The Quick Summary
- The R-44 is a four-seater. It can carry 3 with full fuel and 4 with partial fuel. The R-22 is a two-seater and it has no back seat, so everything must be stowed (under the seat) except for your camera/phone prior to takeoff.
- We're going to have fun. Prepare to relax and enjoy scenery very few people enjoy.
- There are only four simple rules:
- Do not ever touch the controls.
- Do not unbuckle your seat belt until I say those exact words.
- Do not open your door until I say those exact words.
- Do not remove your headset until I say those exact words.
- There's limited under-seat storage and no glove compartment. Expect to have camera in hand and nothing else :)
- Everything in a helicopter happens slowly. Hollywood shows crazy stuff, just like they do flying car chases. In real life our cars stay in their lanes and stop at stop signs and for children. The same is true of helicopters.
What to Bring
- Closed-toe shoes. In the unlikely event we have to set down somewhere, we don't want cactus in your feet.
- A camera if you want to take pictures
- A (frozen?) bottle of water to keep you cool before and after the flight. If we're in the R22 this will be stowed during flight.
- Sunglasses and a cap to shield your eyes from the glare.
Note: If you need sunglasses or a cap or water, just tell me the night before. Sorry, I don't have spare shoes in your size.
What not to Bring
- Earrings. Big earrings interfere with your headset and will hurt
you flip-flopping in the wind if we're flying the R22 in the summer with doors
What not to do
- DO NOT JUMP. Do not remove your weight from the aircraft or return
it to the aircraft. Something as simple as "adjusting" your seat (jumping in your seat) will
double your weight for a fraction of a second, then set it to zero, then
back to regular weight, and I have to work to compensate for this.
Please don't make me work. Thank you :)
The rest of the stuff
You do not need to read this unless you're interested
Most people find helicopter rides more comfortable than the car ride to the airport. Don't expect
helicopters to be like small planes or big boat cars. You'll feel great! If not, just tell me
and we'll fix it ASAP.
Safety and Enjoyment
- Safety is paramount. Please do not unbuckle your seatbelt or open the door until I say so in those words.
- Your enjoyment is the goal of our flight. Talk to me. I'm human. I
speak English. Tell me the SECOND you don't like something.
- The aircraft is safe and fun. Don't worry about equipment/engine
failures, because in the unlikely event we'll just find a spot to set
down, keep the rotor spun up, and have a great landing. That's called
- If any of the doors are off (R22 in the summer)... remember, the tail-rotor likes to eat loose objects. Don't have any loose objects :)
- Always feel free to ask questions. It's better to ask and know than stay silent and not.
- We do not expect an engine failure, but we fly at least 500 feet above
ground level (AGL) for two reasons. First, so that IF we have such an
event we have plenty of time to react. Second, at 500AGL we avoid most
antennas or towers. For that reason we don't "hover" in a spot above
something... but rather orbit around it. If you want to hover over
something let me know ahead of time and I'll do so at 1000ft above that
point (temperature and weight depending... if it's hot and we're
heavy... that might not be an option).
The Goal - Expanded
The goal is for all of us to have a good time, enjoy the flight, and see
interesting things. When this is not happening you need to speak up -- I'd rather have
a short happy flight than a long miserable one.
The R22 helicopter is more "cozy" than the car we took to the airport, but usually people
are more comfortable and do not get sick. Even people who get carsick fly fine in a
Helicopters are what I fly for fun but not what you do.
That means if YOU are not having a good time we need to get you safely to the ground...
and I will fly later :) Okay? If you are not comfortable either flying
OR saying "I'm not having fun" you need to rethink if you want to try and fly. Being a
passenger on a luxury airliner is one thing (you have to do it to get to far away places) but in a private helicopter
you have a choice :) Exercise it :)
If you are not having fun then it is a great idea to tell the pilot (me)
and let's call an end to it. I'm not into torturing my passengers, and
you're not into being tortured. If you are we can discuss that on the
The R-22 vs the R-44
The R44 has 4 seats. The R22 has two seats. If there are only two of us and there is an R22 available, we'll fly in that. It only costs $250/hr so it's easier on the budget than the R44 ($500/hr). Note: these are not retail prices but are discounted for friends/family first time out.
As of Q4 2013 in Tucson and Las Vegas I have access to both R22s and R44s. Depending on various factors we'll use the most suitable aircraft.
- R22 seat weight limit is 240lbs. R44 is 300lbs. Don't worry, I will ask you your weight, not judge you, and promptly forget it after I do a suitable weight&balance calculation.
- R22s do not have air conditioning. If it's over 90F and an R44 with air conditioning is available we'll take that.
- If the wind is greater than 8 knots (10MPH) we won't notice it in the R44 so that is a factor as well.
I'll be in the right-hand (pilot) seat and you'll be in the left-hand seat (or in the back in the R44). When
you want to see something I'll orbit it so you can see it best.
What to wear
- Closed-toe shoes. If we have to set down somewhere and walk to the nearest road, shoes help :) If we're in the desert closed shoes prevent cactus needles from entering your soft smooth skin.
