Why don't you ever hear about recreational helicopter piloting?

I have a number of friends/aquaintances who take airplane flying lessons but have never heard of anyone taking helicopter flying lessons. Personally I would think flying choppers would be more fun. Are recreational licenses not available?

Coupon in local paper here for that first free flight before starting helicopter lessons.

Google search for “helicopter lessons -uk” got ~60,000 hits. Although the site “Topless Helicopter Lessons” may not apply.

To get a recreational helicopter license, according to http://www.helipan.com/english/training/ , it would cost a minimum of

$6300 - dual
$1850 - solo
$1050 - ground school
for a pretax total of $9200

This is in Panama where they claim the costs are lower than in North America or Europe

With solo hour rentals are $185 per hour you have a rich person’s sport.

I do too, but helicopter lessons are very expensive, often twice as much as the already expensive airplane lessons. Sometimes insurance problems will keep a low time helicopter private pilot from being able to rent one, and insurance+maintenance will make it too expensive to buy one, etc.

I have seen a fair number of these out and about, though.

Johnny L.A. in 3…2…

You called? :smiley:

Flying a helicopter is indeed more fun that flying an airplane. We can fly lower and use routes and go places airplanes can’t. Ever try to take a door off of a Cessna? In a Robinson or a Schweizer it’s just a matter of pulling a couple of pins and lifting them out. I almost always fly without doors. They allow an even better view than the already-excellent one offered by helicopters.

But as has already been noted, it’s expensive. I haven’t flown a Robbo in a while, but they were going for $150/hr. A Schweizer 300CB is about $190/hr. A Cessna 172 on the same field rented for $70-$75/hr. The two-seat R-22 has a V[sub]ne[/sub] of 102 knots. Its most efficient speed is 84 knots. A Cessna 172 can go half-again as fast and it has four seats. Airplanes are more practical, both for travelling and just for punching holes in the sky.

Some of you may remember that I almost bought an old Hughes 269A last year. I didn’t do it though, because of the insurance. Hull insurance is hidiously expensive for helicopters.

So helicopters are expensive to buy, expensive to fly, and expensive to maintain. They’re not very good if you want to go anywhere since they’re slow, have little or no baggage space, limited payload, and only two seats (for the least expensive ones). But the fun-factor is much greater than in a fixed-wing! The Robbo in particular is especially nimble. Plus there’s the doors-off option and being able to land on a pinnacle or in a few inches of water in a little creak bed.

Given the costs and limitations, it seems to me that helicopters are not a good choice for a Recreational certificate. If you’re going to spend the money, why not get a Private certificate in a fixed-wing? If money is a big factor but you want to (as good ol’ St. Ex wrote) “leave this planet, if only for an hour”, it’s cheaper to get a Recrational certificate in a fixed-wing and to exercise the privleges in one than it would be to do the same in a helicopter. If you have the money to learn to fly helicopters, you’re more likely to just go for the Private than for the Recreational.

So why are helicopters more expensive to learn/rent/buy maintain? Are the rotors heavy in maintenance costs?

I recently bought my father helicopter lessons, at $185.00 an hour. There are simply more planes and more people interested in taking airplane lessons.

So how does this all effect the overall demand for helicopter pilots? It seems every TV station has one or two and every city over 50,000 people or so has a police force with at least one. Where are all these helicopter pilots coming from? My guess would be the Army. Is their pay pretty high? Comparable to a major airline pilot?

The Army produces large numbers of helicopter pilots, but the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and (to a much smaller extent) the Air Force does as well.

In addition to the TV news and police choppers you can add MedEvac, offshore oil platform and corporate jobs.

I would just be guessing about pay rates, though, since I’m a fixed-wing only kind of guy.

I hold Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot certificates in airplanes, and also once took a lesson in a helicopter just for fun. I loved it! Very different animal than an airplane.

Problems that have already been mentioned though: expensive to fly and maintain, and the insurance is prohibitive. Also, not many places will rent you a helicopter.

