Boys and girls alike grow up with the dream of flying high in the air, far above civilization, without a care in the world. While most give up on that dream by adulthood, local residents with passion, and some spare change, can see it to fruition through a company in their own backyard.
Located at the Elkin Airport off of CC Camp Road, Hi-Tech Helicopters, Inc. offers flight training, sightseeing rides and tours, aerial photography and Enstrom Aircraft sales.
Leading students on their journey, Certified Flight Instructor Mario Regtien received his license after fulfilling a life-long dream to become a pilot. “I always wanted to fly helicopters, but the price was too much for me when I was younger,” Regtien said. “After working for a while, I was finally able to get my pilot’s license.”
Originally from Amsterdam, Netherlands, Regtien earned a university degree and began teaching physical education in the Caribbean. After living in different U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Regtien was finally able to make his dream of becoming a pilot a reality, and now offers instruction to those who share his passion.
“First we start with a pre-flight class,” said Regtien as he explained the steps to becoming a pilot. The first lesson starts with basic instruction that is not only essential to learn, but critical for safety.
“We use what is called a freeway exchange of controls,” said Regtien. “That means I say, ‘you have the controls’ and you repeat back to me, ‘I have the controls.’” This mode of communication allows both the pilot and co-pilot to know that the message was received and understood. “We do this because we don’t want one of us to think the other has the control and then neither does.”
Next Regtien explained the inner-workings of the flight controls in relation to the helicopter design. “There is a disc on top where the blades are,” said Regtien. “The joystick is actually called a cyclic and it moves the disc. It’s what does 90 percent of your flying and makes you go faster or slower. The pedals at the bottom control the rear rotor, the throttle raises you up and down.”
After the initial instruction, Regtien is ready to lead his student to the helicopter and prepare for their initial flight. Before the student gets in the helicopter, Regtien carefully observes and tests every component to make sure it is in pristine working condition. “Usually this could take an hour for a new student but you get a little quicker the more you do it,” said Regtien as he pulled on the blades, ran his hand over the engine belts and poked and prodded every component he could reach.
As he prepared to enter the helicopter, more safety instruction was given including: do not reach outside of the helicopter and wait until he clears the helicopter for exit before leaving the cockpit. “It is important to keep everything inside the helicopter because, while it may feel like we’re not moving fast, it can be going 100 mph,” said Regtien.
During summer months, Regtien explained that they’ll often ride with the doors off of the helicopter due to the extreme heat while sitting in a vehicle that is mostly windshield. “Sometimes people are afraid they’ll fall out but I explain that the helicopter is hard enough to get out of on the ground,” said Regtien. “You’re very safe in the air.”
As the helicopter lifts off the ground, Regtien radios Elkin Airport to make them aware of his flight. “We don’t need the landing strip, but we’ll go up that way,” explained Regtien as he flew the length of the runway. The helicopter quickly made an ascent as Regtien maneuvered the pedals and adjusted the cycling to fly the helicopter in circles at more than 2,000 feet above sea level.
During flight lessons, Regtien uses the freeway communication to let his student know that they will be controlling the helicopter. “Put just your fingertips on the cyclic so you can feel how responsive it is and go to the left a little,” said Regtien as he passes the control to his student.
After practicing basic maneuvering, Regtien flies back to the airport and hovers just above the ground. “Flying at speed is much easier, hovering is harder and takes about 10 to 15 hours of training to learn,” said Regtien.
The coordination necessary for hovering requires the pilot to minutely adjust the pedals and cyclic in unison to hold the helicopter steady.
Once the about 30-minute flight session has concluded, Regtien returns to the airport for a debriefing with his student.
The helicopter used for training at Hi-Tech Helicopters is ideal, according to Regtien. The design of the Schweizer helicopter was originally made for army training and contains safety gear that is essential to new flyers.
“It is by far the safest training helicopter,” said Sandy Shore, fixed-base operator for Elkin Airport, pointing out that it has shock dampers to prevent damage from a hard landing.
The helicopter’s parts also are changed frequently as required by annual maintenance. “It costs 15 grand per blade,” said Shore. “And those have to be replaced every 5,000 hours. The engine is every 1,500.”
While the cost may seem expensive, maintaining a safe flying device and proper instruction is the priority. “Our primary focus is safety,” said Shore. “Right there next to it is making sure that everyone has a good time.”
Hi-Tech Helicopters operates out of Elkin Municipal Airport and Poconos Mountains Municipal Airport in Pennsylvania. For more information about flight lessons or other services offered, visit hitechhelicopters.net or call 336-366-3563, or email email@example.com.