- Comfortable clothing. If it's hot, shorts and a T-shirt. If
it's cold, a sweatshirt. You'll want to take it off and stow under the
seat before flight though, as the plexiglass bubble cabin gets
comfortable quickly. So far this theory has tested well to 44F (7C).
- Shorts are fine. Skirts are fine. If we're in the R22 with no doors and you're wearing a short skirt, ensure you've properly attired yourself with colorful underwear.
What to bring
- Sunglasses. In a car we have a roof and tinting to keep direct
sunlight out of our eyes. In the helicopter we have neither because we
do want unobstructed vision. Finally there won't be a horizon or
mountains to protect your eyes from direct sunlight.
- Water if you want to drink. In summertime I recommend freezing a
bottle of water the night before (take some water out as the ice will
expand and burst the bottle otherwise.)
- If you must drink during flight bring a "camel bag" you can hang on your front, or have next to you in the R44.
- Camera. Phone cameras work great. Your eyes will see 360 degree views that a camera will NEVER do justice. So if you would rather enjoy the view and not try and capture it that's fine too.
- Cap or visor if you want to keep your eyes shaded so you can enjoy the view!
What to expect
- AT ALL TIMES you can ask questions!!!
- Everything in a helicopter happens slowly.
- We will go out to the helicopter. Be excited -- you're out on
the tarmac where the US TSA has heart attacks about civilians :) Your
job at this point is to relax...
- I will do the preflight check. Your job at this point is to enjoy the scenery, breathe in the cool air, and relax.
- After preflight it could be a time for stress but it's not.
Instead it's a time to relax, and sit down in your assigned seat, and
buckle yourself in with the 1970s seatbelt buckle... and... you guessed
- If we're in sight of other helicopters I may want to take
pictures of those other aircraft. If they are taking off... I
may point out things I find interesting... Look around and enjoy the views :)
You'll have a headset (that's two ear-pieces and a microphone). What we
say (and air-to-ground) will be heard in the ears. What you say (in
the microphone) will be heard by me but not Air Traffic Control. Adjust
for comfort and relax :) I will plug it in for you, so really all you
have to do is put it on your head and place the microphone close to your
mouth, almost touching...
With one exception do not ever interrupt
other people talking, even if it's Air-traffic-control. Just pretend
someone hit the "PAUSE" button on our conversation. Resume after the
What this means is if ANYONE ELSE is talking then STOP IMMEDIATELY and
wait... and when there's no talking... wait another second or two to
make sure I don't want to respond to something someone said... and then
If I hold up a finger it likely means "STOP TALKING NOW, PLEASE."
If you see that we're about to hit or be hit by a bird or another aircraft use your hand and finger to point to it and YELL "Bird!" or "Plane!". I will veer away. That way you're not trying to figure out if you want to say "Bird at 10 O'Clock" or whatever, and then I won't also be trying to figure out if you mean 10 O'Clock or 11 O'Clock or up high or lower or what.
The startup and stuff
- I will give a preflight briefing.
- It will include such things as "don't
touch the controls" and "don't use the fire extinguisher!" :) If you
aren't sure what to do it's because there's nothing you need to do :) I
will take care of things! Please DO NOTHING!!!!
- The gist of the briefing is that you should tell me if you're
getting sick or uncomfortable. Don't be a hero. I'd rather land a
short flight and not clean the helicopter than do a long flight and
clean it up...
- You will put on the headset... and we will make sure that
communication works, and then will start up the engine and the
main-rotor. Please relax... just don't exit the aircraft until I say to
do so :)
- RELAX and ENJOY yourself. You're getting a rare treat and the
best way to enjoy it is to look outside, and savor the view. If you are
height-sensitive (I'm afraid of heights!) then look horizontaly, not
close by or straight down.
- Never exit the aircraft until I tell you, and then toward the front
and far away from the tail rotor.
- The aircraft is a nonsmoking aircraft. Enjoy your smokes before or
after the flight.
- Do not release your seat belt until I tell you. I'll show you how it
works even though you already know it.
- Do not exit the aircraft until I tell you. I'll show you how the
door is latched and locked, and unlocked and opened.
More STUFF YOU DO ***NOT*** NEED TO KNOW -- The startup tests
I explain these as I do them but thought I'd pre-explain in case you care :)
- Magneto test. The magnetos are devices which make the spark
plugs spark. Magnetos are cool because they create spark in the spark
plugs from the moving engine so they do NOT need the alternator or
battery or coil to work. In other words if the alternator dies and the
battery discharges, the engine keeps on going, unlike a car. We only
need one, as it fires plugs in all the cylinders. For redundancy we
have two magnetos. In the test, what we do is switch from having both fire, to
first just the right magneto, and watch for no more than 7% RPM decline
in 2 seconds... then back. Then we switch to just the left magneto and
watch for the same. This tells us that we could safely fly if we lost
- Carb Heat test - in the R22. If the difference between the temperature and
the dewpoint is fairly close (15C) and there is visible moisture
(clouds) then we want to make sure that the carburator venturi doesn't
ice up. This can happen even at 80F (27C)... because the air speeding
up into the venturi makes it get really cold. We allow exhaust-heated
air in, instead of ambient air, and prevent this problem. That's
carb-heat. The test is switching to it and seeing the carb inlet temp
- Sprague Clutch test. This is where we see if we can roll off
throttle but have the main-rotor RPM stay up. The two normally display
the same RPM but we want to ensure an engine failure won't cause the
rotor to stop. The "sprague clutch" is a one-way clutch, so that the
engine can spin the rotor... but the rotor can spin freely by itself.
