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I'm a writer in need of help.
I have a character that needs to land a helicopter. I am not a
pilot -- so making this sound real is a problem!
Would some kind person care to tell me how this is done?
Much thanks in advance
-- Patsy Pratt-Herzog, November 17, 2005
I've had a few relatively crash-free landings in a helicopter, so I will give it a go. To land a helicopter at an airport, you start by looking at the wind sock to determine the wind direction (some airports have automated systems or control towers that will tell you the wind direction and speed). Pointing into the wind, you descend to around 300' above the terrain and slow down from a cruise speed of 100-130 knots to more like 50 knots. When you see your landing spot at the right angle (position on windshield), you lower the collective (left hand) to descend and pull back on the cyclic (right hand) to slow down. In an American helicopter you would be pushing a bit on the right pedal to counteract yaw from the power reduction.
As the helicopter slows down to around 25 knots of airspeed, you reach the point of "effective translational lift". You try to hold onto this speed all the way down to a hover above your landing spot and then set the helicopter down. If you are overweight or at a high altitude, you might not have enough power to hover, in which case you continue the descent all the way to the ground.
Throughout this maneuver you try to make sure that you don't slow down your forward airspeed too much if you are dropping more than 300 feet-per-minute. Dropping more or less straight down, you run the risk of "settling with power," in which you sink into your own disturbed air and your descent rate increases alarmingly. If you don't reduce power a bit and push the cyclic forward to fly out of the disturbed air, you risk hitting the ground.
Landing in a confined area, such as a corporate looter's backyard, usually requires a "steep approach" in which you descend at a steeper angle to clear trees, powerlines, and other obstacles. This requires more power and/or less weight in the helicopter.
Feel free to email me if you have more questions.
-- Philip Greenspun, November 26, 2005