In March 2010, of the 13,758 aircraft on the Australian civil register, 1728 (or 12.6 per cent) were rotary-wing. That number is growing every year – a clear indication that the appeal of the rotary-wing sector remains alive and well. But what makes piloting rotary-wing aircraft that much different to piloting their fixed-wing counterparts? Is transitioning between fixed and rotary-wing a simple skills set conversion with a fair share of overlap between the two, or is it a whole new gamut of skills to get acquainted with?
Well, if all your pilot experience has been on wings that are fixed, brace yourself for a brave new world as the transition to rotary-wing flying is a far cry from transitioning between fixed-wing types. The controls are completely different, with different functions and effects, and some even suggest controlling choppers is the complete opposite of fixed-wing aircraft. On top of that, helicopters themselves are basically unstable and it takes longer to build up your confidence, although more advanced choppers have stability augmentation systems and are much easier to fly.
In a chopper your hands are a lot more busy. With your left hand you grasp the collective lever, which controls the pitch angle (angle of attack) of all the rotor blades. When you increase pitch you simultaneously need to increase power using the throttle on the end of the collective lever as there’s no throttle linkage, in basic helicopters at least (interconnection increases with advanced choppers).
Once you’ve sorted your left hand’s role, you use your other thumper to hold the cyclic control. This controls the angle of the rotor disc and therefore the attitude – it’s just like the control yoke or stick in a fixed-wing, but loads more sensitive and responsive. Coupled with this, a small amount of anti-torque is used as you roll into a turn, but this is sizeably less than rudder use in fixed-wings.
The tail rotor is used to rotate the aircraft around its vertical axis like a rudder – reduce the tail rotor pitch and the chopper will turn in the opposite direction to the main rotor’s rotation due to the torque. If more pitch is what you need you increase pitch angle on the tail rotor, which will counter the torque and rotate in the opposite direction. This absorbs more power, but governed systems usually look after these for you.
Well-versed fixed-wing pilots come to expect moderate attitude changes and know that their aircraft will ably correct their little errors due to its natural stability, thereby negating the need to make adjustments to correct unwanted changes in attitude. But you’d best cut that out and be a little more on the ball in a helicopter, as if you allow such attitude changes to occur the aircraft will end up all over the shop. So while the fixed-wing pilot can tolerate a fair amount of pitch and roll in the cruise, a rotary-wing pilot will instinctively eliminate those changes in attitude, making for a smoother ride. And the same thing goes when it comes to that impressive, fine art of hovering.
Taking that first step
Helicopter schools say they come across the occasional student who takes to helicopter training naturally. For the majority though it’s more of a challenge, and some unfortunates may initially even be assessed as unlikely to become quality chopper pilots. The first task is researching prior to selecting a school; you want to find a school that will be honest with you regarding your potential as a helicopter pilot. The upfront ones are likely to have a slightly higher dropout rate, but by the time you’ve clocked up 15-20 hours they should be able to give you a decent assessment of your progress. It’s also a good idea to examine a school’s record in helping to place its graduates in their first job.
To gain a helicopter PPL you need to have passed the PPL theory exams, completed at least 50 hours training, and passed a flight test with a flying operations inspector (FOI) or an approved testing officer (ATO). If you already hold a fixed-wing PPL or CPL the minimum helicopter training is reduced to 38 hours, but you may not be assessed as competent at that minimum level as individual pilots have their own adaptation rates. Total training hours for a helicopter CPL is 105; a fixed-wing PPL reduces that to 70 and a CPL to 60, subject to your passing the flight test at that point.
Rotary-wing training is structured similar to that of fixed-wing, starting with effects of controls before progressing to upper-air work, circuit training, and emergency procedures training before First Solo. Next comes consolidation and further exercises through to the general flying progress test (GFPT), which may or may not occur at the 35-hour mark. The hardest task for budding helicopter pilots is usually mastering the hover.
