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That Which Biteth Helicopter Pilots In The Butteth

Posted 7 years 52 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick

That which biteth helicopter pilots in the butteth

To the novice, the learner pilot, the new Commercial Helicopter jockey,  that which he (or she) (or it) regards as “bad” is indeed really, really bad. What does a student or low-time pilot worry about?  Let’s see. Engine failure? Hydraulics seizure?  Running out of power crossing high voltage lines? Fire. Explosion. Earth quake? Training bills? Rotor blades falling off...??

Sure, that’s all “not good”. Even, all bad. Very bad.  As you are learning to hover, or the art of flying straight-and-level, you can be forgiven for thinking that such nightmarish cataclysms define your future aviator humanity.  As the Chinese I worked with would say:

“POOH-how!”   Very, very bad.

(Screwing with the Holy Religious Ceremony. Described elsewhere.  Developing entirely novel ways of flushing the shitter. Described elsewhere.  Very bloody “pooh-how”….)

But here’s a funny thing: ask the old timers. Ask the Vietnam vets (being measured up for wheel chairs), ask the forty year plus chopper jockeys, ask the wrinkly old rickshaw pullers, this one simple question:

“What, pray, are the things that tend to bite choppy pilots on the nether cushion?”

And you might be surprised at the answer.  I bet you a lot of them will say, simply:

“The little stuff”.

As I reflect on this, my diseased mind scopes back (haltingly, like a Walmart check out queue on Holy Food Stamp day) over many decades of being around helicopter (and hairplane) catastrophes, career terminating indiscretions, and any number of red faces of fellow helicopter brothers.  And, indeed, I see the truth. It’s the little stuff. Believe me. Don’t worry about engine failures, hydraulic seizures, saying bye-bye to your left rotor blade, and sundry other ghastly mechanical outrages. Brother, worry about the little stuff.

In “Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual” ( www.moggystunaboathelicoptermanual.com) some derelict hobo named Foggy tried hard to caution newcomers to the world wide Tuna Flying business about the unfortunate and frequently fatal consequences of trying to take off whilst still attached (via the famous right rear tie-down strap) to 1200 tons of unsympathetic Taiwanese Steel. Here’s the link:  http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=361

You are NOT going to lift the Hsieh Feng 707 purse seiner fishing boat with your little flying bubble, no matter how hard you try. If you think that’s crazy, hell, I know a former Sea King Captain who tried to lift Her Majesty’s aircraft carrier Ark Royal with HIS bird. Nope, it didn’t work either. But lest you think the Brits have a monopoly on tie-down stupid, despite Foggy’s best efforts, every year for the last however-so-long, somebody, somewhere, tries the same neat party trick.  What can be more simple than undoing a tiedown? Before take-off? It’s the little stuff that biteth you firmly on the cheeks…

I once read a truly awesome list of items that have rained down from the sky, on the unsuspecting public, courtesy of well-meaning little Air Ambulance helicopters. Taking off in a hurry. On noble Missions of Mercy. Hand held radios are a firm favorite. Followed by medicine bags, packs, cushions, blankets, syringes, and, on one occasion, a rather unlucky Teddy Bear. There is a reason the medicine packs are now colored BRIGHT –BLARING- RED…   Yo, HELLOOOO….!!  And they still get left behind in unmentionable places. It’s the little stuff that biteth you firmly on the cheeks…

Lest I sound judgmental, haughty, condescending, sneering, and henceforth forever doomed to invoke the mighty wrath of vengeful Karma to my eternal damnation, I confess to my share of near disasters.  I don’t think it’s possible to go through an entire helicopter career and NOT be able to look back on heart stopping moments…  

One such moment occurred on a sunny day, and I was happy and relaxed.  That day was destined to become etched in day-glow psychedelic orange amongst many, many cerebral memory lanes.

I too came SOOO close to a whole HEAP of truly horrible paper work. I tell the sad, demented, typical helicopter jockey story elsewhere, and it’s called “Pilot-not-in-Command“, and here’s the link, http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=461  if you don’t mind becoming depressed at the awful depravity of Homo –so-called- Sapiens. Where, if you remember your Latin, “sapiens” stands for “wise” or “knowing”. Ha!

I could write (scribble) (blog) (rabbit) fifty pages on the same exact technical subject, to wit the ghastly consequences of ignoring the little stuff, but it seems sometimes we chopper addicts will simply never learn.  We always seem to step in it, no matter how hard we try. See as further evidence, the story entitled “A certain rich Aroma”. Here’s the link:  http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=463

So there I was, working over at another EMS base. We had enjoyed ourselves, done some good flying, and I waved a cheerful goodbye. I was almost out the door, when the incoming pilot asked:

“Where’s the pilot’s hand held?”

“Here!”, I said, confidently, walking over to the pilot’s desk. Expecting to pick it up.

No radio. No diminutive, cheapo, small black Motorola.

I searched. Everywhere. I walked back out to the helicopter. And searched it. I went and searched my car. I searched the hospital cafeteria. I repeated the process. Multiple times. I drove out to where I had refueled, some twelve miles away. I searched everywhere. On the ground, in the hangar, in the grass. The fact that everybody was real nice about it, and they all said “Don’t worry about it” didn’t in any way help. Not in the slightest. I wanted to find that radio. Professional pride. That night I lay awake, worrying about it. Where in HELL was that thing? Nightmarish visions floated by, of taking phone calls from the public, about hand-held radios crashing through their roof. I NEVER place an object on the skids. EVER.  

I remembered my buddy Peter’s story, about a five gallon container of Jet A (and Mrs Muehller) (described in the story A Blip on the Radar (7) “Routine and Sudden Terror” ), (http://www.writersharbor.org/work_view.php?work=402)  and I worried and fretted where in heck’s name I’d gone and dropped that blasted radio. And who I had maybe bombed. The following day I even drove out to the airport again, during office hours, to make inquiries. No luck. I departed for home, professional pride in tatters.

Unloading the trunk of my car (the boot, to you Limeys) a flash of black under a fold of the carpet caught my eye. One black Motorola radio. One unbelievably devious gremlin, laughing his butteth off.

I was left to wonder, how in hell’s name I had gathered the radio in my flight bag, (which I had searched) (Twenty times) and how in bigger hell’s name that ONE item had contrived to fall out in my car, and sneakily slip UNDER a fold in the carpet. Awesome. “Murphy” in over drive.  

The next day (and 90 miles driving), the object was returned to its home base.

Truly, it’s the little stuff. That defines your career. Your professional pride. And the fate of the trees in the Amazonian rain forest. Which are gonna be chopped down, to provide the reams of paper required.

If you –and I- don’t pay attention to the little stuff…


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 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?