From the Cockpit Part 22: Robinson R22

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 22 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

Teaming up with the folks at Trojan Aviation again, Rankin sits behind the controls of the first helicopter he’ll ever fly, a Robinson R22. He sees the stick, the pedals, the throttle—it’s a language he speaks. So he thinks. A fundamentally different animal from the fixed-wing aircraft he’s flown the rest of his life, the R22 has a few tricks up its sleeve. “It’s misleading,” Rankin says after the fact. “Your skills as a pilot almost hurt you.”

Taking a 40-minute “discovery flight” with Trojan Aviation Flight Instructor Jason Herbert, the first thing Rankin notices is how small all of the movements are. Watching Herbert maneuver the aircraft, he almost seems not to move at all, his hands and feet making minute adjustments to propel the chopper through the air. By comparison, Rankin’s movements behind the stick of his plane look like sweeping gestures. “If I were to do that in a helicopter, it would not end well,” he says, summing up the learning curve with a bit of pith: “Think about what you would do, and do less of that.” Instructing mid-flight, Herbert passes off the controls to Rankin one system at a time—first the pedals, then the collective pitch control, etc.—until Rankin has full control.

But flying high-altitude is one thing and flying low yet another, when the relative motion of the ground becomes clear and correction time worn thin. And hovering is something completely different from the both of them. “It’s a balancing act unlike anything I can explain,” says Rankin, but he tries. Deceptively difficult, most pilots need at least 10 hours of dedicated practice to even approach a decent hover (comparably, some planes can be flown solo after 10 hours of flight-time), as each movement in a helicopter, even or especially the small ones, require a complicated convergence of control. “It’s more of a dance or a symphony of movements,” Rankin says of coordinating the pedals, throttle and stick for every small adjustment. “You almost have another dimension of flight.”

Herbert may have taken over for the landing, but Rankin remains encouraged and excited to try his hand at more helicopters in the future. Though one of the most difficult flights yet, the R22 is notorious for its difficulty, due in part to its small size (when it comes to whirlybirds, weight lends stability). “If you learn on this,” he says, “you can fly anything bigger.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and Steve Herbert fly the Robinson R22. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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