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Patagonia helicopter: Which machine?


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I am completely new on this forum and need a lot of advice. I plan to train for and get my helicopter private pilot's license in 2014 but have no prior piloting experience. I am lucky to be able to then buy my own light helicopter for private use. I live on the East Coast (US) but spend more and more time of the winter months in Chilean Patagonia, where I would like to fly my future machine in the November through March season (I have had the privilege to explore the region as a helicopter passenger and that got me hooked).


I have many questions (which helicopter for that region? training considerations? fuel supply in remote region?) and debated whether to list them all in one post or to address the main questions in individual posts. I decided to do the latter with the objective of achieving a more orderly discussion:




What is the best personal helicopter for Chilean Patagonia given my budget constraints? I can afford a new R44 or a new Enstrom 280FX. Safety and maintenance frequency are my most important decision criteria. I would typically be flying with one or two people (other than me). Chilean Patagonia is mountainous terrain but not very high. The highest passes I expect to have to cross in "my region" are 4500 feet. But there may also be occasional landings at that altitude. Wind is frequent and often gusty. Temperatures vary widely in the relevant season (from 35F to as high as 90F at 800 feet).


Maintenance could be a make-or-break issue in deciding between different models. I would fly the helicopter over 50 hours but less than 100 hours a season and ideally I would only have to do maintenance by a mechanic between seasons. Is that realistic?


The closest place to get helicopter maintenance is 200 miles away. But I have no way of judging the mechanics' competence. Presumably the mechanics in Santiago, Chile's capital, have more experience but they are 800 miles away.


R44 Maintenance

There are a number of R44s in Chile and I assume that implies that a number of experienced maintenance mechanics offer their services.


ENSTROM Maintenance

To my knowledge there is currently no privately or commercially owned Enstrom 280 in Chile but the Chilean Army had a total of 15 280FX from 1989 to 2002. While these machines no longer seem to be in Chile (?), there should be (former?) helicopter mechanics who are familiar with the machine. But if this were NOT to be the case, would it be realistic for a local helicopter mechanic who does NOT have any Enstrom experience to get sufficiently up-to-speed through the Enstrom maintenance training in Michigan to service my future helicopter if I decide on an Enstrom?


The Robinson R44 is certified in Chile whereas the Enstrom 280FX does not seem to be (despite the Army formerly having had a small fleet of 280FX -- I don't understand that). However, I have been told that obtaining certification in Chile is not that cumbersome.


Thank you very much for your input.

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  • 1 month later...

I spent several years flying helicopters in Southern Chile. My suggestion would be to push you towards a Bell 206. You should be able to pick one up for close to R44 prices. Several reasons for this thought. Jet fuel availability, maintenance availability, turbine reliability, performance. If you are really set on one of the recips you mentioned then the Robinson is the way to go. I'm sure between Chile and Argentina you will be able to find adequate parts and maintenance.


As long as it is N registered you will have no issues flying on your FAA license. If you opt to CC register it the process to get a medical in Chile will be enough to discourage you. If you let me know what region you plan to be in I might be able to steer you towards maintenance and even some local helicopter pilots.

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Owner operators typically do not fare well. Especially at low experience levels. You will not realize how inexperienced you are until you scare yourself the first time.

If you are one of the rare pilots who do very scary flying, but don't realize it, your passenger may be able to enlighten you. One clue that this has happened is if they politely find excuses to never fly with you again.

You probably won't take my advice, but hiring a professional pilot to train you up, and let you know when you are ready to be turned loose would be the way to go for you.

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I am an owner operator who would like to think that I am successfully flying a private turbine ship on my own. I started in the R44 and 86 hours later switched to the EC-130. An owner operator in my opinion can operate in a form that is just as safe as any 135 operation. There are a few key elements in my opinion that you should adhere to strictly to do this successfully.


Since you are fortunate enough to be able to purchase your own helicopter this means that you are likely able to hire some serious talent to train you. The interesting thing about the helicopter industry is that some of the very best pilots are usually very attainable for a very reasonable fee. Shoot beyond the average local CFI and get someone who will really take you under their wing, right through your private and instrument, with a training aircraft like a R-44/22 or Schweizer. This is someone who does constant training, an ace in that aircraft. You don't want to be some CFI's first student.


Now if your dream aircraft is something other then an R-44, then likely you will be finding someone else for the transition training. Depending on the make, perhaps start with the factory training, augment with guys like EuroSafety, and then before you know it you will meet the right safety pilot. The next chunk of time I would fly with a safety pilot. Your insurance will likely mandate it. For me it was the commercial standards proven in the EC that allowed me to solo with pax but every insurance will mandate different milestones. The training never stops. I do recurrent training 4 times a year. You will likely never be a 10,000 hour pilot but you can afford to make the hours you have worth more per hour. I did multiple cross countries spanning multi states. My longest being from TN-CA. Do these with your safety pilot who will push you and teach you a wealth of knowledge. Long XC into unfamiliar areas are the most fun you can have in my opinion. Also try and tag along with other pilots who are ferrying your model of aircraft across the country so you can build additional time in your type.


Frequency I think is really what separates the skill level of the professional from us "amateurs". I fly as a rule 2 times a week minimum with the goal of making 4 hours a week. This means 100-200 hours a year. I think any less and I would lose that comfort and finesse. It's still not 1000 hours/year but 50 hours a year I feel is too little to stay really proficient. When your aircraft goes into maintenance, rent an R-44 and stay current. Your insurance appreciates currency and total time more then any other metric. Fly every flight like a check ride. No one is watching you except your self so be your worst critic. Your goal should be that when you fly every pick up, turn, radio call, approach, and landing should be for the gold. Your passengers should feel completely at ease when flying with you. Pretended as if passengers are very full glasses of water and you can't spill a drop. Absolutely under no circumstance do you show boat with your machine. Don't ever let a passenger distract you from your minimums. People respect a private pilot who says no and there is nothing wrong with having a reputation for being safe. Learn from the 135 operations and add to the safety margin, no one is paying you to fly.


Lastly there is maintenance. The bond I have with the guys that work on my helicopter is like family. Get to know the company closely. The people who work on your machine are like your surgeons. Become closely involved with every scheduled maintenance. Prepare to send some very nice holiday gifts because you are going to drive them crazy asking questions. If you buy new your relationship with your factory rep will be important. Us private guys don't have the pull of a large operator so when that center windshield A/D comes out and there are no parts because they are all tied up, that rep is who is going to take care of you. Just like you hear about networking on this site for jobs, it's equally important for the owner operator for support. Go to HAI.


The helicopter industry is full of wonderful professional people and they will all tell you how crazy you are for being so low time, flying your own helicopter, etc. But with all this knowledge you continue to gain you will feel good about continuing to enjoy the privilege of flying your own helicopter. Nothing comes close. Be vigilant and safe. Good luck!

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