Helicopter Flight Training Sponsors
Sep
11
2015

The Unexpected

Posted 4 years 161 days ago ago by FrancisMeyrick     1 Comments
FrancisMeyrick

    In the fluid, endlessly fascinating world of helicopter flying, the Unexpected can come calling at the oddest times.  Months, even years of relative routine may slip harmlessly by. But you never know when to expect that soft, unassuming knock on your door. It may be soft. But the subsequent detonation of sensory input is often anything but. That incipient, meek tap occasionally heralds in an explosive crisis that starts unfolding far faster than words can begin to describe it. The famous “Oh, shit!” moments helicopter pilots talk about afterwards, over a quiet beer, where even the expletive dies, stillborn, on your lips. You literally don’t have time to vent your feelings. It all happens so fast.

It is in moments like these, where lightning fast reactions, and good training, literally spell the difference between life and death, that we find the Genesis of future, older helicopter pilots. The stable flying types, soft spoken, infinitely cautious, who adopt a very conservative flight profile. Who fly, prudently, way inside the box. No adventures, no experimenting, no exuberant skimming along ridge lines, or low level beat ups. Been there, done that, and, in my case, inverted in a Christen Eagle at not-a-lot of feet, and a hundred and thirty knots, I’ve had the map escape the stowed position. And spontaneously unfold itself, right in my face.  What was the probability of that? Pretty high, seemingly. I never, ever, pulled that little stunt again.

Safety for a new pilot, is more of a theoretical concept. Theory, mixed with ritual, with a sprinkle of experience.  Safety for a high time pilot is a quiet obsession. Behind the bon-homie, the good cheer and the banter, you will likely find an individual who, if he so choose to do so, could tell you many a learning story. And if you check his eyes as he is recounting the road he has travelled, you will sense a sometimes faraway look, as if he is reliving some past horror.       Often, believe me, he is.

*                *                *                   *                   *

     Thus I arrived at the airport very early on a beautiful Arizona weekend morning. Not a cloud in the sky. Peaceful, quiet, no traffic on the roads, not a peep out of even the coyotes. I had a mission to fly, but it was a non-urgent, get-here-early but-when-you-can sort of deal. I took my time, pulled the girl out of the hangar, pre-flighted leisurely, in no rush. My darling was always parked on a dolly, and we pulled the ensemble out with a tired old camouflage green ATV. Here they are:


In the fullness of time, I climbed up, strapped myself in, and lit the fire. Ran the checklist, all just fine and routine, and made a radio announcement.

“ X-X-X Traffic, Helicopter Air One lifting Sheriff’s Hangar, departure to the South!”

There was no reply.  Hey, I didn’t expect one that early on a weekend morning, and I had seen no movement of any kind. Lifted off, checked controls responding normally, gauges in the green, lights out, happiness…

And moved forwards. All good, all routine. Done it hundreds of times, right there, right off that same stretch of concrete.  

Ho-hum…

Accelerating through translational lift…

A shadow appeared above and to the right. Closing. Fast.

ALARM!! ALARM!! ALARM!!

Whammo. That knock on the door. Fate has come calling…

Cyclic hard left. Hard, hard left. Rolling, rolling. Low level. Eyes bulging. Suspension lines, a cradle. A man sitting in it, mouth open, helpless horror etched all over his face.  More left cyclic.

How high am I? Twenty feet? What angle of bank is this? Sixty degrees?

It was over, before it started. I was climbing away from a landing POWERED HANG GLIDER. Now I was orbiting above, looking down on him, and SHAKING LIKE A LEAF.

*                *                *                   *                   *

A pilot witness (there’s always one, at an airport, even at the most ungodly hours) subsequently told the Airport Manager he thought the helicopter was going to “cream in” (sic).  He was amazed I avoided the paraglider, and avoided a crash. I don’t know how high my rotor tips flew above the concrete, but cranked over like that, at such an extreme angle of bank, that low, it wasn’t much.  

