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Rotary training from Fixed Wing

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It was three months ago that I was heading down Highway 4 in Northern California heading back to the office. Having just finished buttoning down the companies financials for 2007, I was looking forward to just getting home and seeing my two golden retrievers. As I changed lanes, I noticed Buchanon Airfield to my right hand side. I could see an aircraft hovering near the runway facing me (runway 19) and watched it taxi out of its position and head towards me gaining altitude. It wasn't a helo I was familiar with. I thought back to the seven hours I had in an R22 back in 1991 when I was 19. It was some of the most fun I had ever had in my life. But the money as an issue back then, and there was no way my parents were going to pay for me to fly helicopters.


I thought more and more about this on my way home. I thought about how quick the last 15 years have flown by, and about things in my life that I have always wanted to accomplish but never gotten around to. And I thought about that R22.


The next day, I did some research on the internet and learned that Bristow Academy has an outlet at Buchanon with 7 Schweizer 300 helicopters used for training. I made an appointment to meet with the Chief Pilot (Chuck) and see what this scene was all about. He was a really nice guy, and we chatted about learning the craft of flying helicopters. He set up a demo for me to fly with a CFI, and I came back a week later.


Stian was from Swedon, I learned. He has had a long history with crotch rockets in Europe before finding his calling. This connected with me, as I've been riding them since 1988 myself. Stian introduced me to the 300, and walked me around it while he preflighted it. Before long, we were strapped in.


As he started the engine, and engaged the rotor he explained (at a high level) what he was doing and mostly kept things real strait forward. I asked some questions and he was real happy to answer them. We headed out of Buchanon, and I was just floored at how amazing the visibility is in one of these. We chatted a bit about bikes, and then he smirks and says "so you like adrenaline?" I laughed and he said "Lets go do the river run." He comes in to this water channel about five miles north of the field, and go tearing through the channel at 60 kts about 30 feet off the water. I was hooked. This was it. He took me out of the channel, let me fly the helicopter a bit for about 2 minutes, and then took us up to about 2000 feet. "This is an auto-rotation. Three-Two-One" and he cut the power and at first I screamed like a fourteen year old girl scout at a horror movie. I'm not gonna lie. I was sure we were both done for, and just hoped my girlfriend took care of my dogs. But then everything kind of slowed down, and I realized that all hell was not breaking loose. Things were okay. He landed gently on to a small field, and grinned at me.


After we returned to the airport, I told him I would be in touch. I stopped by a couple of other schools, but they didn't have helicopter training. But it dawned on me that if I was going to get in to flying, I wanted to be able to fly planes and helicopters. Planes would be great for taking friends on a trip, where the helicopter was for going out and just having a blast. So the question was...which to do first?


My heart was loud and clear: Helicopter. But based on the pricing and some input I got from some pilot friends, transitioning from the plane would be a little quicker and maybe a little cheaper. So I proceeded with the Cessna 172's first. After about 30 hours of time, I am in the solo cross country stages of the training. In the next two weeks, I will be taking my check ride for fixed wing.


So this morning I went back to Bristow to meet with Chuck and Stian. I explained that I was nearing my checkride, and wanted to start some entry level lessons in the Schweizer 300. Probably I should completely wait until after the checkride is over and done with, but I can't help it. The damn helicopters talk to my soul. So Saturday, we are going to do my first helicopter lesson, and keep them to two lessons per week until I finish the fixed wing. I fly fixed wing 4-5 times per week so at this point another two weeks should just about wrap that up with only one week of cross over.


The guys at Bristow sympathized with me about doing the fixed wing first, but told me that its not uncommon for guys that love the helicopter to be bored in an airplane. I certainly feel like that at times...but as I said I wanted to be able to handle both.


Saturday can't get here fast enough. B)

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I did the same thing last September. I had to be at Buchanan to pick up someone, so scheduled an intro flight - also with Stian. When I told him I used to race cars, he also took me on the river run.


For those that are interested in following, you can see the run here http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&...mp;t=h&z=14 just a few klicks north of CCR, cutting through the west end of Concord Naval Weapons Station. For my tour, we proceeded east along the channel, and up and over the fuel offload pier, turning south, and heading inland just before the Benicia bridge. Stian let me take the controls, and we headed south into the mountains. Over the uninhabited area, Stian showed me a pinnacle landing (no actual landing, though), along with an auto-rotation.


Since then, I've been hooked, but have zero free time to take lessons.





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Jack, its cool to hear that you clocked a good ride. That river ride was amazing wasn't it? During our demo, he also took me over to a nearby mountain and hovered over a potential landing area. I don't think the cows appreciated it very much.


Sadly, Stian is almost out of time on his Visa from Sweden. He will be leaving in about three months. Hopefully its enough time for me to get a transition with him if I fly four hours per week. If not, he'll need to transition me over to another CFI. Definitely will be enough time for me to solo though. If any of you are in the Northbay, I highly suggest a demo with him. Even if its just for fun and lessons arent really feasible. The river run by itself is something you will remember the rest of your life. Just my .02

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