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Teaching Techniques: Hovering


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#1 kodoz

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 01:44

I'm reading the Helicopter Flight Instructor's Guide tonite, and notice that they dodge this topic in so many ways. They give you all the obvious info you need, but don't really cover any specific technique for getting students from riding a mechanical bull to hovering a helicopter other than how I was taught: "Here's one control, here's another, here's all three. Now learn to recognize the almost imperceptible deviations from a stationary hover and make corrective inputs without overcontrolling."

Yes, at some point that's what you have to do, but I know there are better ways to develop the skills necessary for hovering. I've talked to several career-minded CFIs who have their own tips and tricks, and they all sounded less frustrating and more rational than that approach. But none of the instructors I've flown with ever applied any of them (and this doesn't reflect what I saw at a single backwater school). I have my own ideas, but I want to hear from those of you who have some real experience making things work: If you were getting paid by the maneuver rather than the hour, what technique would you use to have students hovering in no time? Since the 269/300 pretty much hovers itself, this is only for those who suffer the R22.

To get started, I'll distill what I thought were the most helpful ones in the FIG, and improve on one of them (courtesy of the CFI Mentoring presentation at HAI):

  • Focus on a distant reference; better yet, focus on a distant, vertical reference (eg, the side of a building) that will produce the same sight picture even if the helicopter climbs or descends some;
  • Initially, set a goal to stay within a general area rather than over a specific point;
  • During breaks, set down while you provide your critique so the student isn't comparing his performance to yours.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'll just summarize what's been said and what I've gotten from others--for the benefit of anybody who's not a natural or who has an instructor with only one tool in the shed.

  • Straight and level, climbs and descents, turns, etc teach the student how the controls work under conditions where they aren't so sensitive (and also teach the student the concept of holding an attitude), and can serve as a foundation for hovering.
  • Move to approaches, since this teaches the student how to steadily control the helicopter with the cyclic, and is a gradual and controlled transition into a hover
  • Control isolation helps, but this is the only technique most instructors try, and usually devolves into riding the bull
  • Let students fix the problem when they start oscillating or losing their position
  • Teach students to hover taxi first, then teach them to stop hover taxiing
  • "Force" the student to make an input and see where it gets them (assuming it's not upside down and on fire). I was hoping somebody would elaborate on this; in one flight in a 300 the instructor had me do this, then had me make an input and give half back; 15 minutes I was hovering with all 3 controls. The idea is to see what a single input gets you so you can adapt, rather than trying to constantly react.

If anybody is interested, the Australian Civil Aviation Authority has their flight instructor's manual online. If you're an instructor/CFI candidate, it's worth a look. Students might also benefit from it.

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Reading to get you started:Amazon.com Listmania Books for Helicopter Pilots


#2 RockyMountainPilot

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 12:04

I don't teach hovering. I let it come through time. Get up and teach them S&L first. Then climbs and descents. Then get them flying approaches and departures. At the end of the approach, they have to pull it into a hover. Just when they start getting wobbly, tell them to depart. I like to go to several different airports throughout a lesson.

The worst thing you can do is focus on something they are having difficulty mastering. And almost everyone has difficulty hovering. It is like trying to give a kid nasty tasting medicine. What you need to do is mix that medicine in some food so they don't realize they taking the medicine.

I remember my first lessons. The lesson plain was to learn S&L. We went out and did an hour of S&L. How freak'n boring! Then a few lessons later was intro to hovering. We spent an hour with me trying to learn to hover. How freak'n frustrating! LOL If you take a student and walk them through flying from one airport to another, they will learn most thing they need to know. And they will learn it more quickly and enjoy themselves.

#3 500E

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 17:06

Vertical Reference at a distance seemed to work for me + trying not to look at the grass under me, and as RMP said don't fixate on the hover it can be a confidence destroyer it will come usually without really noticing 10 minutes trying then a go round, suggest they try and land at a fixed point, Nos on runway, different coloured patch of grass, in the corner of that field, (if allowed,) and all of a sudden they can hover, keep pointing out they can & should try and leave themselves a get out path & use it if they feel they are not going to make it work.
If you feel that you can have another try it takes some of the angst away + if you make a decision to go around due to your not getting it correct, and the day will comes you really need to do this, it will be a decision made with some knowledge and possibly that fraction earlier rather than leaving till either to late or having to OT the donk
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#4 Gomer Pylot

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 20:16

I'm not sure one technique will work for everyone. I've never instructed, so all I know is how I was taught. My instructor took me to a confined area on the edge of a cliff, with mesquite trees all around, and told me to hover. He had to help a little now and then, but when I could hover on the edge of the cliff, with the wind swirling up and around, we then went to the stagefield and started doing other stuff, like autos. IMO, if you can hover, you can fly straight and level, and control the aircraft in most other maneuvers. If you can't hover, you can't fly a helicopter.

This is another of those never-ending discussions which continue ad nauseum, and never reach a conclusion, because there is none. If you're a competent instructor, you have many ways of teaching something, and you use whatever works best for the student you're with at the time.
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#5 cellocopter

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Posted 03 June 2009 - 23:43

In addition to what you mentioned, one common approach is just to break things up. I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet. Let the student work at the collective while you keep everything else steady, then (only)the pedals, then (only)the cyclic. I like to let them try collective and pedals before cyclic because they build up a little confidence before the cyclic rodeo. Pair two of them together, switch things around, and finally give them all of the controls. (They probably won't have all of the controls on their first hovering lesson) Just don't let your guard down. Of course that's true for every second you're in an aircraft as a CFI....

