Fear and Flying

People ask me all the time, is flying helicopters dangerous? Since I have been asked this many times now, I thought I would write about the topic of fear and flying.

Fear is something that I feel is good if you are able to harness it and use it to your advantage. Fear is something that we all deal with in different ways and so I wanted to share a few things that have worked for me.

Some people will consider us pilots, crazy. That fact that we can fly up in the sky and navigate 10000 pieces of metal flying in formation is a privilege that not too many people get to do.

Is there a risk when we go flying? Yes.

Is there a risk when I go mountain biking or walking in the woods? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely without a doubt.

I once was flying with a new flight student in his R44 helicopter. He is a great guy and a real analytic. He was up and down and all over the sky. I would bump him back into temporary control and off we went again. We must have gone up and down 20’ at a time. Then one time I can see the gears starting to seize!!! This was a learning moment. Instead of correcting it, I just let him go…..we must have gone 150’ straight up in the air in a hover like state. I was wondering when he would notice when he then said. “Luke I am kinda scared”.

What I said to him was “Good. I am glad to hear that”. He seemed confused and gradually lowered us closer to the ground where we landed and had a little chat.

I said to him “Fear is good. I am glad you were afraid. Heck, you got my attention. Fear isn’t a bad thing, and it could be the thing that keeps you alive. Now after all the maneuvers you just pulled and if you weren’t afraid, I would be really concerned. Fear is healthy and it will help keep you alive!”

I could see him relax, I could see him understand that it is ok.

It is ok to admit that you are afraid. But you need to conquer that fear. Once you can harness it, use it to your advantage so you can grow, see new things and do things you didn’t think were possible.

My concern isn’t with the people that are prudent and timid. Yes, they will make mistakes too but the guys that I worry about are the ones that don’t have fear. Those that don’t have a healthy understanding of what is going on or don’t know the safety precautions are bound to be in trouble.

We can’t let fear grip us so that we are unable to perform, but we don’t want to be too casual with fear as it could catch up to us.

I like to have a healthy amount of professionalism to manage the risks so that I don’t have to deal with fear. I’ve been getting notifications of aircraft accidents with helicopters lately and it upsets me because I really don’t like to hear of anyone getting hurt. The frustrating part of hearing about these accidents is how avoidable they are.

Now I am not going to sit back and be an armchair critic on how I wouldn’t do this and they shouldn’t do that. What I will point out is that if you do a few things, and not compromise on them, you stack the odds in your favor to have a great flying life.

Some pilots are flying above 500’ and some guys are flying way lower. A good spot I recommend is at  500-1000’.

I am above most of the dangers down low such as trees, hills, wires, towers, birds. 500-1000’ and it still gives me plenty of options for auto rotation and options. It keeps below most of the fixed-wing wonders flying around above!

Now if something happens to you after that, well most things you can deal with. But don’t spend too much time wondering what is going to take you out next as you could just as easily get nailed by something walking down the street….which doesn’t even come close to the view from in an aircraft!

Now flying in good weather goes without saying. More people are taken out by bad weather and this has nothing to do with the helicopter’s capability or fault. If you fly a perfectly good operating aircraft into low cloud, ice, below legal limits….you are eventually going to get hurt.

If you keep your height and fly in good weather, you have removed a huge percentage of the chances of you having an accident. Much of this has to do with proper training.

By making the right decisions we can place ourselves on the safe end rather than at the risky end. Can you still get a rush every now and then? Absolutely and you have to be able to grab it, deal with it and move on.

If you spend your entire life trying not to die, that isn’t living.

Now if we removed all risk, all dangers from life, and that we would live forever….let’s be honest, how boring that would be. Life would have no zest, no blood pumping action…life would be so dull without having the consequences of death.

So whoever set things up the way they are right now, did it perfectly and to see the beauty in the chaos is something that I have grown accustomed to.

Life is beautiful. Let’s not waste it by being paralyzed with fear and doing the things that we love to do. Do them, love them, make plans and strategies to manage the risks, then….lean into it.

I like to plan for the risks and things that could go wrong and have plans for such, then focus on what I want and go get it without looking back.

Safe and enjoyable flying, adventuring and living to you all.

– Luke Yanik