Trainee Diary


Many students keep notes and sometimes even detailed diaries during their flight training. One fairly recent student is keeping an excellent and very detailed online blog of his exploits and this can be found on Tumblr.

Another one of our students that has recently obtained his Commercial Pilots Licence has been keeping a record of his training. He has been kind enough to let us reproduce his diary here. His name is Seb, and below is his story...

If you've been keeping up to date with Sebs diary then you can go straight to the latest entry.

Trial Lesson and Lesson 1

I have always had an interest in helicopters and a month or so ago I flew for the first time. I had a one hour trial lesson given to me as a present (thanks mum and dad). We took off and flew around the local area and the instructor showed me the basics of the controls and the way the helicopter reacts. When you move one control it affects the others so both hands and feet are busy. They are truly amazing machines, fast, manoeuvrable and tons of fun.

The hour went incredibly quickly, I couldn’t believe it was time to head back to the airfield, where I tried to hover the helicopter, the thing has a mind of its own. I barely moved a control and we were spinning around and flying backwards and the instructor had to take over!

Following on from this and discussing it with the guys at Advance Helicopters I have decided to go for my Private Pilots Licence.

So today was my first 0.8 hour flight with Advance Helicopters, based at Brighton City Airport. My instructor for this lesson was Spencer Phillips in the Robinson R22 Helicopter. After a short brief to remind me about the controls we took off and hovered to an area known as X-Ray before departing. During the flight a few basic manoeuvres were covered including accelerating, turning (left & right),  ascending and descending. I also learnt a lot about the foot pedals and their use when changing altitude. When you descend you have to push right pedal and ascending you have to push left pedal. It was all unbelievably good fun!

Flight Time 0.8 - Total hours 1.8

Lesson 2

Today it was quite windy but Spencer though it would be beneficial for me to fly in these conditions as it would make it feel very easy on a calmer day. Another quick brief on the exercises that we would be doing and we took off over the sea and along the beautiful coastline to practice. Accelerating and decelerating by changing attitude, bringing the nose of the helicopter up to slow down, then dropping the nose to speed up, all using the cyclic with the right hand.

The controls are very sensitive and you only have to move them a tiny amount, also we went into a lot of depth about the manifold pressure gauge and the airspeed indicator. After about 45 minutes Spencer asked me to fly back to the airfield and aim for a large 25 marker on the grass runway, somehow I managed to control the helicopter down and into a hover, much to Spencers’ surprise.

At this point Spencer asked me to slowly lower the Collective, which is the lever in your left hand it looks a bit like the handbrake in a car, and after a few ups and downs, I did my first very bumpy landing.

Flight Time 1.0 - Total hours 2.8

Lesson 3

In this flight on the same windy day we covered exercise 6. More practice ascending and descending this time aiming to maintain a 60 knot speed and ending with a manifold pressure of 20”, the manifold pressure goes up and down when you move the collective up and down. I found it much easier than the previous flight.

We then covered more speed changes and turning. It took a little bit of practice to get to the right speed and hold the helicopter there, sometimes the wind would blow us a round a little and I would need to correct for this.

Towards the end of the lesson, Spencer asked me to lower the collective until he said stop. This reduced the pitch on the main rotor, thereby starting an autorotation. An amazing feeling descending without the engine. Then it was back to Shoreham can’t wait for the next flight

Flight Time 0.8 - Total hours 3.6

Lesson 4

The wind had picked up more since last saturday, making for a bumpy flight. Today the next exercise to be learnt was Autorotation. Spencer explained during the brief that we would be  putting the engine RPM very low to simulate engine failure. In the Robinson there is a tachometer that displays the engine and rotor speed, when these needles separate that means we are autorotating.

This was very exciting as it meant we would be gliding towards the ground at around 1500 ft per minute for most of the flight, along with some revising past exercises so they would not get forgotten.  At the end of the flight Spencer demonstrated an engine off landing to the airfield, starting with the autorotation and finishing with a perfectly controlled sliding landing. He than gave me control and I conducted my first very wobbly take-off, with some help.

