Flying diary part 1. Lessons 1 to 25

James T Lowe

"Heartfelt thanks goes to James for allowing reproduction of this amazing insight into learning to fly helicopters, written between May 2001 and March 2002. I have split it into 3 parts to make page loading quicker. It's a must read for anyone thinking about learning to fly a helicopter... not so much from a technical point of view, but a practical one, as it gives you a real feel of what it's like spending nearly a year learning to fly and finally getting your licence..." Gus 2009

18th May 2001. So I've finally booked a trial lesson. I've been talking incessantly for months about learning to fly a helicopter, and today I decided that I couldn't wait any longer, called East Midlands Helicopters (EMH), and booked myself an hour long trial lesson for tomorrow at midday. The weather forecast looks OK - not too sunny, but certainly doesn't look very windy or anything. And you wouldn't believe the smile that's been on my face all afternoon! I've also decided that it would be very interesting to keep a diary of events as I learn to fly. Here's hoping this will be the start of many entries then. There's at least one scheduled for tomorrow!

Lesson 1, 19th May 2001 Lesson 2, 21st May 2001 Lesson 3, 25th May 2001
Lesson 4, 30th May 2001 Lesson 5, 1st June 2001 Lesson 6, 5th June 2001
Lesson 7, 8th June 2001 Lesson 8, 12th June 2001 Lesson 9, 13th June 2001
Lesson 10, 18th June 2001 Lesson 11, 20th June 2001 Lesson 12, 25th June 2001
Lesson 13, 28th June 2001 Lesson 14, 4th July 2001 Abandoned lesson, 6th July 2001
Lesson 15, 10th July 2001 Lesson 16, 11th July 2001 Lesson 17, 17th July 2001
Lesson 18, 19th July 2001 Lesson 19, 24th July 2001 Lesson 20, 27th July 2001
Lesson 21, 31st July 2001 Lesson 22, 2nd August 2001 Lesson 23, 13th August 2001
Lesson 24, 15th August 2001 Lesson 25, 22nd August 2001
First solo
Part 2 Lessons 26 to 42


19th May 2001 Lesson 1 G-CHIS Costock

(back to top)

Wow! That was amazing!

Left home early, and decided to work out how far EMH is from my office... it's almost exactly five miles, or about 6 to 7 minutes driving time. How very useful! The weather was cloudy, but little or no wind, and no precipitation at all. I arrived at Costock at about 1150, my instructor was fuelling and checking the aircraft. So I was offered a coffee, and "forced" to pay up!!

The instructor returned from the airfield and gave a quick briefing on the use of the main three controls. The cyclic stick, collective lever and the pedals which all seemed fairly straightforward given my previous reading on the subject. Then we proceeded to the aircraft, on the way, he joked that a lot of people that come for the trial lesson, walk towards the Twin Squirrel expecting to fly it! Not so, it was the Robinson R-22 that we were to fly. He made some final checks and invited me to board. There's not a lot of room in an R-22 for a big bloke like me, I felt rather cramped.

My instructor started the engine, and we took off. We hovered for a moment, while he contacted East Midlands air traffic control for clearance to fly to Leicester Airfield. Then we ascended to about 2000ft and flew south. On the way, the instructor allowed me to take control of the cyclic in straight and level flight. I must have been doing fairly well, because when I glanced over, his hand was nowhere near the other cyclic control! We also performed a couple of turns. I was a bit surprised at how much the helicopter banks when making relatively shallow turns, something I need to get more used to. I'm also wondering if I should get my eyesight checked out again, because the instructor saw things way in advance of me. Perhaps he's just got a trained eye! One of the things I was a little nervous of to start with, was experiencing autorotation. The instructor said that we would autorotate onto the airfield, but with a powered recovery, so as not to touch the rather damp ground. He disengaged the rotors, and we were gliding. I was fully expecting to feel the rate of descent much more than I did. In fact, it was quite a pleasurable experience! Once down, he demonstrated hovering and handed over control of the pedals to me to maintain a heading. I noticed myself have a tendency to correct in the wrong direction - something that rather surprised me, I'm sure instincts will be trained in time, for now, I'll just have to think about it! Then I had a go with the collective, maintaining a height of a few feet above the ground - it's a very sensitive control, the collective. However, it's not as sensitive as the cyclic in a hover. It takes an incredibly fine touch to keep the craft in a stable hover, a touch that I'm yet to find. I didn't do very well at it. I think I have a tendency to panic and massively overcorrect, as the craft very quickly got out of my control. After a few attempts, gradually getting better each time, we moved on. The instructor showed me a 'rolling' takeoff; making the helicopter move along the ground before taking off, like a fixed wing plane! Then he allowed me to have another go with the pedals and collective simultaneously. Again I was getting a little muddled on which control to adjust to make the aircraft respond in a certain way, and also I found myself forgetting about one control while I concentrated on the other. I can't have been doing too badly, as I was invited to land the craft, which I did, very gently! Then I took off and did some more practice with collective and pedals at maintaining heading and height. After that, we headed back to Costock and I was controlling the cyclic again. En route, we carried out another autorotation, aiming for a small looking field, which we almost certainly would have made!

Back at Costock, I spent about half an hour chatting to my instructor and had a look at the other aircraft at EMH, the JetRanger and LongRanger were in the hangar. I think I had pretty much already decided that I wanted to do it again; so booked the next lesson for Monday and I was presented with a logbook!
Flying time: 1.0 hours

21st May 2001 Lesson 2 G-NICH

(back to top)

The day started cloudy and rather overcast, which was disappointing as all the forecasts said it would be sunny! However, by about 1030 or so, the skies had cleared, and it was a wonderfully sunny day. I arrived at EMH at about 1120, and the instructor was out with another student. However, they returned shortly after 1135.

