Monday, July 30, 2012

Flying Across America - In A Robinson R22

Earlier this year I completed my private pilot training, and hence now have a licence allowing me to fly helicopters (up to a certain weight, at least).  The aircraft I trained in - the Robinson R22 - is one of the most common training helicopters in the USA today, despite it being a bit, er, challenging to learn in, thanks in large part to its highly sensitive controls, decent amount of power & overall light weight.

The school where I trained, Specialized Aviation, in Watsonville, CA, recently acquired an additional R22 for its fleet, but one that was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Therefore, volunteers were need to ferry it back to Watsonville, a journey of some 2,400 nautical miles.  "Oh, and BTW, please could we get our hands on it ASAP?"  How could I resist??

Fortunately for Specialized - and for me :-) - my co-pilot, Wendy, was one of their most experienced instructors, with more than 1,000 hours in Robinson helicopters and qualified to teach up IFR standards.  Phew!  Having this kind of back-up capability in the cockpit is a huge plus, turning something that could otherwise be deeply challenging into a more of a fun road-trip, though minus the arguments about what you listen to on the radio of course!

Getting to Myrtle Beach was fairly uneventful, even if Delta made me take a somewhat bizarre route. To get an even half-way decent fare meant me flying to Atlanta, which was fine and itself only about an hour from KMYR, but then I had another leg of 2 hours up to Detroit, followed by 2 hours back from Detroit to Myrtle Beach.

2SA, the aircraft we were collecting, was being bought through Huffman Helicopters, a great operation who really put in a ton of hours bringing this particular ship back up to top-notch standards (they'd bought it back from one of their clients who was trading-up, and the aircraft had been sitting outside for a while so therefore needed quite some TLC in order to get back to being fully airworthy.)

After a test flight and some final fettling, we were ready to start work on the first significant challenge - packing!  We calculated that, with full fuel tanks in this particular R22, we had a max payload, including ourselves, of 317 lbs.  Bearing in mind we had to at least bring along a set of wheels so we could move the thing, spare oil (for the heli) and water (for us), plus all the necessary paperwork, maps, FBO guides, spare GPS, small tool kit, etc. then I hope it's obvious that having two 160 lb pilots wouldn't have been optimal!  Fortunately, (i) neither of us fell into that class, and (ii) there isn't a ton of luggage space in these things anyway so apart from the essentials then we were packing very lightly (see above);fortunately, we weighed in at exactly 317 lbs and I then threw away a duplicate airport guide for the West coast which dropped a further pound off the total - job done!  We were ready for the off! (Parts II through VI follow ...)

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