What had happened?
A loveable elderly gentleman, sporty type, my kind of hero, in his late sixties if I remember, had fallen into the habit of going for a jolly in his (non-radio) powered hang glider if the weather was really calm. He liked to go real early in the morning. He had also discovered this real nice, open stretch of concrete. Right outside the Sheriff’s hangar.  He liked that, because he could dispense with using the runway, and having to maybe mix it with other aircraft. So that stretch of ramp had become his personal aircraft carrier. What a good idea. I didn’t even know he existed. I had never seen him at play.  Last thing I expected.
On the morning in question, he was busy landing back onto his personal aircraft carrier, way-hay, but he was blinded, landing into the morning sun. That part checked out, he was indeed. He simply did not see that he was about to land on top of a running helicopter, parked on a dolly, pulled by an ATV. He was continuing to land.  Yippee!

From the nano split second I saw his face, and the absolute horror etched thereon, I can vouch for the fact that he saw Spinning Death coming-scything right at him.

I never even saw the canopy. All I saw was a sequence: shadow-(huh?)- suspension lines –cradle -FACE- HORROR.
 

(Oh, and “ground”, from a very unusual angle.)

I most definitely did not have time for a heartfelt expletive.

*                *                *                   *                   *

It is conceivable, that one day, you might fly with me.  Maybe, before take-off, you will see my head craning around like a madman. As if I’m testing my vertebrae.

My neck tendons. Performing some off-the-wall circus cranial dexterity trick.  

Nope.

I’m looking for trouble. Believe me.

In the fluid, endlessly fascinating world of helicopter flying, the Unexpected can come calling at the oddest times.  Months, even years of relative routine may slip harmlessly by. But you never know when to expect that soft, unassuming knock on your door. It may be soft. But the subsequent detonation of sensory input is often anything but. That incipient, meek tap occasionally heralds in an explosive crisis that starts unfolding far faster than words can begin to describe it. The famous “Oh, shit!” moments helicopter pilots talk about afterwards, over a quiet beer, where even the expletive dies, stillborn, on your lips. You literally don’t have time to vent your feelings. It all happens so fast.

Who said that?

Must have been an old pilot.

A Little About Moggy  - Francis ‘Moggy’ Meyrick (www.chopperstories.com) admits to not being terribly bright, but he did first grace the skies (more or less) totally on his own some forty-five years ago. He is rumored to have solemnly intoned these memorable words on the downwind leg. “Holy Molly McBride!  NOW what have I done…?” He is working dutifully on his eighty-sixth incarnation (he does, admittedly, get sent back a lot – for another try) , and he describes himself as a ‘chopper jockey’. He says it’s basically a case of a nut, hanging under a nut. (BIG nut, though).  Compared to trying to attain Wisdom (he was a Buddhist monk once) (before he got demoted to galley hand), he reckons it beats working for a living.  It ranks right up there with being a happy penguin, and spending all day sliding down icy slopes. Moggy loves spinning a good yarn, and his greatest reward is simply your enjoyment. His many friends caution you he does tend to tell his bar stories with verve and gusto, and much arm waving, so you are advised to move your pints and other drinks safely out of his way. Peace. Got a pickle sandwich? -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






1 Comments



You need to login to comment.
  • aeroscout 4 years 158 days ago
    Sometimes the unexpected is very predictable. A helicopter pilot will never buy you a beer. A ditch in Louisiana will never by empty of helicopter pilots. A helicopter pilot will never put a dollar in the plate, because he will never be in church on sunday. If any of those things ever happened, it would be totally unexpected. A helicopter pilot will never be the first to leave once last call for alcohol is announced. A helicopter pilot will never have any appreciable standards for a one night stand. A helicopter pilot will always be shocked when the doc has to tell them again they have another different STD. They will even be shocked if it's the same one they had several times before. If any of these things didn't happen that way, it would be very unexpected. A helicopter pilot will never have a small watch, or a small coffee mug when there's free coffee. A helicopter pilot will never look straight ahead if someone to the side yells..."Hey good looking". I would love to expect any of that to happen, but I'm not expecting it. In that case it's the most unexpected to expect the unexpected.