Instrument Helicopter – Add on

I started my helicopter instrument training in December. As I already have my Instrument Airplane rating, the requirements were pretty minimal. I needed 15 hours of dual time, and certain amount of cross country time, and a few specific cross countries. However, between my work schedule and rough winter weather, progress was slow. It took December through March to get my 15 hours. It then took another two months and EIGHT cancelations for weather before I was able to finally knock out the checkride.

I don’t have any real pictures of instrument training, nor am I going to recount the experience in detail. I will briefly note my observations of the differences flying a helicopter vs an airplane by instruments.

First off, the aircraft you are likely to train in – Robinson R-22s and R-44 etc can’t fly instruments even when they have all the avionics to do so. Helicopters have some unique requirements to fly instrument. Helicopter manufacturers will use a combination of trim systems, stability augmentations systems (SAS), auto pilots, flight directors and or aerodynamic surfaces. Put simply, the aircraft you’re going to rent or train on, even with all the attitude indicators and GPS WAAS approach capabilities will not be certified for IFR operations. As a helicopter pilot, you’re unlikely to be in an aircraft capable of IFR flight until you get to major turbine aircraft with multi-pilot crews, advanced flight directors, and perhaps multiple engines.

All this is to say, that the Private Pilot Instrument Helicopter rating has to be one of the most useless ratings there is. If you can afford a helicopter capable of IFR flight – you can afford a pilot! Regardless, I got the rating, because, well basically because its a rating, and I’d like to collect them all, like POGs, or Pokemons (is that a thing?).

So how about the actual flying? I’ve heard a few airplane pilots say “Oh, instrument in a helicopter must be so much easier.” Followed by one of the following statements, “You can just slow to a hover on the approach” “If you’re off the ILS you can just go straight left or right” “It so much slower everything must be easier!” Wrong. And wrong some more. Hand flying the helicopter under the visor is more difficult than your standard GA aircraft. The relationship between the cyclic and collective, and performance – while similar – is not precisely the same. Further, the R-22 is FAR less stable than anything you will fly in a typical GA flight school. So, hand flying is harder. Cockpit management is both harder, and easier. In an airplane, its easy to trim the plane and take your hands off the controls to flip switches and dial frequencies. Most general aviation aircraft are so stable if you have it trimmed well, you can take your hands off the controls for a very long time indeed. I’ve demonstrated this stability to students. Trim the airplane. Take your hands off. A little rudder input can help to maintain heading, and as your nose dips, speed increases you start to climb – the reciprocal happens. They just want to fly straight and level. Well, in a helicopter, particularly a Robinson R-22, trust me, you are never taking your hands off the cyclic. To do so would be, well suicidal. You can take your left hand off the collective periodically, but this should be avoided at high power settings and for any extended period of time. There isn’t an autopilot, and the high instability combined with hands always on the controls makes managing frequencies, switches, GPS etc very difficult. Luckily, for the practical exam, you have an out of sorts. Since helicopters that are certified for actual IFR flight all include some combination of autopilots, flight directors and multi-pilot crews, you are allowed to simulate autopilot by having the examiner act as an autopilot while you do some button-logy. In this sense, the helicopter instrument rating becomes easier. While the airplane can be flown hands off for a period of time, you are expected to manage the cockpit as a solo pilot. The expectation is not the same in helicopters.

Flying approaches, and holds, and the like really are the same as an airplane. If you’re off the ILS you don’t just stop and go left or right. You have forward airspeed and you fly a correction just like an airplane.

Anyways, thats a quick down and dirty on the differences from a newbie helo pilot’s point of view. Did I enjoy the instrument training? Honestly, not really. While there was a novelty in doing it in a helicopter early on – for the most part it was more of the same. The most enjoyable parts of flying a helicopter, its amazing visibility, its ultimate STOL and off airport capabilities are all pretty much lost under the visor. Further, as I have no real intention of ever being a professional helicopter pilot (beyond perhaps a CFI as a hobby / part time gig) it does not serve much use. I’m glad I got the rating though, as I’m sure I’m an incrementally better pilot than I was as a result.

Next up, commercial add-on, and CFI-H add-on. Then I’m done. Except maybe a seaplane rating. I’d really like to get one of those at some point!

