Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Wide Departure From The Usual

This blog is meant to be more politically/socially/morally oriented, but I just got a wild hair and decided to do something different. More for family and friends - although some of you folks who read this have become friends through our interactions here and at your own blog sites - than for those who stop by to read my conservative maundering.

I've started taking flight lessons in a Cessna 152. This will hopefully lead to a private pilot, single-engine, land rating added onto my commercial helicopter (rotorcraft) rating. Friday morning my instructor, a great guy about my age named John Parker, had me fly to a nearby airport to demonstrate that the techniques used to land at one airport will work equally well at any airport, as they are not based on particular landmarks, but the measurement of distances and the timing of turns based on airspeeds and your position relative to the runway you intend to land upon. Unfortunately, there was severe turbulence in the area, due to an approaching cold front, and the turbulence at the airport we flew to was significant all the way to the deck, with the addition of a strong crosswind. We discontinued the landing (a "rejected" landing, per the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook), poured on the power, and climbed out to return to our home field, Ravalli County Airport, in Hamilton, Montana. Upon arriving back home, the turbulence had decreased, but we had an 18 knot crosswind, and I had not yet had any training in crosswind landings (only ten hours logged in fixed-wing aircraft at this point), so I gladly let John do the honors.

When I was training in helicopters (nine months back in 1993-94 getting my commercial and CFI ratings), my instructor told me that learning to fly an airplane would be much, much easier than a helicopter. He flew both, so I took him at his word. I have a little over 200 hours in the Robinson-22 two-place piston engined helicopter, the R-22. Learning to hover is one of the more difficult evolutions in helicopter training, but once you have that down, the rest actually comes pretty easily. Autorotations were pretty exciting, especially when you do them all the way to the ground, as you need to in order to qualify for a Certificated Flight Instructor rating. Landings, however, were a piece of cake, once you could hover and safely do an autorotation if you needed to do so.

One of the nicest things about landing a helicopter is that crosswinds are never a problem. To a helicopter, which simply sets down from a hover, there really isn't any such thing as a crosswind. Whatever direction the wind comes from, you face into it. Oh, certainly there are some very limited situations where you may be restricted by obstacles on the ground, coupled with canyon walls or other terrain features which can limit your options somewhat, but basically it is a non-issue. Consequently, I am finding landings on a runway to be more challenging than I expected. The other nice thing about landing in a helicopter is that you only need room for your rotor. If an area is big enough to set down in from a hover without damaging your main rotor or tail rotor, it's big enough to land in. No need for a runway, field, or street (in an emergency).

After just four hours of fixed-wing time, I was able to shoot some landings on my own, without the instructor's assistance, which impressed the hell out of him. What frustrates the hell out of me, however, is that I have not been able to translate that into consistently good landings. Most of the time, when I round out just off the surface, I get too nervous and end up pulling the nose too high too soon, "ballooning" and floating too far down the runway before my main wheels touch down. I've got it down to about six out of ten poor landings, with four out of ten being good. I'm sure not satisfied with that. Landing a helicopter seems so much easier.

The evolutions involved with crosswind landings and take-offs, when one wing must be lowered, ailerons, and elevators controlled, with rudder added for crabbing, and such, seems to be a lot riskier than coming to a controlled hover at five feet off the deck and rolling off just enough power to settle onto your skids in a helicopter. No need to balance all of those control surfaces, just pitch and power. However, not being wealthy, I can't afford to rent even a little R-22 when I want to go flying, so learning to fly this Cessna is a must if I want to spend any time aloft. I'll certainly master this, but I have to admit I think my helo instructor was FOS. (I know he was FOS when it came time to find a job flying helicopters, which he claimed would be easy to do. Lied his ass off, he did, as I couldn't get hired anywhere in the US or Canada. I'm sure he enjoyed the $32,000 I paid him getting my commercial and CFI ratings, though.)

Anyway, from time to time I may come back to this topic, to speak about how much fun it is to fly. How I enjoyed doing the helicopter search and rescue work I did briefly in the Marble Mountain Wilderness of Northern California, and once looking for a downed F-16 pilot outside of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Flying around Mount Shasta and the other mountains up there was a hoot. Much more fun than training in the flatlands. I even got to do a half-dozen landings on a ship that was docked in the harbor at Eureka, California.

I hope to get some mountain flying in here in Western Montana as well. Hamilton is surrounded by mountains, with the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the west of us.

Take care. and thanks for stopping by.


  1. Congrats - it's a lot of fun. I've taken ground school, but have not actually flown. Many friends do fly (I work for a major avionics company, after all. We attract pilots from all over).

    Re: landings, rest assured aviation has a perfect record: we have never left one single plane up there. Every single one has landed in some way. I'm sure you've heard the old one, "any landing you can walk away from is a good one"; they also add, "and if you get to re-use the plane, it's nothing short of fantastic!"

  2. I once asked one of my father's fellow pilots about the JATO units mounted on a twin-engine Beechcraft their company (Sperry Rand Corp) owned. He told me they were there to push the aircraft clear of the runway when the engine failed on take-off :-)


Sorry, folks. I was completely ignorant about comment rules. Anyone can post, but I'd prefer a name, even if it is made up. Anonymous posts just seem cheap, if you know what I mean. Also, if you want to argue a point, that's fine. Cheap shots and name calling towards me or another person commenting (ad hominem) is rude and will get you banned. Other than that, I'd love to get some comments.