6 Reasons to get helicopter flight training in Redding, CA

So let’s get it out in the open… I’m a little bit biased on this subject. I live and instruct in Redding. But I did after all move to Redding in 2008 – having only been through here once – and I stayed… if that says anything.

Here are some of my top reasons that you should choose to do your helicopter flight training in Redding:

  1. More flyable days per year than almost anywhere in North America.
    That’s because Redding is the 2nd sunniest place in the USA. Our rainy season is short and we don’t get much extreme cold or snow. That means your training could go almost uninterrupted 12 months a year. I have trained in the coldest part of January and the hottest part of August in Redding – it’s all flyable. To be fair, I’ll warn you: it gets to 110 degrees Fahrenheit routinely in the hottest part of summer.
  2. Redding Airport is only 500 feet above sea level yet surrounded by open areas and mountains.
    VFR Sectional Chart of Redding, CA KRDD

    Sectional from AirNav.com

    That makes Redding an excellent training environment for a helicopter pilot. Unlike “sunny” Florida where the highest point in the state is 345 feet MSL (and it rains every day in the summer – I was a CFI there for about a year), we have foothills and mountains all around within minutes of Redding by air that range upwords of 14,000 feet. If you’re headed for a career in EMS flying or utility/longline operations, mountain flying experience and training will be paramount for you. Additionally, many public lands suitable for off-airport operations training abound. In a densely-populated area it’s really hard to find a place to land a helicopter other than an airport or heliport.

  3. Low cost of living.
    Even though Redding is in the state of California, our cost of living here is low. For a single flight student looking for lodging, rooms and apartments for rent can be found for as little as $200 per month. Our shopping costs are also significantly lower than other parts of the state such as the Bay Area and Los Angeles (believe me, I grew up down there).
  4. Beautiful surroundings and recreation.
    Most helicopter pilot types are also the outdoorsy type as well. Northern California is home to all kinds of recreation including fishing, kayaking and boating on the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta Lake and the surrounding rivers and mountain lakes, houseboating, hiking, camping, hunting, trips to the Bay Area, wine country, skiing and snowboarding in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, the Lost Coast and a whole lot more.
  5.  Proximity to the Utility Helicopter and Aerial Firefighting center of the universe.
    In fact, this is how I got into firefighting. Redding is pretty much in the middle of the most active regions for wildfire suppression operations. As a result, in addition to the mountainous terrain, the western states are home to the majority of the utility helicopter companies in the USA. I can think of about 10 off the top of my head within a couple hundred miles of Redding.
  6. Choices! We’re not the only game in town, but…
    I may not work for the only helicopter flight school in Redding, but we’ll treat you the best, I can promise you that. The other instructors and I have been through the worst and the best. We’re all now Redding locals and in no hurry to leave, with reputations to protect. In some other flight schools you will quickly see that quality maintenance, customer service and general follow-through are not as high a priority as it is to us.

If you’re interested in helicopter flight training, please contact me.









Transitioning from American to European helicopters… or vice versa

Many moons ago when I was a wee private helicopter pilot – ok, not all that long ago – I used to stress over my eventual transition from American helicopters to European ones. If that doesn’t immediately make sense to you, it’s because of the main rotor rotational direction. If you know exactly why, skip to the next paragraph. Pretty much all American-made helicopters have counter-clockwise rotating main rotors (when looking down on them) so the natural torque on the helicopter fuselage is nose-right, requiring left pedal when you apply power. Most European models are the opposite – at least of the Eurocopter/Airbus variety.

Sage advice about fancy footwork

When I was a kid in Southern California, I grew up around a helicopter operator that flew a fleet of AS350 Astars. Since these were the helicopters that solidified my affinity for the machines it was a natural aspiration of mine to one day fly them. By a turn of events and the course of my non-flying life, I still have yet to fly for that operator. But one year when I was working on my commercial helicopter pilot certificate, my girlfriend (now wife) and I took a ride to Catalina Island in one of those Astars. Before I jumped out I had to ask the pilot, Gary, a quick question.

Me: “I’m assuming you trained in Robinsons, right?”
Gary: “Yep.” (or something equivalent).
Me: “Was it a tough transition for you to make, going from Robbies to Astars [since the torque is in the opposite direction]?”
Gary: “Nope, not really. Just keep your eyes looking outside and just push the pedal you need. Try not to get too much into muscle memory with your feet.” (Paraphrasing).

To me his advice – though simple – was golden. I figured he was dead-on, but I wouldn’t know for certain until about eight years later. I tucked that nugget in my pocket for the someday and carried on with my flight training.

He was absolutely right.

Not only was he right about the transition from counter-clockwise rotor systems to clockwise, but his advice also helped me in general to fly by visuals and feel rather than muscle memory. Even new helicopters with the same rotating direction have their own feel. Each helicopter, for instance, will get light on the skids at a different spot in the collective pitch pull as well as at different gross weights. Some helicopters have mechanisms to add tail rotor pitch with the application of power, others don’t. Some helicopters have wheels. Some helicopters I have flown have yarn on the windscreen for trim while others just rely on the turn coordinator ball. Every new type is going to feel and fly a little bit differently than the last, but it would serve me well not to assume that any particular muscle “memorized” input would be applicable to all aircraft.

Putting the advice to the test

Around a year ago I finally got to fly a Eurocopter (we now have to start calling them “Airbus”, no matter how ugly a name it is) AS355N Twin Star. I first received some fairly informal stick time in the ship and eventually was put through a formal checkout this summer. Gary’s words from 2005 rang true: look outside and push the pedal you need (and don’t assume which or how much you’ll need, just be ready).

Helicopter WYSIWYG

What I seem to automatically do each time I hop in is say to myself something like “Right power, left auto”. Perhaps it’s a practice to calibrate myself for the footwork in general. Afterall, if you need to enter an autorotation, the pedal input is going to need to be somewhat quick and assertive. Outside of that it’s pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get, or rather, -you-need.

If you’re making the transition – or hope to – don’t sweat it. A helicopter is a helicopter. Many a pilot have made the transition and it’s really no big deal. If you’re going to be a well-rounded professional, you’ll eventually get to fly all kinds of stuff.