From the Cockpit Part 26: Robinson R44

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 26 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.

Rankin returns to Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores, AL this week, taking another stab behind the controls of a Robinson helicopter—the R44. He flew the Robinson R22 a few weeks back with the folks from Trojan Aviation (From the Cockpit Part 22), meeting the challenge head-on and making his first attempt at a successful helicopter hover, but this week lifts off with Erick Constantino of Lost Bay Helicopters to tackle its big brother.

Though made by the same manufacturer and retaining a similar look, the machines proved to be rather different flying experiences, says Rankin, with the R44 ultimately winning him over. “It’s definitely a more stable platform,” he says. Some of this is to be expected with the R44’s increased size (the R44 seats four as opposed to the R22’s two), but Rankin also highlights the addition of hydraulic-assisted flight controls and a reversal of the tail rotor direction. With much of piloting, especially helicopter piloting, being a balance of multidirectional forces, pinpointing how each affects the end result can be tricky, but behind the controls Rankin knows it just “felt easier.”

Rankin’s not alone in his assessment. Introduced in 1993, the R44 became the best-selling general aviation helicopter in 1999 and has held the title since. With more than 5,800 produced, it remains the most-produced general aviation aircraft of the 21st century, which includes airplanes.

Taking off with Constantino, Rankin again finds himself in friendly company. A Force Reconnaissance Marine, Constantino understands the service in his own way and the two fall into easy conversation. And as a Force Reconnaissance Marine, most of Constantino’s experience involves jumping out the back of a helicopter heavily armed. He figured he should know a little more about flying the machines he was operating out of, ultimately getting his pilot’s license and helping found Lost Bay.

Flying out over the Florida Panhandle, Rankin and Constantino soar for a bit before practicing hovering. Official guestimates offer nine hours as the time needed to become proficient in hovering a helicopter. Rankin has had considerably less, but feels like he’s getting the hang of it. “I knew what to expect and roughly what to do,” he says. It’s a matter of getting into the zone—that place where muscle memory, knowledge and intuition roll into one—and mastering the minute movements required while still keeping track of all the different forces at play. Rankin can hardly find the words. “You just have to feel the helicopter,” he says. “You get this feeling, and you know.”

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

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and Erick Constantino fly the Robinson R44. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

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