The outfit I went to would rent them to you only if you trained with them. The lesson I took was fantastic: we did hovering, backwards and sideways flight, and a couple of autorotations. I regret that I can’t pursue it right now, but my money is going towards IFR airplane (checkride next month) and my CFI. Maybe I’ll come back to choppers later in life.

Not only are the rotors maintenance intensive, but the entire airframe has a much more intensive inspection cycle than a fixed wing airplane. The heavy vibration that the rotors induce is why. (things have an annoying tendency to vibrate loose or apart even when they are safety wired and torqued into place on helicopters)Fixed wings also vibrate, but not nearly as much. Also the helicopters I maintained tended to fly low and near the ocean, which means preventing and treating corrosion occupied much of our time. The rotors themselves are more closely scrutinized for damage, and are very expensive.

I know two folks who fly helicoptors for fun.

One was a fixed-wing pilot who just couldn’t afford rotors. Then he married a wealthy woman willing to pay for his training. He’s now a rotorcraft instructor and owns a Hughes 300, so he’s come quite a way.

The other is a guy at my local field. So far as I know he’s strictly a private pilot - he certainly isn’t doing it for money. VERY die-hard pilot. He’s flown his Robinson 22 from Indiana to the Pacific Ocean twice. Don’t know where he gets the money - but he drives an ancient beater car and doesn’t spend a whole lot on clothes, that’s for sure.

See, fixed-wing flying can be done by a person with a middle-class income (it involves some sacrifice, but it can be done). Helicoptors start at about 3x the cost of fixed wing flying and go up from there. Guys who fly rotors strictly for fun are out there, but they’re such a minority they’re almost invisible. And since most of them also fly fixed wing, too, they really blend in.

I wouldn’t mind taking rotor lessons myself, but they’re so darn expensive! I can rent a twin engine airplane for less an hour than a helicoptor. Since there’s so much else to do in the air for so much less money it’s unlikely I’ll be stepping into rotorcraft any time soon, if ever.

Beyond that - whatever Johnny L.A. said

A fixed-wing aircraft is pretty-much a solid structure. The engine is bolted to the airframe and a propellor is bolted to the engine. Control surfaces move on simple hinges. A helicopter is a bit more complicated. Where the fixed wings of an airplane are bolted on solidly, a helicopter’s airfoils are dynamic. Take the simple semi-rigid rotorsystem of the Robinson. The rotor hub is mounted on a hinge (which is connected to the rotor mast, which is connected to a Sprague clutch or “freewheeling unit”, which is connectef to the engine). The hinge allows the semi-rigid rotor system to “teeter” – like a teeter-totter. The hub also has “feathering hinges” that aloow the rotor blades to rotate about their longitudinal axes. The hinges are connected via pushrods to the “rotating star” which rides above the “stationary star”, which is connected by pushrods and bellcranks to the pilot’s controls.

As the helicopter flys through the air, there is a difference in the velocity of the air flowing over the advancing and retreating blades. This causes “dissymmetry of lift”. To compensate, the retreating blade must be positioned so as to contribute an amount of lift equal to the advancing blade. This is done by increasing the angle of attack of the blades continuously as they travel around. So the blades are constantly feathering. To compensate for the various aerodynamic forces, the blades must also “flap”. This is the purpose of the teeter, or “flapping” hinge. The advancing and retreating blades “flap” to equilibrium.

It gets more interesting on a “fully-articulated” rotor system, which has three or more blades, such as on the Schweizer/Hughes. Instead of a teeter hinge, each blade has its own “flapping hinge”. But since three blades cannot be 180° apart as on the semi-rigid system, there is another complication. As the blades “flap” up, they are subject to the Coriolis Effect. That is, they speed up. But how can one blade go faster than the others? They have the “lead-lag hinge”. This allows one blade to speed up or slow down while leaving the other blades to their own speeds. As the blade continues around its revolution, it slows down.

So a semi-rigid rotor blade is feathering up and down and also flapping up and down as it makes its revolution. A fully-articulated blade is feathering, flappin, and moving forward and back.

