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[The Good Year]: Helicopter Pilot Lessons, Seriously!

Get to the choppa!
2022-08-09 12:00:00

Although we're still waiting on a few of the details to come through, Shanghai, my friends, it's pretty clear to see that the end of the world is coming. The apocalypse. The end of days. The big kahuna. Last call for human civilization. It's coming.Yes, I'm afraid the portents are quite clear and it's a cataclysmic existence ending event for the lot of us. It's true. And although we don't quite know in which form the fiery retribution will come — could be self-aware machines from the future, maybe something comet-themed, or maybe just zombies, zombies, zombies — one thing's for sure: This is happening. And SOON.

It's OVER. We've PEAKED.

For this column, so far we've had a lovely encounter with ballet and learned a great deal about drag make-up, but we haven't accrued any real bankable skills that will help us out in the New World Order.

...well, perhaps the drag make-up — that's always going to be useful.

But two weeks ago, we learned a skill that will definitely help us not become food when the Great Reckoning hits! We learned how to pilot a helicopter!

This is going to get us at least 3/4 of the way through the movie. At least.

Whether it's knowing how to swing a baseball bat with nails in the end of it really well, being able to reconstruct a power generator from scratch, or even just knowing which plants are poisonous, it's time to start up-skilling for the apocalypse.

What's your Linked-In profile for The Rapture look like?

If you want to learn how to fly a helicopter, this is how.

(But you better also learn to swing a bat with nails in the end of it really well, too. Because *I* know how to fly a helicopter. And the script... well, it doesn't call for TWO of us, now does it?)

The Program

Shanghai is home to many wondrous things, including a helicopter pilot club called Vincihub Helicopter Club out in the West Bund area. At said club, they run helicopter tours, in-house training for people looking to get their pilot licenses, and just generally hang out wearing aviator sunglasses, drinking strong coffee, and looking really alpha. It's super cool.

Taking a Helicopter Tour

If you just want to fly around in the helicopter, Vincihub does two flight tour routes, flying the two-seater Cabri G2 choppers from their helicopter pad in Qingpu. One of these is a 15- minute flight out to the Sheshan Golf Course, and you buzz around that for a bit. The other is a 20-minute flight out to the Shanghai Intercontinental Wonderland Hotel out in Songjiang — you know that hotel famous for being built in a massive gorge. You fly over that for a bit before coming back. The first is 1,999rmb and the second is 2,999rmb. You can book those online right here.

We asked if it was possible to take one of their helicopters and do a Maverick-style buzz-by roost of The Bund and they said, it IS possible, but you need approval to fly into Shanghai proper. There's some red tape and possibly lots of money leaving our bank account to make just this small pleasure happen. Alas.

Taking Pilot Training

Like getting any other vehicular driver's license, to get your helicopter pilot license you take a combination of in-class training, simulator training, and hands-on, out-there-in-the-world training. The first two of these you do at the Vincihub facility in Shanghai. After you finish those, you qualify to go up in the air at their helicopter base (!!!) just at the outskirts of Shanghai in Qingpu.

Getting your helicopter pilot license it a tiered system, wherein you do some training to qualify to take your "first flight" and then you do considerably more training, logging hours in the sky, to get your full China helicopter pilot license. Lots of hours. 60 flying hours to get your license.

Due to time and budgetary constraints, we just did the first part of the program. We trained to qualify for our first flight. It's 6,800rmb.

Basically, we were picturing a scenario in which we were trapped in a room with like 6 other survivors, the zombie hordes pounding on the door.

***Gasp*** Anyone here know how to fly a helicopter?

Yes, that would be ME.

Oh, you own a tapas restaurant? Sorry, my friend, looks like you're THE BAIT while the rest of us haul ass to the roof!

We will never forget your sacrifice. etc. etc. etc.

To qualify for your first flight, you need to take five hours of in-class helicopter pilot theory training and one hour of helicopter simulator practice. That's it? That's it!

The Training

Back to School

We did the in-class training all in one go on a sunny Saturday morning at the Vincihub facility. The classroom stuff was like... history of the helicopter, learning about the different types, learning the different parts, lots and lots of safety training, learning scenarios to avoid crashing into a hospital in a ball of fire and twisted metal — that sort of thing.

