’s 85 degrees and there are broken clouds.  I have 30.4 hours in the books and today I get to solo.

It was hot and humid as I worked through the longest pre-flight in the world.  I checked the oil levels 19 times and looked at every nut and bolt.  Niner Hotel Hotel was in good shape.

Grant walked out of the hanger and asked me if I was ready.  I nodded and then he asked me to  fire up the Guimbal.  That’s new.  I’ve never started it up by myself.  He nervously watched while I took forever to go through the checklist.  Everything was exactly as it should have been and off we went.

Grant and I ran a few laps in preparation for the solo.  Nothing of interest just warming up and working through the pattern I was going to be on.  I’ve never landed on 23 nor have I hover taxied to a different airport ramp so he was there to walk me through the details.

We did 3 or 4 laps figuring out the radio calls.  They were a little rough but not horrible.  We landed at the Ideal Aviation ramp and he talked me through what was likely to happen with the tower.  Then he unplugged his headset and walked off.  I was alone in the helicopter again.  Weird feeling…  The plan was to pop up, pedal turn right, ask to depart, get into the pattern, make a bunch of left turns then request to land on 23 and gently put the Guimbal down where I found it.  The traffic was light so it should be easy.

I rolled the Guimbal up to 1900 rpm, flipped on the governor, protected the throttle to 2000 – the governor grabbed ahold and it was time to go.  I was hyper aware of all the sounds the helicopter was making and the fact that the left seat was empty.  I gave Grant a thumbs up and pulled some collective.

On a day with high humidity and 85 degrees we pull a fair amount of power to get the 9HH up.  Not so today.  Around 65% power I could feel it getting light and I <—- there is no “we”… I … pulled a little more power and popped right up.  DAMN.

It was a bizarre feeling, hovering a helicopter ALONE for the first time, one that stayed with me all day.  I won’t ever forget it.

I sat there for a second, got the thing steady then pedal turned to the right.

I called the tower, asked to depart, and got ONE TWO RIGHT as the runway.  We generally get ONE TWO LEFT for all kinds of reasons that I won’t go into but today, my 1st solo, the tower gave me 12R.  I repeated it back very clearly, hover taxied way way way out of ground effect and got moving.

I have a hunch Grant was thinking, “nice job Dan, you were up for 5 seconds and already screwed up”, which I hadn’t. I also have a hunch he was thinking I was hovering way too high, which I was.

I was easily 20 or 30 feet AGL.  I kept on thinking about dropping a few feet but for some reason I could not lower the collective.

Once on the go, tower called and asked me to make left traffic over to 12L.  I looked over to my left at 12L and the other helicopter in the pattern that was getting ready to turn crosswind.  Damn, I’d be close to him.  I slowed as best I could and extended my upwind just a bit.  I made my turn crosswind well after the other helicopter then turned downwind and tried to not be right on his ass.  Tower cleared me for the option on 12L and I kept it around 60 knots to give him a little breathing room. I kept an eye on him as he spent, what felt like 20 minutes, on the 1000′ markers.  I slowed it down just a bit more again, then turned base and final.  He was on the move as started my approach.  Looking back I should have put a little more distance between him and I but it was passable.

I was about 10 yards in front of my spot and got on the move for the 2nd lap.  No one was there to tell at me about keeping my nose straight so I took off with a 10 degree yaw.  Oops, need to fix that on the next one.  Grant was probably sitting in his office drinking coffee feeling annoyed but had no idea why… little did he know it was me making rookie mistakes in a very expensive helicopter half a mile away.

The next lap I was going to take a little slower but as soon as I was in my crosswind Tower told me to search for some diamond traffic that was 3 miles out.  What?  What happened to the slow dude in front of me?  Why is there now a diamond landing on 12L?  I’ve got 30 hours around KCPS and the only plane I’ve seen on 12L was a piper that got lost and poached it accidentally.  I responded that I did not have them in sight so the tower took mercy on me and said he’d call my base. Thank you unknown Tower guy.  The diamond got down fast made a hard right on to Bravo 6 taxiway. Thank you unknown SLU student in that diamond.  I came in with the ugliest approach of all time.  I was 100 yards proud of the 1000′ markers.  I am not smooth today and the airspace is busy… awesome.

The final lap was as slightly less ugly as the previous two.  After I got on the move I requested to land on 23 and hover taxi to the Ideal ramp.  Both the approach and the hover taxi on 23 were pretty solid.  My radio call was rough but I was safely 3 feet from mother earth and VERY happy about it.

I landed for the first time by myself and sat there feeling like I’d finally accomplished something in my life.

I’d been thinking about this for a long time and it went well. Thirty hours of annoying Grant and the folks in the tower + 4 months of  Saturday morning classes + I don’t know how many hours of studying and it all culminated in 24 minutes of flight.

For the longest time:

I thought there was no way I could pass the written.  [Math is hard and I am not good at it.]

I thought my vision might not be good enough. [Turns out I have better than 20/20 after new lenses, get your vision tested every year kids.]

I thought I didn’t have enough time.  [That’s BS. Drink more coffee and stay up late to study / get up earlier to be the first flight of the day.]

I thought my wife would not be supportive.  [She is supportive-ish.  Thanks wife.]

I thought I was too busy at work.  [I am… but Grant gets up early and makes time for my stupid schedule.  Thanks Grant.]


Anyway, the point is that I had created all the obstacles and after my first flight… well, there wasn’t really an option not to continue doing this.

That 24 minutes up there was pretty amazing.  There is the day I got hitched, when my babies were born and soloing a damn helicopter.

This is one of those things that will stick with you for your entire life.

I cannot wait to get back up in the air.


It’s early on Sunday morning, light winds and broken clouds. I have 27.8 hours.

This flight is a pass/fail. Grant gave me a call on Saturday and asked if I wanted to fly with Maddie. Maddie is one of the other instructors at Midwest.  Everyone teaches a little differently so it will be nice to see how I stack up in her eyes.

We jump in and fire up the Guimbal. I let her know I’m not awesome on radios and off we go.

We get into the pattern and do our thing. Normal approach, a pedal turn, quick stops, steep approaches and an couple autos. One of the autos as a little bumpy on the entry but I blame it on Maddie being tiny and Grant being massively overweight – so my CG was thrown off a bit. Obviously that is completely false but who cares I’m going to blame my ugly auto on that.

Then we did a run on which I completely nailed. I’d only done 4 or 5 of these by myself so it was a good feeling that it went so smoothly. I let Maddie know to stick close on controls and she did… It was pretty smooth, I stayed right above ETL and put the thing down on the skids as gently as I could.

Maddie is pretty hands off and is a little quiet compared to Grant. Then again I’ve been trapped in a tiny helicopter with Grant for almost 30 hours – at this point so we’re used to each other.  We flew for an hour and the only thing that I flubbed was a radio call and the entry to that auto. I hugged the right side of the runway a few times and didn’t keep the nose completely straight but nothing of note. I asked for a “grade” and she thought 80% was about right. I’ll take it. The radio call I flubbed was because I couldn’t hear the guy (lots of wind noise in my headset) and the entry to the auto was nerves.  I give myself +5% on the radio call and +5% on the auto because I can.   A fake 90% or A-, yes, I know it’s not ok to change your grade.

She said I had great control of the aircraft and felt I was in good shape to solo. AWESOME. I’m super pumped but also, oh man, I have to fly a helicopter all by myself.  No one will be sitting next to me to fix what I do wrong.

I sent a text to Grant that all went well and I was good to go.  It’s important to have a good rapport with your instructor and despite Grant’s personality I really like the way he teaches.  I feel ready to solo.  He’s done a great job making sure I have the fundamentals down.  Beyond that he doesn’t let you slide on much, if something is off even just slightly we stop, do it over again and he explains why it was wrong.  I was kidding about his personality.  He’s a good guy and a good pilot.  I feel like I’ve received great training and want to stick through all of my training with him.  I’ve decided to go through to my commercial.

I can’t believe I’m going to solo now. I’ve been in the air for a total of 28.9 hours. I’ve read of military guys and fixed wing guys soloing around 10 hours. Nope, no thank you. The books say you can solo at 20 but looking back at the 20 hour mark, no way. I wasn’t ready.

Next step, I take a written test.  If I pass I go for a spin in 989HH alone.


It’s a little rainy, very little wind and I have 26.7 hours.

