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Smarter Every Day

Watch: Here's Why Hovering a Helicopter Is Hilariously Hard

BEC CREW
27 NOVEMBER 2015

One of Destin from Smarter Every Day's favourite sayings is "Knowledge is not understanding". Just because you know in theory how to do something, like ride a bicycle backwards, doesn't mean you can actually pull it off when you get behind the wheel. Case in point: it doesn't matter how much knowledge you have about the physics of helicopters, it's a whole other story if you want to actually drive one. And hovering one in place? Well, that's one of the hardest things you can do when it comes to these tricky vehicles. Here's how it's done.

 

First off, if you want to learn how to hover a helicopter, you're going to have to overcome your urge to commit pilot induced oscillation, which basically means constantly freaking out and over-controlling the vehicle to make the whole thing wobble. You actually have to be super chill to drive a helicopter - slow, delicate movements keep the whole thing stablised. In the video above, you'll see the helicopter pilots are barely moving a muscle while they fly.

The secret to flying a helicopter, and then figuring out how to keep one hovering in the one spot, is understanding how a bunch of different controls interact with each other. It's the same concept as those crazy kids who know how to solve a Rubik's cube in a few seconds flat - they just look at it, and something in their brains just clicks and they know how to solve it, they just have to get their fingers to move quick enough.

"If you think about it, every time you change something on a Rubik's cube, multiple inputs are changing all over the thing. It's a whole system," says Destin. "That's the way helicopters work - you have to come up with the most efficient and effective solution instantly to arrive at that perfect solution right off the bat."

The first part of understanding how to drive a helicopter is knowing what the three main controls do. You've got collective, which is the power you're applying to the rotor blades; pedals, which help to balance out the torque on the body of the aircraft; and cyclic, which is able to move the rotors independently of each other for more control. Each of these plays a crucial role in how a helicopter can be maneuvred through all the competing airflows around the craft.

So with that knowledge, let's see how Destin carries out his understanding of that in his helicopter lessons. Watch the latest episode of Smarter Every Day above to find out which takes more brain power, according to a helicopter pilot: hovering, or solving that confounding cube of many colours.