The second lesson of the day was cancelled due to a Gail Warning and was rescheduled to a couple of days time.

Flight Time 0.8 - Total hours 4.4

Lesson 5

The weather was amazing today, sunny and calm, with a really nice horizon it made holding the attitude of the aircraft much easier. We revised the earlier exercises straight and level, turns and climbing and descending and then two autorotations. (There was also not much wind making them feel very smooth).

At the end of the lesson we now could move onto some hovering practice. Doing 1ft hovering, really working the footwork. This was exhausting, my back hurt and hands were cramping up because of my excessive grip. It’s really hard to relax.

Flight Time 0.8 - Total hours 5.2

Lesson 6

Starting and shutting down the aircraft is becoming faster and easier now. This lesson was my first airport sortie, practising hovering and hover taxying into, downwind and cross wind. After doing this a couple of times Spencer was very impressed so we moved onto more take offs, I managed about 5 take-offs and landings and a couple of very bumpy & sometimes accidental landings.

Spencer did say that I should not be able to do many of the techniques I was doing at this time which was very encouraging. Towards the later part of the flight Spencer got me doing departing from the airfield. It involved hovering speeding up to about 45 Knots at double hover height & then pulling up back on the cyclic to gain altitude.  Great Lesson!

Flight Time 0.8 - Total hours 6.0

Lesson 7

Today was a very difficult day, initially I arrived at Advance Helicopters and waited around for about 2.5 hours for my lesson due to rain delays. So spent this time revising for my Air Law exam which was required in-order to do my first solo.

Eventually a gap appeared in the weather, which was enough to fit a flight in. Spot turns today which is when you turn the aircraft around in the hover using the yaw pedals. These were so much fun because as you turned 180 degrees the wind would just grab you and spin you around very quickly pulling you downwind, so you have to be ready with the pedals to stop this.

So we took off and I hovered over to whiskey, a grass area on the other side of the airfield to practice the spot turns. Before long it started raining again so we headed back.

After a while there was another break in the showers, so we were back in the air this time doing circuits. For these you take off and climb to 600ft, a couple of turns and then an approach back down to a hover. This gives lots of practicing approaches and departures. This was great but also is the hardest part so far in the course. Spencer is now telling me all about my first solo flight. Today was also my first contact with Air Traffic Control on the radio “Golf - Alpha - Sierra, request taxi to Advance”.

Flight Time 1.4 - Total hours 7.4

Lesson 8

Today the weather was incredible, sunny, clear with very little wind. More transition practice, moving from the hover climbing away and then flying around a circuit to practice an approach. Supposedly having no wind would increase the time for translational lift to take effect, therefore making them harder, due to a very sudden increase in lift. Good Practice. It was my first day of circuits in preparation for my first solo flight. I was finding that some of the basics previously learned were now different, for instance being at 60kts and 400ft for the approach to whiskey due to Shoreham's short helicopter circuit. I was finding the transitions difficult because of the lack of wind and was starting to get frustrated with myself. But after the flight I did realise everything was slowly piecing together.

Flight Time 1.0 - Total hours 8.4

Lesson 9

A frustrating day, today. My takeoff was shocking, partly because it was the first time my parents had come to watch, making me lose concentration. The weather was still amazing and I was getting more confident talking to ATC on the radio, being able to understand clearance limits like giving way to airplanes on the Kilo taxiway is not easy whilst you are trying to fly. While we did this it was a good chance to practice hovering and spot turns - “Great fun!”.

Then it was back to the circuits which I really enjoy. Practicing those approaches again as well as the circuit. Spencer a couple of times said the approaches were “text book” stopping at the hover, 4ft above Whiskey, (which is a piece of grass about the size of a tennis court).

All in all a great day and cannot wait for next Saturday (only 5 days of being a plumbers mate to go).

Flight Time 1.0 - Total hours 9.4

Lesson 10

A bright sunny day but very windy, enough to cancel another student first solo.

I arrived at 10 am and made the most of my time by having an hours tuition covering the Operations and Air Law ground exams. Then sat and passed both exams.

