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

I once asked a fixed wing pilot/flight instructor this (for reasons that had to involve too much beer). He was under the impression that a helicopter pilot might do okay trying to fly fixed wing, but that he wouldn’t have a clue how to fly a helicopter.

I cannot answer that. I heard they had some problems with the Osprey training because they started with fixed wing pilots but I don’t know how true that is.

Some are easier than others. Some modern high tech birds have enhancements that help. With the low tech small birds I had experience in (OH-6 OH-58) your statement is laughable.

I have only flown simulators and I can say that flying a helicopter is nothing like what I thought it would be.

I thought it would be stable and self righting…like being suspended from string. In reality it seems like you are riding on a cushion of air that the helicopter wants to slide off of in all directions at once.

A real pilot advised me it was like balancing on a ball, that is on top of another ball.

My cousin is an Osprey pilot. His initial pilot training was in fixed-wing aircraft, but I don’t know how extensive. I don’t believe he had any jet training but I could be mistaken. Anyway, after flying helos for a number of years he was selected for the Osprey program. I don’t know if that’s typical, but I would assume so.

Former Army Huey pilot. I think most pilots could fly a helicopter at altitude with no real effort, hovering is a different matter. First day of flight school we flew straight and level. Hovering took a week or so to learn (IIRC it was 34 years ago). Of cours we have classroom first and knew what to do and it was still hard to learn to hover. I don’t think too many folks with no knowledge could just pick up to or land to a hover. Can’t comment about all these new helicopters with wheels,(Blackhawks and Apaches) we only had skids.

I’ve read that an out of ground effect hover is the most difficult maneuver for a helo pilot to learn.

Let me check my license…


OK, I’ll chime in.

Shagnasty covered it pretty well in post #4. Helicopters are inherently unstable. As he stated, a helicopter requires constant, minute control inputs to fly. Here’s the thing: You can’t think about them. If you think about them, then you’ll always be late. I think of it as being a ‘Zen experience’ – you ‘become one with the machine’ and ‘fly it by not flying it’. Or as has been said above, it’s like riding a bicycle. With practice, you develop the muscle memory so that you subconsciously, automatically, make the correct control inputs. I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again…

My first proper lesson (I’ll get to the ½-hour ‘intro lesson’ in a minute) we flew to a practice area and went right into hovering. Hovering is the hardest thing to learn in a helicopter, and it’s also the most important. My instructor, Jack, brought the Robinson R22 into a hover. He had me put my feet on the anti-torque pedals. My job was to keep the nose pointed at a target (a bush or something). Easy, right? We’re already in a stable hover. Heck, I could do nothing and we’d be pointed in the right direction! Nope. I was yawing all over the place. It took several minutes before I could keep the nose somewhat on target. Just as I was barely able to do that, Jack gave me the cyclic. Now I not only had to keep the nose pointed in the right direction with the pedals, I also had to keep us over one spot with the cyclic. The helicopter was lurching and swaying like a peg-legged drunken thing. Eventually I managed to settle things down. Just. Immediately Jack gave me the collective and throttle. (There’s a throttle coordinator, so that wasn’t a problem.) After several more minutes of lurching, I could use all of the controls to hold us in an acceptable hover. And that was the hour and we had to fly back to the airport. (The L.A. area is a little picky about noise, so it was a half-hour flight to the practice area.) The next lesson was more hovering and an introduction to pedal turns. It took at least three lessons before I was proficient at hovering and maneuvering the helicopter from hover. (My SO said that when she was in [Army] training, some trainees took 15 hours to get it down. So I felt that I did reasonably well. Or those pilots were doing poorly.) Just before Jack was satisfied with my hovering and ground work, he started asking about my then-girlfriend while I was attempting to hold the Robbo on a point. I’m thinking, ‘He’s trying to distract me. He wants me to stop thinking about the helicopter and start talking about my personal life. Then my automatic inputs will take over.’ Well, he didn’t succeed by asking me about my girlfriend. He succeeded by getting me to think about how I was onto his game. :stuck_out_tongue: The point is that you can’t just jump into a helicopter – and I was already rated in fixed-wing – and be able to fly it. It takes helicopter-specific training, and practice.

Now about that introductory lesson. I went up with an instructor for, basically, a ride; and this addresses:

The instructor gave me the controls on that first flight, and I had no problem keeping us straight-and-level. Then he told me to make a turn to the left. How do you do that? Left aileron, left rudder, and some back-pressure so you don’t lose altitude. Yep, that’s how you do it. In an airplane. Helicopters are different. The pedals are there to counteract torque, not for turns. (<== Slight simplification.) Pull back on the cyclic, and the effect is quite different from pulling back the yoke on a Cessna. Oh, and the controls are a lot more sensitive than in the trusty ol’ 172. Compared to a Robbo, a Skyhawk is like driving a pig. I was all over the place. He said I’d learn how to do it once I got into proper training. On the drive home from the airport, it occurred to me that flying a helicopter (flying, not hovering – I had not yet made any attempts at that!) was like playing a video game. You point the joystick where you want to go. There’s more to it than that, of course; but it illustrates that most pilots would probably be able to fly a helicopter at altitude in straight-and-level flight. If they were forewarned that the controls were sensitive, and if they were told about the pedals and back-pressure, they might even survive a crash.

