A Solo Story

Would I solo at Bacchus Marsh or Moorabbin? I wondered in the days leading up to flying solo in my training helicopter of choice, the Guimbal Cabri G2. The nimble Cabri G2 couldn’t care less, however I was a twenty-something-hour (many, many more years older) trainee helicopter pilot still getting comfortable flying a machine that’s constantly trying its damnedest to throw itself away from anywhere vaguely resembling a stable attitude. So, details like the location at which I would be flying solo were on my mind.

My two options were Bacchus Marsh and Moorabbin. Bacchus March is a ‘rural aerodrome’ with a country feel. There’s much less aircraft traffic than at Moorabbin, with wide open spaces and fresh air. However there’s a high probability of there being low-hour fixed wing pilots conducting unpredictable manoeuvres and inadvertently raising my stress levels. Being low hour myself I was hopeful to not accidentally impose that same stress on them! Moorabbin has a lot more traffic in the circuit to contend with, but it’s worth it for the ocean views you take in on the way. Moorabbin also has the benefit of Air Traffic Control watching over everyone and providing separation advice. Both quite different, though I was happy at either prospect and excited to get up there.​

The weather was fine with light winds on the day. After pre-flighting the helicopter and a quick classroom brief, my fabulous instructor Alex and I strapped in for the short flight over to Bacchus Marsh. The tell-tale sign of the plan to send me solo was the high vis vest Alex had stowed in the baggage compartment, indicating someone was going to exit the helicopter at some point. Since I was paying to fly I figured it wasn’t going to be me.

We joined the traffic and flew a few circuits to confirm with Alex (and myself) that I was ok to fly alone. After setting down on the grass Alex said she was happy for me to go. I felt good and agreed. So, with both of us feeling ‘happy’ she was out the door. High vis vest donned and radio in hand, Alex positioned herself near the windsock to observe the proceedings. At least I had a fluoro marker to aim for, further noting to myself not to aim too closely lest I see a fluoro vest suddenly running for cover as I make my final approach.

Right then, it’s all up to me as I run through my checks. Clear around? Check. Warning lights out? Check. T’s & P’s in the green? Check. Plenty of fuel and my radios set. The pick up to a stable hover was smooth, a little different with only myself onboard but easily under control. Then the clearing turn of 360° to spot traffic in the circuit before easing the cyclic forward into a transition. Effective translational lift gave me a boost and soon after I was climbing away, feeling pretty bloody pleased with myself. I was flying solo and actually felt completely calm, albeit with a greatly heightened sense of awareness that it was me and only me in control.

Crosswind turn, downwind turn with a radio call, and landing checks done- no sweat. High vis and windsock sighted where I was expecting- excellent. I set up for the approach with an easy left descending turn, rolling out towards my aim point. “High or low?” I asked myself. A bit steep I decided and so eased the collective down a little. My final approach with the picture outside looked good, my groundspeed slowing down nicely. I prepared to add collective power as I slowed right down, applying enough pedal to keep the helicopter straight (the Cabri loves plenty of pedal). I simultaneously adjusted the cyclic to keep level and correct any sideways drift. I pulled up nicely into a stable hover several feet above the grass, knowing I had to stay focussed as I had still yet put the machine on the ground. I eased the collective down a fraction, remaining over my spot and allowed it to sink. Lower, lower, lower, touch down! Woohoo, I had done it!

Smiling with both joy and relief I looked over to see Alex making her way towards the helicopter, smiling also as she well might, with both her helicopter and student safely back on the ground. Alex had done an incredible job of taking me from virtually zero helicopter experience a few weeks ago, not even knowing how to start the machine, to being competent to fly it completely on my own. “How was that?” she asked after joining me in the cockpit. “Awesome!” I replied, pretty much summing up how good it felt. “Absolutely awesome”.

With that milestone successfully completed I couldn’t wait for my next solo flight. Building on this day’s incredible experience, I was well on my way to gaining my commercial licence.

– Michael, CPL Student.