Rotorcraft Rookie: Second chance at a first passenger

July 7, 2014

We have to do something special. That’s what kept running through my head as I planned for the flight that really mattered as a new helicopter pilot—my first with a passenger.

No one learns to fly to pass a test. The handshake and temporary certificate are great prizes at the end of the road, but they aren’t sustaining. We learn to do, to go places, to have experiences that can only happen in an aircraft. So when it came time to show my first passenger what I’d been on about over the past few months, I knew I had to make it something unique.

Spouses are flight training’s unsung heroes. They listen to us yap about how amazing it is to learn to fly, how frustrated we are at certain points in the process, and how much we can’t wait to take them with us. It doesn’t occur to most of us that they probably have little interest squeezing into, in this case, a small bubble with an inexperienced handler at the controls.

So I spent a lot of time searching to figure out how to try and make this flight worthwhile for my wife. There are a bunch of airport restaurants in our area, but we could go to each of those in an airplane. What I really wanted was a nice restaurant with a big open field. I asked co-workers. I sleuthed on Google. I asked other helicopter pilots. Finally I found the Comus Inn, a highly regarded place a few miles away that we had been meaning to try anyway.

Making the trip a reality was pretty easy. I scouted the restaurant on the ground to make sure the landing area was large enough and free of obstructions. I called the manager, who was excited about the idea, and I made sure the helicopter was good to go. Then it was simply a matter of finding an open date, booking a babysitter, and making it happen.

As soon as we took off I knew the time spent finding the restaurant was worth it. The weather was beautiful, the wind swirling through the open cockpit was refreshing, and the scenery was fantastic. A quick flight south and we were circling the landing site doing WWOFEEL (wind, wires, obstructions, forced landing site, entry, exit, landing site) checks. The restaurant uses the field as overflow parking for special events, and this being special to us, we were happy to set down on the lush grass.

When it was time to leave a small tree at the end of the field meant a maximum performance takeoff was in order. As the ground melted away she just laughed. “It was like pure, unadulterated freedom,” she told me later. After listening to my giddy ramblings for months, she finally knew why I had caught the bug.

It says something about the special nature of helicopters when people come out to take pictures as you’re landing, you’re able to impress a longtime airplane passenger, and even the manager of a restaurant is OK with the noise disturbing his romantic dinner service.

Flying after the checkride is all about baby steps and building confidence. With a solo off-airport landing in the logbook and one happy passenger, I guess I can say I’ve finally graduated past rookie.

Read all the stories in the Rotorcraft Rookie series.

This is the last entry in the series. Follow AOPA’s ongoing helicopter coverage on Hover Power, the association’s blog for everything rotorcraft. I’ll be blogging there as part of a regular rotation of writers. Thanks so much for reading. --IJT

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.