Last Thursday, while in Nottingham (UK), I had the immense pleasure of a training flight with captain David Marsland of Central Helicopters.

The lesson took 1 hour which went like lightning. After a quick theoretical briefing we took off and I successively attempted to use each of the Robinson R22 controls. They handle completely differently from the fixed-wing aircraft controls, except perhaps for the pedals, which work about the same in forward flight.

Capt. Marsland's outstanding teaching skills and much previous theoretical training helped me to control the helicopter in forward flight and simple turns all by myself, after about 30 minutes. The experience was exhilarating, entirely superior to that of flying planes.

Fuzzy photo taken through rain from a nearby car.

On the way back to the airfield and at my request, Capt. Marsland performed an autorotation from forward flight. (Autorotations are simulated engine failures, which are very important for an aircraft that doesn't have wings to glide on.) He handled the procedure with absolute confidence and, being my first, I was relieved to see it's really not something to be afraid of. I knew the principles of it but in practice I discovered that the final flare manoeuver is performed quite a bit earlier than I had imagined.

Taking off again, we then tried hovering, which is most challenging for the student. Nowhere near able of working all 3 controls simultaneously all by myself (and speak English at the same time), I had to have capt. Marsland allow me to experience each in turn, himself dealing with the other two. Controlling the cyclic, I was immensely pleased by his remark that I was doing rather well and that I appeared to have the level of someone a bit farther along in training.

I also got to land the helicopter by myself -- rather, reduce the collective pitch while capt. Marsland steadied the aircraft -- and I very carefully inched it down until it touched the grass and settled down.

Having had a taste of flying a helicopter, I honestly don't think I'll ever see piloting planes the same. I know flying is supposed to be flying after all, but the plane cockpit does seem rather like a downgrade to me now...

The minuscule hour spent in the R22 has boosted my appetite for helicopters no end, and I really wish flying them wasn't so damn expensive. Perhaps one day my budget will allow me to finish training. Until then... back to dreaming!