I was given a fairly detailed briefing about the controls and effects of the aircraft. Then we went out to the helicopter, and commenced an airworthiness check. We boarded the craft at about 1300, and continued through the checklist to start the engine. The instructor then took off, asked for clearance, and we headed south. I was given control of the cyclic and flew the helicopter for a while, making a couple of turns. Then I had control of the collective and pedals while my instructor explained manifold pressures required for ascent and descent at 60 knots. He called out some manifold pressures, and I adjusted the controls accordingly, whilst keeping the aircraft pretty much on the same heading! Contrary to my experience on Saturday, it requires a fair amount of movement on the collective to actually get any kind of decent ascent/descent. I guess being in a hover near the ground is very different. Then my instructor handed over the cyclic to me as well, and I was in full control of the aircraft! Wow! I flew a couple of turns, to headings as instructed. I felt quite happy and comfortable flying the aircraft, and I think my instructor was quite happy too, because he was humming along to a tune for a few moments!

On Saturday, as we were flying, I felt fairly lost, geographically, unable to recognise the precise area we were over. However, today, I recognised parts the road network, and was able to get a fair idea of exactly where we were most of the time. We headed back to Costock, and I flew the aircraft, pretty much until my instructor called for 'finals' at which point, he took over and landed.

I'm extremely happy, no, ecstatic, with my progress today - and I was also persuaded to buy a couple of books; "Aviation Law and Meteorology", and "The PPL Confuser". Bedtime reading.. hmm - I'm no good at that. Anyway, next lesson, Friday!
Flying time: 0.9 hours Total flying time: 1.9 hours

25th May 2001 Lesson 3 G-TINK

(back to top)

Once again, the day started cloudy and rather overcast. The last few days have been very warm and sunny! Once again though, the cloud had more or less cleared by the time of today's lesson.

I was given a briefing regarding attitude and power changes. How, when changing attitude, the horizon position changes on the screen; all seemed fairly logical and straightforward.

We took off in the re-registered R22 (nee G-NICH!) and flew north, for a change, past Keyworth and Nottingham Airfield, over Holme Pierrepont and to north and east of Nottingham. Whilst making attitude changes (to change speed), the helicopter had a tendency to "flapback"; to prevent this, it is necessary to keep forward pressure on the cyclic. I think I need more practice applying the correct amount of pressure, as the helicopter did seem to duck and dive all over the place! After that, I was practising power changes - both with governor on or off - whilst also keeping the aircraft in balance using the pedals.

I then flew back, via Nottingham Airfield, to Costock. My right hand was starting to ache when we landed, I guess that's the result of an hour of fairly intense work! My instructor also printed off an EMH "study guide" for me, so that I know what to expect now. Next lesson Tuesday morning.
Flying time: 1.0 hours Total flying time: 2.9 hours

30th May 2001 Lesson 4 G-TINK

(back to top)

EMH are very busy this week, so yesterday's lesson was postponed until today. Anyway, the day started clear and sunny, although the forecast was for cloud. I was also reading around the area of meteorology in my book, and decided to consult the Met Office's TAF and METAR report for East Midlands Airport. For once, I was able to understand it, and by looking out of the window, it more or less matched! It was however, quite a breezy day.

I was briefed about climbs and descents, and how different power settings give us different rates of climb at different airspeeds. There is of course, a particular point where a particular power setting, at a particular speed gives us level flight.

As last time, I worked through the start up checklist, and started the helicopter. My instructor took off, and we headed north past Nottingham Airfield again. I was really quite confident of our location for pretty much all of the flight - recognising Colwick, Gedling, Burton Joyce, Gunthorpe, Bingham, Radcliffe and of course, RAF Newton.

I felt as though I was flying for a good proportion of the time today, climbing, descending, changing speed and adjusting MAP accordingly. Lots of concentration is required on co-ordinating all three controls, it was really quite challenging to get everything right! However, I achieved a couple of climbs/descents with relative precision, and was quite chuffed. I do need lots more practice, as my speed was all over the place, consequently, the rate of ascent/descent wasn't exactly as desired!

Then, all too soon, the lesson was over and we headed back towards Costock, but orbited south of Nottingham for a few minutes whilst being held by East Midlands Approach. Once we had clearance, I flew more or less all the way back, with my instructor taking over, just before turning for finals.
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 4.0 hours

1st June 2001 Lesson 5 G-TINK

(back to top)

Wind, rain, clouds at high and low level. A comparatively miserable day. However, I was at Costock as planned, and was given a short briefing - basically a recap of Wednesday's lesson. I was to do more straight and level, more climbing and descending. A quick check on the cloud base, slightly higher than we had guessed. After I started the aircraft, we took off, and flew north towards North and East of Nottingham again.

I felt a lot more comfortable and confident with the aircraft, and generally, I didn't think I did too badly today. It really does take a lot of concentration coordinating all three controls, and remembering all the things to do! On one occasion today, I forgot to pull full carb heat on a descent - my instructor prompted me by asking if I thought there was a lot of moisture in the air! Whilst we were flying around though, my instructor was generally quiet; when quizzed, he said that this was because everything was fine, and he was just sitting back enjoying the flight! I was also told that I should start calling out T&P checks, if not he would pull a circuit breaker to stop a particular instrument, and time how long it took me to notice!

Before returning to Costock, we autorotated onto Nottingham airfield to have a go at hovering. After my last attempt, I was particularly anxious, but decided that I needed to be relaxed. I had controls of the pedals first to maintain heading, then collective to maintain height, then both. Individually, each control is very straightforward. Together, it takes a little more thinking, much more practice needed; my instincts for direction seemed a little better, however, I was concentrating individually on the controls. I didn't think I was too bad at it anyway. Then, the biggie - the cyclic. I think the time that I've now spent flying the aircraft has helped me here - perhaps I wasn't so afraid of it? Or maybe just more experienced of how the aircraft feels. However, I think I did significantly better than the first attempt! To start with the whole aircraft was oscillating wildly again. On several occasions, my instructor eventually took control and stabilised the hover. By the end of shortish session, I could at least manage to keep the helicopter in roughly the same airfield, which I thought was extremely encouraging! I'm looking forward to much more time at practicing hovering, and I can't wait to crack it.