As soon as we got up it got real busy. We ran our normal approaches and while doing so the tower had their hands full, the dude keeping track of us was rattling off commands non-stop. You get to know their voices and this guy is on top of his game. All of them are good and they take care of us up there but he saved the day today… About 20 minutes into the flight the the tower advised another student that his landing gear was up, he was on final – final final. Damn. Good watching out tower, that guy was probably 200 feet AGL, maybe lower. I recall seeing the plane make the approach but I didn’t even think to look at his gear.

I’d like to get up there and see what it looks like in the tower but I’m guessing they don’t let many people up there.

I do my best to listen to all the traffic on the radio even the guys that are 10 miles out so I can figure out when they will be in the pattern but it’s tough. I’m concentrating so hard on what I’m doing it’s difficult to listen to the other traffic and figure out what they are doing. I know Grant is always looking out and VERY aware of who is doing what. He sees traffic way before I do.

Traffic thinned out for a bit so we did some autos and a couple 180 autos. A couple hover autos then we did a zero air speed auto. That felt super weird but very cool. My headset cut out for a second on a hover auto which is beyond annoying. I think I need to send them back. Grant says he can hear me when they cut out so at least I can transmit. In the video you can hear the helicopter noise but the radio just cuts out. It can’t be the helicopter’s comms because Grant wouldn’t be able to hear me. Weird.

Anyway, I asked if we could do some pick ups and set downs and they felt alright, very far from perfect but moving along.

We talked about soloing and what it’s going to be like. He mentioned that he wants me to take a ride with another instructor, it’s not required but he thought it’d be a good idea.

We ran a couple more laps then called it a day – another 1.1 hours brings me to 27.8 hours.

Overall I feel ready to solo but I’m looking forward to riding with another instructor to see what they do different. Soloing is in sight! I wonder when it’ll happen.

I’m at 25.6 hours now. There were some broken clouds, it was fairly cool and not too windy.

It’s funny, I’ve started this helicopter almost 20 times at this point and while I feel I should have memorized the startup procedure by now – I know I shouldn’t. You can memorize your tail number and you can memorize your procedures on maneuvers but checklists are there for a reason. They are there for us to look at, check a box, move down to the next item and check that box. If you forget one of those boxes… bad things.

Speaking of checklists and practice tests (bad segue)… there are checklist questions and aeronautical decision-making questions showing up on my practice tests more and more. I’ve been taking practice tests twice a day now for the last week or so. I’m averaging 75% because I cannot get a handle on VOR or airspaces. I missed those classes and Grant and I haven’t covered it yet. I need to get that done… Both of those things are pretty damn important.

OK on to the flight, once we were up I made my call and we went straight in to 12L.

We did our usual. Normal, quick stop, run-ons, autos… I don’t mean to gloss over the normal stuff but at this point I can do everything fairly well it’s just not textbook perfect. Don’t get me wrong I can completely blow an approach and can’t set the helicopter down with elegance and ease but I’m remembering to turn the throttle back on in autos. Baby steps.

Grant mentioned something in this lesson that made some sense. He said something to the effect of: “don’t just dump in a bunch of left pedal because that’s how we describe the procedure, do it because some desired effect is required from that input.”

When you start down this road you hear procedures constantly. For instance, a hover auto is: “Pedal – Settle – Pull”. You hear that over and over and over – if you just mindlessly put in those inputs without reacting to what the environment has caused the helicopter to do in the last millisecond then things won’t go smoothly. You’ll end up with an ugly baby. If you plan your inputs along with what that gust of wind just did to you or the fact that you’re a little high or low or whatever the end result probably won’t be so ugly. Make sense? It’s tough to describe but the gist of it is, react to what your aircraft is doing.

Anyway, progress is progress and now, I’ve got 26.7 hours and I’m focusing on doing things the right way and doing them well. When I’m approaching I don’t want to just get the helicopter to the runway. I want to get the helicopter to the runway in the middle of the 1000′ markers. (Dammit, I’ve turned into my Dad, any job worth doing is worth doing right)

I’m still rough on pick ups & set downs and my hover autos are pretty ugly but they are “passable”. Next few lessons I want to dedicate to figuring those things out… soloing is coming up and I want those to be perfect.

It’s the first time I flew in rain but it was calm and fairly cool. I have 24.5 hours.

The last lesson was awesome. I felt like I had good control of the aircraft, the calls were ehhh and I’m looking forward to soloing. I have no idea when that’s going to happen but I’m thinking about it more and more. I’ll get into that in a bit.

So, I pre-flighted and we were up pretty quickly. We got into run-ons right away. Awesome! It was wet and there was no wind so our first was a little faster than normal but it felt good. The trick really is keeping it right above ETL and keep the speed down. Also a nice STRAIGHT shot in helps a ton. I’m glad there wasn’t a cross wind.

After the run-on we jumped into an auto. It came together pretty nicely. A good entry is key. If you’re all cattywampus going into an auto things just feel off from the beginning. I still forget to roll on sometimes which… ugh. When will I learn.

Next up was a few 180 autos. Those feel pretty damn cool. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You do a short approach, right when you pass the 1000′ markers you drop collective, 2 big bites off throttle, start to turn, check the collective – because you build up some high rotor speed – then it’s 1 big roll on throttle and a squeeze when you can make your spot. Baby flare, bigger flare, then collective and pedals.

We drilled on these for quite a bit and I could do those for days. Super fun and gets you out of normal pattern for a bit.

After the 180s we did some hover autos which are equally cool but getting the process down is taking a little longer for me. I understand what to do but my feet and hands are NOT doing what they are supposed to do – and certainly not in the order I want them to. I should have played more video games for better hand/eye.

A few pick ups and set downs, a couple more autos, some hover work and we called it a day. My only complaint… I am blown away that I still have trouble with pick ups and set downs. It’s beyond frustrating. DAMMIT. I’m embarrassed that my 4 year old kid could probably nail these and I’m screwing up. I think I could drill on that for an hour alone.

1.1 more hours and I’m at 25.6. I’m going to put together a retrospective of the last few months. I’ve been saving a few key things to focus on… one of them is how Midwest approaches things. In my life at work, we’re pretty agile… Meaning we can’t plan for every little challenge. Learning how to fly is the same way. Grant had no idea how I’d progress. I was terrible on the radio, I have a hard time remembering to roll on throttle in autos and I can’t smoothly set down(DAMMIT AGAIN). I can hover well and I’m ahead of the aircraft for the most part. Obviously I’m still BRAND new but it’s coming together. So trying to nail down someone’s exact path isn’t possible. Still, when am I going to solo… well, the answer is when Grant and company decide I am ready. Am I ready right now? No. Am I ready in a week? Nope. Am I ready in a month? Yeah… that’d be my guess but who knows. For now I still feel super lucky to be doing this and if I could get up every single day I would.

Pretty decent weather today. It was 75ish, low wind, sunny, and relatively clear.

Going in I have 23 hours.

As mentioned in the title, it was Friday the 13th… a couple weird things happened.  A C-17 flew over us(low pass), someone poached our runway and I nailed a few things I was working on… which I mention because me nailing something is rare.

Anyway, on to the flight.

We picked up and sat in a hover for 5 minutes while traffic cleared itself out.  We prompted ATC and they finally let us in.  I did not mind hovering for 5 minutes in the least. I felt like I accomplished something by not running into a hanger or another helicopter or a fixed wing or a person. Why didn’t we set it down and wait? Because helicopters… I practiced blowing a soda can around the tarmac. I hope my DP makes me do that when I take my checkride. “Dan please head to Bravo 2 and move that dr. pepper can over to the ditch by the taxi light.” “Roger, wilco.”

Once in the pattern we fell into our routine.  A normal approach led to a quick stop.  Quick stop lead to another quick stop – this second quick stop may have been my masterpiece.  The nose stayed straight, no ballooning and we had a beautiful steep approach to the ground.   I showed my wife the video when she got home, she didn’t seem to think it was as cool as I did.

On to the steep approach which felt good.  My site picture was a little off but I was able to fixed it and keep the sink rate where I wanted it. Right after we got down to our hover we were overflown by a C-17.  About 2 seconds after it came over ATC got on the radio gave us the warning of wake turbulence.  ATC said it was at 2,500ft. No comment.

