Vertical Takeoff to a Hover - Helicopter Flight Maneuvers

A vertical takeoff to a hover involves flying the helicopter from the ground vertically to a skid height of two to three feet, while maintaining a constant heading. Once the desired skid height is achieved, the helicopter should remain nearly motionless over a reference point at a constant altitude and on a constant heading. The maneuver requires a high degree of concentration and coordination.


The pilot on the controls needs to clear the area left, right, and above to perform a vertical takeoff to a hover. The pilot should remain focused outside the aircraft and obtain clearance to take off from the controlling tower. If necessary, the pilot who is not on the controls assists in clearing the aircraft and provides adequate warning of any obstacles and any unannounced or unusual drift/altitude changes.

Heading control, direction of turn, and rate of turn at hover are all controlled by using the pedals. Hover height, rate of ascent, and the rate of descent are controlled by using the collective. Helicopter position and the direction of travel are controlled by the cyclic.

After receiving the proper clearance and ensuring that the area is clear of obstacles and traffic, begin the maneuver with the collective in the down position and the cyclic in a neutral position, or slightly into the wind. Very slowly increase the collective until the helicopter becomes light on the skids or wheels. At the same time apply pressure and counter pressure on the pedals to ensure the heading remains constant. Continue to apply pedals as necessary to maintain heading and coordinate the cyclic for a vertical ascent. As the helicopter slowly leaves the ground, check for proper attitude control response and helicopter center of gravity. A slow ascent will allow stopping if responses are outside the normal parameters indicating hung or entangled landing gear, center of gravity problems, or control issues. If a roll or tilt begin, decrease the collective and determine the cause of the roll or tilt. Upon reaching the desired hover altitude, adjust the flight controls as necessary to maintain position over the intended hover area. Student pilots should be reminded that while at a hover, the helicopter is rarely ever level. Helicopters usually hover left side low due to the tail rotor thrust being counteracted by the main rotor tilt. A nose low or high condition is generally caused by loading. Once stabilized, check the engine instruments and note the power required to hover.

Excessive movement of any flight control requires a change in the other flight controls. For example, if the helicopter drifts to one side while hovering, the pilot naturally moves the cyclic in the opposite direction. When this is done, part of the vertical thrust is diverted, resulting in a loss of altitude. To maintain altitude, increase the collective. This increases drag on the blades and tends to slow them down. To counteract the drag and maintain rpm, increase the throttle. Increased throttle means increased torque, so the pilot must add more pedal pressure to maintain the heading. This can easily lead to overcontrolling the helicopter. However, as level of proficiency increases, problems associated with overcontrolling decrease. Helicopter controls are usually more driven by pressure than by gross control movements.

Common Errors

  1. Failing to ascend vertically as the helicopter becomes airborne.
  2. Pulling excessive collective to become airborne, causing the helicopter to gain too much altitude.
  3. Overcontrolling the antitorque pedals, which not only changes the heading of the helicopter, but also changes the rpm.
  4. Reducing throttle rapidly in situations in which proper rpm has been exceeded, usually resulting in exaggerated heading changes and loss of lift, resulting in loss of altitude.
  5. Failing to ascend slowly.