© 2016 Wilson

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Details about the helicopter

I have access to a Robinson R66 helicopter, which uses readily available Jet A1 fuel and operates easily to 10,000 feet above sea level.  I have flown Robinson helicopters since 1998.  I type rated on the R66 in 2014 and train others to fly it.  In 2015 I set about exploring the R66’s capability and limits.  I do not have an instrument rating and I conduct all the flying under VFR (Visual Flying Rules).

The R66 is a great machine when flown loaded.  I plan for an average of 100 knots ground speed.  Then I fly about 62% Torque or up to 110 knots as the fuel burns off, and as long as it is smooth.  The R66 doesn’t like turbulence and I experienced thermal turbulence in the hot, arid countries.  Of course, the R66 can go faster, but I wanted to reduce the wear and tear and bring the helicopter home inexpensively!

For Africa I practised to get single pilot operation slick.  After discussion with other pilots, I developed solutions to reduce problems in the cockpit.  I mounted all my navigation and camera equipment around me for left-hand operation.  I wore all my beacons.  The helicopter I was using had the usual selection of analogue instruments and a Garmin 420.  I added software on my iPad and a Garmin 795, which is more resilient to harsh, sunny conditions.

The critical bit of equipment was my Delorme tracker & texting beacon using the Iridium network.  This I use for flight following, my first point of search and rescue should I need it, and en-route weather and communications with my handlers.  I establish positive two-way communications before I lift for every flight.

I conduct all activities with the correct clearances, skills training, licences and safety equipment in place.  My equipment includes a Spinlock lifejacket, Typhoon dry suit, Revere Aero Compact 2-man Lift raft, gloves & hood, Ocean Signal PLB1 and EPERB1, Electronic flares, waterproof case for my iPhone, a grab bag with survival essentials, and a basic tool and spares kit.

I operate all flights within a well-prepared Search And Rescue protocol through my 24/7-support with GASE.

In South Africa, I designed a simple, inexpensive sun visor for the trip north back across the Sahara.

As a result of my brownout experience flying between Tamanrasset, Algeria and Agadez, Niger in the Sahara Desert, I made two significant changes for the round the world flight:  I recruited a co-pilot and installed a two-axis autopilot with sponsorship support from Genesys.  This helped significantly to reduce my workload.  So much so, that I am happy to return to single pilot operation for South America using the autopilot.

I also designed brackets to hold equipment to replace the suckers I used in Africa, which ping off at altitude at the most inopportune moment!  I migrated to an Iridium I-GO with WIFI connection to my iPhone, which is Bluetooth connected to the Bose headsets.  This meant I had Satphone connection for the ‘Operations Normal’ calls in Taiwan, Russia and Greenland.  And finally, I had a small cover designed for the tail rotor pinch links, which helped greatly to reduce exposure to dusty conditions.