We did another steep then a shallow run on.  I haven’t got used to these. They don’t seem natural, the G2, like most trainers, doesn’t have wheels so this only adds to the “why are we doing this” feeling.  That feeling intensifies when you hear the grinding of the skid pads.  So why on God’s green earth would you do that to your awesome helicopter?  Well, something bad might have happened – maybe your engine is having trouble or you’re at high density altitude and can’t sustain a hover, maybe you have stuck pedals… either way if this is happening to you in real life, you’re having a bad day. It’s a good idea to drill on this. You approach low, and stay low, keep the helicopter right above ETL at the lowest speed you can, then set it down and let’er slide.  It’s weird but once you’re on the runway you can control helicopter quite a bit, a little pedal work keeps the nose straight.

After we did a few run ons, we did some hover work on Bravo 2.  Pick ups and sets down were good so I asked Grant if we could try something.  I’ve been wanting to do this forever… fly backwards. I have no idea why but side-stepping and flying backwards seem awesome.  Again, I can’t properly explain myself but… it’s pretty damn cool to see a fixed wing guy in front of you and know that there is no reverse in that 172.  If he wanted to move back 20 feet he’d have to do all sort of maneuvering, where we just… fly backwards, we don’t even have to turn around if we don’t want to.  It makes no sense, I know, but the feeling was cool.

After Grant let me screw around for 15 seconds it was back to work. We did hover autos which are complicated but awesome.  It goes like this.  Dump throttle, pedal, settle and pull. Which means…  roll off throttle while not moving the collective, (that’s harder than it sounds) throw in some left pedal to account for the torque, let the thing come down a few feet, then pull collective to use the last of the inertial in your blades.  Simple right?  Nope. I don’t have’em yet.  They might take a while.

After some hover autos we got back in the pattern and did some regular autos and a couple 180 autos. They felt alright, I flare too early and grab too much power. Damn. I need to break those habits. They aren’t as clean as I’d like but maybe, just maybe, they are passable? Next few lessons I’ll ask Grant if we can concentrate on autos, 180 autos and hover autos.

With that there is another 1.5 hours in the books – bringing me to 24.5 hours. Thinking about it now… this lesson might be where things clicked.

It’s pretty calm, about 60 degrees, cloudy and I’ve got 21.7 hours going into this lesson.

I put some effort into keeping the nose straight in this lesson and for the most part it worked.  As proof there is a video down below.  Usually I’m all over the map but this one went ok.

On to the flight… I picked up next to the hanger which is getting less nerve racking.  That’s a lie, it freaks me out.  I know how big the rotor is and I know how long the tail is – but once you’re inside the cockpit it means nothing, the rotor looks huge and the tail might as well be 100 feet long.  I always feel like I’m inches from clipping something.  For the record I have not clipped anything or anyone.

We moved down the taxiway, requested to get in the pattern and up we went.  I’m finally able to announce my intentions but if ATC answers with anything other then what I expect I suddenly forget out to speak, sounds come out but it’s not english.  The next few flights I’m going to make an effort to be better at talking to those guys.  Same with announcing my intentions to Grant, he usually has to prompt me to clear my right. Without thinking the other day I cleared left with my wife in the car.  She made fun of me.

A couple approaches and a couple steeps got me into the autos.  Approaches feel good.  Quick stops felt good as well.

The first auto Grant gave me a break and we set it at 1,200 so I had some more time to think.  We always set the downwind at 80knots, when we get to final or entering the auto we’re at 70knots.  The process is: dump the collective collective at the same time as adding left pedal and coming aft cyclic.  Two big bites off throttle, then set the speed to around 50.  When we know we can make our spot we roll on 1 small turn on the throttle then a small squeeze.  Small flare at telephone pole height, bigger flare as we approach the runway, then collective.  Pedals to keep the nose straight – MAKE SURE – to protect that torque from catching up with lots of right pedal when you need it.

When I type it out or watch it on video it seems super easy but when I’m in the cockpit an auto takes approximately 2.2 seconds and there is no time to do anything.

The first few autos of the day went well, then all of a sudden they were terrible, the last one ended up being alright but I did succeed in keeping the nose straight for 60% of the take offs which in my world is a win.

Next week I’ll concentrate on handling autos better. 1.3 more hours in the books brings me to 23 hours.

Look at that thing!

Guimbal Cabri G2I’m at 20.3 hours. It’s calm and sunny. We’ve had a decent spring here in the Midwest. I had to go to Cleveland and west Texas but when I climbed back in the G2 today things were good as gravy.  It was weird to get back in the hanger, I actually walked in looking to see if 9HH was there, like when you walk in and greet your dog.  My jeeps have taken me everywhere… to Alaska and back, saved me from hungry bears, gave me views I never thought I’d get.  Same with the dirtbikes, they took me all over God’s green earth and rarely let me down.  Even though these things are just machines, you depend on them and you know them.  They have quirks and tempers.

I wonder if you ever forget what you solo in?  How many people is niner-hotel-hotel going to train?

It’s been 10 damn days since I’ve flown a helicopter.

Writing those words is still… surreal, I never thought I’d get to do something like this.  In fact, if my medical came back as a no go, I’d say thanks for the time – I’ll look back on the last couple months fondly.  I’m late to the party but I’m glad to be here. (My medical did not come back as a no go, I’m good.)

Everything up to this point has been more than I ever would have expected to accomplish.  It’s tough to jam these thoughts into words but as God as my witness I am actually [read: poorly?] operating a helicopter and soon I will fly it without my instructor, Grant.  Oh crap, how will that work?

Mt RainierEvery time I tell my wife I’m about to head up or my friends ask me how it’s going… well, to be honest it’s hard not to dwell on the fact that it’s a completely awesome feeling to hover or pedal turn, or run through the pre-flight, on lucky days I get to dump collective, drop 1500fpm, spin a tight 180 and hit a spot on the 1000′ markers.  Damn.  I was terrified by autos the first few times we went through them but now I look forward to’em. Run on autos are so damn cool –  to be honest I’d wash 989HH just to be around it.  Weird.

I’m sure my friends are sick of hearing me talk about anything related to helicopters or flying but I fight for the window seat on domestic flights.  I climbed mountains to get better views.  I used to duct tape cameras and rig servos to every RC I ever owned to see what it looked like up there.  Sitting right seat with my Dad was the absolute best.  The typical statement is “this is was a life long goal and I’m finally…” yep, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s true.   This dude is a word smith and captures it so much better than I ever could: Please check out that book if you have a minute.

On to the flight. We jumped in, ran through the checklist, fired up, requested to get in the pattern and off we went. We have something of a routine but it’s not written in stone, if I want to work on something in particular I just mention it to Grant and he ignores me… I’m kidding, that’s not true, CFIs spend their day doing things over and over and over, and we, the unwashed masses try to scare the living crap out of them. When you ask to do something that breaks the routine they are (normally) happy to oblige.

Our typical lesson looks something like this: if I nail a normal approaches we do steeps. If the steep looks good we do some quickstops. If the quickstops look good it’s on to autos. Getting to autos as soon as possible is normally my goal. I’m looking forward to confined approaches, but I have a hunch those are a ways off.  I’m also looking forward to soloing but I think I need (way)more time, I should probably be able to touch down like a pro at this point but for some reason it still eludes me. I hang out like 2 inches above the runway waiting to get the G2 as perfectly still as possible. I should just put it down and be done with it. Anyway, I just don’t have those down as much as I’d like. So we’ve been working on that a bit.

The lesson was great and I’m left wondering why I didn’t do this earlier, 21.7 hours.

On to the flight:


I’m entering the flight with 18.7 hours.  It feels like I’ve been away for a long time.  Which it has.  Nine days to be exact.

I love / hate my job.  I get to travel to cool places, meet cool people and work on cool projects.  Last week I was in NY with a few other folks.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary.  I know this because traffic was stupid even by NY standards and there was a helicopter that hovered outside my hotel for an hour.  Eye in the sky I guess?  Anyway, the pilot had some skills, he just crept along keeping it basically at the same altitude in pretty windy conditions.  I would have been all over the map.  His lights are the sorta solid light trail in the lower 3rd of the photo.

Anyway, this lesson we concentrated on a couple approaches, they looked and felt alright to me.  I need to work on keeping that nose straight but other that they were ok.  After each approach Grant is asking me to land.  I land like a person parallel parking for the first time.  It’s super ugly.  I can’t hold the thing still and look down at the runway right by my feet.  I don’t know where the skids are.

We did a couple quick stops, those are feeling pretty good and looking like a solid B-!  I’ll take it!

