Could a military airplane pilot fly a military helicopter without any prior experience?

This question is sparked by a scene in a story I’ve been mulling over. The scenario is its the late Cold War and a British agent is trying to get a Soviet military airplane pilot out of the USSR. Their plans go awry and they resort to attempting to steal a military helicopter and fly it across the border into Finland.

Plausible? Or is the difference between the two machines too difficult to overcome without prior experience?

I’m a civilian fixed-wing pilot with eight licenses / ratings. On the several occasions I’ve had a turn at the controls of helo, I came away convinced it was a completely different animal. No confidence at all I could fly one without killing myself almost instantly without training.


No, not a chance. That applies to any type of pilot that only has airplane but no helicopter experience. They wouldn’t be able to fly it long at all without crashing. Helicopters are inherently unstable and you have to learn to make the control inputs instinctively to keep them in the air and flying where you want it to go. The flight controls are completely different and learning to fly a helicopter requires motor skills somewhat similar to learning to ride a bicycle or unicycle. It isn’t something you can think your way through. You have to practice it to learn it.

The reverse isn’t as true. A helicopter pilot would have a much better chance of flying a low performance plane. Planes are inherently stable and can be flown (maybe poorly but passably) with just a general knowledge of the controls and procedures.

Of course. Being 007s, they know how to fly anything. :smiley:

Eh? Assuming the blades are turning, the helicopter should just hover without any control input, no?

No way.
I had a friend let me take the controls and try to hover in one spot. I couldn’t do it for more than a few seconds - the helicopter was simply too twitchy - it required constant, tiny control inputs to keep it stable.

That’s the conclusion I drew based on this book:

He was already a fixed-wing pilot when he entered Army helicopter training. He still struggled at first when learning to control the copter.

It’s been compared to balancing a unicycle on a beach ball while juggling bowling pins.

I thought he described how he and his fellow helicopter pilots were trading off with fixed wing pilots, and the fixed wing guys could manage a helicopter. I was obviously mistaken, given the first hand experience above.

There was a case many years ago in Toronto. Some kid always wanted to be a helicopter pilot. He got the manuals, read up on it, knew all about flying one - but no hands-on experience. he broke into a helicopter base in downtown Toronto one night, they figure he got about 100 feet up before he crashed and killed himself and destroyed a helicopter. He started twirling, overcorrected, dove into the ground. The pilot there said it was classic beginner mistake.

The controls are completely different, and it takes practice, practice, practice. I’ve got just basic fixed wing, and read up on helo controls, and it’s very very different, and the controlmovements you have to do to control and react to how the craft moves are not at all the same.

if you’re bored one day, try flying one of those toy helicopters you find everywhere. they’re equaly twitchy, but replacement rotor blades are a helluva lot cheaper…

OTOH, a guy who had read a lot but no practical experience - might even survive their first attempt at fixed-wing flying.

Thanks for the answers everyone! A pity because I kind of liked that scene.

Nah, much more George Smiley than James Bond.

I’ve read that one actually, good book, but it was a long time ago. I do recall him describing one of his initial flights as he struggled to control the helicopter, it twisting and turning under him as he sweated with the effort. Only for the instructor to complement him afterwards, “Great stuff, you’re a natural!” :smiley:

It depends. AFAIU, modern, especially military, helicopters have a lot of fly-by-wire controls, so the tiny adjustments to keep things balanced are done by the computer. That makes it a lot easier to fly.

Huh. Ignorance fought.

One of my friends knew a guy who owned a lodge on a lake, way back when. The guy got a float plane in trade for a major debt he was owed, back in the 1960’s. He had zero flying experience. One day he decided to taxi the thing across the lake to a better dock. Halfway across, he realized he was flying.

Knowing how twitchy float planes can be,he lucky that he lived and put down without incident. Helicopters are a big step beyond that type of flying.

(OTOH, which movie is it - Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry ? - the helicopter is doing sharp 90-degree turns following the roads below the tree-tops? That is some serious professional flying!)

I will say no, with an exception. A fixed wing drone pilot can fly a rotary drone, and vice versa, because the operator’s consoles take the actual surface control work of flying out of the equation. All the operator does is designate course, commanded airspeed, and altitude, and the rest is software.

unless you’re Will Smith it’s not remotely realistic to go from fixed wing to rotary wing unless you’re talking about an autogyro. Then it’s basically a rotating fixed wing.

Now you could pull off the reverse. A helicopter pilot could easily get a fixed wing off the ground and fly it knowing how a plane is suppose to work. One only needs to know the stall speed and the never exceed speed and that’s basically one dial on the panel.

I’m not an instructor and I routinely let non-pilots take off when I go flying. I don’t let them touch the pedals but in a calm wind they wouldn’t have to.

Landing is a bit different. You CAN drive it down to the runway at cruise speed without any real skill. you just have to keep forcing the yolk forward after landing until the ground speed goes below stall speed and you’d need to know what the pedals do. Some tricycle geared planes have a steerable front wheel and some have a castering front wheel which requires differential braking to turn.

If you go this literary route use simplest plane you can come up with. Unfortunately you probably don’t have a lot in the way of Soviet trainers and will have to use something like a [Yakovlev UT-2](Yakovlev UT-2). Pretty much everything in that era is going to be a tail dragger so you might want to throw in a ground loop upon landing to make it realistic. It’s a survivable event where the plane spins around because it gets out of CG.

Would it be common for a helicopter pilot to have no experience flying planes?

I ask because my brother is a military helicopter pilot. He was trained on planes before being moved to helicopters. Based on his single experience, I assumed that that was how everybody did it.

Only at very slow speeds. Once you hit jogging speed there’s enough air going over the rudder that you use that to steer and don’t let the brakes engage – particularly if you own the plane and have to pay for the new brakes when they wear out.

For what it’s worth, I went up in a U.S. Navy training helo years ago with an instructor. He let me take the controls, and I had very little trouble getting the hang of it. (I distinctly remember asking the instructor if I could take the controls myself, only to have him reply that I’d been flying the helo myself for over 5 minutes!) I was able to hover in place with no problem, too.

(On the other hand, I took the controls of a Navy P-3 a few years later, and had great difficulty maintaining course and altitude simultaneously. I could do one or the other, but not both.)