What Do I Need to Know About Helicopter Training in a Robinson R44?
The only 4 seat helicopter in our list of top 3, many may consider the R44 to be a machine that you get a type rating for once you have a licence. However, this overlooks the excellent training environment provided by the R44 and some other basic realities for those only wanting to gain a PPL(H) and fly privately.
For those with a rating on the R22, the R44 will feel immediately familiar as it shares many of the design concepts, layout and procedures of the smaller machine. Fortunately, what it doesn’t share, are a low inertia rotor head, confined cockpit environment and “lively” handling. For many the increased stability, increased power capacity, roomy cockpit and vastly better autorotation characteristics make the R44 a very capable machine to achieve a PPL(H) on.
Another consideration is the student’s long-term ambitions. If they want to become a CPL(H) then it’s sensible to learn in the cheapest machine, but if your local airfield has a couple of R44s available for Self-Fly Hire then it may be the machine to learn in. Once you have a licence most pilots want to take others flying. This is often impractical in 2 seat machines, so they get a rating in a larger machine. Then, with only a few hours experience in the machine, they fill it full of loved ones and take to the sky.
It could be argued that they would have been better learning from scratch in that machine and having a considerably larger amount of hours experience before they took the responsibility of other lives upon themselves. The cockpit is a lonely place when things are not going to plan, the weather is not what was predicted and those around you are scared. That extra investment at the outset may suddenly feel money well spent!
There is still a seat weight limit of 300lbs in the Robinson R44, but this should not trouble too many. There is under seat stowage for overnight “squashy” bags (up to 50lbs) and a range of around 2hrs 20 at around 100kts, which is as much flying as most would want without a break!
Some consider the R44 to be too much of a “budget” helicopter with all that implies. However, operated within its limits, it is a very reliable machine and a pleasure to fly.
Pros: Available widely. High inertia rotor head and predictable handling. Perfect machine for the weekend aviator.
Cons: Most expensive helicopter compared to R22 and Cabri G2.