FROM_ZERO_TO_PRO – PART I – PPL(H)

Learn to fly in the congested airspace of London / UK

Academy & Area

As previously mentioned in my thoughts about my personal “Decision & Plan” to become a professional helicopter pilot, The Phoenix Helicopter Academy in South of England (UK) was recommended to me by a friend. Her convincing reasons for me to start my journey here included:

Advantages

Specific advantages to completing the pilot training in South of England:

  • License – UK theoretical & practical examinations are internationally respected with a reputation for high standards. Once training is complete you would have acquired the globally accepted EASA (European) license.
  • Flight-Training-Airspace & Location – Flying in the South of England exposes pilots to London’s busy airspace. The airspace is some of the busiest worldwide so as a result pilots that learn to fly here are trained to be incredibly spatially aware right from the start – impressive visualization
  • Wind & Visibility – The UK’s changeable weather is well known all over the world, often even joked about. But do not think this will negatively impact your flying, you will still fly almost every day. The difference is that you will experience constantly changing weather systems that will teach you great lessons as an aviator. Experiencing a diverse range of weather conditions is great experience for a pilot especially a future professional pilot.

Every pilot school will advertise being the best – these aspects are concrete advantages:

  • Time & Flexibility – individually tailored course with a consistent instructor team. Making it possible achieve the commercial helicopter licence from scratch, all with the same school & instructor team. You can training full time in one year starting when it suits you best or train at your leisure part time around other commitments.
  • Money – very competitive price making the school good value for money compared to most other places and schools in brother Europe.
  • Team & Education – a small environment with one to one flight training, ground school and exam preparation. This ensures guidance and supervision at all stages of training keeping you on task and on track. The training is demanding but conducted in a friendly and familiar atmosphere.

The Area

  • The Aerodrome – Lots of interesting and varied aviation activities are going on at Goodwood. Impressive helicopters are regularly visiting the airfield including utility, Police and VIP Charter machines. Some of the very few still flying spitfires are direct neighbours and you will often see them flying, always an impressive site. It’s not just spitfires, there are many more other brilliant vintage / old-timer aircraft based at the aerodrome as well as the more modern acrobatic aircraft.
  • Car-Racing Track – Around the Aerodrome is a car-racing track named the Goodwood Motor Circuit. The world famous vintage celebration event, The Goodwood-Revival, is held here every September. Many other smaller car and motorcycle events take place on weekends and even during the week, different brands test new cars, e.g. the Rolls-Royce factory is across the street. It’s quite a location for anyone interested in stylish racing cars both modern and vintage. Even if this doesn’t interest you (I was not interested before), conducting landing approaches over the top of the circuit as a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bugatti race beneath you is an incredible sensation.  
  • Nature, Sea – Last but not least, Goodwood is located in a wonderful area with a huge history dating back to the romans. Surrounded by the beautiful countryside, impressive castles and only a few miles from the coast. Stone beaches, sand beaches, remote beaches and even a marina are all within a stone’s throw from the airfield.
  • Surrounding Cities – Chichester is the closest city, a cute and very lively place with lots of really good restaurants, coffees and bars. Some of UK’s most famous coastal towns are cities such as Brighton, Worthing, Portsmouth and Bournemouth are all within one hour driving distance. Easily visited by car but as a result of your training you will belong to the few privileged humans that have seen all of these locations from the most spectacular view, some hundred feet up in the sky.

Course Structure & Stages

My personal training started on October 14th 2014. As I had decided to become a professional pilot from zero experience intensively, I obviously had to concentrate on nothing else but the training. It is a very concentrated journey, with a serious volume of knowledge and skills to learn.

Working towards my big dream and discovering new things every day is not only the most amazing challenge but also the greatest time in my life.

I would be really surprised, if anyone would feel any different about the journey once they have started and have got the bug for flying.

The following descriptions are my personal impressions of the main stages and activities involved when learning to fly helicopters. The more detailed step-by-step description of the learning process and training stages are presented separately – in the blog.

My journey of training to become a professional helicopter pilot is broken into following stages:

  • Part I – Private License PPL(H) on R22 – That is this Section here 
  • Part II – Constructive hours building 
  • Part III – Written ATPL(H)-Theory Exams (Air Transport Pilots License)
  • Part IV – Additional Type Ratings / R44 and Guimbal CABRI G2
  • Part IV – CPL(H) Course and Final Skills test on R22 (Comercial Pilots License)
  • Part V – FI(H) Course on Guimbal CABRI G2 (Flight Instructor)

Part I – Privat Pilot License – PPL(H)

The training towards the PPL is divided into three different major activities:

 

 << 1. Flying / 2. Groundschool / 3. Studying >>

Flight Training

As the title suggests – this is all about flying. And you will fly a lot – you are here to learn to fly! The flight training exercises can be divided into four different types.

Upper Air Training – Airfield Work – Circuits – Navigation Flights

1. General Remark

All of them are really cool and will often be combined in lessons depending the daily weather conditions (wind, visibility, cloud base etc.) and your personal progress. In one day you can fly up to two flights with a duration of roughly an hour each.

The skills and experience built up during the training follow a tight but straightforward schedule. In each lesson you will progress further learning more and more exercises to the point where you are flying hands on by yourself at all stages of flight.

The instructor will work very closely with you. He starts immediately to recognize your ability to learn and he will be able anticipate your development straight from the first flight.

You will never loose time on unnecessary repetitions of lessons or exercises. You will be working every lesson to eliminating mistakes and fine tuning learnt skills while progressing through the course.

During the course more and more elements of flying are introduced. You are constantly close to a brain overload. You must really concentrate but relax at the same time. Your brain will reach saturation point, pushing you to learn new skills and multi task effectively.