Next up autos.  The first few always scare the living crap out of me.  It doesn’t seem natural to be doing this over and over again.  The feeling in the pit of your stomach, the momentary negative G feeling, the instruments freaking out… none of it feels right.  How is Grant so calm.  Damn.  So to enter, you’re at around 1,200 feet and 70-80knts, you dump collective, add a little left pedal, aft on cyclic, two big rolls off the throttle and fall out of the sky.  At some point, still unknown to me you roll on 1 big bite of throttle and a little squeeze.  You’re keeping your airspeed at around 50knts and “glide” into your spot.  Glide is the wrong word but I can’t describe the feeling… maybe surf it in?  I don’t know it’s an odd feeling.  At around telephone pole height you start a baby flare to slow the decent and loose speed, add in some pedal then a larger flare with some collective. AGAIN, this feels super wrong right now.  I can’t fully describe what to do in an auto but I know my wife would hate it.

Here is one thing to remember, if you do everything described above, physics will takes over.  It’s the law.  The energy stored in the rotor is there, it won’t magically disappear.  You are trading the altitude for RPM in the rotor, carefully… it all makes sense in theory.   I won’t pretend to be able to describe it in great detail but what I will do is post a video of a very in-depth walk through of it.  I will set up 4 or 5 cameras so we can cover the collective, pedals, cyclic, instruments and the outside of the helicopter.  MUTLICAM for the win!

So that was the day, pattern work, a couple quick stops so I can prove to Grant I can flare, a couple set downs and then 3 or 4 autos.  None of it is boring, none of it is mundane, none of it is work.  I could do this for a year and not get bored.

1.6 more hours in the books, which puts me at 20.3 hours.  Awesome.  I think I’ll write a little synapses of the first 25 hours and post that in the coming weeks.

The skies were not clear and it sure as hell wasn’t calm.

I have 16.3 hours and asked if we might go do something different. I realize I need to be drilling on quickstops and autos but I needed to cruise down to a college about 1.5 hours from STL and thought it might be a good time to break out the maps and foreflight. I also wanted to try a ADS-B I had thrown together, stratux. You can’t really call it “building” because it’s basically plug and play. Stratux is all over reddit and for good reason, it’s VERY well done.

Start here if you’re curious: or here: or here:

What is ADS-B?  The wiki definition is: Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS–B) is a surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. The information can be received by air traffic control ground stations as a replacement for secondary radar. It can also be received by other aircraft to provide situational awareness and allow self separation.–_broadcast

The person that put together stratux, cyoung, is incredibly talented and generous. Working with engineers all day allows me to say that. It would be very easy to capitalize on something like stratux but he/she just gave it away for free. Nice work cyoung.

So, what does stratux do in plain English… well, you can use it with your EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) to grab live weather and find out where the other aircraft are hiding around you and if you have a GPS hanging off the pi(a cheapy USB will do) you can track where you are in the world. It’s far more complicated than that but for now, that’ll have to suffice.

I will try to write a longer post about it because I am blown away at the level of polish it has for an open source product.  I actually ported mine to an Intel Edison and then went back to a pi ZERO.  I wanted something smaller.  The Guimbal is tiny and there isn’t much room so I fired up the 3d printer and made decent case for it, spent some time wrecking NESDR receivers and doing a bad job of soldering.  Finally I got something that is 1″ X 3″ X 1.5″ and will plug into a cigarette lighter.

In the picture below you can see the big stratux on the right and the pi zero on the right.


In order to see any traffic, radar images or plan any flights you need an mobile device or tablet and an app like Foreflight.

Foreflight keeps all of your charts, planning docs, plates, sectionals, weight and balance data, mother’s birthday, basically anything you could ever need – all in one expensive little app.  To be honest $100/yr isn’t bad.  As mentioned too many times my company builds apps and this thing is pretty well done.  It’s EXTREMELY stable and doesn’t seem to eat battery life.  I’ve tried to break it and find bugs and gotta say the QA guys at Foreflight are on point.  Impressive work.

midwest helicopter academy foreflight

So, on to the flight.  It was windy, far more so than I’d been up in to date.  The wind was at our backs on the way down, we were averaging ~110kts IAS.  I was concentrating on staying in trim, maintaining an altitude which Grant wanted to change every 5 minutes, radio calls and generally enjoying not screwing up quickstops.  When we got close to MDH, Grant made the calls and we landed without fuss.

The way back was a different story.  Our tailwind turned into a headwind, it wasn’t rough or turbulent just slow going, we made 50-60kts.  The view was AMAZING and sadly the 1.75 hours flew by.  I navigated by picking something in the distance and then something in front of it and watched my heading and the GPS.  Fairly simple.  The rest of the time I spent looking for places to land if something were to go wrong.

I air taxied us in and Grant took the landing.   2.4 more hours of flight time.  I regret working on my license so late.  I know now that this is something that I’ll need to do as long as live.

Midwest Helicopter Acadamy over IL

Went for a morning flight. The weather calm, clear and cool.

I have 14.9 coming into this lesson.

Every time I’m getting ready to go for a lesson I think about how I can improve. I review footage, think about how I’m going to nail approaches, watch videos on the youtubes… then I get up in the air and it doesn’t go as planned. I approach with too much speed, I’m out of trim, I’m not on the damn pedals soon enough. I. Can’t. Keep. The. Nose. Straight.

FRUSTRATING. I am a toddler that is only allowed to practice walking a few times a week.

Then – suddenly without any warning – magic happens. Halfway through the lesson things are clicking. I’m keeping the descent rate I want, I’m can feel when I’m in ETL, my pedal turns are not choppy. I’m not sure why it takes me a few minutes to warm up but it does.

This post isn’t about how to do decent pedal turns or how to hover exactly where you want to.

This post is about grinding. I was up for 1.4 hours today and did 10 approaches, 11 quickstops, 2 autos and 1 pedal turn. Three of those quickstops were keepers, the rest were dogs.

When you’re a toddler you grind because building that muscle memory is almost impossible but the only way to improve is to keeping doing things over and over and over.

Someone was asking me how hard it is to fly a helicopter this weekend. I’m not qualified to answer that question yet. I’m still a toddler and I think I will be for a LONG time. However, I tried to describe the coordination it takes and came up with this terrible analogy. Imagine having a bowling ball in your hands, now try to balance a marble on top of that bowling ball. Also, you’re on a unicycle on uneven ground. Maybe that’s dramatic or maybe I’m a slow toddler…The point is that after every hour in the air I’ve learned a million things.

Things are getting easier though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When I started this I remember trying to figure out which was the collective and which was the cyclic. What?

This is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done. 1.4 more hours in the books!

Weather was pretty clear, low winds and cool.  Perfect day.

I have 13.7 hours and I’m a little nervous after last flight’s -almost-but-not-really- mishap.  I know where I went wrong and looking forward to not repeating that.

So, radio calls are coming along.  No real issues there.

Normal approaches feel good, no issues there.  As long as you keep ahead of the guimbal and protect that torque from catching up to you at the end of the approach you’re solid.

Steeps are feeling ok.  No comment.

Throughout the lesson quickstop felt fine.  One or two gems and one or two that I’d like to forget but all in all I’ll give myself a solid C.  This is the 3rd lesson of getting into them and while I don’t have them down perfectly, they are coming along.

We did a max takeoff which is exactly like what it sounds, nothing earth shattering three.

The big highlight was the first auto in the guimbal.  I’ve been in the R22 doing a few with Grant but not the Guimbal.  The entry isn’t all that dissimilar than a quickstop.  You stick your airspeed at around 70knts, dump collective, left pedal then aft cyclic. After that you twist the throttle off with 2 big bites.  You manage most of the next 10 seconds with cyclic keeping yourself over the runway and managing your airspeed.  You add 1 twist of throttle at around 100 feet, then at telephone poll height you start flaring just like a QS then when you get closer to the ground another flare to fix the decent rate then you magically end up in a hover.  I don’t mean to sound unprofessional here but, WTF.  This seems dangerous.

I held my breath and questioned my life choices.

Ha.  I thought hovering was difficult.


Went for a lesson in the afternoon.  The winds were ENE at around 10kts gusting to 15-ish.  Clear skies.

I started the lesson with 12.4 hours.  We had pounded out a few steeps last time and started on quickstops.  That’s exactly what we did this time.  Practice makes perfect.

