Pilot flies chopper ‘like a magic carpet’

Soaring hundreds of feet above San Carlos in an aerobatic helicopter, my feet are where my head should be, and my stomach is somewhere near my feet.

Doing flips in the chopper, the world is a blur of trees, tiny houses and open sky.

For a woman who gets dizzy on hotel balconies, this is a huge step. But despite my personal victory, my professionalism seems to have taken flight when I did. I’m clutching my notebook, but all note-taking has been replaced by involuntary squealing.

For pilot Chuck Aaron, the topsy-turvy maneuvers — backflips and rolls and plunging figure eights — are all in a days work.

Aaron, the only pilot licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly aerobatics in a helicopter, will delight the crowds with his moves today at the ninth annual Vertical Challenge Helicopter Air Show at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos.

But the former NASA pilot, a father of five, spent much of Friday helping reporters overcome their self-preservation instincts.

With strict instructions from my family to call them the moment I was back on terra firma, I boarded the Red Bull BO-105.

“Don’t worry,” Aaron said, smiling under his prodigious moustache. “I want to go home too.”

While the ride is like no other, the experience is no less breathtaking for those on the ground. Seeing aerobatic planes is common, as their engines help propel them while they are upside down. But helicopters lose power when their blades are beneath them.

Aaron’s helicopter is no ordinarychopper. It is specially designed with a center of gravity that helps him perform the stunts. And in the past five years, Aaron has found ways to tease aerobatics out of the helicopter that were previously unimaginable. Today, he can perform almost the entire regimen of maneuvers previously reserved for fixed-wing aircraft.

“I like the idea I can do something no one else can do,” he said. “It takes this helicopter to do this and that’s what makes it special.”

Though Aaron’s father was a military fixed-wing pilot, Aaron says he fell in love with helicopters at a young age.

“It’s like a magic carpet ride,” he said.

Today’s Vertical Challenge — the largest helicopter air show in the United States — is expected to draw thousands of spectators to San Carlos. In addition to Aaron’s performance, the show will feature helicopter lessons, demonstrations from sheriff’s and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters, hovercraft, a crop-dusting demonstration and sky divers.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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