Converting to the R44 helicopter

As you may remember from my post about learning to fly a helicopter, I’ve devoted quite a bit of time this summer to converting from the two-seat Robinson R22 helicopter on which I did my initial training to the four-seat version, the R44. I passed my R44 type rating skills test this week (HURRAH!) and a few people have asked me if I’d write a post about the type rating course, so here it is! I’ll try to keep it short and not to make it too techy for those readers who are less interested in such things.


What does the R44 type rating course involve?

Briefly, the type rating course involves:

  • Minimum of 5 hours’ flight training (I ended up with 7 or 8 as there’s so much to get through that 5 hours isn’t actually enough)
  • 8 hours’ ground school (classroom-based study)
  • 1 ground exam (60 questions, multiple choice)
  • Skills test

It all sounds quite intense considering how similar the R44 is to the R22, right? I mean, my fixed wing pilot’s licence lets me fly a two-seat Cessna 152 or a four-seat 172 without having to do so much as differences training, but the world of helicopters is altogether more challenging, as I’ve certainly discovered in the 16 months since I first started training!

Differences between the R22 and R44

In addition to having the two extra seats in the back, there are a few differences to get used to between the R22 and R44 and I guess that’s why you have to do a proper type rating. The R44 is a lot more powerful, so you can climb much quicker and you have more capacity for getting out of confined areas, not to mention that you can go faster (100kts ish as a cruise speed instead of 70 ish makes a big difference on a longer journey). All this was a big motivation for converting to the R44, as although it’s more expensive, you have a lot more options. Plus I’m sure you’ll agree it looks a lot cooler arriving somewhere in one. ;-)

Left – R22. Right – R44.




There are a few different versions of the R44 and the ground school introduces you to them; some are equipped with floats for emergency water landings, for example. I did my training on a Raven II, but I had previously flown a Raven I (below) as part of my initial PPL(H) training.


The cockpit is laid out very much the same, with a few differences. For example, you start it using a button on the end of the collective rather than using the keys on the instrument panel like in the R22. The controls are hydraulically assisted, so you have a switch for that and an extra check to add to the start-up checks. There’s no carb heat to worry about in the Raven II as it’s fuel-injected, but there are a few extra warning lights associated with the fuel system.

Left – R22. Right – R44.




The flight training basically involves re-learning everything from the PPL(H) course but on this bigger and more powerful machine, from general handling to emergency procedures. The R44 is nicer and more stable to fly, but handles slightly differently and you need to know how to perform autorotations etc. An extra thing to learn is flying with a hydraulic failure, which basically makes the controls extremely heavy and you have to be able to land like this.


Skills test

The skills test is the same as the full-blown PPL(H) one except without the navigation element. You have to answer a tonne of questions about the helicopter first, which is a bit like being on Mastermind (what’s VNE? What are the rotor RPM limitations for power on and power off? What’s the fuel capacity, endurance and burn rate? What are the weight limits? Etc etc). It’s all stuff that’s in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, so I’d been reading that thoroughly during the course (the written exam paper was also based on this) and revising in the run-up to the test.


Then there’s the flying. Mine covered autorotations (into wind and downwind), practice forced landings, instrument flying, engine failure in the hover, downwind landings, vertical departure, hydraulic failure, sloping ground landing, engine off landing, precision transition and probably lots of other things that I can’t remember! And all the while you’ll get questions like “What would you do if this light came on?” It’s certainly a mental workout as much as a chance to demonstrate your flying finesse!

I’ve really loved all my training with Heli Air and I’m actually quite sad that it’s over! But now the real learning starts, flying to places on my own and having to work everything out for myself. I have all sorts of things I want to do now that I have my licence, and you’ll doubtless see them here on the blog as and when I get round to organising them. Now, I’d better get back to work to pay for all this!!

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