Posted 7 years 309 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick
I taught Fixed Wing, Helicopters, Instrument, Night, Aerobatics and Tail Draggers (the aeroplane variety and the human sort) for many years, and there comes a point you maybe start thinking… what? That you know it all? No. It’s not that arrogant. Every accident you see, or read about, or hear about, somehow reinforces caution. It’s like a cautionary pin prick. As the years rotor by, there’s hundreds of them. Tiny pin pricks. I don’t think I ever really lost sensitivity to those frequent needles, those mental “Ouch!” moments, but… I was a professional, right? I had never scraped, bent, or crashed a helicopter. At the time of this occurrence, I had… six thousand hours? It wasn’t that I knew I was GOOD. But at some level, I probably thought I wasn’t TOO BAD. (Ah, the pleasant scenery –downhill- on that slippery slope…!) (Wheeeeee…!)
Africa. Hot, baby hot. Busy, busy Airport. African chap in the Tower, doing his honorable best, but overloaded. Hordes of Fixed Wingers and Rotary Slingers, big and small. Dozens of them. Rush hour. Good English, Dubious English, Downright terrible English. And, just to really help the congested frequency along, always some Native Pilots, who insist in gabbling away in their local African tongue. Talk about confusion! Even the African Boeing 727 drivers have no standard R/T tongue, and they might know what they are doing, the Tower might conceivably know, but the rest of us have no clue. I had already witnessed, several times, actions and near misses that would have resulted in an FAA Great White Shark feeding frenzy back home, (justifiably!), but here those truly extraordinary pilot actions just seemed doomed to mindless repetition. If the Tower dared remonstrate (he often sounded borderline hysterical), he ran the risk of a fluent telling off.
We Helicopter truckers, five ships, at various stages, always just wished to make our soonest escape from the madhouse. You quickly learned you got ONE chance. In the stream of radio calls, pleadings, shouts, whimpers, curses and annoyed protestations, there would be ONE infinitesimally brief transmit “Helicopter Zulu Alpha, cleared taxy to holding point Alpha!”
You react immediately in glorious Bi-step. You jump on the radio, and you PULL PITCH. Pronto. If you didn’t reply at that very sub-atomic nano second, The Great One in the Tower just moved right along. No second call. Are you kidding? You could be sitting there for another fifteen minutes. Your punishment. Pay attention next time. Turning and Burning. HOT. Miserable…
However, the immediatamento radio reply was just the first step. If you then hesitated to jump/explode/erupt into the air, the next recipient of a Tower call, upon merely hearing his call sign, would start moving. The African pilots were really bad at this. No matter that the tower was going to say:
“King Air Niner-Two-Echo, AFTER the taxying helicopter, you are cleared ,,,, etc, etc.”
Impatient as hell, King Air Niner-Two-Zero was already moving at twenty five miles an hour. You just missed your chance. Wait another fifteen minutes. Gawd…
I once saw a Big Old Russian Mil helicopter duke it out with a Boeing 727. Ignoring the screams from ATC. The Russian pilot was obviously displeased about his treatment, so he vehemently expressed his Russian “IS NO GUD!” unhappiness, and proceeded to methodically sand and gravel blast the Boeing. Say what!? The Boeing pilot’s voice was up an octave or three, and I remember seeing the various control surfaces taking a stimulating beating. Awesome. I couldn’t hope to match that naked Soviet Machismo in my Bell product, and my Boss would never have approved, but I enjoyed the show.
In this way you learned to 1) reply immediately and 2) Bounce into the Air a nano-second later.
The “Air Bounce” was an aerial ownership claim.
Then one day…
Hot, baby, hot. Perspiration pouring down into unimaginable places. Uniform soaked. Turning and burning, 100% RPM, instant Bounce-into-the-Air capability. Unhappy passengers. Complaining on the intercom. Beside me, two buddies in the same predicament. Wanting to go. We would exchange the odd glance with each other. Can you believe this?
The same big bullies were duking it out, and the row of diminutive American helicopters had now spent fifteen minutes W-A-I-T-I-N-G. Perspiration running into my EYES. Then: the call!
I responded with alacrity. Like somebody yelling “Free Beer!” in an Irish pub. A recipe for being stomped to death in the rush. Stage two: HAUL INTO THE AIR!
It was at that stage a strange thing happened: The control tower fell over.
Well, it fell a long way. A Longgggg way. A nano second later, the control tower righted itself abruptly, and the cockpit was full of dust. And unprintable commentary. Heart-in-mouth.
“Your skid’s stuck!”, yelled my buddy over the radio. He had –of course- witnessed the whole drama.
I looked out my right door. At the whole length of the skid. There was no sign of any sinking in the tarmac.
“Your LEFT skid!”
Sure enough, the out-of-sight left skid had sunk deeply into the soft African tarmac, on that HOT African day. It actually left a shiny black trench, which was clearly visible against the lighter grey top surface, , for months afterwards. My fellow pilots, with that peculiar, brotherly love, and sympathy for the reputation (and pride) of their suffering comrade, promptly christened it “Moggy’s Mark”. And, especially if I was on frequency, would delight in stating the information that they were taxying from “Moggy’s Mark”.
Sigh. I should have known better. I taught Dynamic Roll Over. I lectured about it. I showed students accident reports. I told them it could happen in all sorts of conditions. I warned them about skids stuck against rocks. The fulcrum. The pivot point. I warned them about one skid being stuck on ice. I warned them to always assume the risk was present, and to take off smoothly and gently. Every time. “Feel your way” off the ground. Never “rip your way” into the air.
Hey Francis! All that stuff you used to TEACH? Err…. Do YOU know it?
A Little About Moggy - Francis ‘Moggy’ Meyrick 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 Crap! 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?