Today I passed my final simulator test, officially getting me to the next step: IMC flying in the AS355! It all went so insanely quick, it’s hard to believe we’ve started only 4 weeks ago in the sim. We’ve learned a lot in the sim and put in so much time and effort, but it’s all so worth it and most of all: so much fun. Having not flown a helicopter sim before, it keeps amazing me how well it’s able to train your brain and get you into the right mindset. No, it won’t teach you how to hover a Twin Squirrel, but that’s what the typerating was for. Now it’s time for what we came for: IFR flying for real. But first, let me quickly catch everyone up. No more VFR flying above London though, but things will become even more interesting very quickly.
The last 8 hours of the simulator section were quite a bit more challenging. While we previously just did a couple of IFR legs using VOR’s or NDB’s, we were flying sorties which were pretty much skill test format, all the time. Initially with ‘forgiving’ wind, but it soon became 40 kts +, followed by emergencies, double engine failures, IMC autorotations (yep really), diversions, standard arrival routes and all sorts of non standard procedures.
The thing I found the hardest so far is flying a hold while the wind is in the same direction (and STRONG) as the QDM. This means that as soon as you’re in the turn back to the beacon you’re approaching warpspeed (for a helicopter), leaving a very short time to get established and set yourself up for the next holding. If you are still clowning around trying to get the track sorted with ridiculous heading fruitcakery, well.. Your next hold is pretty much screwed, good job! This will most likely result in the next QDM intercept being even worse and the cycle continues. Feel better now? Don’t think so. Things just keep adding on top of eachother if you don’t stay ahead of the game.
A good example is the Lydd approach (see below). The fix is not a VOR or NDB, it’s a point in space based on a radial and DME distance (ROMTI). This means that the whole hold procedure will be flown without a needle flip and that overflying the point has to be based on another VOR or NDB as well to get a coordinate. After doing it, it was not too bad, but it just adds to the list of things to monitor, just like a DME arc or alternate go around procedures.
The fix? Think ahead! The only way to survive while flying under IFR is by always dragging the next event forward, or at least the planning of it. If I need to listen to the ATIS, do my approach briefing, ask London for a traffic service and tune 2 ILS beacons while I am trying to sort out my heading and are worried about not being able to do it in time, I am making things unnecessarily difficult. Do the things you’ll do in the coming miles in your head, plan ahead, drag it forward, stay ahead of the aircraft. A good planning is key but it’s also a mindset.
This is not something you get used to instantly, it takes a couple of flights, but the simulator is so good to adjust your brain, and a lot cheaper.. Our instructor Clive (who I can’t recommend enough) is really good at tuning our mindsets and using tricks to tackle problems the right way. Sometimes it’s surprising how easy it is to make things unnecessarily more complicated. SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) are his 2 rules I will take with me for the rest of my life.
I’d like to end this post with addressing something I keep noticing in the industry at the moment. Things are not exactly booming for the helicopter industry, there is no need to sugarcoat it, I am all for being a realist. Complaining however is something a lot of people turned into their new hobby. Companies, salaries, flight time, colleagues, opportunities, etc etc etc, the list goes on. Just realise that all of this complaining won’t add anything to anything, it’s all pointless clutter. Stop for a second and realise how fortunate we are for having the best job in the world, whether you instruct, save lives, transport personnel, fight fires, or do any other type of flying in which a helicopter and its crew are proving to be the difference. Believe in yourself and be confident you can change things by thinking outside the box.
That’s it for now. Monday will be our first IMC flight! I can’t wait and will make sure to update right here as soon as I can after my weekend trip back to The Netherlands. Questions or requests for next update? Just shoot me an email at: email@example.com