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Flying the heli

Today I got a huge gift from a blog reader and contributor to Airstream Life. Craig arranged for me to take an hour of flight instruction in a Robinson R-22 helicopter at the Tucson airport. Now I owe him big-time.


Just before departure: thinking maybe I have the Right Stuff

Those of you who have read the blog for a long time know I love flying … when I’m in one of the front seats. In January 2007 I got my first helicopter experience courtesy of an Airstreamer who works at FlightSafety International in Dallas. I flew the Bell 430 and 212 jet helicopter simulators. That was absolutely amazing, but flying the real thing was exceptionally cool too.


The Robinson R-22 is a tiny little helicopter, just big enough for two people to squeeze in (and not very big people, either!) It’s like a sporty little car. From the moment it lifted off the ground it was like magic. So fun it hardly seemed it could be legal. Even a hover at just 6 or 7 feet was thrilling.

My instructor was Laura, a superb and natural teacher who seemed to have almost as much fun as me. Our first task was to practice hovering, turning, and tracking in a straight line at an uncontrolled ramp near the flight school. It took a few minutes for me to adjust my brain to the way the cyclic (control) works, during time which we enjoyed some interesting see-sawing hovering.


In forward flight things are much easier. Since I’ve got a few hundred flight hours in fixed-wing aircraft and an Instrument rating, I’m used to “attitude flying,” so Laura was able to enjoy the scenery as we cruised over the ASARCO open pit copper mines to the southeast of Tucson airport. That’s not to say she just turned it over to me completely — she kept a hand on the collective at all times, ready to react if I did something bad, or if we had an unexpected event.

Flying the R-22 in warm weather like today’s seems ideal. (It was about 80 degrees with full sun.) There’s no air conditioning, but just by removing the doors we could have kept the interior very comfortable. As it was, I was comfortable in forward flight at 3,700 feet, as long as the bubble windshield wasn’t pointed south. Any sweat on my body was solely due to nervousness. The turbulence wasn’t bad either. It’s smoother in a helicopter than in a small airplane.

So would I like to get my heli certificate? You bet. But I’d need to drop about $15,000 to complete the rating, and then of course, I’d need a helicopter once the flight training was done. The little R-22 costs about $120 per hour to run if you can afford the quarter-million to buy it, and between $180-200 per hour to rent. I’ll have to wait. I can only afford one traveling hobby at a time.

But wow …. that was fun! Thanks to Craig and to Laura at Voyager Helicopters in Tucson.

3 Responses to “Flying the heli”

  1. Bobby Says:

    That’s a much better view of the copper mine than we got on the tour! More fun too.

  2. Laura Says:

    Rich took to hovering like he had done it before. Thanks for the great time. Hard to believe I get paid to do this everyday! There are those moments, though, when I feel my students are trying to kill me.

    Be sure to tell Craig thanks for me too.

  3. JR Says:

    That looks truly thrilling and amazing! I take it you are not afraid of heights?

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