Flight Lessons: Which Helicopter Should You learn to Fly On?

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Robinson R22, the most popular training helicopter, image by Neil Harrison

So you’ve decided to learn to fly a helicopter. You’re doing some research into prices, flying schools, instructors and so on. Now, it’s time to consider the actual flight: Is it important to learn on any particular type of helicopter? Not really – but once you know what kind of helicopter you’ll be flying, learn about it, so you’ll be more prepared during your first flights.

Helicopters Used for Flight Training

Of course, you can learn to fly on any helicopter type. However, the ones you are likely to encounter at flying schools are fairly limited in number: Robinson R22, Robinson R44, Schweizer 300 Cbi, Enstrom 280, or possibly the very new Guimbal Cabri G2.

Robinson R22 – Cheap Flying

The Robinson R22 is the helicopter on which most people have learned to fly. It is the least expensive machine to buy and maintain, and therefore training rates are cheaper than for other types.

For many prospective pilots this is a major factor, and the development of the R22 has allowed many people to learn to fly who would otherwise have been unable to afford it. However, it is quite a difficult helicopter to learn on, since it was never designed as a training aircraft, and is very responsive…or maybe twitchy!

 

On the other hand, this means that conversion afterwards to another type is easy; indeed, is often said that if someone can fly an R22, then they can fly anything.

Drawbacks are that the R22 also has a low inertia, teetering rotor head, which means that there is little room for error in auto-rotations (engine-off landings). And the cockpit is somewhat cramped, so the machine is not suitable for large-size people.

Robinson R44 – Comfortable and Versatile

The Robinson R44 is the four-seater version of the R22. It is much larger, so is suitable for bigger people – but of course the cost of learning on it is correspondingly higher.

Handling is similar to the R22, but the machine is much heavier, so it is not as ‘twitchy’, and auto-rotations are easier to manage. The newest version, the R44 Raven II, has a fuel-injected engine, so the problem of carburetor or ‘carb’ icing is eliminated.

Overall the R44 is a comfortable, fast, easy-to-fly helicopter. It is excellent for training, and suitable for touring and other uses once you have your Private Pilot’s Licence. The cost of learning on it is often the only problem, and many students decide to learn on the R22, then convert to the R44. Conversion is easy, since the two machines are so similar, and this is therefore an increasingly popular option.

Schweizer 300CBI – Designed as a Trainer

The Schweizer 300CBI was specifically designed as a training machine, and as such it is excellent. It has a fully articulated rotor head, so it is very stable and forgiving of mishandling by students. This helicopter is stable and easy to fly, and students often learn in fewer hours than those learning to fly on the R22.

The cockpit is roomier than that of the R22, so it is more suitable for large-size pilots, though of course there is less room than in the four-seater R44. The engine is fuel injected, so there is no requirement for ‘carb’ heat. However, unlike most modern helicopters, there is no rotor rpm governor, and manual throttle control is required. The helicopter is also rather slow, and not terribly suitable for touring use once you have your pilot’s licence.

Enstrom 280, easy-to-fly helicopter, image by Neil Harrison

Enstrom 280

The Enstrom 280 is a comfortable, safe, easy to fly helicopter. The main problem is that few schools use it and there are not very many of these machines around. But if you can find one, it’s a good machine for flight lessons.

Guimbal Cabri G2

The Guimbal Cabri G2 was developed very recently, and a few schools are now beginning to use this helicopter. Reports are excellent, and many people in the industry think it may eventually take the place of the popular R22. However, if you want to learn on one of these, you may have to hunt around.

So Which Helicopter Should You Choose?

As with everything, there are pros and cons with respect to each of these types. It could be worth doing some research, and even having a trial lesson in each type of machine. However, in the long run it really does not make a great deal of difference. A helicopter is a helicopter, and once you can fly, converting between different types is relatively easy. You may wish to do this anyway, since a good trainer is not necessarily the first choice of aircraft once you are a qualified pilot. Therefore the most important thing is to go out there and learn to fly; everything else is secondary. Have fun!

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