In 1998 I set out to satisfy my long suppressed desire fly a helicopter. That
"discovery flight" went so well that I wound signing up for and then
earning my private helicopter license. Bad move. Within 6 months I was
the proud owner of a 1969 Enstrom F28A (pictured right) that I flew
frequently in the Chicagoland suburbs. For six months that was my answer to
low and slow. Then I was turned on to Powered paragliding came in March of 1999.
I'll admit that, had I
discovered paramotoring first, I probably would not have bought a helicopter. Living
in Chicago, however, means that one feature of the helicopter is most
welcome: cabin heat.
Here are some humorous looks at helicopter flying
and ownership submitted by John Phillips (with additions by others), a paramotor pilot and former helicopter
occupant. He disliked them because he was either getting shot at or takeen somewhere that he was getting shot at. Hopefully someday I can
take him up without being shot at.
Helicopter flight: A bunch of spare parts flying in close formation.
Anything that screws its way into the sky flies according to
You never want to sneak up behind an old, high-time helicopter pilot
and clap your hands. He will instantly dive for cover and most likely
whimper...then get up and smack the crap out of you.
There are no old helicopters laying around airports like you see old
airplanes. There is a reason for this. Come to think of it, there are
not many old, high-time helicopter pilots hanging around airports either
so the first issue is problematic.
You can always tell a helicopter pilot in anything moving: a train,
an airplane, a car or a boat. They never smile, they are always
listening to the machine and they always hear something they think is
Helicopter pilots fly in a mode of intensity, actually more like
"spring loaded", while waiting for pieces of their ship to fall off.
Flying a helicopter at any altitude over 500 feet is considered
reckless and should be avoided. Flying a helicopter at any altitude or
condition that precludes a landing in less than 20 seconds is considered
outright foolhardy. Remember in a helicopter you have about 1 second to
lower the collective in an engine failure before the craft becomes
unrecoverable. Once you've failed this maneuver the machine flies about
as well as a 20 case Coke machine. Even a perfectly executed
autorotation only gives you a glide ratio slightly better than that of a
While hovering, if you start to sink a bit, you pull up on the
collective while twisting the throttle, push with your left foot (more
torque) and move the stick left (more translating tendency) to hold your
spot. If you now need to stop rising, you do the opposite in that order.
Sometimes in wind you do this many times each second. Don't you think
that's a strange way to fly?
For Helicopters: You never want to feel a sinking feeling in your gut
(low "g" pushover) while flying a two bladed under slung teetering rotor
system. You are about to do a snap-roll to the right and crash. For that
matter, any remotely aerobatic maneuver should be avoided in a Huey.
Don't push your luck. It will run out soon enough anyway. If everything
is working fine on your helicopter consider yourself temporarily lucky.
Something is about to break.
Harry Reasoner once wrote the following about helicopter pilots: "The
thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its
nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual
events or by an incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not
want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and
controls working in opposition to each other. Having said all this, I
must admit that flying in a helicopter is one of the most satisfying and
exhilarating experiences I have ever enjoyed: skimming over the tops of
trees at 100 knots is something we should all be able to do, at least
And remember the fighter pilot's prayer: "Lord I pray for the eyes of
an eagle, the heart of a lion and the courage of a combat helicopter
Many years later, I know that it was sometimes anything but fun, but
now it IS something to brag about for those of us who survived the
If helicopters are so safe, how come there are no vintage/classic helicopter fly-ins?
(owning a helicopter gives me perspective on this
one: it's too expensive to fly it there!)
A 1969 Enstrom F28 that also serves as an occasional paramotor transport
for my Fly 75.