Posted 4 years 356 days ago ago by Randy Mains
About a year ago a pilot attending one of my 5-day CRM Instructor courses asked me, “Have you seen this?” He played a YouTube clip that made my blood turn to ice. Michael Farikh, a highly respected Russian pilot who accomplished many great things for civilian helicopter aviation in his country, posted it. One article published just after his death called Farikh “The godfather of Russian helicopter aviation.”
The clip the person showed me was entitled “Pilot Flies Helicopter into Clouds.” Farikh posted several similar clips, “Whiteout—What’s That?” and “Human Limitations—IMC Auto,” all equally chilling to me.
In the initial clip, “Pilot Flies Helicopter into Clouds,” Farikh purposefully enters IMC conditions in a Robinson then covers up some of his flight instruments until he’s flying on partial panel. I witnessed very experienced ATP pilots lose spatial orientation in similar conditions in the Level-D simulator I operated in Dubai. That is why while watching Farikh’s videos I could not suppress a deep sense of dark foreboding.
In 2016, Farikh tragically lost his life while on an Arctic expedition piloting an R66 when he crashed into terrain during severe IMC conditions. The report stated that Farikh set off in a three-ship formation. The other two aircraft diverted to Sabetta while Farikh continued on to check the landing zone for visibility.
Given all his vast accomplishments, and there are many, Farikh had to be an influential role model; a man who served as an example to other helicopter pilots who possibly wanted to be just like him.
When I commented on this IMC video on my professional Facebook page, I received a direct message from the director of flight safety for Robinson Helicopters, Bob Muse. He gave me his phone number and we had a congenial half-hour chat. He told me, “Michael was “a really really great guy. If you’d met him, I know you would have liked him.”
“Perhaps,” I replied. “But it’s been my experience being a really great guy and being a safe pilot doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Farikh’s video clips concern me greatly because other pilots may look at them and say ‘I think I’ll try that’”.
Bob replied, “Yeah, I asked Michael to take them down. But he didn’t.”
There is no shortage of people “GoPro-ing” themselves into Darwin Award territory. The Darwin Award is defined as, “An award bestowed on people who have done something to either sterilize themselves or kill themselves thus ensuring that the genes responsible for allowing them to commit the unsafe act in the first place are taken out of the gene pool thus benefiting all mankind.”
Darwin Awards are not specific to occupation, gender, race, nationality, or creed. All one needs to enter the competition is an innate blindness to see what will be the consequences of your actions. One could rightly say that folly knows no prejudice.
There seems to be stiff competition for the Darwin Award in helicopter aviation these days. For reasons I cannot fathom, pilots think it is totally cool to “GoPro” themselves into Darwinian territory. In aviation, these folks are often referred to as “cowboys.” In many cases, they knowingly fly into full-on IMC conditions, seemingly unaware that they could very quickly lose it and thus receive their Darwin Award grave marker.
I am appalled at the sense of invulnerability; lack of respect for rules, regulations, and SOPs when I see these Darwinians knowingly fly a non-IFR certified aircraft into known IMC conditions and by their actions, they are seemingly proud about it. Let me offer a news flash to those who think this is a cool thing to do: Your actions are unprofessional and impress no one, least of all the people flying with you.
One clip on YouTube shows an R44 scud running at about 100 feet in really crappy weather. You can hear the instructor say, “We’re beginning to lose visibility, man.”
At one point the student (finally) says to the instructor “This is very uncomfortable now.”
During most of their flight, the danger of flying into a tower or power lines made me literally squirm in my seat. Trees were passing by at nearly their level as they flew parallel to a road while flying between high ground on either side of their flight path.
The two men were not oblivious to the hazards because throughout the clip you can hear them talking, identifying power lines, “Cable that way…. powerline over there … Oh, s---t, it’s right there!” At one point the student says, “Ahhh, let’s go back.” But they don’t. To my amazement they continue.
The instructor is heard saying toward the end of the 12-minute video with a “macho” tone in his voice, “My life is so mundane, they (my friends) think I’m partying all the time. They should just put a camera on me (to show them my life is not mundane.)”
What your actions show, Wild Bill, is that you’re dangerous, unprofessional, and a prime candidate for a Darwin Award. We can only hope if you kill yourself, you don’t take anyone with you.
Fortunately, there was not one positive comment from those who viewed this video, which is heartening to me for it shows that the vast majority of pilots out there do not condone it.
The person who posted the clip must have read all the unflattering comments as well because a few days later the clip was deleted from his YouTube channel.
What I hope is that this young man learned a lesson; that his behavior was egregiously dangerous, unprofessional, foolhardy, and totally unacceptable in the eyes of his peers. He was definitely not being a good mentor to his student that day. In fact, he was quite the opposite.
A role model should continually ask: Are my actions or inactions safe or unsafe? Am I passing along the Darwinian gene to those whom I might influence? That, my fellow professionals, is the million-dollar question.
About the Author:
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].