Edited by cellocopter, 08 June 2009 - 03:19.


#6 ADRidge

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 11:15

I can tell you what NOT to do. First time I ever had a demo ride, it was nearing sunset. I didn't get to try my hand at hovering until after sundown. Zero time students should not be trying to hover a helicopter at night for the first time with the landing light on.

Quite frankly, it was terrifying and I'm surprised sometimes that I still love this stuff.
In space, no one can hear you scream... but if you put a helicopter up there, some jerk would complain about the noise.

#7 kodoz

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 12:51

I can tell you what NOT to do...


What not to do is just as good. In my demo, we flew to a confined. It wasn't that tight, but it sure looked it to me. The instructor had me do some control isolation: pedals, fine, collective and pedals, fine, cyclic...in 5 seconds I saw the ground and trees coming at me way faster than I liked.

So...should you let a student try to hover on a demo flight, or can that just be a discouraging waste of money?

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#8 BOATFIXERGUY

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 14:34

So...should you let a student try to hover on a demo flight, or can that just be a discouraging waste of money?


A demo flight should be done to keep them or get them excited about wanting to pursue flying helicopters. Go out and fly! We never did any hovering during a demo. Have them on the controls with you so they can get excited about flying during the pick-up and hover, but the demo really doesn't leave any time. Hovering can come much later.

And I agree with the other posts, teach them about flying a little first. Build that confidence.
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#9 skier

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 20:59

The first instructor I went up with did as was described above, here is one control, two controls, three controls. I didn't find this to work very well.

The second instructor I flew with first gave me just the cyclic, then just the collective, then just the pedals. He then gave me the controls in different combinations: cyclic, collective; cyclic, pedals; collective, pedals. Finally he had me combine all three controls at the same time. I found this helped me much more as it gave me a feeling for each control individually.

I don't know if this is common or not, but I had the hardest time with the pedals; the first instructor never gave me a chance to feel their response without the other controls.

#10 ADRidge

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Posted 04 June 2009 - 21:12

Have them on the controls with you so they can get excited about flying during the pick-up and hover, but the demo really doesn't leave any time. Hovering can come much later.


Yup. A demo, while educational, is more a sales pitch than anything in my eyes. Maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way, but most of these folks have never been in a helicopter before. A 0 time newbie trying to hover can be just as distressing as a 0-time newbie experiencing an auto.

The only thing I distinctly remember about my hover practice is taking pedals first. Once I had pedals, I went to collective. Once I did both of those fairly well, my instructor gave me the cyclic, folded his arms together and just laughed at me until I got it right! :P
In space, no one can hear you scream... but if you put a helicopter up there, some jerk would complain about the noise.

#11 500E

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 09:42

"folded his arms together and just laughed at me until I got it right!"
Nerves of Steel these instructors
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#12 thrilsekr

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 13:15

I got to hover at the end of my demo flight, which was also my first time in a heli.
Did the whole one control at a time thing. Told me that I have control of just the pedals. He didn't make a big deal about it. Told me to look at the building out in the distance and just try to keep us pointing at it. Told me to turn around a bit to see what it feels like. Did the same type of thing for all the controls. Really put no pressure on me (and he did not seems nervous at all which really helped my confidence) and let me move around a bit, but offered a goal too. After the one at a time, did combos, then full control.
I just followed on the controls for the take off, approach and hover taxi. Once we were in S/L I had full control. Did some climbs and descents. Turns and the like. It was all relaxed atmosphere. Was kinda like a tour flight that I was flying.
Worked well for me.
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#13 C of G

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 14:30

I have to agree with Rocky Mountain Pilot. I initially did the standard instruction technique of individual controls one at a time starting with pedals, collective then cyclic, but as I matured as an instructor, I started going over the effects of the controls in forward flight and didn't bring hovering in until I felt they were ready. I had briefed my students that I would be intentionally not hovering with them so they knew my intent. I also told them that their peers would be going on about how difficult it was to hover and that when I started hover training that they would do it unassisted probably the first time I asked them and they would spend their whole careers wondering why everyone said hovering was hard. It works. Just because you were taught a specific manner doesn't make it the best way to do it. I remember how frustrating it was to be in a field trying to stay inside a box and just watching the hobbs tick by tenth by tenth. I know not every student responds the same way, but when I adopted the idea that hovering comes after the effects of controls were learned, and that we could do approach to go around until it was learned, not a single student didn't take to that technique. I hope this helps.
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#14 Skidmark

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 18:38

I had a couple people able to hover almost instantly when I told them to just keep the top of the instrument panel level, but they were probably above average. With the more troublesome students I found they usually lost control of the hover like a pendulum, swing one way, swing even more the other and then they lost it. So I would take the controls and get into a higher a hover, get the helicopter a little out of wack/unstable in the pendulum motion, and tell them to fix it. After a few times they could usually fix it themselves, so when it happened during normal hovering they could regain control and I rarely had to take control.

#15 kodoz

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 15:16

After a few times they could usually fix it themselves, so when it happened during normal hovering they could regain control and I rarely had to take control.


Learning to "fix it" is essential too, but you have to have an instructor willing to do it.

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