20 May 2005

Build Your Own Helicopter

It's a tempting offer:
Buy a helicopter kit and build your own machine for a fraction of what a new, factory built helicopter would cost!

"Your own helicopter in your own garage......just climb in and take off!"
What a neat dream!
But as always, sales brochures don't tell nearly the entire story.

The helicopter I teach in looks almost exactly like this one:


It is an R22, built by the Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, California. There have been about 3500 of them built. Although not perfect for the training mission, it is powerful, fast, sturdily built and economical, and is therefore the most popular helicopter being used to train students to fly helicopters today.

It is also very similar in size, weight, and flying characteristics to the most popular homebuilt helicopter kit being sold.

The kit helicopter I'm talking about is a beautiful thing when completed if the work is done well......prettier than the R22 by far! The company sells these kits by comparing the cost of their kit to the price of a new R22. In this light, the kit looks wonderful!

The kit company suggests that people who buy the kit make the trip to their factory for flight instruction. If the customer cannot make it to the factory for training, they tell their customers to find an instructor teaching in the Robinson R22, and once they get comfortable flying the R22, they'll be able to safely fly their homebuilt helicopter.

Several of my students have built these machines. With one exception, they have made the post-training decision to sell, or donate (!) their kit helicopters rather than fly them.

(The exception was a guy that tried to use his machine as a daily flyer, and was seriously hurt when he crashed and destroyed the bird on takeoff. The helicopter had less than 100 hours on it!)

To anyone considering the purchase of any homebuilt kit helicopter, I make this suggestion:
Go to one of the "fly-ins" where these kitbuilders meet, socialize, and show-off their machines.
Find out how many of them actually flew their machines to the fly-in.
Ask how many hours they fly their machines on a daily basis.
I think you'll find most have trailered their birds to the event.
Ask why!

If they are honest, you'll find they don't trust the machine to make a long distance flight.

They spend three years building this thing, then learn they cannot sell it for the price of a new kit when their project is done.
Then they don't trust the machine enough to fly it on a daily basis.
And who is the production test pilot? Look in the mirror!

In the long run, most of my students felt the machine was a disappointment........the risks too great and the costs too high to fly their homebuilts!

They end up flying the R22!

1 comment:

Maria Langer said...

I think you're right about these guys not wanting to fly their homebuilts.

I sold my R22 to a guy down in Mesa, AZ. That's about 60 nautical miles from where I live in Wickenburg. He was a Rotorway owner, but I can't remember if he actually built his. He flew it up to Wickenburg to see the R22. Afterward, I walked over to his ship to politely admire it. He admitted that that the day's trip -- only 60 miles each way! -- was the farthest he'd ever flown it.

I'd taken my R22 as far as Eagle, CO, Torrance, CA, and Placerville, CA -- all trips well over 300 miles.

Hey, what good is an aircraft -- or any vehicle, for that matter -- if you're afraid to take it on a trip?