On the theory side of things, helicopter basic aeronautical knowledge is a separate subject, but other subjects such as navigation, meteorology and flight rules are common to fixed-wing. As is the case with fixed-wing training, as your practical skills develop it’s a good idea to plunge headlong into the theory. Do this and you’ll be up to the task when quizzed on subjects including aircraft general knowledge, flight rules and air law, radio telephony, aircraft type knowledge, helicopter aerodynamics, navigation, operations – performance and planning, human factors and meteorology.
Forging a career
Career opportunities are on the rise for rotary-wing pilots, with most getting their foot in the door and buidling up experience via general charter work, livestock mustering, tourism support and scenic flights, aerial photography, governmental survey work, power line inspection and environmental survey. Aerial agriculture is a growing field (no pun intended), particularly weed control on rice, banana plantations, and any other crop with undulating terrain and tight corners.
More sophisticated operations such as search and rescue (SAR), emergency medical services (EMS), firefighting, marine pilot transfer and offshore oil/gas rig fly-in-fly-out operations demand more complex machines and special skills, and many are multi-crew night and/or IFR operations. These operators are constantly seeking pilots; land one of these jobs and you may eventually earn a salary of $150,000 to $180,000 as a multi-crew captain.
As your experience grows so do job opportunities, and you’ll eventually get to the point where potential employers will actually seek you out. A good way to build that experience is through instructing, and an instructor rating is a qualification that attracts employers. An operator conducting a mix of flying that includes training, charter and government contract work is likely to offer a wider spectrum of experience that will benefit your future, especially if some of it includes instruction.
EMS and SAR operations are also growing, and by their nature they don’t provide high annual flying hours. In fact, in many cases EMS and rescue crews do more training flights than operational missions. Rescue operations require a wide range of skills because every operation is so unique, from winching rescue crews onto a pitching boat to plucking a hiker from a cliff face, searching for a small vessel in a raging sea, or night-landing at a road accident site.
The resource industries represent the peak of many helicopter pilots’ careers, particularly offshore operations. Very large two-crew twin-engined helicopters operate like an airline, seven days a week, with flawless operational procedures and management, safety practices, recurrent crew checking and training, airworthiness programs and reliability. Companies in this field conduct a wide range of operations typically including offshore crew change and marine pilot transfer, dedicated emergency medical services, search and rescue, wild-fire management, mineral survey, telecommunications in-field support and government contract charter.
THE LOCAL FLEET
Reader note: What follows is just a snapshot of the rotary-wing aircraft available in Australia and is not intended to be all inclusive.
Agusta Westland AW119 Koala
This eight-seat single engined turbine multi-role helicopter is in wide use as a corporate transport, in EMS/SAR applications, law enforcement, firefighting and offshore resources support, and can be fitted with a wide range of special-purpose equipment as well as advanced avionics for IFR operations.
Agusta Westland AW 139
The Agusta Westland 139 flies faster and farther, with more passengers than any other corporate helicopter in its class. Combining superior comfort and performance, it offers day, night and IFR capabilities and can sit between seven and 15 passengers. It is also the only helicopter in its class that offers Category A (single engine performance) capability at its gross weight of 6,400kg. It is also the only aircraft in this weight class certified by both the US Federal Aviation Administration and European Joint Aviation Authorities.
Evolved from the iconic 206B-3, the Bell 206-L4 LongRangerIV combines power, room and range in spades. Backed by a 650 horsepower Rolls Royce engine, this seven-place light helicopter offers increased range and altitude through its improved power margin. With its spacious and flexible cabin and high visibility cockpit, the Bell 206-L4 is ideal for a range of operations including corporate, EMT, utility or law enforcement duties. So whether you’re a CEO who wants to get business done in the air or an EMT who wants to save lives, the Bell 206-L4 can get you there.
