Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning to Fly

Back in the infancy of helicopter development, everyone agreed to make the flight controls universal: the uppy-downy thing would be in the left hand, directional control in the right hand and the feet would control the tail rotor. Push left foot and the fuselage twists left, push right foot and twist right.

When you lift your left hand to make the helicopter leave the ground, the main rotor increases the torque on the fuselage and it wants to rotate in the direction opposite of the blades. Remember Newton's third law- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. You counteract that torque with the tail rotor.

In American manufactured helicopters that means that as you lift the uppy-downy thing with your left hand you must push the left pedal with your foot to keep the helicopter pointed straight. Several thousand take-offs and you develop some serious muscle memory.

I got a job flying A-stars this season. They are manufactured across the pond in France. The main rotors spin clockwise. That means all of the muscle memory associated with my feet is wrong and I must heed Yoda and unlearn what I have learned.

The first flight went beyond embarrassing and into boy, I sure hope I still have a job territory. You wouldn't think it'd be hard to get the footwork down. After all, it's still push left, twist left. But human brains are lazy, thinking takes energy so once the brain correlates more power with more pedal, it's committed to muscle memory and that's that. So the nose of the helicopter was all over the place, especially in the hover. I felt sorry for the other FNG's in the backseat and imagined them struggling to keep their breakfasts down.

I did eventually figure out the footwork and spent a satisfying, if a bit too soggy, summer showing tourists some of Alaska's splendor. While I did get plenty of the usual, "Why is the ice blue?" and "Who built that road in the middle of the glacier?" type questions, I was asked two new ones in rapid succession. "Is it cool if we take our clothes off? And will you take pictures of us?"