Once again, the lesson was almost over, we headed back to Costock. On leaving Nottingham airfield, we had climbed to 2,000 ft, when we called East Midlands approach for clearance, we were cleared to not above 1,000 ft, so we needed to lose 1,000 ft very quickly - I somewhat let the aircraft get very out of balance, and we yawed to the left, and my instructor said about the G-forces pushing him into the door! After we had descended, he stabilised the aircraft again, and I flew the remainder of the journey back to Costock, my instructor taking over for finals. I shut down the helicopter, and made a silly bet that I couldn't stop the rotors inline. Only 20p. But for the third time now, I've managed it, and lost 20p as a result. Damn!

My debriefing was particularly encouraging, as my instructor thought I'd done particularly well today. Generally overcoming my flapback problems, and getting more confident with the climbs and descents, although he said I still need to get more precision into it. Slightly surprised that the flight turned out to be 1.3 hours, I honestly don't notice the passage of time!
Flying time: 1.3 hours Total flying time: 5.3 hours

5th June 2001 Lesson 6 G-TINK

(back to top)

Autorotations today. Was briefed on how to do them - certainly masses to think about and lots to do all at once. We flew north towards the East of Nottingham again, and orbited the area around Radcliffe, and practising the autorotations over the disused airfield at what was RAF Newton. Of course recovering by 1000ft. I followed my instructor through on one, then had a go myself. It really is a lot to concentrate on, keeping the RPM within limits, the helicopter in balance, the attitude and speed at a consistent level. I have a tendency to keep a forward pressure on the cyclic, rather than pulling back slightly to keep the speed down, and the nose up.

We practiced a couple more, I'd pretty much got entry and recovery cracked, but the actual autorotation in the middle wasn't good. On one occasion, our rate of descent was off the scale, the aircraft was very unbalanced, and my instructor just about recovered with the RPM needles up to their maximum! Scary stuff! The very next effort however, was probably the best of the day - it felt comfortable, entry good, I remember to pull back slightly, the RPM didn't waiver too much, and a good recovery, I thought.

My straight and level, climbs, descents and turns, I think are really improving now. After the last autorotation, we headed back to Costock, routing over Nottingham airfield at 2000ft. Then my instructor told me to descend to 1500ft for the East Midlands approach airspace, which I duly did. But listening to my instructor talking to ATC, we only had clearance for 1000ft, so just carried on descending. I fairly accurately levelled out at 1000ft, the speed pretty close to 70kts, and flew us back to Costock pretty much straight, level and constant speed!
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 6.4 hours

8th June 2001 Lesson 7 G-CHIS

(back to top)

Hovering today. I was given a brief on attitude changes and flap back in the hover, and why the R-22 hovers left skid low.

My "usual" helicopter was out, so we had CHIS. It seemed to be hard work to fly it today - jittery and twitching. Probably the wind wasn't helping. And unlike TINK, the collective wanted to naturally gradually lower itself. Anyway, we flew south to Leicester Airfield, performing an autorotation on the way. Entry not too bad, forgot to hold the stick back, speed and descent not brilliant, but not too bad - aircraft was somewhat out of balance. Recovery was good!

Got to airfield, and approached runway 28 like a conventional plane. We left the runway to the H in the middle of the airfield, and we began to practise hovering. Once again, pedals first, then collective and pedals. Different today, as we were hovering into a fair breeze - I once let the aircraft turn out of the wind so much so that the wind caught us, and spun as around so that we were heading out of the wind! Then I had the cyclic; to start with, I was disappointingly oscillating all over the airfield again, some more demonstrations on how it should be done, then another go. As before, I was gradually improving. And again, my final attempt was the best of the day - I was hovering for a fair amount of time, although drifting slightly. Then, I had all three controls in the hover! It really is difficult to co-ordinate it all - I need loads and loads more practice! However, I managed it for a while - not perfect, we were drifting and turning slightly, but not too much, and it wasn't getting any worse.

Back to Costock, very busy on East Midlands approach, a lot of traffic around. I was also a bit annoyed that I was having to work so hard to keep the helicopter in a satisfactory cruise. My instructor was very positive in the debrief, and said that I had done very well at hovering!!
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 7.5 hours

12th June 2001 Lesson 8 G-TINK

(back to top)

Lots more hovering to be done today! A short brief, then I went out to check over the aircraft. After start-up, we took off for Leicester airfield again. On the way, some straight and level flying, climb and descent. I'm still not very precise, but I'm aware of when I'm going wrong, what I need to be correcting. Also two autorotations en-route. I'm still pushing forwards and getting all out of balance... annoying, but I think I just need practice.

We autorotated onto Leicester airfield, then a quick go with pedals and collective before my instructor took control as we watched an R44 autorotate onto the airfield, with a rather bumpy landing. We then moved over to a grass runway, and I had all three controls in the hover. I was totally gobsmacked that I was pretty much able to control the helicopter straight off. No wild oscillations, no really scary moments... a bit of drift, and not terribly consistent at height or heading. I practised this for a fair bit of time. We also looked around to the R44, where someone was also practising a hover, and oscillating wildly about. Surely I wasn't like that, last week, was I?

All too soon, the lesson ended, once again, the time lapse is unnoticeable! We headed back to Costock, more straight and level flying, with a descent to get under 1000ft for the East Midlands airspace; I forgot the MAP setting for the descent, and needed a prompt to go down at the right rate! My debrief was short, just to say that general flying needs a bit more precision, autos need speed and balance maintained. And I've now filled a page of my logbook!
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 8.6 hours

13th June 2001 Lesson 9 G-TINK

(back to top)

Another short brief today - we were to do more hovering, and maybe some landing and taking off. Once again, I went out to check over the aircraft - it had only just returned to the airfield. After start-up, we took off for Nottingham airfield for a change. My straight and level seemed pretty good today. Certainly my instructor wasn't complaining.

