by Dave Barry
TODAY'S AVIATION TOPIC IS: How to fly a helicopter.
Although flying a helicopter may seem very difficult, the truth is that if you can drive a car, you can, with just a few minutes of instruction, take the controls of one of these amazing machines. Of course you would immediately crash and die. This is why you need to remember:
RULE ONE OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: Always have somebody sitting right next to you who actually knows how to fly the helicopter and can snatch the controls away from you.
Because the truth is that helicopters are nothing at all like cars. Scientists still have no idea what holds helicopters up. "Whatever it is, it could stop at any moment," is their current feeling. This leads us to:
RULE TWO OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: Maybe you should forget the entire thing.
This was what I was thinking on a recent Saturday morning as I stood outside a small airport in South Florida, where I was about to take my first helicopter lesson. This was not my idea. This was the idea of Pam Gallina-Raissiguier, a pilot who flies radio reporters over Miami.
Pam is active in an international organization of women helicopter pilots called - Gloria Steinem, avert your eyes - the "Whirly Girls." She thought it would be a great idea for me to take a helicopter lesson.
I began having severe doubts when I saw Pam's helicopter. This was a small helicopter. It looked like it should have a little slot where you insert quarters to make it go up and down. Also, this helicopter had no doors. As a Frequent 1 Flyer, I know for a fact that all your leading U.S. air lines, despite being bankrupt, maintain a strict safety policy of having doors on their aircraft.
"Don't we need a larger helicopter?" I asked Pam. "With doors?"
"Get in," said Pam.
You don't defy a direct order from a Whirly Girl.
Now we're in the helicopter, and Pam is explaining the controls to me over the headset, but there's static and the engine is making a lot of noise.
"... your throttle (something)," she is saying, "this is your cyclic and (something) your collective."
"What?" I say.
"(something) give you the controls when we reach 500 feet," Pam says.
"WHAT?" I say.
But Pam is not listening. She is moving a control thing and WHOOAAA we are off the ground, hovering, and now WHOOOOAAAAAA we are shooting up in the air, and there are still no doors on this particular helicopter.
Now Pam is giving me the main control thing.
RULE THREE OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: If anybody tries to give you the main control thing, re-
"That was too much pressure," Pam says.
Now I am flying the helicopter. I AM FLYING THE HELICOPTER. I am flying it by not moving a single body part, for fear of jiggling the control thing. I look like the Lincoln Memorial, only more rigid.
"Make a right turn," Pam is saying.
I gingerly move the control thing one zillionth of an inch to the right and the helicopter LEANS OVER TOWARD MY SIDE AND THERE IS STILL NO DOOR HERE. I instantly move the thing one zillionth of an inch back.
"I'm not turning right," I inform Pam.
"What?" she says.
"Only left turns," I tell her. When you've been flying helicopters as long as I have, you know your limits.
After a while it becomes clear to Pam that if she continues to allow the Lincoln statue to pilot the helicopter, we are going to wind up flying in a straight line until we run out of fuel, possibly over Antarctica, so she takes the control thing back. That is the good news. The bad news is, she's now saying something about demonstrating an "emergency procedure."
"It's for when your engine dies," Pam says. "It's called 'auto-rotation.' Do you like amusement park rides?"
I say: "No, I DOOOOOOOOOOOOO..."
RULE FOUR OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: "Auto-rotation" means "coming down out of the sky at about the same speed and aerodynamic stability as that of a forklift dropped from a bomber."
Now we're close to the ground (although my stomach is still at 500 feet), and Pam is completing my training by having me hover the helicopter.
RULE FIVE OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: You can't hover the helicopter.
The idea is to hang over one spot on the ground. I am hovering over an area approximately the size of Australia. I am swooping around sideways and backward like a crazed bumblebee.
So I am very happy when we finally get back on the ground. Pam tells me I did great, and she'd be glad to take me up again. I tell her that sounds like a fun idea.
RULE SIX OF HELICOPTER PILOTING: Sometimes you have to lie.
©Knight-Ridder News Service
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