Heli Echo Hotel ready to lift – Capt Damian’s adventures in flight training
How it all started
As a perfectionist I always wanted to have everyhing prepared to the last detail before embarking on a journey or starting to pursue a dream. I had to wait 10 years of dreaming in order to build the courage and call a flying school for a trial lesson. You see, I grew up with a mentality that you have to be privileged in order to fly. You have to have all the money upfront and so on. But it’s not true. Here is how I did it.
I was in a low moment of my life in 2015 when I decided I have to do what I love no matter what. I called a flying school and after a few weeks I was up in the air in the little transparent bubble called R22. It was magic. I was thrilled. My life was great. I started flying on a pay-as-you-go plan with that school but flying once a month has some challenges. My skills were fading between the lessons and after a year and about 7h of training I put flying on pause. Life got in the way. I thought that I was happy going
back to my software developer chair. Three years later, life gave me another lesson and I was again in a low moment. I started to reconsider everything. What’s the point of
everything if you don’t do what you love? Who or what are we afraid of? I restarted my training and after one session life decided to test me and see how badly I wanted to fly. I had an incident that would put other people off flying but somehow it started a fire in me.
Chris was my first heli instructor to become my mentor. After hours of chatting with him I decided to give planes a try. I wanted to conquer the art of flying. I was an avid learner. Somehow scared. I took a break and went flying planes. We said good bye and here I was at Elstree at my first plane lesson in a Cessna 150 with Stojan – my plane instructor. He taught me how to own it. How to be prepared and take it seriously. I started to read books outside the PPL sillabus. I was doing this for real. I enjoyed every single hour in the Cessna and Piper but every evening I was watching Youtube videos with helicopers. They say it’s a bug and you get it for life.
I am fortunate enough to have a job and an ok credit score so the bank helped me with the money required to finish my PPL(H). Here I was with borrowed money and a clear mind. I want to fly helicopters. I love helicopters. I will do this all my life. When spending time at Elstree airfield it’s hard to not notice Flying Pig Helicopters. They are advertised as a family run, family feel company. I did not buy it initially but I wanted to try to fly a Cabri. I went in and met Paul. Suddenly, here I am committing to finish my
PPL(H) with them. A big risk from what I understand, committing to a school for the rest of your training.
Well, I was lucky, the marketing was real. The Flying Pig school is a family. Once you join it you feel accepted, included. People listen to you. The training is tailored to you. You get access to a whole set of study materials but the most important thing you get access to a network of pilots – students past and present and that is invaluable.
Learning how to fly – a team work
Jumping in a Cabri from an R22 is like jumping in a modern VW after you drove a Ford 1992. It suited me. I liked the cyclic between my legs. It made more sense. I was not hovering yet after 9h of training in an R22. Somehow after only a few hours on Cabri it finally clicked in my brain. I was the happiest kid on the airfield. Soon after my training started with Paul, Birgit joined him in helping me becoming a safe pilot. What a combo. You learn different things from different pilots. Birgit is a pro at drawing and explaining things on the whiteboard. In the clockpit she pushes and challenges you to become a better pilot that you can dream to be. Paul on the other hand brings 20+ years of experience and knows how to fine tune you like a swiss watch maker creating a masterpiece watch. Paul helped me relax and feel comfortable in the cockpit. I learned how to fly the helicopter because I had a great team behind me.
My solo flight arrived and I could not believe it. I was a pilot in the making capable of safely flying a beautifully complex machine. I worked even harder. I was afraid of Navigation. I started preparing hard for this part. In no time I was ready for my Qualifying Cross Country flight (QXC). I waited few weeks for it to happen and here I was, on the helipad, wiping the heli screen before my flight. Paul and Birgit, my aviation parents were watching me lift. I could see how proud they were.
Off I went to Duxford. My first leg. My first adventure. I was on hold at Duxford for about half an hour due to some shower that was pouring over the runway; then some old bird had to priority land due to some engine problems. Here I am flying in circles thinking “oh my god, this is happening, I am a real pilot having to take real decisions to fly safely. Nobody on my left hand side.”. I landed at Duxford, ate my curry inside the tower on a coffee table after which I left for Turweston. With some grass stuck on my
screen, a failed PilotAware and my paper map on my lap, the traffic service from Luton was my guardian until I landed at Turweston. Quite a chic airfield.
I left Turweston and I witnessed the most amazing sunset. I arrived at Elstree a bit late and I learned from Paul that I did one of the longest cross country flights in the history of the school. I landed and I could not believe it. Here I am back after 3.7h of flying on my own, safe and sound.
Paul: “Vali… what is that grass on the screen…”
Me: “Paul, don’t even ask… :))”
That evening I got the much needed confidence to continue my journey.
My skills test day
In no time I was preparing for my skills test. I passed the radio test and here I am, ready to be checked by an examiner. We had to cancel my test twice due to the weather but the waiting was well worth it. It was morning. Leon arrived in the office at 10 sharp. He explained to me the plan for the day and calmed me down. What a great examiner. It
appears that I was very nervous. They say we train hard so even when we are at our 70% we should be good enough to pass the test. That is true. I was nervous a bit to my surprise. I could have done a better job at keeping the helicopter in trim but overall I had a blast during my exam. It was great. I enjoyed every single second of it. I was well prepared. There was nothing new to do that I did not practice over and over during my training. Navigation in all modes? done, confined areas? done, slope landing, quick
stops down and into the wind? done. I was relieved. I landed on the helipad and Leon congratulated me. What a relief. It took me 48 hours to realise just what I did.
My tip for you – the current and future student – is to do your exams in advance. I had to pause my flying for a month to be able to catch up. You spend a lot of time learning how to hover and do circuits but after your solo, things are progressing much faster. You want to be able to focus on your flying rather than start reading 5 books stressing about timing those exams with your skills test.
My journey to become a helicopter pilot was not a straight forward one. My abilities are unique. It is important to remember to not compare ourselves with other pilots. Getting your PPL in 45h is a nice target but realistically it will take you as long as is needed to become a safe pilot. It can be 60, 80, 100 hours. It does not matter. What matters is that you fly and stay safe.
This was my PPL(H) journey and it was one of the best things that has happened to me in my life. Best decision I took. If you are on the fence, just book yourself an hours in a helicopter and experience it for yourself. You will not regret it. Flying Pig has that X factor when it comes to flying schools. I highly recommend them! (and they did not pay me to say this).
What’s my next plan?
Well I will continue building my hours in the Cabri G2, maybe do some type ratings and start preparing for commercial/flight instructor courses. I wish you follow your dreams regardless of your age. I read somewhere that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. On that note, pick up the phone and treat yourself with a training experience. And don’t forget, flying should be fun.
Thinking about starting your flying journey or if you’d like to book a trial lesson email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 118 8998