We approached Nottingham from the South East, and descended to the triangle. Straight in at the deep end with all three controls. The drifting didn't seem so bad today, although I must work harder with the pedals as the helicopter was rotating around. My instructor took over, and landed the aircraft, then I followed him through a takeoff. A few moments hovering, and he landed again, to let me takeoff. Slow use of the controls, quick reactions and a steady nerve, I think are what are required for this - the aircraft has to lift into the hover attitude, otherwise it will roll around a skid and fall over! I had a go - we managed to lift off! My instructor said that it was very good for a first effort. My instructor then landed the aircraft, and I had another go. Perhaps not as good as the first - I wasn't very happy that the aircraft would hover properly. I still managed to get airborne, but it probably wasn't very tidy!

Afterwards, we lifted to the East, to perform three practice Autorotations over RAF Newton. Recovery good, once stable in autorotation, the control is good. Entry was what we were working on - my balance seemed much better today, and I think I'm starting to get the hang of not letting the nose drop as we enter. We headed back to Costock passing over Nottingham airfield, straight and level on the return being much better as well.
Flying time: 1.0 hours Total flying time: 9.6 hours

18th June 2001 Lesson 10 G-TINK

(back to top)

Much better weather today than of late. A proper briefing on take-off and landing, then off to Nottingham airfield to practice. On the way, my straight and level was quite awful - I failed miserably to control the attitude of the aircraft, it was very disappointing. After I (eventually) levelled off, it improved somewhat, and autorotated onto the airfield.

A short hover practice, then my instructor landed so I could take-off. Practised this a few times, then practised landings. I was finding it very hard work to keep the helicopter in a stable hover, so my landings seemed to be taking an age! I managed a fairly good take-off and landing towards the end, but it really is hard work.

We headed back for Costock, where my instructor said that I had done okay, and that it takes a lot of practice, but there isn't much to it once a stable hover is established. I guess it's just practice, practice, practice...
Flying time: 0.9 hours Total flying time: 10.5 hours

20th June 2001 Lesson 11 G-TINK

(back to top)

A different instructor today, and he gave me a brief on what we would do, we also discussed radio calls. I was to make calls to Nottingham Radio.

My instructor allowed me to take off into the hover at Costock. We hovered while waiting for East Midlands Approach to give us clearance; my instructor then lifted off and started the climb and I flew east/north/east past Widmerpool. After release from East Midlands, I made the call to Nottingham, unfortunately the reply was very quiet, and I didn't catch it - neither did my instructor, so he asked for a repeat. It was still a very poor signal. Anyway, we flew up to RAF Newton, and practiced a couple of Autorotations, I'm still instinctively pushing forward on entry. After that, we flew into Nottingham Airfield, a small amount of hover practice, then my instructor landed to let me practice a couple of take offs - they seemed okay, but still need to be confident of a stable hover. Some discussion about under controlling the hover, and use of pedals to maintain direction. Then my instructor showed me a circuit - we transitioned back into the hover over the airfield. Then, I was to have a go, and under close coaching, transitioned off into the circuit. We flew around and back again to Nottingham, making "FREDAST" checks on the way. Then, as always seems the case, the lesson was over far too quickly, and we flew back to Costock - I started the descent and made the radio call for finals, and my instructor took over to transition back into the hover.

In the debriefing, my instructor explained transitions more carefully. He also commented that my radio work was fine, and I seemed fairly confident; I suggested that that might be down to my experience of working behind a microphone for Roadwatch. I was particularly disappointed that today's lesson was over as I wanted to be out there for at least another hour!
Flying time: 1.3 hours Total flying time: 11.8 hours

25th June 2001 Lesson 12 G-TINK

(back to top)

A short "rebrief" on transitions, and some more discussion about radio calls, and we headed off for Nottingham Airport to practise some circuits. The weather today was very good, probably one of the warmest days of the year - so much so that one of the doors of the helicopter was off!

I'm still under controlling the aircraft - on our descent to Nottingham we were rolling from side to side. I'm not very used to the attitudes, heights and speeds needed to land the aircraft, so my approach was very erratic. In the hover, I'm still drifting around, but I think it's gradually getting better. We tried some landings, take-offs, and transitions into the circuit. Flew around three circuits, then we headed back to Costock. Time is really flying past on these lessons, it's very disturbing.

I was left to approach the Costock airfield, and I approached too fast and nearly crashed the helicopter; had to pull a lot of collective to prevent us from hitting the ground!
Flying time: 1.0 hours Total flying time: 12.8 hours

28th June 2001 Lesson 13 G-TINK

(back to top)

More circuits today, so not much my instructor could brief me on. After my instructor transitioned out of Costock I took over and flew us to Nottingham to join downwind. I then turned finals and approached the runway, it all felt very comfortable, and I thought my first approach was very good, as did my instructor. Alas, after that, I just had to get worse!

We did some hover practice, some very heavy landings(!) and taking off. And several more circuits; I was making all the checks and radio calls in the circuit, and flying the helicopter. It felt very busy and the accuracy of my flying deteriorated as a result. On the last couple of circuits, I'd worked out that FREDAST checks don't actually require that much thinking, it's only really a radio call, checking the instruments and flying the aircraft. My instructor showed me a go-around and on the next circuit, I was to try it.

That next circuit proved to be the last, and rather than actually going around, we headed back for Costock.
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 13.9 hours

4th July 2001 Lesson 14 G-TINK

(back to top)

Weather was excellent again today. Very sunny, and very very warm, that combination, plus a fairly early lesson, meant at just 1000ft, it was particularly hazy today. My instructor's door was off again, giving a very refreshing breeze once we were flying.

