Which set of keys do you most reach for; rotor- or fixedwing?

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Hello all,

I guess this question is a bit hard to answer, as I'm not sure where
I'm going with this myself.

I'm currently planning towards getting a private pilot license. I
always just assumed that this would be for fixed-wing planes, because
that is what all pilots I know are flying.

I'm seeing someone, and our families live in different parts of
northern Europe. Using a light plane for transportation to family
visits etc. seemed like a good external justification for getting a
license & plane. After a bit of research, and the opening of all these
new low-cost airlines, it's clear that we won't really use our own
plane for transportation.

On the other hand, a helicopter looks like a great hobby item and a
great match for impromptu weekend trips when the weather is just
right. In terms of capital cost, a R44 isn't that far removed from a
Diamond DA-40, which I was thinking about acquiring before.

I cannot simply go test both options and see what I like the most, at
least not just now. I'm working abroad, and there are no flight
schools / rentals of DA-40 / SR20 / R44 nearby.

So I guess my question is this: To those who have flown both rotorwing
and fixed wing; which set of keys do you reach for more often for
hobbyist use, rotor- or fixedwing?

Jesper Mortensen

-- Jesper Mortensen, February 25, 2008


I'm just back from a two-week trip to the Bahamas, having started in Boston. I think it was about 2500 nautical miles total and there were a lot of headwinds plus some water crossings. Definitely the Cirrus SR20 was a better machine than the R44!

For goofing around on weekends and having fun with friends, the R44 is much better, especially if you can find some off-airport places to land.

A light airplane is almost useless for transportation unless you have a pretty high level of skill, including an instrument rating, and pretty good weather (e.g., no icing).

-- Philip Greenspun, March 4, 2008

I have both ratings and end up flying airplanes a lot more because of the rental availability in my part of the world (New York). I belong to a flying club where I can get an Arrow for the whole weekend for just tach time, and the R22s for rent in the area tend to be booked solid or not insured for rental (esp. w/pax). If you have the means to acquire your own ship, that changes the game a lot. Personally, I enjoy flying rotor more, but I've found the plane to be more useful (especially considering the useful load of the Arrow versus the R22 - of course an R44 would be different).


-- John Merryman, April 7, 2008

Not sure if the question is still apposite, but I'll take a mo to respond just in case. The universe has smiled on me sufficiently that I have a R22 on my front lawn, and a Harmon Rocket (a 200 knot taildragger) hangared on a private grass strip half a mile from my house....as well as an Aztec, an RV4, and a few other machines. One point that I have seen Phil make repeatedly is that light aircraft are unreliable transportation, and I would agree....except that I think Phil's position slightly overstates the point, while nonethless being very sensible. Sometimes the airlines are definitely the way to go, and even with my collection, if I have a serious business meeting, I'll usually go by the airlines, even though I loathe everything about airline travel. In my opinion, if you take the time and effort - ie get OBSESSED, practice for years and years, read aviation literature constantly, and honour the rules of physics, I think you can count on a reasonable degree of reliability using any kind of private aircraft as transport. There are a lot of inviolable rules though - one of the most important being a personal commitment to never fall prey to "get-there-itis". This means, whenever you're flying yourself to a destination, and particularly with passengers on board, who may (will!) have a different picture of the risk profile, you gotta warn all concerned that you can, might and if necessary WILL can the flight at any stage if any safety concerns show up. This is most often cos of weather. Now that all said, I'm not really answering the question - which set of keys do I reach for for HOBBYIST, not transport use? The answer is, well, 50/50. What's most fun, a helicopter, or a high performance aerobatic taildragger? Um. Depends on my mood, on the day. A local sightseeing flight, with a friend? The R22. Solo aerobatics? The Rocket. Serious X/C? The twin. If I could only have ONE aircraft, it would be a fast fixed wing, but I'd miss my heli. Helis have a special kind of magic to them...but in my opinion, as an obsessed 'hobbyist', they're very, very interesting to learn to fly, but can be a teeny bit boring on long flights. They are, however, perfect for really bad weather, in that, with appropriate constraints, you can always land if the weather gets too bad, so if you're obsessed enough, you can fly a LONG way, even in a 22. A fixed wing aircraft gives you a lot less options in that regard.

With the budget you're talking about, though, I note that you could afford BOTH a used R22 AND a simple, used, fixed wing aircraft, like a Cessna 150 or, ideally, a Citabria or other aerobatic taildragger. Admittedly you'd have double the maintenance issues, although you'd probably get both in one hangar....and you'd have the best of both worlds. On the odd occasion you need to fly with more than 2 people, you could rent a 4-seater, once you were current and trained in it. With a beautifully engineered helicopter like the R22, and a nice taildragger, of course, you'd be able to answer your own question. Which set of keys do you reach for? Try it, and you can tell US :)

Best of luck.

-- Michael Diamond, September 14, 2008