Friday, May 30, 2008


The past few days I've felt unsure about my ability to handle the heights of helicopter flight, but today I feel pretty confident. Funny how this all happens in your head. I haven't even stood next to the helicopter yet.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's up, Doc?

To get a helicopter license, you have to pass a medical examination by an FAA certified Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).

The FAA website has an AME Locator to help you find an examiner near you.

Mauna Loa Flight School requires a 3rd class medical for a private helicopter license, and a 2nd class medical for their professional program. All I need is the 3rd class.

So, I'm going to see my local AME next Monday. Hopefully it won't be quite as rigorous as the Mercury 7 astronaut tests in The Right Stuff, where they had to walk around with hoses up their butts.

While I'm on the subject, here are the first few lines from that great movie:

There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier. . .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Books, books, books

I ordered another book, Principles of Helicopter Flight, that seems to be the next book recommended by helicopter pilots after they mention Rotorcraft Flying Handbook (FAA Handbook).

Since the latter is a government publication, it has some quirky language and even contradictions in places. Hopefully, Principles of Helicopter Flight will clarify and expand on it.

There are a few other books I think I'll get, I'll cover them in a later post.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Homework, fears, and Mars miracles

I finished reading Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, but much of it was over my head (ha, made a pun), so I'm going to have to read it again.

I also finished John Swan's Robinson R22: A Pilot's Guide, a manual to the helicopter on which most people are trained (and is used at my flight school). I understood most of it, which means I'm making some progress.

The physics of flying are actually interesting to me, imagine that.

I am a little concerned about how my fear of heights is going to affect this endeavor. I have been in helicopters several times before, and loved it. However, smaller things, like ferris wheels, very small glider planes, and roller coasters, have scared the hell out of me at times. I certainly wouldn't be able to fly a machine in that state.

The Robinson R22, it turns out, is tiny. The roof of the cabin is shorter than me (no, that's not me in the picture). Plus, it's mostly windows, and I think I read somewhere that in Hawaii, due to the warm weather, they just fly with the doors off. Now, how am I going to deal with being a mile up in the air in a tiny clear bubble with no door next to me? That could be a problem.

So, worst case, I try it, can't do it, and just enjoy a long vacation in Hawaii.

Consider this: A few minutes ago, the Mars Phoenix Lander successfully touched down on Mars. The NASA team on that project worked for five years, and up until the final seconds they still only figured they had a 50% chance of success. Five years to flip one coin. What if it had failed?

So, if I can't handle the heights, no big deal. Other people put much greater investments into much greater risks. I can handle this one, either way.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One small step

Ok, first post! And I just put up my main site: (still working on the imagery)

It's a cliche' to say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, but it's also true. Consider that today we fly men to space, but in 1903 the Wright brothers' first flight lasted only 12 seconds.

So, with two months until helicopter school, I've been reading the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, the official text by the Federal Aviation Administration.

I was surprised to learn how unstable a helicopter is in a hover. Intuitively, I thought being still would be easiest, a state of rest, like sitting still in a car. But it turns out a helicopter in hover is constantly trying to turn or twist or fall, throwing itself off balance and out of hover, so the pilot has to constantly adjust to keep it there.

To do so, the pilot acts like a drummer, or a one-man-band, constantly monitoring and adjusting many things at once, in concert, with both feet and hands.

For example, suppose you're hovering, and the helicopter begins to slide left. To compensate, you must lean the rotor (the spinning blades) to the right. When you do that, the helicopter loses lift and starts to fall, so you have to adjust the angle of the individual blades to prevent a descent. When you do that, the blades dig more air and begin to slow down, so you have to increase the throttle to maintain their spin speed.

When you do that, the spin of the rotor causes the helicopter's body to spin the opposite direction (like when you shove something big, you fall back too), so you have to adjust the tail rotor to maintain your heading. If you do any of these cascading reactions imperfectly, the helicopter will start to slide or fall or twist off in a new direction, and on it goes...

Everything in the above two paragraphs happens almost instantaneously. Now I understand why rescue helicopter pilots need 100% concentration to stay precisely over their target. It's a very delicate and fragile state of balance.

I'm planning to get to Hawaii on July 13, so less than two months until I start learning how...