After I checked over the aircraft, I was about ready to start up, when the pilot of the JetRanger that was parked adjacent to us, asked he if could start up and depart ahead of us. Also behind TINK, another JetRanger was about to lift. Costock was a busy little heliport this morning! Anyway, we took off, and after my instructor transitioned, I flew up to Nottingham again for more hover, landing, take-off, hover taxiing and circuit practice.

Generally, I think my hovering is slowly improving. I felt that I was a bit steadier today; I seem to be able to keep the helicopter still a bit longer each time we go out. Whilst landing the helicopter, my instructor noticed the reason I've been having trouble landing. I need to look towards the horizon more, to spot the attitude changes - I am tending to look to the ground when trying to land, and this is causing me to drift all over the place. Taking off is improving slowly, as well. And I felt a lot more comfortable in the circuit; a different circuit to learn, but I was able to speed up the process of FREDAST checks. My instructor also wasn't prompting me as much, which allowed/forced me to take more responsibility for things, such as radio calls, carb. heat, height, direction.... etc.
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 15.0 hours

6th July 2001 Abandoned lesson

(back to top)

What fine weather we've been having all week. Until today. The day started dull and overcast, mist and fog around and thunderstorms were forecast for the day. I arrived on time, as no one had said not to! My instructor was hopeful that the mist and low cloud would clear given time. So, in the meantime, we settled to a bit of theory.

We discussed generally, aerodynamic theory and phenomenon peculiar to helicopters, and even individual helicopters. Translational lift, inflow roll, induced flow and induced drag, mast bumping, different types of rotor head, and advantages/disadvantages. I was also offered a go at my Air Law exam, which I declined, as I wasn't prepared; I hadn't thought to read through the book, or revise the book yesterday. Some more discussion about aerodynamics, then another short break for a weather check; alas, the cloud wasn't clearing. By which time, I'd changed my mind, and thought that I probably knew enough to pass the Air Law exam, so decided to take it.

I was given the exam paper and an hour to complete it. The first few questions were tricky, and I wasn't confident, but then I found a handful that I just zoomed through. I finished well within the time, and my instructor marked it there and then. I got eight questions wrong, which means I passed!! Six of them, I wasn't surprised about, but two I thought I had right, and another one, my instructor thought I had right! Anyway, it's out of the way now, onto meteorology next.
Flying time: 0.0 hours Total flying time: 15.0 hours

10th July 2001 Lesson 15 G-TINK

(back to top)

The weather forecast for today was rather miserable although the day started brighter than I had anticipated. By the time of today's lesson, the skies had become significantly darker and a strong breeze was blowing. I arrived in the middle of a rain storm! Anyway, we had a short brief about where we would be flying, and a bit of revision of radio work. The weather cleared, and I went out to check the helicopter, whilst my instructor fetched the fuel bowser to top up the tanks. When he finished, he asked if I would be OK to start up the aircraft on my own! Which I duly did, and he arrived just as I was finishing the start up checks.

Whilst on the ground, I made the radio call for clearance, and after a short hold, we were cleared to 1000ft to fly to Nottingham. I took off, transitioned over the hedge, and climbed out past Costock village. I asked my instructor to make the radio calls to Nottingham, as I felt a bit busy with flying the aircraft to concentrate hard. On the way over Cotgrave, we practised a couple of Autorotations - I had somewhat forgotten exactly what to do, so I'm glad that happened. After a couple, I was fine, and even managed to pull back to keep the attitude! We flew into Nottingham, and made a couple of circuits. My hovering is very very gradually improving. I managed to make at least one good unaided landing today! My instructor commented that my drifting and stability problems are probably down to failure to maintain heading with pedals. I will concentrate on that tomorrow (if we fly).

Anyway, back to Costock where I flew the approach to, and transitioned on to the grass area at the end of the field. I could barely hold a stable hover into the wind, and the helicopter was yawing all over the place. I felt particularly uncomfortable near the trees and hedges, and near the other aircraft. My instructor took over, and parked the helicopter. He then went back to the office, while I shut down.
Flying time: 1.0 hours Total flying time: 16.0 hours

11th July 2001 Lesson 16 G-TINK

(back to top)

Raining again, although we appeared to have enough break in the cloud to fly for a short while. It was also very windy I noticed that whilst we were still on the ground, the airspeed indicator was registering about 15-20 knots! I checked and started the helicopter, and my instructor joined me. Once the checks were complete, I called East Midlands Approach for clearance to fly to Nottingham. As the Twin Squirrel and JetRanger were in close proximity either side, I suggested that my instructor might like to take off for safety reasons!

We took off into the gusty and strong wind, and attempted to fly north. I appeared to have a heading of due north, yet we were tracking north east due to the wind! We flew south of Keyworth, and I called East Midlands approach again, for clearance to switch to Nottingham Radio, which I did, and announced our arrival to them (I did however forget the position information.. but everything else seemed alright). Before approaching Cotgrave, my instructor sprung an autorotation practice on me, where I was to turn into the wind. I really didn't make a very good job of it! A couple more Autorotations, and we were on finals for Nottingham. With the wind, the airspeed indicator was showing a much higher speed than the ground speed, which is why I'm being taught to fly finals visually, rather than with reference to instruments. We flew one circuit, some hover practice into wind, and the weather started to worsen, so we headed back to Costock.

I flew us all the way back to Costock, and even descended and transitioned into the hover at the end of the field. My instructor took over, and hover taxied us back to the parking area.
Flying time: 0.8 hours Total flying time: 16.8 hours

17th July 2001 Lesson 17 G-TINK

(back to top)

The day started fairly bright, but all the forecasts were predicting rain, winds for the day. Sure enough, by the time of my lesson, the skies had clouded over, and a strong easterly breeze was blowing. My instructor said that it wasn't too bad, and we would do some more advanced controlling of the helicopter in the wind. If the weather were to close in, we would head back to Costock. I checked over the aircraft (in some light drizzle!), started it up, my instructor called for clearance and took off. I then flew us up to Nottingham.

