DRIVE OR FLY
HOW DOES THE LIGHT HELICOPTER MATCH UP WITH EXPENSIVE CARS?
IT’s a hot day and traffic is heavy. The thermometer creeps perilously nearer the red line, your shirt sticks to your seat and you’ve just taken an hour to travel six miles. Your fingers drum the roof, you curse the motorcyclist who all but smashes your door mirror, not to mention your elbow, and just as you lay the same curse upon the man who persuaded you to leave home in the first place you hear a whirring sound, glance upward and see a helicopter passing by, the only moving thing in the entire, cloudless sky.
Immediately you wish that your car could sprout a rotor to lift you over the traffic jam and whisk you quickly and comfortably to your destination.
But such fantasies were more Ian Fleming’s preserve, although Wing Commander Ken Wallis has come close to bringing them to life. In reality, the only way to hop over the jams is in a proper helicopter and that, after all, is bound to be prohibitively expensive.
But is it really as costly to fly a helicopter as people claim? If this is what you believe, ask yourself why you believe it and without doubt your answer will be on the lines of “Well, that’s what everyone says”. But do you really know? This month we endeavour to enlighten you by explaining, without pretending they are cheap, that helicopters need not be as far beyond the pocket as most people imagine. Some used helicopters are cheaper to buy than some cars, and if you can afford a Ferrari, an Aston Martin or even a Porsche, you can certainly
afford a helicopter and give your travelling pleasure an immense boost into the bargain. And lest you be concerned about the second-hand tag, be assured that all helicopter servicing schedules, including parts replacement, are strictly followed, unlike the morel. requirements for second-hand cars.
Rather than mix words with figures, we have prepared a table of cost comparisons, using an Enstrom piston-engined helicopter (turbine aircraft are more expensive) and three cane considered to be in the upper bracket. Most of that table is self-explanatory, but it might be appropriate to enlarge on a few points, especially as we would be less than honest if we suggested that it is cheaper to keep a helicopter airworthy than it is to keep a similarly priced car roadworthy.
Some aircraft parts have fixed lives, whether they appear to run vvell or not, and must be replaced either at a certain age or at a certain number of hours actually flown. An Enstrom engine, for instance, is “life,’ at 1,500 hours, and if you take an overall average speed of 80 m.p.h. that works at 120,000 miles, which isn’t bad at all. The system errs on the side of caution, but it cuts down failures and minimises the chances of sloppy workmanship or cost-cutting leaving you embarrassed at 1,000 feet with a dead engine. The stringent servicing rules also decree that engineers must be qualified and licensed, which means that there is very little difference between something overhauled and something new.
A car owner can neglect his engine until it fails, but aircraft owners are forbidden by law from doing this. The MoT test, as it is still known, is hardly as searching as the checks required on an aircraft, and these put up a machine’s running costs — a small price to pay for survival. Helicopters, of course, have far more moving parts than fixed-wing aircraft, and are consequently more expensive to keep airworthy, but this is more than balanced by the sheer convenience of not having to seek a suitable airfield or landing strip, or pay landing fees. Provided you have the landowner’s permission and do not endanger life or property, you can land almost anywhere outside congested areas. There are plenty of heliports and helipads in the country, but a farm field, a hotel lawn or even your own garden can be perfectly acceptable. Indeed if there are no approach obstacles and you are not surrounded by officials of the Noise Abatement Society, you can keep your helicopter right at your doorstep.