Due to Covid stuff, my instructor did the lesson via Zoom. He was very knowledgable, affable, and patient, and really got me through to the whole not dying part of the whole experience. Much to my delight. I got the impression he was some wealthy investment banker type who decided to chuck it all in and become a helicopter pilot instructor, following his dream. I'm was also there following my dream but skipped the part where I became a wealthy, successful investment banker first — sort of overachieving a bit, when you think about it.

The Simulator

The helicopter pilot simulator is a giant and super rad thing that you can get me for my next birthday. You're in this chair suspended like 5 feet above the ground with screens all around you. Lots of important science and technology simulates the actual flying circumstances of a real helicopter flight, and all the cockpit controls are recreated and represented.

Interesting fact: The modern practical helicopter was invented by Russian aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky in 1939, and in terms of physics and mechanics, it's largely unchanged to this day. There are four levers you control to pilot it. The cyclic pitch stick, in your right hand, points the nose up and down (controlling speed); the collective pitch stick in your left, makes you go up and down (altitude); your two feet are on two pedals, which control orientation on the x-axis.

From the simulator, it's kind of like controlling a go-kart in three dimensions.

In flight, it feels less like you're driving the thing than you are compensating for the outside environmental factors. It's more like surfing. Flying then becomes just trying to keep it steady in the wind, making your turns smooth, keeping your speed and altitude where they should be, and not slamming it into a UNESCO World Heritage Site or something.

The Flight

It's flight day and I'm hungover and there's electricity in the air! The fear is real, as are the feelings of dejection when the line-up of people to ride in the helicopter before me are like a group of six-year-old children who have absolutely no problems with gleefully climbing on board the Cabri G2 two-seater helicopter. The cheek.

First order of business is signing a piece of paper saying no hard feelings if they kill me. Second order of business was taking selfies with all the helicopters at the base. I have a MySpace following to think about.

The base is a heli-pad out on top of a warehouse building in Qingpu — about a 20-minute helicopter ride to the Intercontinental Hotel in Songjiang, incidentally. In a very pristine hanger where two Cabri 2 helicopters. A third was on the building roof outside. I asked how much they were in case I wanted to buy one. Someone told me a number with so many zeros on the end of it I stopped listening before they even finished.

On the ground, they have a flight technician guy who bends you over and runs you into the helicopter, blades whirling overheard, like he's evacuating you from the roof of a burning embassy.

With the helicopter flying in, it was my turn. Let's get weird! The technician turns to me and says, "You're very tall, make sure you get low."

Oh, for real? Like, so the blades don't cut my fucking head off, cheers.


The Cabri 2 helicopter is a nimble little sewing machine of death. It has two seats with identical helicopter flight controls at each. I'm flying with a professional pilot who can take over at any time, as soon as I start losing control and veering into a fireworks and gasoline factory. It's kind of like taking proper driving lessons in car where they have a hand-break on the passenger's side for the instructor.

From my training, I'm cleared to control the cyclic stick when we're already in the air and make a right turn. That's my best direction. I got a B+ in right. C- in left. Taking off and landing are still a bit tricky and I don't even want to attempt those.

So, we're in the cockpit and I've got the headphones on.

"You ready?"

Took me a second to realize the voice in my headphones was coming from the pilot. I thought GOD was talking to me.

I looked up into the sky, like "My dude, now...?"

And we're off.

The Not Dying

The Not Dying was probably the best, most fun part but the helicopter ride was super fun too. You're really out there. There's like one centimeter of glass and steel between your body and y'know... the sky. And then some minutes later, the ground. The mechanics and machinery, largely unchanged since 1939, seem really simple and thus... this doesn't seem like it would be a good idea. Doesn't seem scientifically sound. This can't really work. But it does and it's real bracing. But at the same time it's sort of dreamy and serene. Like ASMR.

So we buzzed around that hotel for a bit and then came back. I got to control the cyclic stick a bit. And then I made a rather glorious right turn. The pilot gave me a thumbs up. Which means that I'm IN.

And now I have this nifty certificate...

...and I graduated to the right sunglasses.

Come on, armageddon! I'm ready!


Here's a little video what the flight looks like. See you in the skiesssss.

Video & Photography by Alberto José García.

Want to try this out for yourself!? YOU TOO can ready yourself for the zombie apocalypse by getting your helicopter flight training with the Vincihub Helicopter Experience. SmartTicket is handling ticketing order for both the two short helicopter tours and the classes to qualify for your first flight! Click here to book your flight (or flight training) today!