Again, en route to Nottingham, I noticed the helicopter tracking almost sideways because of the wind. We approached the airfield, and I descended and ended up transitioning into the hover really quite high. I assume because flying into the wind, the relative ground speed is fairly low. I descended further, and bought it into a proper hover above the runway, and landed the helicopter. My landings and takeoffs really weren't too bad today, I made a point of concentrating on looking out towards the horizon whilst landing. My instructor then showed me spot turns, first turning through 90° to the left with a crosswind, then downwind, then crosswind again, and back to facing the wind. Then it was my turn; I was fighting the pedals all the way around, and the cyclic control needs to move a surprising amount into the wind, to keep the helicopter still. In fact, I hadn't moved it enough, as my instructor commented after the flight that I was almost always drifting downwind. In order to demonstrate the cyclic movements, my instructor took control of the pedals and collective to turn us, while I was to maintain a hover using the cyclic. We then swapped over, to show me exactly how much I need to work the pedals. After that, we flew one circuit, where I pretty much flew everything with little prompting. I landed again on the runway, and had one more go at turning 360 degrees, and transitioned away back to Costock.

Again, I flew all the way back, my instructor taking over for finals. He hover taxied to our parking area, and invited me to land the craft. I did so, but probably my worst landing of the day!
Flying time: 1.0 hours Total flying time: 17.8 hours

19th July 2001 Lesson 18 G-TINK

(back to top)

Weather was terribly inspiring today, although the cloud remained at a couple of thousand feet all day. Some light drizzle from time to time. I arrived at EMH to find an Agusta 109 parked on the landing area! It had apparently made a precautionary emergency landing after a warning light had illuminated. Anyway, TINK was out on a flight, but was due back any moment, so we had a short briefing, and I walked out to the helicopter as the other pilots were walking back to the office. On the way, I stopped to peer through the A109's windows!

I started up, called East Midlands Approach for clearance, took off, transitioned and flew us to Nottingham. My instructor took over the radio calls to allow me to concentrate on flying. On the way to Nottingham, we performed an autorotation, which I felt was a particularly good one. I had remembered to flare slightly, on entry, I allowed the rotors to speed up to the limit, but had applied collective to correct it, before being prompted to! I approached Nottingham, descended and transitioned into the hover. For some reason, I could not keep a particularly stable hover today. The wind was gusting such that we were in translational lift one moment, and then not, the next, so I was working hard with the collective today. Some landings and take-offs, and lots of hover practice, and the weather, started to close in a bit, and we returned to Costock.

I was to fly the final approach to Costock and bring us into the hover, although I was very high on approach. I lost the height, and lost the speed too, which meant I came to the hover about 20ft short of my intended point. My instructor took over and taxied us back to the parking area, next to the good looking A109 (G-USTB). What a shame I didn't have my camera with me. Fortunately, a quick search on the Internet, and I found a photograph here.
Flying time: 0.8 hours Total flying time: 18.6 hours

24th July 2001 Lesson 19 G-TINK

(back to top)

Today's weather was warm, and fairly clear all morning. Typically, the hour or two before my lesson, it clouded over slightly, however, nothing significant to cause us a problem. Also today, I had a new instructor (to me). I did the usual walk around, and started the aircraft before my instructor joined me.

My instructor called for clearance and took-off, whereupon I took over and flew us Nottingham. He allowed me to make the mistake of approaching the airfield very high, to correct this, we entered autorotation for a few moments. After descending rather sharply, I flew onto the airfield and transitioned into the hover. My new instructor then invited me to land. Often, this has been the signal for the hover to become very erratic. Today, however, my instructor said that my hovering was fine, and he wasn't sure why I wasn't landing. Some gentle encouragement, however, and I was able to land, albeit slightly bumpy. I took off, turned through 180 degrees, and backtracked towards the start of the runway, where I turned back again, and transitioned into the circuit. I flew the circuit with my instructor prompting me when I had things wrong; again, I approached too high, but not so high as to use an autorotation to lose the height. We flew several circuits, along with practising hovering, hover taxiing, landings and take-offs. A large part, I felt so that the new instructor could get a feel for my capabilities; nevertheless, it is all much needed practice.

I flew us back to Costock, and attempted to approach onto the Costock airfield, although again I was too high, but we ended up transitioning a bit short of my intended destination! I did, however, hover taxi the aircraft back to the parking area, and land it.
Flying time: 1.2 hours Total flying time: 19.8 hours

27th July 2001 Lesson 20 G-TINK

(back to top)

Fine weather today, and I was to practice circuits. Once again, I checked and started the aircraft unaided, my instructor joined me as I was about to perform the after start-up engine checks. He invited me to lift, but we were in close proximity to the fuel bowsers, so I declined.

However, he did hand control over to me while we were in the hover, and I transitioned out of Costock, and flew us to Nottingham. After my instructor cleared us to leave East Midlands Approach zone, and switched to Nottingham radio, he allowed me to make the necessary radio calls. My first call must have been perfect, as he commented afterwards that as I was speaking, he was squirming because it was so good; I bet he says that to a lot of students! We joined the circuit and descended towards the airfield. I felt a lot more comfortable with it today, although at the end of the approach, it became very steep, and I somewhat overshot the marker I was aiming for. This was because I hadn't lost the speed, and whilst the rate of descent was okay, I was simply too fast. We hover taxied to backtrack the runway, and I transitioned away again into the circuit. This time, the approach was better. We practiced this a few times, and I managed one that my instructor said was particularly good, with one mistake - I forgot to remove the carb. heat (why they can't automate that, I'll never know!). Also, I noticed today that my hover was pretty good, and at some points, stationary for much longer periods of time than I've observed previously.