Trip to Pittsburgh

I recently was able to turn a work trip into a mini-vacation! My buddy Zack, who lives in Indianapolis, has always been interested in flying. I offered to take him up, and so we decided to meet in Pittsburgh. I departed on Thursday morning so that I could work Thursday & Friday on campus in Pittsburgh and then spend the weekend going out on the town. We planned to do some aerial sightseeing on Sunday.

The weather wasn’t great on Thursday, but it was VFR. Last time I flew to Pittsburgh, I did so in a well equipped Piper Arrow. I was able to depart IFR on the return leg. This trip I was in an older Cessna – and while it had a VOR, there was no GPS, and an autopilot I would rather not use. Translation – I had no desire to fly this puppy in IMC.



On the way up I took a selfie and sent it to Zack to let him know I was on my way. Heck of a morning commute to work! This past winter I was able to snowboard at Ski Liberty about a half dozen times. The slopes recently closed – but as you can see there is still plenty of snow on the trails.



On Thursday night, one of my engineers, Brandon, scored free tickets to the Pirate’s game. I was having a very Pittsburgh night. Primanti Brother’s sandwich, Iron City Light beer, and a Pirate’s game. Hard to be more of a “yinzer” than that!


Work was rather productive, but I had a difficult time getting the locals to join me at a watering hole on Friday night. No matter – I have no issues with going solo! More Untappd checkins!


On Saturday, Zack finally arrived from Indianapolis. We did a soup crawl in Sewickly, PA. Basically the main street shops all get together with various restaurants and put on the soup-ly equivalent of a pub-crawl sans alcohol. All told, I believe there were 13 locations with soup, and I do say there were some excellent soups!


Zack went to both undergrad and pharmacy school in Pittsburgh, living in the city for nearly 10 years. He’s been out of the city for several years, so the weekend was a bit of a trip down memory lane for him. He took me to several fine establishments such as Howlers below. I left with my ear drums bleeding and my clothes smelling of cigarettes so badly I believe I was acquiring nicotine through osmosis.


Fortunately, I don’t have picture of the other upstanding establishments!

Here is Zack and I on Hot Metal Bridge during our nostalgia pub crawl.


On Sunday we awoke early to jump in the airplane and fly south the Davis, West Virginia where Zack’s brother lives in the family home.


West Virginia is beautiful and we couldn’t have gotten better weather.


Here is Davis from the air.


We also flew over Seneca Rocks – which Zack tells me is something unique on the east coast. img_2711.jpg

We landed at KEKN, Elkin’s county for lunch. Zack’s brother Alex was able to meet us at the airport and I took him for a few laps in the pattern. Unfortunately, none of my landings were stellar. I should stick to my preferred low-wing aircraft.


All in all it was an excellent trip. I got a lot done at work, Zack and I had a great time hanging out, and we flew a very scenic and enjoyable route. Looking forward to the next trip!


Recent Helicopter Flights

I have now introduced eight people to flying in the helicopter! My buddy Mike was first just after I got my certificate. A short while later I flew my buddy Wes. My mother in-law Olga went for a flight, as did my Dad and his wife Nancy. More recently, I took my buddy Chad flying, and his boss Joe, and last but certainly not least – I took my bride for a flight!

Here is Maja just before her second takeoff from my Dad’s house! That day I was fortunate enough to pick her up at my house, and then land at my Dad’s for a quick visit. Then we flew back to Frederick. Maja is a little nervous flying – and helicopters with their unobstructed view can be even more intimidating. I decided to leave her door on!





Recently I also started my transition training for the larger Robinson R-44. The 44 is a four seat aircraft with the six cylinder lycoming. In addition to having a much higher useful load there is plenty of extra power.


My buddy Mike joined me for one of the training flights in the R-44. We flew down the Potomac near Hudson’s Ferry, West Virginia. It was a great flight.




I’ve done a bad job of documenting my helicopter training and flying on this blog – but I guess my only excuse is that I’ve been too busy having fun and working hard.

Here is a quick video compiled from several recent flights in the helicopter – including my wife’s flight and my flight with my good friend Chad and his boss Joe.