Flight Instructor Fishbreath: The Kamov Ka-50

My old college pal and sometimes wingman John (a.k.a parvusimperator from Vanguard, or from the Warthog aircraft review) has had DCS: A-10C since, I believe, well before I bought DCS: Black Shark 2. Once I had the Ka-50 in my hangar, we began a sort of cold war, each of us waiting for the other to flinch and buy the other platform so we could do same-aircraft multiplayer. Well, I’m pleased to announce that he cracked first, and has become the proud owner of a Ka-50 to go along with mine.

Rather than learn as I did, by finding the very few Youtube videos on advanced Ka-50 combat employment and reading the manual’s occasionally (read: frequently) confusing descriptions of complicated procedures, he decided to accept my generous offer of flight instruction (half-delivered in a Russian accent). These are my notes on my curriculum and his progress, which may or may not be entertaining or useful. The student may be in to offer his thoughts at some point.

Since John can’t count any helicopter experience among his flight sim or real flight time, I decided we would start with a cockpit tour, a cold start, and some free flight. The cockpit tour got off to very much the start I expected, as the Warthog-acclimated John asked all the usual questions: “What’s this 1970s TV screen doing in my cockpit? Why are there all these switches? Why are there gauges and indicator lights over my head? This is claustrophobic. How do you see out of this thing?” After he ran out of things to gripe about, we went around the cockpit, and I pointed out handy things like the targeting control panel, the Shkval targeting system (the 1970s TV) and the ABRIS moving map system, the navigation, autopilot, and datalink panels, and a few of the switches we’d need for an engine start.

Speaking of, that’s where we went next. The Ka-50 is not a complicated aircraft to start—hydraulics, batteries, the APU, engines, generators, and power switches on a few avionics panels. The inertial navigation unit, which on the A-10 constitutes five minutes of waiting during startup, needs only to be powered on in the Ka-50; since it’s updated by the satellite navigation system, it can be instantly updated when airborne, and isn’t necessary for the minute or two a good GLONASS fix takes.

With the rotors turning all proper-like, I took off, gave John some pointers on how to get off the ground safely (add a little forward cyclic, since the neutral stick position on the ground yields backwards flight in the air), and watched. Unfortunately, this first takeoff was not wholly successful. John got stuck in an overcorrect cycle, backwards and forwards, until he whacked the tail on the ground and ended up leaving it there. Fortunately, I had guessed something of the sort might happen, and John moved to the next helicopter lined up on the ramp, whose engines were already turning. This second attempt proved a little more successful: John took off, and we went over some helicopter basic flight maneuvers.

This is where I’ll have to digress to talk about the Ka-50’s autopilot. It starts with everything off: there are no computer inputs at all, neither for control dampening nor for actual flight control. This mode—or rather, lack of any mode—is interesting from a wow-this-is-not-a-stable-helicopter perspective, but it isn’t useful as a flight training tool. Instead, we started with flight director mode, which, when enabled along with the pitch, bank, and yaw autopilot channels, provides stability enhancement but doesn’t add attitude changes of its own. As such, it represents the way the helicopter handles when you’re flying it by hand, or when you’re in between attitudes when the autopilot is engaged.

John took to it fairly quickly, after we covered the basic fact that helicopters move in the direction you move the stick at low speeds, and fly not entirely unlike airplanes at high speeds. We also discussed vortex ring state, a helicopter hazard encountered when an inattentive pilot descends into his own rotor downwash (the helicopter may be climbing relative to the air, you see, but the air is moving down very quickly). We had a little jaunt around the airfield, and then returned for a landing, during which there was no crashing! John developed a bit of fondness for the Ka-50, particularly its agility and light control responses. Little did he know that the autopilot would prove his greatest foe yet.