Soon after being introduced to the quick stop, the dreaded and legendary autorotation appeared on the lesson plan and flight schedule. During the following weeks, this one maneuver accounted for hours of home-bound chair flying with eyes closed, imagining the event and going through the motions, burning in the sequence of control inputs, calling out, “Entering autorotation in 3-2-1, then action: LOWER COLLECTIVE, AFT CYCLIC, RIGHT PEDAL, ROLL OFF THROTTLE, RPM CHECK, PITCH PULL (set RPM IN THE GREEN),” and then, while riding it down, “eyes in:” check rotor RPM/airspeed/altitude; “eyes out:” check line-up/LZ clear/altitude; REPEAT inside/outside scan—adjust as necessary; at 40 feet, 65-70 kts and a descent rate around 1500 FPM, aft cyclic to arrest descent, roll on throttle enough for the governor to match engine and rotor RPM, level the ship, and settle into a hover.
Actual drills began with straight-in autos entered at 700-800 feet AGL and proceeding down and straight ahead to the landing spot. Just as I was just beginning to get the hang of straight in autos, 180 degreesturning auto rotations were added to the drills. We entered them from about 1,000 feet AGL. For a turning auto, the pilot enters the autorotation abeam the intended landing spot, then executes an immediate 180-degreeturn, reversing course to line up with the intended landing spot. Turning immediately adds complexity and pilot workload since the lift vector of the main rotor disc is split in turning, which, in turn, increases the descent rate (speeding things up even more) while simultaneously increasing the rotor RPM—requiring additional collective input to keep main rotor RPM in the green just prior to flare and recovery.
This was stressful training. So my instructor’s protocol was first to warm me up and settle into the helicopter by shooting a couple of standard patterns. After getting re-acquainted, we would then then do two or three autos, or maybe four during the last few sessions as I became more proficient and relaxed.
Early on I felt like I was (and was) just along for the ride during auto rotations. But as the training progressed during autos, time slowed down for me until I was eventually ahead of the helicopter.
We did close to what felt like a million auto rotations (okay, maybe not that many), and it was not until the last 10 to 15 that I felt present, aware and in command of the helicopter and the maneuver.
Let me note that Brett always told me when my performance was within commercial standards, providing waypoints to mark my progress and immediate positive feedback to help fix the successful performance in muscle memory.
He seemed happier about my doing a good auto than I was. That was probably because I was still bug-eyed from doing it.
It became clear to me very quickly that auto rotations, while safe when done properly, are never casual, regardless of the experience of the pilot.