My friend Mike Nehring stopped by in his Bell 47 helicopter the other day. Well, it's not "his" ship - he just flies it on a powerline/pipeline patrol contract. It is a beautiful example of the type, done up in a military paint scheme similar to what you see in the beginning of the TV show M*A*S*H.
This day, his patrol ended someplace west of us, and his route of flight home took him right over the Brewton Airport. So he had to stop in to say hi. I love that about flying.
Mike is a great guy and a really good friend of mine who absolutely loves to fly. He's a young, struggling pilot who's just starting his career in this crazy field. As he slowly builds his flight time up, he's already done a lot of different things. Trouble is, many of the jobs in this business are seasonal or temporary. Mike is fixing to leave Pensacola (again) and head up to Oregon for another couple of months of...whatever. He'll be flying...whatever...whatever he can get his talented hands on. In a way, I admire his adventurous spirit. In another, I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore.
Plan A was for me to jump in the 47 and fly with him back to his home base, then he would drive me back to Brewton. But wouldn't you know it, my Boss had a Plan B in mind. He needed me to fly him somewhere in our helicopter.
Mike and I fired up together, and since we were going in the same direction decided to depart the airport as a "flight of two." My JetRanger cruises at 120 mph, but the 47 can only muster about 70 or so, max. I told Mike I'd stay back with him as long as I could, but I didn't want to burn my brakes out trying, har-har-har.
As I've often said, I like watching other pilots fly - especially pilots who are really good. You can tell a lot about a helicopter pilot by the way he lifts off the ground and into a hover. Some pilots just instinctively know how to make the ship levitate as if by magic. Others lurch off the ground so awkwardly that you're not sure if you're watching an accident in the making. Mike is one of the former. The smoothness with which he flies is amazing and inspiring.
A helicopter flies by tilting its rotor forward from the horizontal, directing its energy upward (lift) and rearward (thrust) at the same time. The faster you want to go, the more you have to tilt the rotor forward. If the main rotor mast is mounted perpendicular to the airframe, the whole helicopter assumes a nose-down attitude as you go faster. It can be quite uncomfortable for the pilot as well as the passengers.
In the Bell 206 JetRanger, the main rotor mast is tilted slightly forward by design. Plus there is a big stabilizer on the tail that helps "pull" the tail down (i.e. the nose up) in flight. The end result is that the 206 can fly along at 120 mph with a "fairly" level cabin attitude.
The Bell 47 is an older design, never intended to go fast.
So here is Mikey trying to keep up with me at 70 mph.
Looks comfy, doesn't it? Imagine spending hours at a time sitting leaned over like that? I wished Mike had a camera and could have gotten a picture of my ship. The difference is quite noticeable.
We only flew like that briefly. The Boss and I had to go so we increased power and sped up. Mike reduced power for a more comfortable ride (and to pull something less than full power). But it was fun flying together, even for a short time.
One of the things I love most about aviation is the camaraderie and fellowship.