The weather, too, need not be as restricting as it is for the fixed-wing pilot simply because helicopters can avoid murk far more easily than aeroplanes. Indeed, an SAAF flight commander once told us that he and his colleagues preferred IF-triple-R to either IFR or VFR — “I follow roads, rivers and railways”. What is more, our American instructor used to break down volumes of navigation manuals into the simple advice. “If you get lost, you go dOwn and read the freeway signs”. Insurance can be something of a financial setback, for proper hull cover for an Enstrorn,
compared with much, much cheaper third party cover, works out at six per cent of the aircraft value. On the other hand, insurance for expensive cars is by no means cheap, if you can manage to get someone to quote a rate at all. The prerniums listed for the three cars in the table were quoted by a reputable broker who made it quite clear that he would prefer not to quote at all, and would probably not do so to a private individual. In any case, he would
endeavour not to accept such business and would certainly not consider anyone younger than 25, nor anyone with less than five years’ driving experience. Helicopter pilots are not as tarnished to the insurance man’s eye, and younger men with far
less piloting time can acquire coverage readily. Cowboy pilots, although they exist, are not as numerous as cowboy drivers and in any case are
quickly found out. Perhaps the very fact that a person has successfully completed a helicopter pilot’s course implies a degree of responsibility. Perhaps we should also say something about fuel consumption. In motoring terms, an Enstrom’s consumption works out at something like 9.5 m.p.g. at 100 m.p.h., which is actually very respectable indeed. Bear in mind, of course,
that distances are shorter by air than they are by road, particularly if you are crossing an estuary as you would if journeying from Sittingbourne to Southend or from Minehead to Milford Haven. So far, the picture is reasonably clear; if you can afford an expensive car you could well run to a
helicopter, even if it might mean trading in the Ferrari for a Mini! But would you be able to By it? Are they not tremendously difficult machines to control? And isn’t instruction horrifically expensive? We would be deceiving you if we said that it was easy to learn to fly a helicopter. On the other hand, was it not difficult as a schoolboy to master the balancing act required of a cyclist? If our memo, is correct, it took a long and frustrating
time to get the hang of a push-bike, until suddenly, almost overnight, it all fell into place and we were riding as if born in the saddle. So it is with a helicopter, and it takes Perseverance to resist the temptation to give it all up prematurely as a bad job. In any case, your
instructor will assess your potential quite early in your course and will probably know before you do when, and whether, you are about to stride from the fumbling, snatching, waltzing phase to smooth, co-ordinated flying, a transition which will render you amazed by your own ability. There are two ways to learn. One is to take instruction at a proper school, either as a continuous course or broken up into sessions depending on how much time you have available. The former is better, since there will be no break in the continuity of your learning.
The other is simply to put in flying time with an instructor until you have the required minimum of 40 hours on your log and he feels that you are ready to take your flight test. You will still have to pay for the instruction, of course, and take the flight test and written examinations at an approved centre. The minUnum flying time at an approved school is 35 hours. If you are already a fixed-wing pilot you will be exempted from most of the written papers, but your flying sane must be completed on
helicopters, and a flight test passed. However, you will qualify foes reduction of fivc hours from the minimum flying time requirement. Helicopters cost more to operate than comparable fixed-wing aircraft, but both are cheaper in the USA than in Britain and there are several package deals available for flying instruction in the USA. However, the quality of tuition can vary considerably and it would be a waste to enrol in a US course to find that you are stuck with indifferent instructors. In any case air fares and living costs must also be considered. If you buy a helicopter in Britain your tuition will, M most cases, be free if you do all the flying in your own machine, but it will be your hour meter which will be ticking around and you will have to pay for all the checks, fuel and servicing. This is no place for an attempt to produce a work on how to fly helicopters. After all, there is no substitute for actual flying, but we must stress that it does take both hands and both feet. When you’re learning, you might even with for a third hand! But if you have normal dexterity and the ability to drive a powerful car well, a helicopter should certainly not be beyond you.
Co-ordination is vital, for almost every control movement creates the need for another. Reducing collective pitch, for instance, may send your engine r.p.m. into the upper red (there is a lower red line too) and you will have to close the throttle slightly. The reduced torque effect may cause the aircraft TO yaw to the left, and right pedal pressure will be needed to correct this.
Hovering is what students usually find most difficult, and it is all too easy to correct a slight drift to the left by rather more right cyclic stick movement than necessary. The result, almost like giving a car opposite lock first one way, then the other, and an on, is a pendulum movement which becomes larger at every swing. flaying learnt on a Bell 47G with hydraulic assistance to the pitch controls, we found the mechanical controls of an Enstrom very stiff indeed when we first flew one, but once a pilot gets used to the electrically operated trim mechanism, controlled by a button on the cyclic stick, flying becomes much easier indeed. Enstrom importers in the UK are Southern Air, based at Shoreham, Sussex, where the company
also operate a government approved flight training establishment and comprehensive servicing facilities. Its managing director Derek Graham is a former 727 captain, whilst sales director Dennis Kenyon was an RAF Canberra pilot. Both have many years of helicopter experience.
It was with Dennis Kenyon that we first flew the Enstrom Shark, an aircraft far more comfortably appointed than the utility Bell 47G. It seats three, side by side, is flown normally from the left and can be fitted with dual controls on the right.
At first sight the mast driving the three-bladed rotor appears spindly and hardly adequate to support the aircraft’s weight, but this is because the control linkages to the blades are housed inside the mast rather than alongside it as in other helicopters. The illusion does not last long, for the aircraft is indeed an agile perfornier with a cruise speed of 100 m.p.h., a maximum of 117 m.p.h. and a service ceiling of 12,000. Its empry vveight is 1,500 lb. and its maximum useful load in utility configuration is 1,100 lb., a little less in comfortable passenger trim. The standard fuel tank gives it a range of 253 miles and it will hover in ground effect up to 8,800 ft. Out of grossed effect, its hovering ceding is 4,100 ft.
