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Tips for Learning to Hover?

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Mar 8, 2005
Are there any known tricks or tips for learning to hover? For me, it's like trying to harness a bull - it just drags me all over the place.

I can hold it for a second or two but it gets away from me pretty fast? I can take off, fly around and even land if I'm given a long taxiway but I can't hover taxi worth a damn.

On average, how long does it take to learn?
aroden said:
Are there any known tricks or tips for learning to hover? For me, it's like trying to harness a bull - it just drags me all over the place.

I can hold it for a second or two but it gets away from me pretty fast? I can take off, fly around and even land if I'm given a long taxiway but I can't hover taxi worth a dang.

On average, how long does it take to learn?

When I went through the Army's training many years ago, we had about five hours to hover or they sent you to be fitted for an 11B hat. Seemed like most of us were doing OK in about three hours. Nothing like a threat to motivate one to succeed:eek:

For me, it was to just relax and try to keep the controls in one place for awhile. When I washed the cockpit in an effort to average out all of the movement, my IP took his wooden stick to my helmet. It should come to in a few hours.

The irony of it all for me was that the bigger and more complex the machines got, the easier they were to fly. Same has applied for fixed wings. Turbines are much easier than pistons and the heavier the better. For helicopters, the Cobra had SCAS and hovering was no challenge at all. And the Hawk, with its mixing unit, will pretty much do it hands off given the right weight and rigging.

Good luck and be patient with yourself. You will master it and most likely wonder how you ever had a problem :)
It's all about the feel - you have to feel the aircraft move before it moves. It's been a while since I've hovered anything that didn't have hover hold, but once you get the feel down (a couple of hours), it'll be fine. My instructor started me off with just the pedals, then just the collective, then just the cyclic, and then any two of the three, then all three. Maybe give that a shot?

And traderd is right about bigger being easier. The Longbow has hover hold, and although they mention something about drift in the -10, I don't remember it ever drifting (as far as I could tell). Without hover hold, just keep the velocity vector and acceleration cue centered in the hover box, and it didn't move one bit! ;)
Easy Tips

Make sure you are relaxed. Lay off the caffeine so you sleep enough before lessons.

Don't rush the lift-off. Get light on the skids and then very slowly and smoothly complete the lift-off, keeping every axis under control and correcting any tendency to get off heading, or to drift (of course it helps if the aircraft is parked directly into the wind).

Definitely, small control movements are the rule. However, the aircraft must be *positively* flown in all axes, i.e., don't wait for it to correct itself. As soon as you detect drift in any axis, make a small but positive control *pressure* to counter said drift. "Pressure," rather than "movement" on the controls, is the key concept.

Keep your general gaze 50 yards or so away from the aircraft, and move your head slightly and/or use peripheral vision to pick up fore & aft drifting tendecies. You must pick an object or area consciously to do this correctly; i.e., if you don't think about this you will end up looking too close in, which leads to over-correcting for each small deviation and getting you into an over-controlling, pilot-induced-oscillation dance. Later on you will learn to do precision placement of the aircraft while looking at a spot close to the skid or other portion, but now is not that time.

Best of luck, you will learn this. Several hundred thousand people have, you can too.
onthebeach said:
an over-controlling, pilot-induced-oscillation dance.quote]

I'm a pretty energetic dancer too! I'm amazed that I haven't slapped the tail into the ground yet. Thanks for the tips - I'll try them.

I'm dreading auto-rotations - it looks like, according to the NTSB, allot of the R-22 accidents are auto-rotation practice with the instructor on board. There have been few fatalities but still...you'd think that mastering it on a simulator would be a prerequisite if accidents were that common. And the thought, as my instructor told me, that there are only 2 -3 seconds between an engine failure and certain death is a little unnerving - if I fail to react fast enough, he says, it's down like a rock with no possible recovery. And flaring too high in a helicopter has a few more consequences than with a Cessna.

It kind of makes me appreciate a fixed wing a little more!
aroden said:
Are there any known tricks or tips for learning to hover? For me, it's like trying to harness a bull - it just drags me all over the place.

I can hold it for a second or two but it gets away from me pretty fast? I can take off, fly around and even land if I'm given a long taxiway but I can't hover taxi worth a dang.

On average, how long does it take to learn?

Hi Aroden,

I'm not quite sure where you are doing your training, but I started by students out with the old "1 axis and a time" technique.

I'd let them run the collective for a bit, then the pedals, then the cyclic. Once they got the hang of each, I'd let them start running the collective and pedals together. Once they got that, I could add in the cyclic, and by then things were working pretty well. Total average time was about 4 hours or so before the light came on, which included startup/shutdown time.


It will come. Just be patient. I soloed in the Army at 12.5 hrs. If I can do it... well you know the rest.

I used to pick a spot in front of me, as a reference point. It still works today, although I'm flying a lot large helicopter than the ole TH-55A I learned in.
First, your ability to hover directly relates to your ability to recognize motion relative to your desired position over the ground, altitude and heading. Rhythmically scan out, around and in. Use your peripheral vision and work on recognizing when you have any movement away from your desired hover position. An immediate small countering input is worth way more than a late massive control movement.

