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Operation Tiramisu

My buddy Gabor dropped by my cube late one morning.

"Hey, Gabor, what's up?"

"Operation Tiramisu. Have you had lunch?" he asked.

Actually, I'd just inhaled a sandwich at my desk, but I was intrigued.

"I just ate. Does Operation Tiramisu involve flying?" I asked.

"Of course," he answered.

I glanced at the emails on my screen that needed responses. They could wait.

"OK, you've talked me into it," I told him and we headed off to nearby San Carlos airport where he keeps his helicopter.

For all the flying I'd done in airplanes, I'd never been in a helicopter before. This was going to be fun! As he began the pre-flight, Gabor handed me a handsome, laminated passenger briefing card he'd prepared covering the FAA-mandated items and other useful information about his Enstrom 280FX helicopter. When he was finished, he went over it with me.

"This is a good idea," I told him. "I'll have to consider making something like this for my club's airplanes."

The short hop over to the coast was much as it would be in an airplane, but lower, slower, and with a spectacular view downward through the large bubble window.

"Wow, can't beat the view," I commented. Gabor smiled.

When we arrived at Half Moon Bay, he flew a regular traffic pattern like an airplane, but the similarity ended on short final for runway 30, when he broke off into a hover taxi toward an open field at the South end of the airport. He slowly backed the helicopter into his chosen parking spot and gently set her down.

"Sweet!" I commented as we waited for the engine to cool enough to shut down and for the rotor to come to a stop before getting out. We walked a few hundred feet to Mezza Luna restaurant. After a quick look at the menu, Gabor ordered his lunch entree to go.

"And two orders of tiramisu, please," I added.

"Coming right up," the waiter said. Gabor and I sat in the waiting area swapping flying stories until our order was ready.

On our return flight Gabor asked, "You want to try your hand at the controls?"

"Of course!" I answered. He let me take the cyclic and anti-torque pedals—but wisely kept the collective and throttle to himself.

"Turns are all cyclic," he explained. "Unlike an airplane, you only need the pedals when speeding up or slowing down."

I tried a couple of turns left and right. He explained that level turns require moving the cyclic in a kind of skewed oval pattern to compensate for the rotor's gyroscopic effect. He had me try accelerating and decelerating, using the pedals to keep the nose pointed straight.

"Not bad," Gabor said. I got to play through most of our descent into San Carlos until we were ready to enter the pattern.

As we turned final, Gabor asked, "Want to see an autorotation?"

"Uh, no, that's OK," I answered nervously.

"Well, not all the way down!" he said.

"Um, OK, sure—go ahead," I said, curiosity getting the better of apprehension.

Gabor cut power, pitched up, lowered the collective, and we started down. I noticed that the rotor RPM was smack in the middle of the green arc.

"You're using a combination of cyclic and collective to keep the rotor RPM in the green?" I asked.

"Exactly," he replied. On short final, Gabor restored power and began a fast hover taxi down the runway. Just for fun, he did a beautiful quick stop to a stationary hover abeam his parking space.

"Cool!" I exclaimed. "You can't do that in an airplane."

Gabor smiled. "Nope," he said and taxied over to his tie-down spot and set down perfectly, despite the significant crosswind.

"So, did you enjoy Operation Tiramisu?" he asked.

"It was awesome—thanks! I'd read about this stuff when studying for my AGI test, but actually experiencing it makes it real."

It wasn't until late afternoon, after a flurry of meetings and emails, that I finally got a moment to sample our mission's objective: Mezza Luna's vaunted tiramisu.

As promised, it was excellent.

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