The main rotor, of 32 ft. diameter, is driven by a 225 h.p. turbocharged Lycoming engine which transmits power to the mast via a belt-type clutch operated from a lever on the floor to the pilot’s right. This, of course, is in addition to the free-wheel mechanism which all helicopters must have in order to autorotate and land safely in the event of engine failure.
It is a common misconception that if a helicopter’s engine should fad the aircraft will fall like a stone. That is not the case at all. Indeed, every student must satisfy his examiner that he can make a safe, engine-off landing on a predetermined spot before he qualifies for his licence. With the engine disconnected by the free-wheel, the rotor’s momentum, aided by the upward airflow through it (in powered flight the airflow is downward), will lower the aircraft gently, will respond to cyclic control movements and will cushion its landing when collective pitch is increased just before touching down. Every aircraft has its own autorotating characteristics, and after the rather rapid descent of the bell 47G, to be checked just off the ground by a substantial flare, the Enstrotn was remarkably docile. Indeed, its descent was so gentle with power off that a smooth landing, running or vertical, could be achieved with no
Purchase c.a.: Used Enstroms emit from E20,000 upward., whereas the cost of a new rinchin cording to the dollar exchange ratc. 1″713r:/t.d”ruintle”frt “12=rt t%gdpeuell Ohr7wuelingivnte’bViTs’enuTrI4n=r:tyl:14700. sntosbs,rmr aster)
!;7,7741o. Insurance: In the case of the ca. brokers were most reluctant even to quote and would normally decline to accrin the risk. They woulit in any cast refuse an,. with less than fire year, urrience, whereas less ts acceptable to helicopteryisorer,
re for a 25-year-old with clean licence, living in ne HOtne Otunnes, with MannIUM No Clams utscount. Iiird paft,0,er .
tS E275, ensuring E500.000 per claim, whilst hull Ussivance s six per cent of the aircraft value.
Autorotations can cause a little nervousness, especially among students, but the Enstrom’s behaviour with the engine off is so good that no-one need be concerned about whether they can cope with it. Indeed, the aircraft is not only used for flight training at Southern Air but it is also in use as a basic trainer at the much bigger Oxford Air Training School at Kidlington, operated by CSE Aviation, the Bell importers.
Potential private helicopter users will probably not want to go to the expense of acquiring a turbine-powered aircraft such as the Bell Jetranger, the Aerospatiable Squirrel or the Hughes 500, and as some manufacturers have stopped making piston-cngined aircraft the choice is somewhat limited.
Most common, probably, are the Hughes 300, Hiller 12 and Enstrom, although there are plenty of Bell 47Gs around even though production stopped years ago. There is also the diminutive Robinson 1022, a 1,300 lb. aircraft capable of carrying two people and very little else, but it was the Enstrom which we considered most suitable for this comparison. instruction may be cheaper in the USA than in Britain, perhaps we should warn of pitfalls other than the risk of landing yourself with indifferent instruction. Constant Califon,an sunshine may turn you into a fair weather flier who would later have to reacclimatise to British weather. There are bureaucratic drawbacks, too, and if you think you can spend a month or so flying in the States, then return rouse your new licence to fly in Britain,
then forget it. It takes a little longer than that. Your US examiner will issue your Pilot Certificate on the spot, but it will be a temporal,’ document valid for up to 180 days. You can use it immediately in the USA with the full privileges of a private pilot, but Britain’s CAA will not accept it as proof of your US qualification. They insist on seeing your permanent US licence, and since the FAA takes at least three months to issue this, You must be prepared for a gap in your flying, unless you fly as no more than a solo-rated student. Your log book will be examined by the CAA, and an assessment will then be made of what ts required of you for the issue of a British PPL(H). If your US flying hours are enough, you nee:, only be required to pass a written examinati…. UK aviation law. Of course, your licence cames type ratings, and you will normally need to have five hours’ flying time on each type you wish tube added to your licence.
To a non-aviator it might all seem complicated and involved, hut we assure you that it all falls into place quite neatly, and even the seeminglY complex air legislation will be recognised as safeguards for pilots and all those concerned with flying.
In such limited space we cannot chronicle the whole process of purchasing and learning, roe do justice to the sheer exhilaration of flYiteg helicopters, but we trust we have whetted your appetites for this unique and convenient means of transport and persuaded y)ou that it is not her.t probability after all. We will gladly help those who need more information. — G.,.
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