My quickstops are getting there, not terrible but not awesome either.  Chunky and heavy handed is a decent way of describing it, an even better way might be to call them ugly.  Controlled but ugly.  I’ll take it. Getting the motion down and reacting to any wind / weather is really all there is to it.  We must have done 30 QS this last lesson and by the end they were feeling better and better.  It’s hard to capture what if feels like to nail one and a simulator won’t do it justice so as for much of the hands on stuff, you just have to feel it and react to the aircraft in the air.  I’m still a little late with applying power and I may balloon once or twice but for the most part I feel confident in my ability to not loose control of the helicopter.

On to steeps and this is where I screwed up bad enough to actually put the fear of God in me… but first a public service announcement about learning from your mistakes.

My day job is not easily described, for the purpose of this post we’ll just say we develop software, hardware and build lots of iPhone apps.  We generally do a great job but we also constantly screw up because what we do is, more often than not, new technology or related to a patent.  We have a lot of postmortems.  A lot.  There is no shame in honestly screwing up then refactoring the code to get it right.  We have to figure out what we did wrong so we can try not to repeat ourselves.  If we don’t have these postmortem talks no one ever learns, so be proud of that failure, just don’t let it happen again.  Dummy.

Dan doing something stupid

So I’m posting a short story of my screw up so we can all learn from it but that pict right there should give you an idea of what I did wrong.  It legitimately spooked me.

My steeps were getting better.  I could pick my spot and get within 50 feet.  Not perfect but this is my second hour doing steeps so… gimme some slack.

I was REALLY concentrating on my base and final altitude and airspeed so I could set myself up a little better for the best approach. Each approach felt better and better so I stopped watching my instruments as closely.  Maybe I got a little cocky?  I’m not sure why I stopped looking at my instruments but I was really trying to hit those 1000′ markers each time.  On the last pass of the day I’m really steep / fast and trying manage the decent to hit my mark so I could come home and bore my wife with a story about nailing the last approach.  As I’m far too steep I decide to drop a ton of collective, in the video I think you can make out I drop it to 10% power, 650ft/m decent, 30kts. Yep, not a good move.  Grant was right on controls with me so once I put myself in this situation he was able to get me out but man… not solid decision making right there.  This all takes less than a second for me to do but the implications are pretty long lasting, especially since we’re about 80′ above the deck. Ugh.  I think Grant responds to my actions in about 5 frames of video so literally .15 seconds and without him right there… who knows.  The low rotor warning light came on for a hot second but immediately goes out.  Damn, good catch dude.  I don’t want to think about what was next if he wasn’t paying attention.

I had been hitting those markers for most of the lesson and was trying to force the approach.  There were no repercussions to overshooting the landing a little bit so what was I thinking?

I asked Grant about it later and I know that student pilots try to kill him ever single day so maybe this one just rolled off his back but it stuck with me.  I write this post with a few more hours and looking back I know exactly what I did wrong and why… so life lesson.  Don’t dump collective on approaches and review your mistakes.  I ended the day with 13.7 hours and [maybe] slightly smarter.

I was lucky to get another lesson in this week.  It was back to the pattern but new maneuvers today.

I started the lesson with 11 hours.  We had a morning flight, clear skies with 8-12 knots – gusting to 15 out – of the north west which means we’d probably be on 30R.  It was an outstanding day to be up in the air.

Once up in the air we made a normal approach and then a few pedal turns.  Even with the wind pedal turns were decent.  Progress!

Fig_2-82We moved up to about 600ft AGL to practice steeps.  A steep approach is just like a normal approach just from higher up with a, you guessed it, steeper angle down to your spot.  There are risks that come with steeps like settling with power.  Settling with power is also know as Vortex Ring State.  As I understand it, the helicopter is “settling” into it’s own nasty down wash.  To correct the issue there are several techniques.  What we’re being taught right now is apply forward cyclic to find some new clean air, if possible lower collective to reduce risk of a blade stall.  If possible should be in quotes.  There is another technique called the Vuichard Recovery Technique (good read here) but it’s not “approved” in our school as of yet.

Back to the steeps, one important thing to keep in mind is that your descent rate should be below 300 feet per minute before you lose ETL (Effective Translational Lift).  If you remember way back to when we talked about ETL early on in one of the first posts, it’s a mild shake where the helicopter is getting into some nice clean air.

Steeps can be dangerous especially if you’ve got a tail wind.  It’s important to pay attention to what the instruments are saying and what your helicopter is feeling like.  Make sense?  It took a while but this is all fitting together nicely after doing it in practice a couple hundred times.



Grant, and I think every CFI, has their students on a very specific set of tasks that when combined equal a maneuver… steeps prepare you for some tough ones.  Quickstops and Autos.  Who knows what steeps are also the foundation for but for right now, they lead us to quickstops.


As I mentioed above – pedal turns + steeps were warm ups for quick stops.  So a quickstop is, among other things, a nice way to shake up the day and scare the crap out of anyone in or around the helicopter.  If you need to avoid an obstacle or if there is an issue on takeoff a quickstop is your go to.  The procedure goes something like this, down collective, left pedal, aft cyclic, add collective, right pedal, level off, hover like a boss.  (Remember I’m not in a Robbie)

So to go into more detail…

DSC_0017Something jumps in your way on take off.  For the purpose of this post, we’ll say it’s a woolly mammoth.   So you’re at around 45knots about 25ft AGL and out jumps Jim.  I named the woolly mammoth Jim.  You see Jim and need to react quickly to ask your passenger to snap some photos because there is a woolly mammoth in front of you and no way you’re missing that. National Geographic is going to be all over you!

1)  Jim is 150ft in front of you, you are 25ft AGL – 45knts. You drop collective and need to add left pedal to deal with the torque correct / protect against any yaw.  This pedal + collective input are nearly simultaneous.  Collective is first obviously.

2)  Jim is now 100ft in front of you, you are 25ft AGL – 45kts.  You bring the cyclic aft.

3)  Jim is now 60ft in front of you.  You are gaining altitude because of the aft cyclic but not ballooning because of your down collective input, you are maybe 35ft AGL – 30knts.  You are controlling your yaw by pedal inputs.

4)  Jim is now 40ft in front of you, you are 20ft AGL – 20knts.  You are flaring still but thinking about leveling the helicopter off, applying collective and right pedal to deal with the torque.

5) Jim is 30ft in front of you, almost perfect distance for a shot of a woolly mammoth, those things are huge.  Anyway, you are 15ft AGL in a controlled steep approach – 10knts. Leveling and controlling your decent with collective and pedal input to deal with any wind and torque.

6)  Jim is 20ft in front of you, you are 5ft AGL in a perfect ground effect hover.  You win.

To recap it, down collective, left pedal, aft cyclic, add collective, right pedal, level, steep approach, hover.

As with everything in a helicopter it takes a while to get through the motions before it makes sense.  I can’t count how many I’ve done but I know I will be doing hundreds more.

So that took up the bulk of the lesson and it will take up the bulk of a few more.


I had to head to Utah for a client photo shoot. There are worse things in the world then getting paid to go rally around in the desert with models.

FullSizeRender 10

Upon return I was worried I had forgotten what to do with my hands and feet while up in a helicopter. I have a hunch my instructor saw that coming so we took it easy and flew out to an airport I grew up near.

I started the lesson with 9.6 hours. The winds were light and clear skies. I’ve been wanting to fly to KSUS for a while and when he asked where I wanted to go it was an easy choice. Maybe not the most productive of days but it gave me time to reacquaint myself with the Guimbal and check out the GPS a bit more. Also, there is something to be said for straight and level flight in a helicopter… not really but I needed a refresher.

Picking up the helicopter was a little rough (Grant was on the controls more than me) but once we departed west over the river it seemed to come back, cyclic – collective – pedals – gauges were all where I remembered them. The ATC guys still speak another language but it’s one I can sorta understand and respond to. I can [finally] let the tower know what I’m doing and not sound like an idiot. Same with my hovering, most people tell you your hovering will be locked down around 10 hours which it was in my case, maybe even around the 6 or 7 hour mark. Even in wind I can keep it relatively stable and keep a pedal turn fairly smooth. Heavy wind or gusty winds can beat you up a bit but in calm conditions I feel decent about my hover. All in all I’m embarrassing myself less.

Anyway, back to the flight. It’s about 20-45 minutes to drive, depending on traffic, out to Spirit from my house. It’s a boring drive that I do often because my parents live out that way. I can’t say how nice it was not have to do that drive or sit in that traffic, we cruised out there making around 80 or 90 knots and crisscrossed the highway a few times. From KCPS to KSUS it was maybe 15 minutes. Awesome. We made a normal approach, did a pedal turn while we waited for traffic, did a quick stop or two, ran the pattern once more and headed back home to CPS.