Then, to give me a break from circuits, we looked at engine failures in the hover. The sun was beating down through the windows of the helicopter, and with the adrenaline pumping as my instructor killed the throttle, I was sweating like a fat pig on a very hot day (Oh). At two or three feet hover height, engine failures don't seem that scary. The first thing to do, is push the right foot to counter the yaw; initially not letting the collective go, but then pulling fairly briskly to cushion the "crash" landing. After that, I flew a couple more circuits, and then it was time to head for home. I attempted to approach Costock, but it wasn't too good, coming in very high, and having to lose that height. However, I transitioned into the hover, and my instructor took over to hover taxi back to the parking area. I really feel that this week has been particularly successful, I don't know if it's me, or a new instructor, but I feel that I have actually progressed a fair amount. I have my class two medical on Monday, after which, the only thing stopping me from going solo, will be my ability! I can only think that with the progress that I've made this week, it's not going to be long!
Flying time: 1.3 hours Total flying time: 21.1 hours

31st July 2001 Lesson 21 G-CHIS

(back to top)

Today was warm, but with some cloud cover. Yesterday's medical was duly passed - only the one restriction on the certificate, relating to my eyesight, and the need to wear glasses. More circuit practice, and some emergency procedures to cover today. I was to fly G-CHIS, the other helicopter that I hadn't got on so well with before. I checked over the aircraft, and started up (with a somewhat foreign checklist). I took off, and hovered at the end of the Costock airfield; I was to do a lot of the radio calls today, so I called East Midlands Approach, and asked for clearance to fly to Nottingham.

Just as we were about to leave the East Midlands Approach zone, the controller spotted our position, and invited me to call Nottingham, which I duly did, forgetting to tell them our height - I don't think my instructor spotted it, as I realised I had forgotten it a few moments later. We joined the circuit downwind, and I flew us around to approach the airfield, perhaps too fast and too high, making the last part somewhat steep. I transitioned, and came into the hover okay, and even managed to land without much fuss. My instructor said he would shut-up, and let me fly a whole circuit on my own. I did so, and I don't think I made any mistakes (I even remembered the carb. heat!), although the radio operator seemed a little confused by my departure call. My instructor reassured me that it wasn't really my error. A couple more circuits, then my instructor starting discussing downwind engine failures in the circuit, and how to cope! Basically, enter autorotation, turn into the wind, and at 50 feet above the ground, flare the speed off. We were doing powered recoveries, but if the engine were to have failed, when landing, it is important to keep the helicopter level to prevent a roll over. I then had a go at the downwind engine failure, and my instructor said it was pretty good.

Alas, the time was up, and we departed for Costock. I allowed my instructor to make the radio calls on our return, whilst I concentrated on flying - we were held by East Midlands approach for a short while, so we orbiting south of Nottingham. Then I flew us back to Costock, and descended to Costock with some assistance, I hover taxied back to the parking area, and landed somewhat untidily. My instructor tidied up for me, though!
Flying time: 1.2 hours Total flying time: 22.3 hours

2nd August 2001 Lesson 22 G-TINK

(back to top)

Today's weather wasn't really what I was expecting - the forecasts had been predicting heavy rain and thunderstorms for today - in fact, it was warm, a small amount of wind, and some fairly high cloud. I was given a briefing on Vortex Ring, why it happens, how, and how to recover. My instructor had a look outside, and decided we could go and look at vortex ring conditions. So, I checked over the helicopter, made a bit of a hash at starting up, but got there eventually. With the proximity of the fuel bowsers and JetRanger again, I let my instructor lift, and when we were clear, he handed control of the hover to me. We had a bit of a wait for East Midlands Approach to give us clearance (it was a particularly busy morning, and I think they were some technical problems) so my instructor invited me to try landing (which I duly wobbled about, and aborted) and taking off. Once we had clearance, I transitioned out of Costock, and flew us up towards Nottingham.

However, our vortex ring demonstrations would take place over RAF Newton, so we flew south of Nottingham airfield, and started to climb up to 2500ft, over Cotgrave, Saxondale and then past my house. My instructor then took control, and started a descent, whilst slowing the aircraft down. Try as we might, we could only just about get the aircraft to exhibit vortex ring characteristics, but even then, the rate of descent wasn't particularly dramatic! I practised recovery a couple of times, which is really straightforward with height to play with - just gain some speed, then climb away. After that was completed, we joined the circuit for Nottingham - a new circuit, but I didn't do too badly. I'm still very high on approach, something I must work on next time. I don't think I forgot carb. heat once, today. The airspace around Nottingham seemed very busy today - a SeaKing flew past to the east, there was an airship over Trent Bridge cricket ground filming the third ashes test, and several planes. My instructor then went on to limited power operations - running take-offs and landings. He demonstrated first, then let me have a go - it is critical to keep the helicopter straight with the pedals!

Home time, and I transitioned away, turning back for Costock. I flew us all the way back, descended and transitioned into the hover onto the field. Again, I was too high on approach, and my instructor took over briefly to perform an 'S' bend type manoeuvre to increase the length of the approach, and to lose some height. I carefully taxied back to the parking place, weaving a path between the JetRanger, and the Hughes 300, to land next to the fuel bowsers. In the short debrief, we discussed the possibility of solo - my instructor said that the things they would be looking for, is safe landings and take-offs. I need to cover some more emergency procedures first, but he suggested that a couple more trips may be sufficient! I'm very excited now!
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 23.4 hours

13th August 2001 Lesson 23 G-TINK

(back to top)

I've not flown for a week or so, due to work commitments (would you believe, regular readers of this diary have been asking why I've not been flying for a while?), so it was good to be back today. The weather was somewhat breezy, but perfectly good for flying. In fact, one of the exercises we were to do today, was spot turns. I was briefed on this, along with sideways flight , and lots of emergency procedures, that we would be looking at today. I checked over the helicopter, and started up whereupon my instructor joined me. I asked him to lift, as, again, we were in close proximity to the fuel bowsers and the wind was gusting a little. I took over in the hover, and transitioned away heading for Nottingham. En-route, we were cleared to climb to 2000ft, so we practiced an autorotation, with a turn into the wind.