It's also called a "free-wheeling clutch". The gist of it is that this
is what allows us to do the "auto-rotation".
- Low rotor-RPM warning system. We have a warning horn and light
that should come on when the main-rotor RPM starts to decay. We want to
make sure that happens. We'll raise throttle above 80%, let the
computer ("governor") take it to the green band, and then raise the
collective lever and roll off throttle to get the horn at 97% main-rotor RPM.
When flying with passengers I try to make soft gentle sweet lovely
maneuvers. However, should you feel that you want maneuvers that are
not quite that sweet let me know. I will never do anything that is
dangerous, but just like driving other people around... when you drive
family you drive differently.
In simple words PLEASE TALK TO ME!!! Tell me what you want. If you're
happy say so. If you're not, say so. If I ask you why, please tell me
so I can correct it!!!
We also may have specific goals for this one flight, but diverting here
or there won't hurt anything or anyone. This means if you want us to go
two miles north and overfly your house JUST ASK!!! Nobody will be
hurt. Worst case we'll either not be able to do it, or Air Traffic
Control won't let us. BEST case we WILL do it :) So ask!
Safety Repeated or Danger! Danger! Rotors Spinning!
I will tell you this before we fly, and it will be a calm discussion with plenty of time for questions, so don't memorize this, just ensure you understand it.
- Once you are seated then please buckle your seat belt.
- DO NOT UNBUCKLE IT until I tell you in those words.
- DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT until I tell you in those words.
- DO NOT EXIT THE AIRCRAFT until I tell you in those words.
- DO NOT REMOVE THE HEADSET until I tell you in those words.
- When exiting the aircraft, always exit toward the front so I can see you. Note that this is opposite of what fixed-wing (e.g. Cessna) pilots want. They don't want you going forward (toward the propeller). I want you going forward so you're moving away from the tail-rotor.
- If you're not sure I've said those words, err on the side of caution; do nothing; then ask me.
- MAKE SURE all your objects (cameras, sunglasses) are not
going to jump out the window and hit our tail-rotor making it a much
more miserable day.
What if there is a problem?
First, please remember that helicopters are safer than the roads on which you traveled to get to the airport.
If there is a problem it will be taken care of. That's MY job.
The worst case -- which is not bad at all -- is an autorotation. That
does not mean spinning :) It just means having the air rotate the rotor
as we make our descent to a touchdown. It's not dangerous, and we
practice it more often than regular landings! Do not be afraid nor
freaked out nor worried. Your job is to relax, enjoy the scenery, take
pictures, and above all else... relax :)
How to get to the helicopter?
TUCSON: CACTUS HELICOPTERS on South Plumer/East Elvira Rd (2101 E Elvira Rd):
Take Valencia west past Campbell (how you get to the passenger terminal
at the airport) and take the next turn south - Plumer Ave and go east on
Elvira on the small private road to a Southwest Heliservices Hangar.
TUCSON: ARIZONA AEROTECH/DOUBLE EAGLE:
Arizona Aerotech flies out of the Double Eagle Aviation stables.
Valencia West to Old Nogales Highway South. Take Apron road (across from Circle K) and then wend your way north and east to Double Eagle Aviation.
TUCSON: Executive Terminal (base of tower, S Plumer Ave):
You want to park at the base of the Tucson International Airport Tower. This is at the end of Plummer Avenue. Here is a two minute video showing exactly how to get there from when you're approaching the airport on Tucson Boulevard.
Once you've parked, make your way to the cushy sofa lounge in the Executive Terminal. Here's a one-minute video showing exactly how to get there.
LAS VEGAS: North Las Vegas Airport:
Take Rancho drive north of US95N to Airport Drive. Right on Airport
Drive then immediate right then first left into parking lot.
Final comment about pictures
I've given lots of people rides... but to be honest, I have no pictures
that I've taken. That means if you take pictures it would be really
cool if you could share those. Facebook, Picasa, and MMS messaging
reduce the resolution of the pictures. So if you can share the actual
pics, that would be cool :)
That's all folks!
Enjoy the ride!
P.S. Here are some pics of other helicopters I took...
Example kneeboard for a flight
Helicopter Passenger Orientation by Ehud Gavron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Use VLC to listen to KTUS TWR/APCH/GND/CD which is in my house providing a feed to LiveATC