Bell expects to deliver its 1000th 407 later this year, a measure of the aircraft’s continuing ability to impress both operators and clients. The Bell 407 boasts full integration of speed, performance and manoeuvrability and is configurable for a wide array of tasks and payloads. Composite dynamic components and unmatched rotor authority produce an incredibly smooth ride in virtually all conditions. Pilot-friendly attributes include a twist grip throttle on the collective and a FADEC fuel management system. With the Bell 407 increased power and decreased noise are no longer incompatible as its sophisticated engine and composite rotor ensure a smooth ride and drastically quieter operation. Wide-open club seating is also featured for unparalleled visibility. The 407 is a very capable single engine helicopter that can carry the pilot plus up to six passengers and fly direct from Bankstown to Coolangatta cruising at in excess of 130kts. There are approximately 20 Bell 407s operating locally in corporate, private and utility operations.
The Bell 412 is conditioned for all conditions. It offers the highest dispatch reliability of any twin-engine and is designed with rupture-resistant fuel cells, energy-absorbing crew seats and a resilient fuselage. This chopper provides a smooth ride for rough assignments where reliability is paramount. Its Pratt & Whitney PT6 Twin-Pac powerplant is backed up by 25 million flight hours in more than 2000 aircraft worldwide, its autopilot and twist-grip throttles mounted on the collective allow it to be certified for single pilot IFR operation without releasing the primary flight controls, and seating for up to 15 makes it equally at home in utility and VIP roles.
Since it’s unveiling at the 2005 HAI Heli-Expo in Anaheim, the Bell 429 light twin engine helicopter has been receiving considerable attention worldwide from EMS, law enforcement, corporate and private operators. Quite possibly the most advanced light twin IFR helicopter ever created, the Bell 429 is incredibly fast, impeccably appointed and more spacious than any helicopter in its class. Intelligently designed and highly adaptable to address an array of individual needs, the Bell 429 boasts rear-sliding and forward hinged doors to allow unobstructed access on either side, precise control for cruise and hover, spacious and configurable seating for up to eight occupants, and efficient operating costs. Up front, the 429’s cockpit features the latest avionics and a dual digital three-axis autopilot with SCAS.
Eurocopter EC130 B4
The EC130 B4 is a new generation light single engine helicopter benefiting from the latest technological advances of Eurocopter such including the fenestron, VEMD, FADEC, and the variable-speed rotor. It also features a large power reserve, dual hydraulic system, and automatic back-up system – all of which provide high safety and low noise levels. The EC130 B4 is aimed at private users and tourism and charter missions.
This light twin engine, very powerful multi-purpose helicopter boasts outstanding performance. Advanced design and new technologies result in excellent safety, comfort, manoeuvrability, noise level.
Eurocopter AS350 B2
The single engine light Ecureuil AS350 B2 is a proven multi-purpose helicopter. Suitable for various missions including aerial work, fire fighting, and passenger transport, the AS350 B2 offers good performance, particularly in hot temperatures. The AS350 B2’s low vibration and noise levels make it a fitting partner for tourism and charter operators.
Eurocopter AS350 B3
The AS350 B3 is the high performance version of the single engine Ecureuil family. Fitted with a FADEC ARRIEL 2B1 engine, this is a powerful aircraft adapted for operations in extreme conditions (hot temperatures and high altitudes). Its high underslung capability makes it is a reference for heavy loads transport. The AS350 B3 is equipped with the new generation VEMD instrument panel. With a spacious cabin and high cruise speed, this aircraft suits corporate and private transport.
Eurocopter AS355 NP
Aimed at the large IFR-capable civil market, this twin-engined five-seat variant of the successful AS 350 Squirrel is fitted with twin Allison turboshaft engines and is in extensive use in search and rescue, charter, tourist flying and IFR training. This is one of the cheapest single pilot IFR helicopters available on the market.
Robinson R44 Raven series II
High reliability, fuel economy, endurance, performance that challenges turbine competitors and comfortable hydraulic controls have swept the Robinson R44 Raven series II four-seater to instant popularity for private flying, training, and air taxi work. Adaptability to specific tasks is provided with factory-build special purpose variants for police, IFR training and news-gathering tasks.