The single control learning method is key, but once you've got that working, you need to work on understanding control coupling. Depending on the aircraft configuration, you'll get coupling in all axes whenever you move any single control. The sooner you learn the appropriate correction (pedal in or out to counteract torque change with power, collective in to counteract sink when you add anti-torque pedal, cyclic to counteract tail rotor driven drift and collective driven pitch) the more natural it will be. Anticipate having to add pedal when you add power for example. You know you need to add it, so put some in when you move the collective. Don't wait until the nose starts moving. Have your instructor freeze two control and make changes in the third if you need to see what happens to say, pitch, when you change the power setting.

For cyclic, the key is to make small corrections. Watch the cyclic when your instructor hovers, and you'll see it is making small movements around a central position. Keep your grip light (not loose) and try to make nearly constant small inputs. It will be choppy at first, but until you can tell how much cyclic movement to make, just make a small one, and if it isn't enough, make another small one in the same direction. If the input stops the movement, take about half out immediately, or you'll start moving in the opposite direction. If you notice black plastic oozing out from between your fingers, force yourself to lighten your grip. Just keep that cyclic moving in very small increments, and eventually it will smooth out and you’ll just be pressuring the cyclic instead of consciously moving it.

To keep the PIO down in the vertical axis on takeoff, ease it up in SMALL increments. Don't bounce the collective up and down; just keep adding it in notches. Get it light on the skids and then add in a measured amount to clear the deck, adding anti-torque pedal in unison. Don't fool around light on the skids, lots of folks have rolled over doing that. Once you do it a few times in training, the amount you have to pull will become natural. Don't get married to it though, in "real" flying the collective position changes with DA and aircraft weight.

To land vertically, once again, ease the collective down in small increments. As the helicopter gets closer to the ground, it will find equilibrium and you'll have to reduce it further. When you are just above skid touchdown, don't feel for the deck, just reduce the collective a measured amount and allow it to settle. As you touch down, slowly lower the collective in a smooth movement. Don't bounce the collective up and down, it isn't necessary and it will mess up your other control movements. Remember to work the pedals in unison with the collective, and control your drift with cyclic. If you build up drift, freeze the collective and control the drift before you reduce the collective again. Touching down with lateral drift is an invitation for dynamic rollover.

Pedals were easy for me, but once again the key is to make a quick small input to counter heading drift, and to not let the motion build up to a point where you have to make a big stab at the pedal. The control coupling will screw you up every time, so anticipate adding pedal with power, and vice-versa. Big pedal inputs during liftoff or touchdown can cause a rollover as well.

Finally, remember that as long as the rotor is turning, you’re still flying. Keep your hands on the controls, your feet on the pedals, and if you want to stay on the ground, keep the collective pushed down.

Good luck. Once you figure it out, it really is like riding a bicycle.
Relax, be patient, it just takes time in the aircraft. For most people, it seems to come together at the 4-7 hr mark...just like when you learned to ride your bicycle. So much good advice here.

For me, eyes out on that straight line horizon was a key. And if you need a control input of, say, two inches forward, don't do what I did at first; put six in and take four out. Just put two in and avoid all that extra movement. I found that a comfortable brace for my right forearm and elbow on my thigh helped reduce the excess motions as well. Yikes, I was a mixing bowl at first, we all are.

As stated, use your pedals for feel; and try to anticipate that right yaw coming as you add power and it gets light on the skids. Don't wait for it start yawing, you know it's coming so keep feeding that left pedal counter-pressure in there as you add power to keep your nose straight. Gentle pressures. It will come and your IP will stop laughing at you as he saves both of your arses yet again.

The best advice an old salt gave me was coming back into Scott AFB one night returning from Glenview NAS. It was windy as hell, I was tired, and as we hovered in to parking with a nasty crosswind, I decided to just let the tail yaw with the wind rather than fight it as I hovered down the line. Bad move. "Make it do what you want it to" are words I'll never forget. If the engine failed while I was hovering forward at a 45 degree yaw, we were going over. If the nose is always kept straight, we're in position for a hovering auto. So you'll learn to hover straight ahead with the yellow line bisecting the cockpit regardless of the wind direction.

Helicopters are awesome.
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Lots of good info on this page. The 2 best tips that I have offered my students are:

1. Small muscle groups. If you find your right forearm lifting off your leg you are wrong. Use the small muscles in your hands and fingertips to move the controls. Those of use who learned at Mother Rucker in the 80s had the advantage of using a control touch developing device ( a board connected to a cyclic with a marble balanced on top) The small movements discussed by those above will be developed when you take the big muscles (shoulder and bicep) out of the equation.

2. Sight picture. Pic an object 50-75 feet in front of you. Watch that object move. Looking in too close to the aircraft tends to give you a large shift in the object you are looking at and makes you move faster. The comment recommending using the taxiway line is very good. But look far enough out to give you a good sense of overall motion (not just the 3 feet infront of you)
4-7 hrs is the average that I have experinced as well. But be careful not to compare yourself with "the average guy" we all learn different skills at our own pace.
Good luck with this. Your reward will be great :)

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