Back at CPS we sat in the pattern for a bit then called it a day. Nothing shocking.

I was a little surprised at how rusty I wasn’t. I might have even surprised Grant a little. Things are falling into place a bit. Well, I say that now… I know we have a curriculum to follow. Easy patterns and hovering aren’t tough, they are the foundation for steep approaches and quick stops. Steeps and quick stops are foundations for autos. Autos are foundations for not falling out of the sky when things go south.

As everyone said things will click around the 10 hour mark, which they finally did… I look forward to every hour in or around the helicopter. I look forward to class and understanding more about the vortex rig state and sectionals. There is something about being up there and having a view that few people have.

UPDATED POST: I flew the 22 with about 70 hours in the books. You can read it here:


That title should read: “The difference between a R22 and a Guimbal G2 from the perspective of an inexperienced student pilot.”

The weather was mild.  Light breeze and temps were in the 40s.

I started the lesson with 8.6 hours, to date, all in the G2.  I’ve been in R22s and R44s but never put my hands on the controls.  Grant has most of his hours in 22s and 44s.  Each helicopter has it’s own quirks but I think as a model you could say he knows Robbies well, he can auto down to numbers on the runway.  Damn. The G2 has it’s quirks and we’re all learning them.  I think the G2 has around 90 hours at this point so everyone needs more time in it to figure out what we like and might be improved.

Anyway, I wanted a better understanding of what the differences between the Guimbal and the Robinson are.  They basically have the same power-plant.  They both have tail booms and skids… but the similarities seem to end there.

Building the Guimbal G2 cabri

I’m not quite sure where to start but  rotors aren’t a bad place.  It’s a 3 blade fully articulated rotor as opposed to the the semi-rigid 2 blade R22.  Most might argue the 3 blade articulated is more forgiving and isn’t as susceptible to such a quick decay.  Also, low G pushovers are a thing and from day 1 in class we’re warned about them.  As helicopters generally want to fall out of the sky at any time we are not as  worried about mast bumping in the G2 – as worried – pilots are generaly on guard for everything but we can mostly check mast bumping off the list in the G2.

The tail rotor is also different.  The G2 has a fenestron and the R22 has a traditional rotor.  Among other things it’s quiet, less susceptible to damage on big flares and slightly harder to walk into.  You could still walk into it if you wanted to…

That’s about it for the obvious differences.  Those “differences” are far more complex then one or two paragraph allows but for the purposes of this post, that’ll cover it.  The intent of this post isn’t to set it up as the R22 vs G2 debate which is happening on forums and reddit… I simply don’t have the hours in either aircraft to be commenting, we’ll let pros lead the discussion for now.

OK, on to the instrument cluster which is clearly different.  The G2 has what Guimbal refers to as, EPM or Electronic Pilot Management system.  It displays power settings, engine / rotor RPM, fuel, flight time and all your sensor data.  It’s a nice big glass display and it’s incredibly easy to understand what’s going on with the ship.  It’s VERY VERY nice and after wandering around the hanger a bit and checking out the R22s, R44s, Long Rangers, and a EC120… well, it’s a super cool cluster and I feel lucky to be cutting my teeth with this setup.

Guimbal G2 Cabri Instrument cluster Midwest Helicopter Academy R22 Instrument cluster Midwest helicopter academy

So, those are the easily identifiable differences from an outward appearance…


PLEASE keep in mind this is being written by someone with little knowledge or time in both aircraft.  Why does it matter then?   Well, if you’re considering going to school and weighing the options in which aircraft is right for you – you need to talk with the CFIs and Chief Pilots at your school – but here are some thoughts by someone living it right now.  If you’d like to get in touch with the folks that run Midwest, If you want to talk to me I’m happy to chat, use that form on the contact page.


On to my first flight in a 22.  It was cool and low wind.  We flew our normal patterns.  We did some hover work, some take offs, approaches and some autos.

The startup was similar to the G2.  You do a little more manual math in the R22 but nothing terrible.  The G2 has that nice EPM where it does manifold math for you. I like that EPM…

On hovers the R22 was a little slower to respond than the G2 and the pedals were VERY sensitive.  The G2 you need a lot of pedal input to get the thing to react, the R22 would react as soon as you thought about touching the pedals.  A little scary at first but then you got used to it. I chased the R22 all over the hovers, it was like my first day in the G2.  I’d say there was a lot of pilot induced oscillation.  A LOT.  The pedal sensitivity I liked even though I was hovering poorly.  Might give this one to the R22.

Once in the pattern the R22 was a fraction of a second slower to respond to cyclic and collective inputs but you needed FAR less inputs to move the aircraft.  Pedals were nearly immediate if not twitchy, those needed FAR FAR FAR less input in flight.  The G2 also has trim, we rarely use it but you can get that thing to fly straight and level with a few clicks of the button located on the cyclic.

The instruments don’t really compare and it’s a unfair fight. G2 is the clear winner.

Regarding safety… documentation says the G2 has a bunch of advantages, lined fuel cells(yep, I know most R22s do to), piston seats, etc… plus less rotor decay and a few other features listed in the POH.  I felt safe in both but the G2 seems solid.

Both have (barely) adequate power but they are trainers so it’s a tie for the most part.

Cost, well, that’s up to you. The r22 is cheaper by a fair amount.  I can’t make the call on this one for many reasons, mostly because it’s up to you on what you want to spend so my opinion is just that, my opinion.  ($16,350 for the R22 || $24,765 for the G2)

Now it’s time for me to make the call on which I like more and would recommend if some weirdo on the street stopped and asked me.  Trolls, please see a fore mentioned disclaimer on why you should or should not listen to me.

I still don’t have enough info to make an informed decision but I love flying the G2.  It’s awesome from nose to tail.  It’s an easy walk around for pre-flight, for the most part everything is accessible and easy to inspect.  With 94 hours on the machine I haven’t seen anything like safety wire or torque paint move, save for one small bolt retainer but it was a non-issue once the mechanic looked at it.  From the engine logs it doesn’t seem to be consuming much if any oil.  Start up is fairly intuitive and we get through the procedure in 10 minutes, not that you should rush either of those.

I desperately want one in my garage / hanger / estate / powerball lottery funded stash house…  I believe the fuel economy is fairly good but if you own a helicopter fuel prices probably are not a huge issue.  From what I read it should be fairly low on maintenance, but again, I’m only repeating what I read.

Flying at 80% power with 2 200lb+ guys we can make 80 knots consistently.  With a tail wind we do better.  I’m not saying I would like to travel cross country in it but… actually, strike that, I’d jump at the chance to fly it anywhere.  Sitting in it for 6 – 8 hours at a shot would not get old.

If I’m lucky enough to continue learning how to fly different helicopters I will GLADLY move to the R22s then on to the R44s.  I will like / love them too but the G2 will hold a special place in my heart.

Guimbal G2 Cabri Midwest Helicopter Academy

It was calm, clear and cool this morning. Wind was out of the south at 5 knots a little bit of haze. I think there was 8 miles of visibility. I started the flight with 8.6 hours. I missed a flight and ground school last week because of travel but I studied and took some practice tests. Grant is going to make up the ground school with me tomorrow. The guys at midwest are pretty damn accommodating.

Take off was pretty good.  I made the radio call to get out of the airport.  I still have mic fright and don’t get why.  I speak in-front of large audiences all the time.  Keeping the calls short and sweet should be easy but it’s like pulling teeth.  I need to focus on this for the next flight.  It should be simple: Who am I talking to, who am I, where am I, what do I want, what info do I have.

So, it should sound like this: Downtown Tower, Helicopter Niner Eight Niner Hotel Hotel, Departing Fostair Ramp, Requesting Northern Departure with Foxtrot.

Instead this is the nonsense that comes out of my mouth: Downtown Airport, Helicopter Niner Hotel Hotel, Fostair, Slurpy.

WTF.  I have climbed mountains, survived avalanches, managed not to get myself killed in 3rd world countries for months at a time, camped in the jungle, tricked my wife into marrying me, raised 2 kids, welded stuff that my life depended on, rebuilt engines, run a business… Somehow I become an idiot when on a radio.  Grant laughs at me.  How do I fix this.  Damn.