Robinson R22 Beta series
Superior performance, modest price, outstanding reliability and exceptionally low operating costs have made the two-seat Robinson R22 the world’s most popular entry-level helicopter for nearly two decades. More than 3,600 have been delivered in over 60 countries, and the R22 now dominates the basic flight training sector. It holds major performance records in its weight class including speed and distance, is still sensibly priced, and is also the world’s most popular private two-seat helicopter.
Robinson’s new five-place R66 turbine helicopter is the newest model featured in this guide. Exhibited publicly for the first time earlier this year, the R66 incorporates many of the design features of its reputable predecessor, the R44, including a two-bladed rotor system, T-bar cyclic and an open interior cabin configuration. New features include increased reserve power and altitude performance, a fifth seat, and large baggage compartment. Popular upgrades including HID landing lights, leather seats, and a stereo audio control panel are standard in the R66. Robinson is now accepting orders for the R66. See image on cover of this helicopter guide.
Virtol Phillicopter MK1
Aussie through and through, the Virtol Phillicopter MK1 was designed and built completely in country by Maitland-based Duan Phillips. The Phillicopter MK1 is a robust two-place chopper designed for hard work yet priced significantly lower than similar aircraft. Designed and rigorously tested to CASA’s FAR27 Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Rotorcraft, the MK1 is not an experimental aircraft but may be purchased in that category if desired, with provision for a Type Approval upgrade thereafter. Primarily designed for livestock and agricultural work, the MK1 is also a fitting choice for surveillance, ship to shore, general commuting, forestry, and pipeline and transmission line inspection duties. (Image currently not available).
HELICOPTER SCHOOL DIRECTORY
Here we profile just some of the flight training organisations in Australia that offer rotary-wing training. This information has been gathered from each school’s website; for more detailed information contact the relevant school directly.
Aeropower Flight School
Located at Redcliffe Airport 30 minutes north of Brisbane, Aeropower Flight School was established in 2001 with a focus on electrical work. Aeropower has since expanded its fleet from one Robinson R22 to its current line-up of five helicopters including a Robinson R44 Raven II, two Schweizer 300CBIs, and McDonnell Douglas MD500E. As well as PPL, CPL, and a new eight-week full-time theory course, Aeropower offers initial turbine, low level, and sling endorsements and will soon introduce mustering and night ratings.
Hangar 14B, Redcliffe Aerodrome, Nathan Rd, Kippa Ring Qld 4021
w: www.aeropower.com.au/flightSchool/ p: (07) 3204 1280.
Peter Holstein formed Aerowasp Helicopters in 1992, operating flight training, airwork and charter operations out of Wollongong before relocating to Camden Airport in 2005. After gaining your CPL at Aeroswap you can plough through a plethora of endorsements and ratings. The company offers endorsements on a Robinson R22, Robinson R44, Hughes 300, Bell 47, Bell 206 JetRanger, Eurocopter AS-350 Squirrel, Eurocopter EC-120, and a Hughes/MD500. Ratings on offer include instructor, night VFR, night instructor, sling, low level, initial gas turbine, and float.
Hangar 752, Camden Airport, Camden, NSW 2570
w: www.aerowasphelicopters.com.au p: (02) 4655 8002
Located near the Caboolture airstrip in south-east Queensland, Airwork Helicopters offers pilot training from the ‘no experience at all’ level upwards. As well as standard PPL and CPL courses, Airwork also offers agricultural, night VFR, and instructor ratings and sling, turbine, and various type endorsement courses. Airwork conducts training in a trusty Bell 47, but if required other types are available according to customer needs including a Robinson 22, R44 and an IFR Agusta A109A.
