What Do I Need to Know About Helicopter Training in a Robinson R22?
The R22 is the most popular training helicopter in use in UK schools because of its low cost per flight hour. It’s simple, reliable and does what it says on the tin! However, the R22 was never designed by Frank Robinson as a basic trainer and has several flight characteristics that can take a while to master; the primary being a low inertia rotor head.
Loss of rotor RPM is a major safety risk in helicopter flight and the cause of many accidents. Having a low inertia rotor system is no problem in powered flight if the governor / throttle is managed properly, however, it makes the R22 harder to fly in autorotation where management of the rotor RPM is crucial for a safe outcome. Learning this skill takes time and can take a fair amount longer in an R22 compared to other aircraft.
Another key consideration with the R22 is you, the student. If you’re over 6ft tall or wide in the shoulders you may not find the helicopter that great a learning environment. You may well feel crammed in and as a result take longer to pick up the subtle control inputs required to fly this highly responsive machine. If you’re over 210lbs (15st or 95kg) you might not be able to carry enough fuel for sensible flight lengths, or depending on the weight of your instructor might not be able to fly at all!!
Some people don’t like the “shared” T-Bar cyclic control and claim that it’s not like flying a “proper” helicopter with a traditional between the legs cyclic. However, most of these people have already learned in a traditional helicopter and then don’t like the Robinson design as much. For those starting out (I feel) it makes little difference to the overall learning experience.
The R22 (like the R44) has a governor which controls the engine and rotor rpm (unless overridden). This means that little time is spent practicing manual throttle control when flying these types. Is this a problem and should everyone learn with a manual throttle? Given the number of governor failures reported across all types of helicopter, I think not. Whilst it is paramount that the pilot is able to manually control the throttle in the event of a governor failure, it is much more important that they conduct so many other areas of a flight correctly as these are where accidents and incident occur.
Low Cost, generally widely available and introduces the student to the Robinson way of doing things. [If you’re going to self fly hire a machine once you’ve got your licence Robinsons are the world’s most available machines.]
Low inertia head can make rotor RPM and autorotation’s hard to master. Individuals’ size and weight can cause issues. Lively handling takes longer to master.