What’s it’s like to fly an 11,500-pound experimental helicopter (with zero experience)

We’re hovering over the tarmac in a large helicopter. Mark Ward, a former commander in the Coast Guard, is on my left, giving me a brief, real-time lesson in how to fly a chopper?a 5.8-ton, multi-million-dollar flying machine that, incredibly, I get to operate the old-fashioned way.

It’s early September, and the treeline along the Housatonic River by the flight field in Stratford, Connecticut, is still green. The cockpit holds a wealth of screens, switches, buttons, and gauges, but I only need to focus on three key controls: the rudder pedals at my feet, a lever called the collective to my left, and a stick known as the cyclic between my knees.

Those are the basic controls that any helicopter pilot must master, and I?m certainly no pilot. But Ward is. He flew search and rescue HH-60J helicopters before joining Sikorsky, the company that makes the experimental, highly-customized chopper that?s letting us defy gravity right now.