5/19 Lear Jet Dr, Caboolture Qld 4510
w: www.airwork.com.au/school.html p: (07) 5495 8000
One of the longer-running chopper training schools in the country, over two decades Bankstown Helicopters has trained more than 700 students. This school claims to have the largest rotary-wing training fleet in Sydney, with six Robinson R22s, three Robinson R44s, a Bell Jetranger and an Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel on offer for the student pilot. PPL and CPL courses are available here, with students then having the option to move on to advanced training involving gas turbine powered types, sling, low level, float, and winch operations, NVFR, multi-engine endorsements, and instructor ratings.
Bankstown Airport, Link Road, Bankstown, NSW 2200
w: www.bankstownhelicopters.com.au p: (02) 9791 0500
Becker Helicopter Services
Operating since 1995, Becker Helicopter Services is an international helicopter flight training school on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Courses include Day VFR, Multi-engine IFR, Simulator, NVFR, and an in-house ground school for PPL, CPL, IREX and ATPL Performance and Loading. Also on offer here is Agusta 109 W Power multi-engine training and IFR for KBR Tiger Program pilots and instructors. Becker’s fleet includes two Robinson R22s and a Robinson R44, Agusta 109 E Power, Aerospatiale AS350D ‘Squirrel’, Bell 206 KIOWA, Bell 47, and Hughes H269A TH-55.
7 Friendship Ave Sunshine Coast Airport, Mudjimba Qld 4564
w: www.beckerhelicopters.com p: (07) 5448 9888
Cairns Helicopter School
Located in the tropics of Far North Queensland, Cairns Helicopter School has been operating for 20 years, originally out of Mareeba on the Tablelands but now based at the GA setion of Cairns International Airport. The school primarily conducts training on Robinson R22s, with a Robinson R44, Hughes 269/300, and Schweizer 269 available later down the track. Advanced training on offer here includes turbine endorsements and sling, low level, and mustering ratings. Honestly, you could do a lot worse then gaining your chopper wings in the pristine natural locale of Cairns.
9 Bushpilots Ave. General Aviation, Cairns Airport Qld 4870
w: www.cairnshelischool.com.au p: (07) 4034 9425
Chopperline Flight Training
Chopperline Flight Training began life in 1977, operating out of Bankstown under the name City and Country Helicopters before moving to Caloundra Airport in 1980 and changing to its current trading name in 1988. Chopperline’s training fleet is likely the envy of many other chopper schools and includes three R22s, 12 R44s, and 10 Bell 206 Jetrangers. Chopperline’s courses cover pretty much anything you could imagine. If you’re in need of something a little more niche, Chopperline can provide a range of training including endorsements on most types. This training is on demand but can generally be scheduled all year round.
12 Pathfinder Drive, Caloundra Qld 4551
w: www.chopperline.com p: (07) 5491 8588
If you plan on seeking out a career in the agricultural sector and want to get very specific training, you couldn’t do better than seeking out County Helicopters. This Ballarat-based school offers specialised training for agriculture pilots and clearly knows its niche, eschewing ab intio training in favour of advanced skills specifically for agricultural flying. Drawing from 20 years’ experience, County Helicopters uses a Robinson R44 to conduct initial ag ratings and tests as well as grade one and grade two upgrade courses.
Hangar 11A, Airport Access Rd, Ballarat Airport Victoria 3355
p: (03) 5338 1999, 0429 442 980
Located at Armidale Airport, Fleet Helicopters’ pilot training roots trace back to Aerial Agriculture, a company initially formed in 1983, who’s evolution saw its concentration shift to the rotary-wing sector in the early 90s. Fleet Helicopters’ location provides added benefit for students when it comes to rugged terrain and high altitude – the school is based at over 3500ft and its training environment extends from sea level up to mountains over 5000ft. At Fleet Helicopters you can gain your PPL or CPL in either a Bell 47 or a Robinson R22.
PO Box 453, Armidale NSW 2350
w: www.fleethelicopters.com.au p: (02) 6772 2348
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