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A Follow Up Email to my Listen and Learn Article

Posted 6 years 14 days ago ago by Randy Mains

I recently received an email from a Mr. Jay Humphrey, a helicopter pilot who flew combat in Afghanistan.  He wrote because he’d read my column in the March/April issue of Rotorcraft Pro Magazine entitled “Listen and Learn.”  Reading my article caused him to recall something he’d heard and then used to get himself out of a jam when he was overloaded during a combat rescue mission.  I want to pass along his technique to you as it just might come in handy for you one day.  I have used it on occasion and I can vouch for him.  It does work.

Dear Sir,

I just put down a copy of Rotorcraft Pro after reading your article, "Listen and Learn" in your My 2 cents Worth column in the March/April 2018 issue.  First I wanted to say thank you for your service to the country in Vietnam.  You guys are literally my heroes.  I learned to fly in the UH-1 at Rucker from a Viet Nam vet.  Sure he taught us the syllabus, then inevitably said, "Now let me teach you something I learned from Nam."  I listened....and I learned.  And it saved my life over again throughout my 20 year career.  Late in my career I transferred to Air Force Special Operations to fly their MH-53 Pave Low.  I never tell war stories, or project my resume to others.  But your story brought back a memory I wanted to share, knowing you would appreciate it.  

My wingman went down early in the Afghan war on a very high mountainous plateau and in a horrible snow storm.  Armed combatants were fast approaching and we hardly had visibility to see.  After a little discussion we decided to attempt a pickup.  We had to dump fuel to the minimum just to have power to facilitate the landing.  All 10 crew members and all their heavy gear made it aboard as fast movers circled overhead.  A fuel tanker was called but was still enroute.  We whited out on the landing.  We whited out again attempting to take off.  The rotors drooped at takeoff indicating what we already knew, that we were way over weight.  We stayed in a 5 foot hover, slowly moving forward trying to achieve effective translational lift.  We finally did and gained a few feet, but not enough to clear an approaching box canyon.  I was copilot and the pilot in command was flying down a ravine trying to gain airspeed and altitude.  I looked at the moving map and saw a slight low area just prior to a mountain peak we were heading for.  I recommended a sharp turn just prior to impact and we avoided hitting the mountain but not out of danger, the constant blare of low rotor was sounding and we couldn't climb flying with the rotor below the low arc.  Then I remembered something I was taught from another instructor pilot while teaching down at Rucker a few years back.  "Lower the collective slightly to allow the rotor speed to increase slightly."  Rotor management was paramount while teaching initial rotary wing students in autos, something I used daily and remembering that saying now at the precise time we needed it. The PIC was very hesitant to lower collective due to just being feet above the canyon floor.

Long story short, he did lower it briefly and then instantly pulled it back up.  It was just enough!  We got the rotor back in the green and managed a very slow climb out of it.  We linked up with the refueling tanker at the 20 min light and received fuel at 12,500 feet pressure altitude.  We eventually fell off the hose as we gained weight.  I felt compelled to write you about my brief experience in how, as in your article, "Listening and Learning" from others is probably the reason I am able to write to you today.  Yet another instructor told me early in my career, "You come into aviation with a bag of experience and a bag of luck.  It is a race to fill your bag of experience before your bag of luck runs out."  I have never forgotten that and other lessons I learned.  It is amazing how much can be gleaned from more experienced pilots, such as yourself.  Thanks for writing the article, and adding another golden nugget to my flying career.

Very Respectfully,
Jay Humphrey
EMS Helicopter Pilot

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].