However this never feels uncomfortable. Walking over to the copter, starting up the engine and hovering gets as usual as crossing the street. But I will not tell you more and steal the suspense – just one remark: All steps are breath taking, build unforgettable memories and fill you with deep happiness.

3. Airfield work

Sounds boring? Perhaps it’s just the wording, but it is definitely exciting and does really not feel like work at all. It is great fun. This aspect of flying is one of the major differences between helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

As the saying goes: “ Flying is magic – Hovering is divine

You will start hovering by yourself right from the beginning. Handling a helicopter is not a walk in the park during the initial lessons. However the learning curve is fast and steep.

You might think it is totally unachievable at your first attempts. You will be extremely relived there is an experienced instructor next to you that immediately takes over control when you start to lose it.

At this point you will sometimes think that this machine behaves really stubborn. But it’s all about pure aerodynamics, logical physics and relaxed maneuvering.

Again – you build up skills form the first flight and pick everything up much faster than you would expect. You will get really addicted to airfield work in no time at all.

Later, when the “magic carpet” starts to behave as you wish, every day not hovering around on the aerodrome, feels like a lost day in life.

2. Upper Air Training along the coast

Straight from the first flight you will fly away from the airfield and learn to fly up in the sky – your first turns, your first climbs, your first decent and even the introduction to your first autorotation.

From now on, you will experience your “first” whatever almost every day and this continues throughout the whole training course.

All these flights take place along the coast, some minutes of flight south of Goodwood. The view over the channel is amazing and different every flight. You will fall in love on first sight and never doubt that sitting in a helicopter cockpit is the best and coolest office on planet earth.

4. Circuits

You will not yet be able to properly hover and land the helicopter on the ground before you already fly your first circuits and cruise around the airfield. Sounds weird or the wrong way around, but it makes total sense.

After a few flights, climbing out of the aerodrome, circling around it and getting back down to ground level, you will start to get the hang of “a circuit”.

It’s really astonishing, how all stages of the course build up together. After some time you will really get familiar with this little bird.

All of sudden the different parts of the puzzle all fit together. Before you have time to think about it, you will fly the majority of the flights yourself.

You will continue however to fine tune your skills before finding yourself flying around the aerodrome all alone – your first solo – the milestone every pilot will remember for the rest of the life.

5. Navigation Flights

You will have had an exciting journey up to this point. And here it starts to rock even more. Now navigation exercises are thrown into the puzzle. Putting all the parts together will try to overload your brain.

You be given a route from point A, to B over to C before returning back home. You will draw the route on the chart and calculate all necessary information such as distance, bearing, track and time. All calculations are based on forecasted weather which can vary substantially from the actual weather conditions you will encounter.

Afterwards you hover taxi to departure, take off and fly the planned exercise. Again, similar to the airfield work, with every flight a new element will be added and of course it feels like an overload of information with every new mental task. But you will soon get used to it, as your instructor guides you through step by step, taking away the complete overkill until you can juggle all tasks alone.

Finally, when you get back home to good old Goodwood, your mind is totally overloaded with overwhelming impressions – I really miss the accurate word to describe this unreal feeling – must be something like “wow-some”?

Groundschool

Like “Airfield Work” the expression “Groundschool” sounds wrong in my ears – or at least not accurate to what you will experience. Groundschool is the theoretical lessons require during the course. This includes a “Briefing” and “De-Briefing” of each flight. Obviously this happens “before” and “after” every flight. As with every flight exercise you will fly, there is always a pre-flight exercise explanation followed by a post flight discussion/ evaluation afterwards.

As mentioned previously, you will fly a lot. That said, you’ll have even more ground school which is well needed. After only a few flights you will be very grateful to be provided such an intensive and personal “Briefing” and “De-Briefing”. During the course you will get curious about many aspects of flying and these briefing are a great opportunity to answer any questions you have and ultimately help you improve

Briefing makes every flight exercise much easier, more productive and relaxed. It also gives you a break from the books. It is not replacing the reading, but every bit explained to you by your personal instructor is directly saved in your mind without really sitting down and learning.

Studying & Exams

Of course you will have to study as well. There’s no getting round it, there are many pages to read.

All together you have 10 exams to pass – usually you would group some similar topics, but that’s totally up to you.

– Air law

– Operations & Procedures

– Human Performance

– Meteorology

– Navigation

– Flight Planing & Limitations

– Radiotelephony (written exam) & separate practical skill test

– Aircraft General Knowledge & Performance

– Principles of Flight

Do not make yourself crazy about the exams and all those books. It’s many, yes, but:

First of all, every topic has practical elements learnt as part of your training. There is also lots of this required information learnt as part of your briefings. But keep on continuously reading or you will lag behind. If you lag behind the flying too much you will eventually have to stop flying to catch up.

For example you start to control the helicopter right from the beginning, so you might read about aerodynamics which will help make sense of the practical challenge you face during your lesson. And of course you will be confronted with the weather and experience different visibilities and winds – that is basically Meteorology. You will start to talk to tower at some point, that is Radiotelephony etc.

Most of your reading will be the second time you get in touch with the issue and you will be curious to go deeper and gain more and more knowledge which will all aid your practical flying.

Second, as you start to finish the books you will begin to test yourself with some mock exams and you may well get frustrated at your poor results, it’s exactly the perfect timing to get in touch “Magic-Sam”-. He will give you a “smash”-treatment in half a day. His short brush up lessons give you extra exam practise and a summary of all relevant aspects of the topic. His presentations are short but really focus on the key sub topics that you will see in the tests. Then you will pass.

More details about the specific books and the exams in the blog.

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