Coming Out of the Helicopter Closet, Again


Coming Out of the Helicopter Closet, Again~Guest Blogger NAFI Director of Publications and Editor Beth Stanton

“It would be cool to be a helicopter pilot.”

13 years ago, this astonishing thought popped in my mind as I blinked open my eyes one fine September morning. I glanced around, mystified. Not only had I never been in a helicopter (or small airplane for that matter), I also never had the remotest inkling whatsoever to pilot any type of aircraft.

Beth Stanton NAFI EditorCurious, I Googled “how to learn to fly helicopters.” The Google informed me that learning to fly helicopters was really hard and really expensive, so get your fixed wing first. For no other reason, except that I intensely (and inexplicably) wanted to do it, I learned to fly airplanes.

Three weeks after my checkride, a spin and upset recovery training course introduced me to aerobatics. I knew there were certain daredevil pilots called “barnstormers” who did loop de loops and other such stunts. However, I had never been to an air show, let alone fathom that competition aerobatics was even a thing.

Life took a wild swerve when I immediately jumped into competition aerobatics, which basically consumed the next eight years of my life. Then I got kind of bored. Ned Parks, one of NAFI’s rotorcraft gurus, recently invited me to consider reframing “I got bored” into “I completed my mission flying competition aerobatics and was ready to move to the next thing.”

In 2018, I made a tentative stab at that next thing — helicopters. A couple of lessons in an R-22 made me realize flying aerobatic tailwheel aircraft — which are inherently unstable, require light control inputs, and lots of rudder — was serving me well in the transition to helicopters. A joyride zooming an A-Star turbine helicopter down the Colorado River canyon was dazzling.

There was one fly in this helicopter ointment: it was stupid expensive. Yes, I had gotten used to forking over large chunks of cash for aerobatic airplanes, training, and contests. But I was having a hard time rationalizing the expense to learn to fly helicopters “just because,” even though that was the exact impulse that led me to fly in the first place. Also, I was dejected by the “nobody just rents you a helicopter once you get your rating” stories. So, I gave it up.

But helicopters wouldn’t leave me alone.

This past fall, four years after my first forays into helicopters, I surrendered. I know what the fierce tug feels like, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. While wondering how to start again, a friend gently reminded me that I do work for an association of, um, flight instructors, and perhaps I could ping them for guidance. I first reached out to Ned, who introduced me to a CFI-H/DPE colleague. Then I spoke with Mike Hirschberg of the Vertical Flight Society, who introduced me to helicopter CFI and aviation journalist Elan Head. I have attended a couple NAFI rotorcraft instructor SIGs (Special Interest Groups). Everyone has been generous with their support and guidance.

I’m going to HAI Heli-Expo in March. I’ll be wearing a badge that says, “Going after my rotor add-on, got advice?” I sense Heli-Expo will be my helicopter There, I’m going to find an instructor and school where I will finally achieve my long-awaited helicopter rating.

It could appear there is an element of magical thinking about my faith in this endeavor. When I followed the impulse to fly, never in my wildest imaginings could I have foreseen the future aviation had in store for me. Leaps of faith are doorways I jump though so amazing things can find me. Precedence has demonstrated that heeding the tug is the instinct to implicitly trust. I still don’t know who, what, when, where, why, or how this is all going to shake out. But I can’t wait to find out.

Beth StantonBeth Stanton
NAFI eMentor Editor
NAFI #225396




Blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent, professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinions or position of the National Association of Flight Instructors. NAFI does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented. Readers should note content may appear in various media, including print, email, enews without further notice.

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