There are consequences to all of this movement. First is that the design must be relatively complex. More complexity means more money spent in design and development, and also higher costs for actual manufacture. (Many airplanes have controllable-pitch propellors that work similarly – without the flapping, as I understand – and they cost more than a fixed-pitch airplane.) A second consequence is that they wear out. A Schweizer 300CB has three rotor blades that must be replaced every 4,000 flying hours – at a cost, last time I checked, of about $15,000 each. A Robinson R-22 has two main rotor blades that must be replaced after every 2,000 flying hours. Imagine if you had to take the wings off of your trusty Skyhawk, throw them on a scrapheap, and put new ones on at regular intervals!

In addition to the rotor blades, the rotor hubs must be maintained. And so does the clutch. And so does the anti-torque rotor assembly. Since both the Robinson and the Schweizer use Lycoming engines, the engines must be overhauled every 2,000 flying hours just as they would be in a Cessna.

And there’s another little aspect: The tail booms have to be replaced every so often. I think a Schweizer’s tail boom lasts about 13,500 before it has to go, which is a long, long time. But fly it enough, and it will have to be done.

So with a helicopter you’re dealing with complex mechanisms that don’t exist on fixed-wings. Some expensive parts – such as the rotor blades – have to be junked, unlike in an airplane which generally just require rebuilding. I don’t know what an overhaul costs for a Cessna 172, but a factory overhaul for an R-22 went for $70,000 last time I checked a couple of years ago. The Robinson rebuild replaces the rotor blades with new ones, replaces the engine with a factory-overhauled unit, rebuilds the transmission and other rebuildable parts, replaces the upholstery, and the helicopter is repainted. I understand that the only way to tell it’s not new is to look at the serial number or the Hobbes meter. And this is supposed to take place every 2,000 flying hours – Not bad if it’s for personal use, but fairly frequent in rental service. (A Schweizer spreads the expenses around. 2,000 hours for the engine, 4,000 hours for the rotor blades, etc.)

When I was looking for a helicopter the maintenance costs didn’t scare me. (Well, not too much.) I figured I could fly it around for a few years and then sell it when it needed to be rebuilt. The killer was the insurance. Liability was only $3,000 per year. But the hull insurance would have been another $9,000 or more per year. This is on top of the maintenance, tie-down/hangar, fuel and lubricants, and continencies.

As usual, I’ve rambled on. So to answer the question directly: Helicopters are more expensive because they are more complex, the complex parts are subject to more stresses than most airplane parts, and some parts have to simply be thrown away after a while.

Robinson Helicopters has an operating cost breakdown on their website. Note that insurance alone is $6000 a year.


I want one. Sniff.

Robinsons are kinda neat because they have a 12 year/2200 hour life, and at the end of that period you can send the whole thing back to the company to be essentially made into a new helicopter again. And it only costs $80,000!

Think of it this way: The only really complex part of your average fixed wing plane is the engine. It gets very hot, it has a number of sub-systems (lubrication, cooling, etc.) and has many pieces which are constantly spinning or reciprocating under high tolerances & stress. But the rest of a regular airplane is pretty simple.

An entire helicopter is just a big spinning, reciprocating, vibrating, stress-inducing, balance-critical, Rube Goldberg contraption! They are an order of magnitude more complex than fixed wing aircraft (which is why they took an extra 50 years or so to perfect).

Although, to the casual observer, airplanes & helicopters are just two different kinds of aircraft comparing a helicopter to an airplane is more like comparing a helicopter to a boat!

Unfortunately, the insurance quoted is for a private owner. I wouldn’t be able to affor one unless I could rent it out, and insurance for that is more.

Aha! It’s gone up! When I was training, a R-22 Beta only cost $120,000. I see it’s up to $170,000 now.

Me too! Ooh, they fly so sweet! (But I still totally dig the electric trim on the 300CB.)

Mr. Legend did some work with the Robinson people, so the kids and I got a tour of the factory and a free flight in an R-44 this past summer. It was lots of fun. I’m not a pilot, I have no plans to become a pilot, and I’m nowhere near the income bracket that would allow for helicopter ownership, but I found myself wanting one by the time I left.

Erm… I mean the overhaul has gone up by $10,000 from the last time I checked, and a new helicopter is up to $170K.

Just clarifying.