Got to Nottingham, and joined the circuit, whereupon my instructor covered all the instruments and I approached the airfield by sight alone. Although I've been taught to fly the approaches visually, and indeed had the instruments covered before, I hadn't realised how much I use them! Once on the triangle, I practiced some spot turns in the fairly strong breeze. We also covered sideways and backwards flight, before moving on to engine outs in the hover.

Then, we transitioned for a circuit, as we were flying, my instructor demonstrated various instrumentation failures, and what to do - including the tachograph for engine and rotor, oil pressure and temperature gauges, and an alternator failure. During the discussion, we had climbed slightly higher than intended, to 1000ft, so my instructor took me through an engine failure type autorotation to the triangle. The wind was obviously fairly strong, as we descended somewhat vertically, and fell somewhat short of the triangle. We practised this a few more times - I'm tending to remove the speed too early, rather than keeping the speed for the flare during the powered recovery. Time quickly caught up with us, and we returned to Costock. I flew us back, and probably made my best approach to Costock yet. Transitioned nicely to the hover, and hover taxied back to the parking area (assisted by my instructor, due to the proximity of aircraft and fuel!)
Flying time: 1.2 hours Total flying time: 24.6 hours

15th August 2001 Lesson 24 G-TINK

(back to top)

Today was a very still day, no wind at all. It was also very warm. I can't recall having done much flying in such still conditions, and certainly not circuits. Anyway, my instructor talked to me about aircraft documentation - the certificates of airworthiness, the maintenance schedule, the insurance certificate, etc. etc. and what to do with it - fill some in, check others. Then, a short brief on today's lesson - circuits! As seems usual now, I started the aircraft before my instructor joined me. The helicopter was very near the hangar, so my instructor lifted, but handed over to me after he had moved away from the building. I called East Midlands approach for clearance, and flew off to Nottingham.

As it was such a still day, we guessed the incorrect active runway at Nottingham, we were on 09, which has a tricky approach as the final is necessarily short, due to the proximity of houses. We autorotated onto the airfield to start, then took off and flew a circuit. My approach was terrible - I overshot my aiming point by a long way. I tried again, and failed, and my instructor said it was because I was flying a windy day approach. Once more round, no better, I asked my instructor to show me how it was done. The next time, he talked me through it. Then, once more, without prompting, and I made another hash of it, and was even forced to carry out a 'go-around'. A couple more times around, and then it was time to head back.

I flew us back, including the calls to East Midlands Approach, and as I was descending and turning finals, something frightening happened - I appeared to lose all speed, and point nose down. My instructor said this was because I was massively out of balance. Certainly a scary moment, but I seemed to rectify it quickly enough. My instructor took over to land - we did a run-on landing. He then asked me to lift off, and set the helicopter down on the concrete apron, which I duly did. I wasn't very encouraged by today's lesson, I'm hoping that it'll be windy again next week!
Flying time: 1.1 hours Total flying time: 25.7 hours

22nd August 2001 Lesson 25 G-TINK - FIRST SOLO

(back to top)

I thought today's lesson might be a repeat of last week. Once again, there was pretty much no wind. And again, very warm. I was briefed on today's lesson, we were to fly towards the disused airfield at RAF Newton, to practice a couple of Autorotations, before joining the Nottingham circuit. I started up before my instructor joined me. I took off, called for clearance, and transitioned off towards Nottingham.

I flew us to RAF Newton where sure enough, en-route, my instructor simulated an engine failure, and I entered auto-rotation whilst turning into the 'imaginary' wind (we had decided it would be from the west!) Then I commenced a long finals approach to Nottingham airfield, and approached a little high. It wasn't too bad, and managed to make the grass triangle without much panic. I landed, and my instructor asked me to take-off and land, with which I duly complied. Another take-off, and we departed for a right hand circuit. I felt that this time around, my approach was much better, and much more shallow. A couple more take-offs and landings, with some extra discussion from my instructor. Who then said 'go and do a circuit on your own' - I initially took that to mean that he would be IN the helicopter, but wanted me to fly it without input. However, I misunderstood, and he got out, leaving me ON MY OWN! I was to go solo, a surprise that was rather sprung on me!

I lifted the collective to take off, and felt the helicopter go light on the skids. I was utterly amazed at how far forward the cyclic was offset without the weight of my instructor - I was anticipating a shift to the right, but not THAT much forward. My take-off and initial hover was a bit wobbly, but I quickly became accustomed to it. I made the radio call, and transitioned away. Without the extra weight, there was so much more power available, making the transition much easier. After I was clear of the airfield, and climbing, I noticed that the cyclic was still much further forward than normal. The controls all seemed very light, and the helicopter felt very empty. It was also very responsive to the slightest input, and climbing much quicker than normal. I turned downwind and made the checks. Carb heat out, and began to descend as I turned onto a tight base leg, and made a good approach to the triangle. I transitioned back to the hover, and gently landed the helicopter! My instructor returned to meet me, and very promptly congratulated me. He said it looked good from the ground (I'm positive he'd say that to everyone!), and invited me to do it all over again! WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!!!!!! Another incident free circuit, and a much shallower approach!

My instructor then climbed aboard, and we returned to Costock. I flew all the way back, including transition, hover taxi, and landing on the parking area! Wow! I can thoroughly recommend that experience to everyone; the mixture of adrenaline, excitement, anxiety, pride, achievement and probably just sheer terror! I'm also glad that I wasn't expecting it today - I think I would have been considerably more nervous!
Flying time: 1.2 hours Total flying time: 26.9 hours
Of which Solo time: 0.4 hours Total Solo time: 0.4 hours

go to part 2 of the 60 lesson diary