On to the flight.  I needed to shake off the rust and I think Grant knew it.  We used the Garmin punch in a airport about 12 nautical miles from CPS.  It was uncontrolled and would not be busy.  It is in airspace G.  If you’re curious about G, we learned about it 2 weeks ago.

From Wiki: Class G airspace includes all airspace below FL600, not otherwise classified as controlled. (AIM 3-3-1) There are no entry or clearance requirements for class G airspace, even for IFR operations. Class G airspace is typically the airspace very near the ground (1,200 feet or less), beneath class E airspace and between class B-D cylinders around towered airstrips.

Radio communication is not required in class G airspace, even for IFR operations. Class G is completely uncontrolled.

VFR visibility requirements in class G airspace are 1 mile (1.6 km) by day, and 3 miles (5 km) by night, for altitudes below 10,000 feet (3,050 m) MSL but above 1,200 ft AGL. Beginning at 10,000 feet MSL, 5 miles (8 km) of visibility are required, day and night. Cloud clearance requirements are to maintain an altitude that is 500 ft below, 1,000 ft above, 2,000 ft horizontal; at or above 10,000 ft MSL, they are 1,000 ft below, 1,000 ft above, and 1 mile laterally. By day at 1,200 feet (370 m) AGL and below, aircraft must remain clear of clouds, and there is no minimum lateral distance.

It should be noted that there are certain exceptions where class G extends above 1,200 feet AGL. This is usually either over mountainous terrain (e.g., some areas in the Rocky Mountains), or over very sparsely populated areas (e.g., some parts of Montana and Alaska).

garmin-gi106a-600x600So, off we went, we made our radio calls then went in for the landing.  I came in steep and a little fast but overall was pretty happy.   We departed, I got to punch in the heading back to KPS and once our heading was set I picked a few things in the distance and flew towards them.  I was also introduced to VOR + the GPS.  VOR is like a bicycle wheel with the spokes extending out, you snap on to one of those, keep it locked and it’ll eventually get to the airport.  The GPS seems to be like any other except this one seems very expensive.  No real need to go into details other than it makes life easy.

After heading back towards KPS, I made the call at 10 miles.  I think I told the tower we were heading east when we were heading south.  Dammit.  Once we joined the pattern I did redeem myself by thinking about each call that we needed to make before Grant made it…

The airport was a little crowded today so the first approach was rushed but the 2nd and 3rd seemed better.  Hovering was decent and takeoffs were not too difficult.

Instead of grabbing a ton of collective I’m trying to take off with the same amount as I use in a hover.  It’s tough.  Instinct tells me to get up and out as fast as possible but altitude does not equal safety in all situations and I need to be aware of that.

That’s about it on this one.  It was nice to get out of the pattern.  I might ask if I can jump in an R22 to see how that feels compared to the Guimbal.




It was cold and windy, well, windy to me.  About 12 knots, 30 degrees and a low ceiling.  I started the lesson with 5.9 hours of flight time and it probably showed today.  The first 20 minutes were not impressive.  So much so that I’m thinking about editing the out some of the more embarrassing parts.  Nah, we’ll leave them in.

Anyway, here is how the flight went down.  As always we went through pre-flight and startup.  Nothing to report here.

After we got up in the air I felt slightly rusty.  It has been a week since I was last up.  Weather bumped us out of the running earlier this week.  The first approach was ok but I came in fast and pulled too much power, I’m also still late on right pedal input.  Takeoffs are fine, keeping it in trim is not a big deal and my turns are better.  The second approach was a hot mess.  I came in nicely but my I tried to shift my boot to feel the pedals better and all hell broke loose. I more or less got it wedged between the instrument console and the pedal.  We spun an unintended left turn while drifting aft and left.  Grant was right on the controls with me, had he not been things would have gone very wrong.  I don’t think I could have stopped where we were about to go.  Damn.  It all happened in about 2 seconds.  We ran another lap then Grant put us out in the grassy area to practice some hovers and pedal turns.

The hovers were fine-ish. Wind was coming from the west north west so Grant had me set the Guimbal into wind, then rotate 90 degrees so I’d feel the difference – north, south, east, west.  Each time I was surprised at how much cyclic it’d take to keep me were I wanted to be.  It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t the most delicate of flying.  I’d give myself a solid B-

After hovering around he had me on pedal turns.  As soon as we transitioned from north to east the tail would really catch the wind, same with east to south.  It was tough to keep up with but after 5 or 6 turns I could anticipate when it’d try to break free.

We spent maybe 15 minutes on hovers then ran a few more laps.  The approaches got MUCH better.  I was still over controlling the Guimbal but at least we were able to land within 5 feet of where I was aiming.  We tried a steep approach which avtually felt pretty decent too.

Today was pretty cold, it was around 35 with light clouds and no winds. I have 4.5 hours in the air.

The pre-flight and startup procedures were relatively uneventful. I’m getting slightly better powering through the startup procedure without spending 15 minutes doing so. Learning to fly helicopters in an exercise in repetition. Skipping any steps or rushing through something just isn’t done.  Take your time and do it right.

On to the flight. Hovering now is easier, but only slightly. I think Grant expects me to be able to speak and listen while hovering. That might happen soon but as for now… I’m doing everything I can to keep the thing in the same spot and 3 feet off the ground. I have a hunch he’s asking me questions like, “Dan, what is your name?” and I’m responding something like, “7”.

Level flying, trimmed out banks, speed, altitude… that’s all coming along, no real effort is needed. I think my 4 year old could possibly do some of that which explains why my Dad let us sit right seat and grab the controls when we were kids.  Anyway, the general tasks of keeping the thing in the air are not tough once you’re up. I was able to make a radio call that wasn’t a complete failure. You simply state what you doing and your tail number. So in our case: “One Two Left, clear for the option, niner hotel hotel”:

  • One Two Left (runway)
  • Clear for the option(making an approach)
  • Niner Hotel Hotel (our helicopter).

Make sense?  It’s slowing making some to me but I have mic fright so it’ll take some more time.  I am listing to ATC while at work and that’s helping a bit.

Approaches… Damn.  Those are not coming easily right now.  I’m too early on pulling power -or- I’m too late on pedal work.  Generally nothing is happening the way I want it too.  I can’t tell how much Grant is on the controls but I suspect a fair amount.  Not sure what I can do to improve this either.  We didn’t spend much time on hovering this lesson because I know he wanted me on more approaches, each one seemed to go wrong in a new and creative way.  In fact in the video below, right around the 23 minute mark, I settle into what looks to be a nice approach and then spin a left pedal turn for no apparent reason.  Dammit.  I think this will take a while.ETL

There were a few ah-ha moments in this flight…

I’ve learned what some of the shimmies and shakes of the helicopter mean… ETL (Effective Transitional Lift)is very easy to pick out now.   I also get a decent sense for when I’m in and out of ground effect.  I was hovering really high for a while and since correcting that, sticking around in that “cushion” of air it’s easier to remain in control.

So that’s about it for the 4th flight lesson.  I’m 5.9 hours in the air and feeling slightly better.

Those first few times up are brutal but if you stick with it for a while everything starts to click.  I wish I could say that for ground school but that’s another story.

Check out the video below, we’re getting better at capturing video and audio that will actually help illustrate what we are doing, when and how.


IGuimbal G2 Cabri at Midwest Helicopter Acadameyt was cooler, around 50 and some light clouds.  As I got to the airport I noticed the windsock was super calm.  Awesome. The first couple flights were around 15 knots if I remember right.  I have 3 hours in the air.

Today’s flight actually felt good.  Hovers were semi-controlled, approaches seemed click a little more and I’m keeping the attitude of my turns more in check.  Grant showed me what a hover auto feels like, he asked if I’d like to try one… I quickly responded, I did not.  It was crazy and I need more time before I jump into that.

As with every flight we started with an external pre-flight.  That can be found here!

Then we did our startup procedure.  There is a good video of that located here.

We ran through a couple of take offs and approaches, I’m not capable of putting the helicopter even close to where I want it on the approach and I’m chasing it but if Grant were to have some sort of issue mid-flight there is a chance I could get us on the ground and possibly walk away.  It’d be ugly and the Guimbal might not look the same when I got it down but… progress.

The main problem with my approaches is I wait to long to apply power, come in too fast or too slow or too high or too low.  What am I doing right?  Well, not much, I can keep the nose pointed forward and able to keep a semi-stable hover.  Baby steps… I’ll use that semi-stable hover comment as a segue to hovering instead of dwelling on my sub par skills.