OGE hover is no harder than IGE hover. It takes more power, but the controls are the same. The big difference (aside from the power requirements) is that you don’t have any reference to see if you are gaining or losing altitude, other than your VSI and altimeter; and you have to rely on your airspeed indicator to stay over one spot (taking winds into account, of course). Incidentally, Ranger Jeff, if you flew Bell 206s, you could change your name to JeffRanger. :stuck_out_tongue:

FWIW, the R22 is an excellent training helicopter. They say, ‘If you can fly an R22, you can fly anything.’ They don’t have a lot of power (insert your image of two big guys – Jack and me – on a hot day in Southern California), and they’re more sensitive than a Hughes/Schweizer/Sikorsky 300. After not flying for a while, an instructor and I went up in a Schweizer 300CB. He said, ‘You trained in an R22, didn’t you?’ I told him I did, and asked how he knew. ‘Because you’re on top of the helicopter. Robinsons teach you how to do that.’

Anyway, no; an airplane pilot cannot just jump into a helicopter and expect to figure it out ‘on the fly’. The SO and I were watching Independence Day the other night, and F/A-18 pilot Will Smith jumped into a Huey and flew off in it. She said, ‘That ain’t gonna happen. A fighter pilot can’t just jump into a Huey and fly it.’ (I told her I think I could jump into a Huey and fly it, but I wouldn’t know how to start it. I’ve never flown a turbine.)


Many years ago (1967) I worked for a guy (John Brigham as I recall) that had commanded the Army primary helicopter school at Fort Wolters TX (at that time Fort Rucker was the advanced training faculty I think. )

He said that many of the helicopters invented years and years ago were perfectly good machines but crashed because they didn’t have any helicopter pilots back then.

How did the first helicopter pilot learn?

Two months ago, I was at the air museum in Ottawa and they had a twin-engined copter on display. How is that controlled? Or is computer-controled? The problem is that if one end gets even a bit higher, there will be less weight on that end of the machine and more on the other. So unless there is immediate correction (which will likely over-correct) the high end will go higher and the low end lower in a positive feedback loop. What would happen if one engine failed. I know that in a fixed wing plane that is a problem, but with practice you can overcome it. I once had a conversation with a copter pilot who used the same positive feedback explanation to explain why two helicopters cannot be used to lift something big and heavy.

Incidentally, he was an army or air force warrant officer. All the “real” pilots are full officers. Does this make sense given the extraordinary skill involved in piloting a copter?

In 1942 Igor Sikorski made the first successful test flight of a helicopter in the U.S. His design – one main rotor and an anti-torque rotor, became the predominant configuration. So basically, he designed it and then figured out how to fly it.

Tandem-rotor helicopters such as the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight have interconnected rotors. If one engine fails, both rotors are still driven by the remaining engine. Not all tandem-rotor helicopters have more than one engine. For example, the Piasecki H-21 Shawnee had one radial engine that turned both rotors.

I’m not entirely sure what you mean about ‘less weight on that end’. Attitude does not affect weight distribution (unless it shifts, of course). But things can get out of whack.

My SO was a ‘real’ Black Hawk pilot, and she flew combat missions in the Gulf War as a Warrant Officer. Real enough for you?

Fly, yes. Take off or land, no.

Note: A comment on the YouTube video says the H-21 was being flown by remote control, rather than an on-board pilot. I’ve no idea if that’s true or not; but it sounds plausible.

Any information on that crash is appreciated.

Ah, but in Hungary.

I am a fixed wing pilot and if I tried to steal a helicopter, I am quite certain that I would crash it within 20 seconds of leaving the ground.

I doubt it because a helicopter is basically 10,000 moving parts all trying to move in a different direction.

There is one possibility that everyone has overlooked, (although it does nothing to make the original movie scenario “real”): if the copter was a rigid rotor machine, is it possible that a fixed wing pilot could get it from point A to point B without crashing? I am basing this question on two separate reviews of experimental helicopters I read in the early 1970s, where the reviewers, each with only fixed wing experience, took up rigid rotor birds and landed them safely.

I have no idea whether there was something special about the experimental helicopters that differed from actual rigid rotors that have gone into production and I admit that the test flights, (with an actual helicopter pilot at the other controls), were limited to short flights around air fields.

Hm, chiming in - I have a very good friend who was a German helo pilot and he did not start on fixed wing, he intends to get a fixed wing license [for sport planes] and I was up in a CH 53G [named Baby] and they are amazingly twitchy - I have flown a couple small planes even though I am not licensed [my mom and dad were licensed and owned a Comanche] so I would say that there is absolutely no way the OP’s scenario could happen and that I agree that a helo pilot could probably manage to fly a fixed wing, but there is no way a fixed wing pilot could fly a helo cold.

And contouring in a military helo is almost better than sex :stuck_out_tongue:

Actually maybe you could confirm something I’ve thought about copter flying. Admittedly from flying a model. (Blade MSR for anybody that cares and that one is considered fairly stable but gives you a bit of a taste of copter flight.) The thing with that is at least on a superficial level the controls on a copter and plane are almost exactly the same. I mean you push forward on the stick (collective on a copter) and the nose in both pitch down. However the reason for doing that in a copter vs plane and the result are totally different. (In a copter you drop the nose to go forward, in a plane you drop the nose to dive.)

So what I was seeing at least with that model is that it was deceptively simple since the controls were similar to a plane yet if you use the controls with a plane mindset you’ll crash. (Actually to give an example of this the first time I put that model in forward flight I crashed within a second. Basically I started in a hover and push the stick forward to drop the nose. This changed my thrust from up to up and forward. This meant there was less upward thrust, nowhere near enough to keep the thing in the air and I was way too low to save it. I should have increased the throttle at the same time I pitched the nose down.)

That sounds like what the RC world calls a fixed pitch helicopter. I think it would depend wouldn’t it? I mean the one I fly is fixed pitch and helps you out a lot and even that one you can crash surprisingly easy. (Actually they have a newer one that flies more like a collective pitch copter, it’s much easier to crash.) I guess they could do something like those toy coax copters, those are pretty easy to fly. (Slow as hell but they don’t crash if you make a minor mistake.)