Why is it so Difficult to Hover a Helicopter?

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Hovering gets easier with practice. Image by Helen Krasner

All Three Helicopter Controls Affect Each Other

Finally, there is the problem that all three helicopter controls have to be coordinated, as moving one means that another has to be moved to compensate.

For instance, suppose you think you are too near the ground, and raise the collective so that the helicopter climbs a little. This increases the pitch on the main rotors, so you need to apply left pedal to increase the pitch on the tail rotor to compensate; if you don’t, the helicopter will start to yaw to the right.

Then, if you move the cyclic forward the helicopter will start to descend, so you need to raise the collective, which means you need to apply left pedal, and so on. And the inherent instability means that you can’t just keep all controls static so that the helicopter does not move (it’s been tried).

If you do, it gets into wild gyrations and oscillations!

Hovering Guide: One Control at a Time Initially

Because it’s a complex operation, hovering is learned initially using one control at a time. Then the student uses two together, then all three. Even so, it can take a long time until he or she can hover with accuracy, i.e., keep the helicopter still, or move it slowly at a level of a few feet (actually known as hover-taxying). But, as psychologists will tell us, difficult skills are learned through constant practice, and hovering is no different. It takes time, but eventually it comes naturally – like riding a bike, or driving a car, or anything similar.

If you are learning to fly helicopters, or decide to have a go someday, don’t despair if hovering seems impossible.  This was the case for all of us once, but it does come eventually.  Keeping calm and not worrying too much seems to help the process!

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