Transition from fixed wing (Or how I learned not to die)

G’day everyone :slight_smile: Hope you’re all doing well, and welcome to a quick topic i thought I’d throw together with some tips and tricks I’ve learned after months of learning to fly these awesome (and somewhat terrifying) machines.

I’m no expert, not by a long stretch, but I’m starting to get the basics down solidly, and while it was fresh in my mind I thought I’d scribble these thoughts down on coming over from the “dark-side” of fixed wing aircraft, in the hopes of maybe helping some of the others out there transition a little smoother. If anyone else has any tips, advice or thoughts please jump in, but I’ll get the ball rolling with with some of the key points I have learned during my transition.

In no particular order:

  1. The hover is not equal to taxiing. When I first started flying choppers, the hover seemed like a tiny portion of the flight, much like taxiing is in fixed wing, and boy howdy was I wrong. Hovering is almost like balancing a spinning plate on a stick while standing with both feet on a ball, and for all that difficulty there is a huge reward at the end.

Hovering, hover control, hover taxi, all of these skills are -really- more like super slow flight, and after spending a fair few hours just hovering around airports, setting myself simple goals such as “Fly down Alpha, Bravo, Chalie, 180 pivot at the end, side slip across runway, back up, turn and do it all in reverse” I found that my control at all phases of flight, especially take off and landings improved dramatically.

Once you understand how the hover feels, what the birds doing under you when you do x, or y, and how much control is required to stop x, or start y, the rest of the flight phases start to feel more natural and come together.

  1. Collective is -nothing- like throttle/power in a fixed wing. I hate to admit this, but this one took an embarrassingly long time to learn for me. I’d find myself on approach after a little cruise/sightseeing tour/whatever, and I’d lower collective and begin descending, when all of a sudden I’d either fall out of the sky due to Vortex Ring State, or I’d gain a -heap- of airspeed, and struggle to bleed it off, overshooting, or worse.

The truth is, the collective is as vital as the cyclic and pedals when controlling the helicopter, and it is -not- a set and forget type control, completely unlike what you would do in your standard fixed wing. Learning to add/remove collective smoothly, and near constantly has proved to be of invaluable help when I’m taking these amazing machines out and trying to fly them. Need to slow down? nose up + collective, cruising but finding you’re fighting to stay nose level? Lower that collective. But its not as simple as doing just 1 thing to it and leaving it. Constantly feel and think “Do i need a touch more, do i need a little less” and work with it, move it up and down, add some/reduce.

Now when I fly my collective is moved almost as much as the cyclic, especially during hover/takeoff approach and landing. Its very rarely left at a setting for more than a minute, maybe 2 at most. It all comes back to something I read very early on, that the controls of a helicopter are all linked/connected. You do something to one, you’ve got to counter and adjust all the others.

  1. Don’t be timid on the controls. This point is something that I feel is linked with the above point, but also separate. During my fixed wing days, every input you make (unless its an emergency/other reason) Tends to be measured, gentle, controlled. If you’re banking left you put in a touch left turn on the yoke and wait for the aircraft to roll to the desired angle, gently pulling back.

In helicopters i’ve found that this works a little differently… Its not that you’re rough with the controls, you’re not ripping them side to side, back and forward, jerking, you still want to be smooth, but you need to be a little quicker in your motions, and more… Authoritative, more direct.

As an example, lets say you’ve just picked up into the hover and the helicopter starts to side slip to the right, for whatever reason. Don’t be afraid to -command- that it stops it, move that stick to the left, as left as you have to go. Remember there is a delay, don’t rip left to full cyclic limit, but smoothly move that stick left. I found In my early days I’d leave it be, afraid to “upset” the helicopter, or afraid to over correct, but in reality i was hurting my own advancement into this world by not realizing that if the helicopters not doing what you want it to, you’ve -got- to counter it and get it under control, else you’re forever flying only half in control.

  1. Circuits. Coming from fixed wing, (and 10 odd years of fixed wing simming) Circuits seemed silly. “I’ve flown everything from a cessna to a 747, surely i’ll learn just as much by taking cross country jaunts in this “helicopter”, how hard can it be?” The answer is, very hard. Circuits, especially in a trainer type helo (Cabri, R22, etc etc) were instrumental in breaking some of my bad habits and teaching me the flow of flying choppers. How to take off, climb, cruise, approach and land, all contained in a couple of minutes of flight time, and after a few days you’d be surprised just how much more in control you’re going to feel in any helicopter afterwards. I 100% guarantee if you can start to do circuits consistently and relaxed, general flight of a chopper becomes ten times easier.

  2. Finally, this is more of a resource than a tip, but i found a series of videos really helpful when used in conjunction with other sources of information.
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCEJTqvfJC1NBpERWGPLKsyn2NzOKDG1p
    Think of it like a glossary… you’re watching a video and the pilot talks about “LTE”, and you’re not really sure what that’s all about or what it is, the videos contained within this playlist are short, simple and really easily understood, it explains exactly what “LTE” (or some other subject) is and what it is caused by, and even sometimes how to avoid or get out of said situation/problem. Well worth a quick watch.

Anyway, hope this is of some help to someone, they’re just generalized thoughts I’ve had kicking around my head since i first started to feel comfortable behind the stick of these amazing machines, and of course i could be 1000% wrong on each of them, but i thought I’d share on the off chance it helps someone who is stuck like i was those few months ago.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and i look forward to any feedback/thoughts/opinions/other tips that people wish to share.

3 Likes

Hello, @DrDakk. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I love to read how you folks face the transition from other types of aircraft and I am sure others will benefit greatly by reading your post as they will probably see themselves in a lot of you describe.