Part 1 and 2 of this hover trainingseries detailed all the techniques required to maintain a stationary hover. This month we’ll apply those skills to maneuvering while hovering. Once again, it’s presumed that these lessons will be practiced on a simulator prior to flying in the real world, and we’ll continue to use the customary airplane term “aileron” to describe bank and roll control, “elevator” to describe tilting the heli forward and backward, and “rudder” to describe yaw (where the nose is pointed).
Maneuvering a collective (adjustable) pitch helicopter takes the analogy comparing heli flying to balancing a marble on top of a bowling ball to a whole new level, but it’s made less challenging when you understand the proper control techniques beforehand: Starting from a stationary hover, the technique required to move the helicopter left or right, forward or backward, is to tilt the heli with a small brief bump of aileron or elevator and then immediately apply a small opposite bump to prevent the heli from moving too fast (figures 1 and 2). Novice pilots must fight the urge to hold in the input until seeing the heli moving since that would result in a rapid movement and sharp drop toward the ground as a consequence of tilting the rotor disk more than several degrees. Instead, (1) input a brief bump to start a trend, (2) then immediately apply a small opposite bump before the movement escalates. If it turns out that the movement is too slow, simply repeat the 1-2 bump-counter bump procedure.
Fine tune the direction of the movement by briefly bumping the right control stick, use the rudder to maintain the same body orientation throughout, and continue nudging the throttle to maintain the same height. Then stop the movement with a small bump.
Remember, the rotor disk is a poor indicator of the heli’s actual behavior since the heli can be moving even when the rotor disk is level, or remain stationary even when the rotor disk is banked (e.g., into the wind). Therefore, you should be watching the body or “heli as a whole” throughout to detect deviations at the instant they start.
Note: The technique used to maneuver a highly stable entry level fixed pitch heli is slightly different than that used to move a more agile collective pitch heli. For example, a pilot still initiates the movement by tilting the heli with a smooth small bump, however, a fixed pitch heli will return to level on its own. Therefore, inputting a counter bump after the initial bump isn’t always necessary (figure 3). There’s certainly no harm in applying an opposite bump after the initial bump, and it’s good to practice the technique required to reposition a more capable collective pitch heli, but the counter bump isn’t mandatory with entry level helis. Once again, the aim of this training series is to emphasize the control techniques required to fly more agile collective pitch helis, with the additional understanding that if a person can fly a collective pitch heli in a sim, flying a highly stable fixed pitch will seem like child’s play in the real world.
On a related note: While many entry level fixed pitch helis will allow you to hold in certain inputs without going out of control, as a rule, holding in inputs is a habit to avoid for those who aspire to fly collective pitch helicopters in the future. Thus, whether hovering a fixed pitch heli or a more agile collective pitch heli, the control approach should be the same; continuous small brief bumps or nudges.
Before attempting these maneuvering techniques, you should define a practice “box” area with points of reference to improve your consistency and to help keep the heli in comfortable view. “Center box” will obviously be a comfortable distance in front of you and the left and right boundaries would ideally be marked (mowing lines, grass clumps, concrete seams, etc.). Note that the exact location of the boundaries isn’t as critical as just having something, rather than nothing, to aim for.
You will have already maneuvered left and right, forward and backward to bring the helicopter back in front of you after deviations during hover practice. Now it’s time to maneuver on purpose: First, establish a stationary tail-in hover at center box, then initiate movement to your left or right followed by the appropriate tiny corrections to stabilize the movement (figure 4). Stop the movement with an aileron bump near the box boundary and establish a stationary hover. When the heli is stable, initiate movement back to center box and reestablish a stationary hover in front of you before maneuvering to the other side of the box. Next, practice maneuvering forward and backward at center box and along the boundaries.
When you feel up to it, start using the rudder to turn the nose more into the direction of flight: Starting from a stationary tail-in hover, turn the heli 30-45 degrees to the right or left, then initiate movement with a small aileron bump. Use the right stick to continue moving in a straight line and the rudder to keep the heli oriented in the same direction; Stop the heli near the box boundary and establish a stationary hover (figure 5). Then use the rudder to turn the heli back toward center box and return; Reestablish a tail-in hover at center box or continue to the other boundary. When reasonably proficient at this exercise, practice turning the heli to point precisely in the direction of flight and perform stationary 180 degree pirouette turnarounds, a.k.a., “piros”, near the boundaries (figure 6).
The aim of this crawl-walk-run hover series has been to help new heli pilots develop habits during simulator practice that will enable them to learn to hover with greater efficiency and far fewer mistakes in the real world.
With seemingly nothing at stake flying a sim, beginners might be tempted to rush through the initial crawl-walk stages to get to more exciting stuff, however, if the purpose of your sim training is to better prepare for real world success, it’s imperative that your sim practice follow the same structure that you intend to follow in the real world. If that’s the case, it won’t take long to achieve the same level of success in the real world, assuming you pace yourself and your heli is set up correctly. Good luck.
Author: Dave Scott