Then we went for a dual flight. Took off from the pad and hover taxied towards Whiskey, this was not pretty due to a strong cross wind. We practiced some more circuits for 0.9 hours, struggling a bit with the wind which left me a little more worried about my up coming solo. This was not helped by some very messy landings at the end of the flight.

Flight Time 0.9 Total hours 10.3

Lesson 11

This flight was great, still windy and still doing circuits for the first half of the lesson. They were getting much better. We then moved onto practicing cross wind taxying. I was finding it very difficult and Spencer said that I was moving everything other than my feet way too much, so he made me find a position with the cyclic and collective and leave it there, with only very small adjustments when necessary, much better like this.

We also looked at landing, out of wind this was challenging as it was my first time attempting them onto concrete and they went surprisingly well, with nice smooth collective control. Also to finish I taxied down wind back to Advance Helicopters, did a 180 degree spot turn above the pad and landed just outside the hanger. The radio is coming on a lot, and I'm reading back clearances and squawks etc with Spencer’s help.

Flight Time 1.2 Total hours 11.5

Lesson 12

Today the weather was really nice, slightly high winds but the sun was out. We firstly went through emergency situations e.g. warning lights and how they were linked together and with other gauges in the cockpit. Also we looked at the procedures involved with each emergency. i.e. if clutch light is on for more than 10 seconds pull the circuit breaker and land when practical.

We then went out and practiced take offs and landings, Spencer explained that with only 1 person on board the cyclic would feel in a weird position (as in a small R22 this dramatically affects of Centre of Gravity). I now feel worried about dynamic rollover on my first solo!

After that it was onto engine failure in the hover, which involved reducing the engine RPM rapidly simulating an engine failing, therefore dropping to the ground from 5ft, and as you do so raising the collective as well as applying a lot of right pedal to counteract the quick left turn (torque reaction, or lack of it). I could not get my head around these at all, so more practice required. By the end of the lesson the wind was dying down.

Flight Time 0.9 Total hours 12.4

Lesson 13 – First Solo

As the wind was reducing my nerves were increasing. This was almost certainly my first Solo flight. Spencer got the 2 way radio and high visibility jacket which was very unusual so I knew what was coming. He was also nervous as this was the earliest he had ever let somebody go solo (But I was ready). We took off and did about 4 circuits which all went very smoothly, then lots and lots of takeoff and landings.

My heart was now pumping, as I new he was about to get out, leaving me for the first time in a running helicopter all by myself. He told Air Traffic Control “G-OFAS I have a Student going for his first solo”, and got out with a nervous smile.

I was nervous as well because the centre of gravity was going to be very different, increasing the chance of Dynamic Rollover on my first take off. But, I took off, I remember thinking to myself how crazy the feeling was of flying while having complete control of the machine and my wellbeing. At this point my confidence grew but my heart was still pumping!

I repeated these takeoffs and landing as Spencer gave me hand signals of what to do. Spencer then on the 3rd takeoff pointed at me with both arms and spun around 180 degrees pointing in the direction that I should make the transition to start my first Solo circuit. Without even thinking about it I pushed forwards on the cyclic and the transition had started, no going back.

Spencer slowly turned into a small black dot on Whisky as I climbed up to 600ft at 60Kts, before a left turn to begin the downwind leg of the circuit. A couple of times my whole body froze as cold sweats came over me, the helicopter seemed to make strange noises due to the weight of the machine in descent and turbulence. I looked at the seat next to me with nobody in it and just started singing happily to myself taking in the whole experience.

I looked down at the auxiliary fuel tank and it was almost empty, I was getting worried, then much later realised that I had got it confused with the main tank one. ATC also came on saying there was a fixed wing aircraft inside of the helicopter circuit which should move as I was doing my first solo, more for their safety I think.

I did a couple of circuits which were incredible, ending with a very scary landing because I just could not get it on the ground (Well I did get it down but for some reason pulled up on the collective again, raising me off the ground). I was slowly drifting towards Spencer, his face was getting more and more red, eventually I just lowered the lever despite moving forwards slightly, But I was down and I did it.

Flight Time 0.8 Total hours 13.2