Hovering felt good.  If I relax on the collective and cyclic and STAY in ground effect things are pretty easy.  Grant had me do some sidestepping or strafing and some left and right pedal turns, those turned out to be easier than we both thought. Here is where I dispense possibly bad advice, so take this with a shovel full of salt, make tiny corrections and hold the cyclic with your index and thumb LIGHTLY.  Hold the collective the same way.  Stare out at the horizon, if you look down at your feet through the glass at the ground you’ll start chasing the helicopter.  Figure out what the helicopter is doing as quickly as possible and correct it.  Be smooooooth.  There will be gusts of wind, there will be dogs running around the airport, there will be fixed-wing taking off and landing from you 30 yards away… There will be a lot of distractions but if you keep ahead of the craft and make your corrections quickly and with a light touch it gets better.

We also set the Guimbal down on mother earth more times than I can count.  That’s fairly simple, get the thing settled, then with a TINY amount of forward movement put collective down.  To get back up, right pedal, right cyclic and slowly pull power.

So this is where I should talk about autos, but I just wasn’t there yet.  I understand the idea but watching and following grant’s movements on the controls… I knew it was a no go.  We’ll get to that next week.

At the end of the flight I had another 1.5 hours in the Guimbal.  I don’t feel as much like a clown…

I had scheduled 2 flights this week.  Wednesday and Friday.  The Wednesday flight was canceled, the Guimbal was in for it’s 25 hours oil change.  It was actually a blessing because I could work out the bugs of capturing footage and audio. Here’s a quick sample:

On to the flight.  We did the pre-flight which basically consists of checking as much of the aircraft as you can without really dismantling it.  You check skids, external body components, engine components, tail components and finally rotor components.  Then you give it one last walk around to make sure you didn’t leave a gas cap off or the dipstick out.

After that was out of the way, we jumped in and ran through the checklist.  It went a bit faster this time and I understood more of what we were checking and why.

Grant got us to a hover, requested permission to go make some turns and off we went.  There was an amazing amount of radio chatter, lots of students around.  So much so that it was tough for Grant and I to speak, not to mention my David Clarks were acting up.  I think I might run them back to the store and grab a new pair this weekend.  Speaking of chatter, there was an ATC guy on the comms that sounded like truly enjoyed his job and was having some back and forths with the other instructors and students.  I’m still a little worried about calling my flight plans out to those guys, it’s tough enough with everything going on but having to actually tell someone what I’m going to do is… well, it sounds impossible.

We worked on a few things today.  Lots of hovering and more approaches.  Hovering is lost on me.  I constantly yank on the collective when I see the ground coming up to bite me.  I’ll get to 4 feet above the runway and a little gust of wind will hit us or I’ll be managing the cyclic and we’ll loose 1 foot of altitude and I’ll pull up.  After we get out of ground effect everything is a bit squirrelier.  My reaction comes from riding bikes I think, when you are in trouble with a dirtbike you gun the throttle and raise the front wheel.  When I sense we’re going to slam into the runway I pull power.  I’m also still chasing the machine and waaaay overcompensating.  White knuckling the controls too, I realize I’m doing it but I can’t keep myself from repeating that mistake.  If I hold the controls with a lighter grip it helps tremendously.  Also, Grant mentioned I should look out on the horizon a bit more.  That was probably the best advice I got all day.  Once he said that it changed the game a bit.  Not so much that I didn’t look like a complete ass out there but enough that I kept things in check a bit more.  One more tip – and this might not make sense but as you’re coming in on your final hover you pull power at the same rate that ground is approaching.

Some of the takeoffs felt right, or as right as they could, when you’re just trying to make it off ground.
Most of the approaches felt good, approaches seemed to get easier as the lesson went on.  I’m over or undershooting everything but only by 20 feet and what’s 20 feet between friends.

Finally and this was just starting to gel as we were finishing up… when I’d relax and just lead the helicopter down on an approach it seemed to all fall into place.  I wasn’t checking instruments which is probably a no-no but if I was in the moment and concentrating on where I needed to go and what I needed to do, everything just worked.  Strange.

Guimbal and a fuel truck


My hands hurt.

I also have a new found respect for the dudes that I’ve been up with these last few months. Damn.  Flying a helicopter is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I decided it was time to get the show on the road and called Grant to see if we could get up for an hour. He was just back from vacation and was into it. I got there a little early to rig some camera gear and figure out if we could mic the ATC / comms. The camera setup was easy but getting the helicopter mic’d was not. -All of the important flight school components will be recorded and put up on a youtube channel.

Sadly this one will be without audio so I’ll time jump the boring parts.

So, on to the actual flight. We sat in the cockpit and ran through some protocol. Don’t touch this, yes, you can touch that and this is how to interact with ATC… We also spoke about how he’ll hand off controls. Then we ran through the G2 preflight.Guimbal checklist
No real big surprises but it does take a while to get the Guimbal ready to go.  During that time we run through Throttle, Collective, Pedals and Cyclic.  We talk a little about weather and comms. Weather was:

METAR: KCPS 262053Z 29014G21KT 10SM OVC028 02/M05 A3026 RMK AO2 SLP249 T00171050 53003


About 10 minutes after we start the engine Grant requests to take off.  We taxi and we’re out.  After we get a few minutes out of the airport he hands control over.  Damn.  This is actually happening.  He tells me to watch my trim, watch my airspeed, watch my heading, check altitude and keep an eye on basically everything that my eyeballs can see.  Damn again.  There is a ton going on.  Chatter on the radio, it’s gusty, there are birds around us, other pilots and the ceiling is low.  I’m doing everything I can to manage all the inputs and my nose really itches but I can’t take my hands off the controls… I’m also death gripping the the cyclic and collective.  I’m tense and sweating.  I’m behind the aircraft, reacting to it and noticing pilot induced oscillations.  That sucks.

husaberg in coloradoRiding bikes on sketchy trails I always notice arm pump, it’s when you’re super tense, you’re always flexing and you’re controlling the bike poorly.  In this case the bike is a super expensive helicopter and my wife will kill me if I cause us to fall out of the sky.

I’m actively trying to chill out and release the death grip but it’s not happening.  Grant is gesturing with one of his hands which means I’m flying this thing?  Is that ok?  It’s making me nervous but I’m guessing it’s intentional.  He also keeps on telling me to “step on the ball” what does that mean?  Oh duh.  The trim.  Finally that clicks. When I see the trim over to the left or right I use pedal to correct.  We make a couple 360 degree turns, we talk more about power management.

Grant requested that we join the pattern and now it’s time to do what I think I’ll actually be doing for the next 10 or 12 weeks – which is flying patterns and hovering.

We join the pattern and he leads us through the first run in.

I watch the airspeed, watch the VSI, heading, trim, power, and oh hey, look a red tail hawk.

We come in, he hovers, dips the nose and we get to about 45 knots, climb to about 700 feet and make a left turn.

Grant says the controls are mine and I’m not entirely sure if he’s serious.  All of a sudden I’m back in control.  I bank too hard use the wrong pedal and I think I’m at 100% power.  I need to quit yanking up on the collective.  I make another left turn and we’re aimed at the runway.  Grant is telling me I’m doing a good job but I’m wondering if the guimbal has airbags because there is no way I’m not slamming us into that runway which is FAST approaching.  DAMN.  He talks me down through and I can’t keep from wondering if all the weird shimmies and oscillations are me or the wind?  Did I just do that?  Why are we now pointed 45 degrees away from the airport.  I should push one of the pedals.  Oops.  Wrong one.

We make a pass, Grant brings us to a hover and we do some pedal work.  I spin us 360 with the pedals and he keeps control of the collective and cyclic.  While working the pedals I notice how much he’s doing and how purposeful the movements are.  It’s windy and he seems to be in complete control. I will never be able to do this. Maybe I should quit now, says no one ever when they are flying something this awesome…

We do 3 or 4 more passes and I am getting EVER SO slightly better.  I can at least turn.  Hovering, however, is a no go.  Not even close.  Every time I’m given control we end up 90 degrees from where we should be and about 30 feet higher. This is going badly.  Grant assures me it’s not but he’s a crappy liar.

Grant puts the guimbal down, we do the post flight and I pry my hands off the controls. In fact as I write this a few hours later my hands still hurt.

We talk about timing for the next round and I hand him my logbook to fill out.  Damn.  1.5 hours in the books.  That feels awesome.Guimbal Cabri G2 instruments

Grant logbook