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Jul
09
2015

Hottentot Firebird

Posted 5 years 141 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick

In every major helicopter company, there is always some (brave) middle manager, who occupies a particular spot in the daily whirlwind. This spot/post/desk requires… well, (depending on your point of view), above average fortitude, skill, expertise, diplomacy and patience.  OR, alternatively, a whole new dimension of “stupid”.

Put it this way, if you are not frightened/intimidated when the day comes that every incoming line into Head Office lights up all at the same time, and EVERYBODY from the Chairman on down wants to talk to YOU right now, and if you can remain cool and totally un-phased when all around you are wanting to know ‘WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON…????!!!!”… if you can dismiss that as mere “fun” in an otherwise dull day… then, brother, somewhere, there is a desk waiting for you. They will probably give you a brass plaque on the door, if you ask for it.

I refer to the dumbeeee, I mean, the keen professional, who is the first stage interphase between Professional Commercial Helicopter Pilots at play on the one hand, and very important paying customers on the other. The Professionals will be at work out there, somewhere, over the horizon, often whole busy swarms of them, and the honorable customers, who pay MILLIONS of dollars for the crazy game, are the ones on the phone who… well, shall we say they have the phone number to people who can get you fired. In a heartbeat. And YOU, Mister, (well, you volunteered for the job, right?) YOU are going to explain right NOW what just happened, a minute ago.

Two hundred plus miles away…

 It’s not easy. Add in to the mix that bad news travels fast, that everybody and his pet poodle is listening to the radio, and that NOTHING (not even chastity) can be kept quiet in the Oil Fields for very long, and you have the opportunity to need (and test) the very latest high blood pressure medication.

You are probably going to need some…

In this way, it came to pass, many years ago, that the below quoted missive appeared on said middle manager’s desk.  From where it made its way around Head Office, and from there, it is rumored, around the world. It is said the manager (at the mentioning of the name of his pilot involved) buried his face in his hands, cuddled his Teddy Bear, swallowed hard, and then, bravely, read the contents.

This is what he read…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Statement of facts relating to incident at Platform XU 314 November 3, 20….

Departed FT58A:  15:33

Landed XU314 (finally):  16:27

Unnecessary Orbit time: 35 minutes

It is a short flight from FT58A to XU314. I called early, some 14 minutes out from XU314.

The dispatcher told me there was a “Hottentot Firebird” helicopter parked on the deck.

I asked the dispatcher what the size of his helideck was. He did not know.

I then asked him to tell the “Hottentot” pilot that he might have to move, and to please be prepared, and that I would check it out on arrival.  

On arrival, I saw a 48 foot deck. The Hottentot machine was parked downwind as well, obstructing a safe into-wind approach.  Wind was gusting over thirty knots.  As per our company regulations, I told the XU314 dispatcher that the Firebird machine would have to move.

Some minutes went by. (This was the start of some 35 minute orbit around XU314.)

The dispatcher came back on, and he obviously had the Firebird’s pilot standing beside him. The dispatcher said something like: “The pilot says there is plenty of room, and they land like that all the time.”

I replied politely that unfortunately I could not accept that. The Firebird machine would have to move.

More minutes went by. I called the rig, and this time the dispatcher sounded stressed. Embarrassed. He told me that the Hottento pilot was saying that they “did it all the time”, and that “if I knew what I was doing” that there was plenty of room for me to land.

And that stage I felt the Hottentot pilot was steering for a “Road Rage” type confrontation. I do not play that game.

I remained very polite, and I said that I was very sorry, but I had to remain by my decision.

At this stage another Firebird machine arrived in the area, and was distracting me by flying not very high overhead of me. As I lowered my orbit to 400 feet or so to increase our vertical separation, the second Firebird machine was talking to the platform, saying that he needed fuel.

I again spoke to the rig, and said that all I needed to do was pick up one passenger, and that if the parked machine would please move, that I could be out of there very quickly.

There was no reply  from the platform to that.

At this stage, the second Firebird pilot made some sharp comment to the platform along the lines of that “if he doesn’t know what he is doing, then I’m going to land and take on fuel”.

He then proceeded to cut aggressively down past in front of me, and landed on the platform, downwind, with seven to ten knots of wind behind him. With the way the parked machine was situated, and the limited size of the helideck, it was probably the only way to do it. But I personally, would not have done so. Even if our company regulations allowed the use of a 48 foot deck in this situation, (which they do not), I still would not have landed in these circumstances.

The Second machine now refueled, and did so promptly and professionally, and then departed with a minimum of delay.

There was still no sign of the second pilot coming up the stairs.

Several minutes went by.

I called the rig. No reply.

My front passenger was totally involved in all this, and can be contacted if necessary, to describe what we saw then.

That was the Hottentot Pilot, coming up the stairs, in a certain “manner”. The verb “slouching” comes to mind. Very slow. One laborious step. At. A. Time. And then. Another. Step.

My front passenger and I were now simply amused. Despite the serious aspect of the issue (down time, my fuel rapidly going down, cost to the customer) what we were looking at was so obviously a “display” of an “attitude”, that we just had to laugh.

I said to my customer:

“You see that?” He said he did.

I said: “Let’s TIME how long it takes for him to get off the deck!”

“Sure!”, said my customer.

It is therefore that I can state with absolute “witnessed” confidence the fact that it took our Firebird professional pilot colleague a cool TWENTY-TWO Minutes from appearing in “super slow-mo” mode up the stairs, to his blades actually starting to turn.

The walking dead could do a quicker job.

Even then, it took a truly extraordinary amount of time for him to complete his starting routine, do his checks, and leave the deck.

In this manner, we ran up THIRTY FIVE minutes or orbiting time trying to complete a simple task that should have taken mere minutes. I can (and do) get off the deck in a small fraction of this time, even if I’m down in the galley, and I have no advance warning of the arrival of a helicopter from another company. As a matter of professional pilot courtesy,(and courtesy to the paying customer)  I would be up the stairs like a hare. Off and gone. This pilot had fourteen minutes advance notice.

I made a point of taking “slow-mo’s” call sign. 943 Sierra Waltz.

After he finally got airborne, as I circled to land, I called him several times. He did not reply. I then said:
“943 Sierra Waltz, I know you are on frequency. I’m sorry Sir, but that was a very unprofessional display.  That showed a total lack of courtesy for a fellow pilot just trying to do his job out here.”

Reply (heated) : “YOU ARE QUITE WELCOME”.

He then launched into an emotional tirade at me, and I said no more. I was not getting involved in a slanging match. I prefer to keep my mind on my job. This is just Road Rage gone silly.

I now felt that I was in a spot. It was clear that my operation had been criticized, indeed, ridiculed, by this pilot to the customer  Dispatcher. I also was keenly aware that I had run up a truly extraordinary bill for our customer, some 35 minutes going round and round. I decided to shut down, and go down and see the O.I.M.

Hottentot’s turn to orbit…

I did so, and walked down to a warm welcome. They know me on a first name basis, and we always get along real well.  As luck would have it, the Field Foreman, “Buster” Pat O’Rourke, (phone number attached), happened to be on the platform as well. I explained what had happened, and why I had conducted my flight the way I had. Both the O.I.M. and the Field Foreman were perfectly understanding, and said I had absolutely done the right thing. The Field Foreman said he knew the pilot of Sierra Waltz, and they knew he had an attitude. He said that this pilot copped an attitude with them, even when they wanted him to go flying for them. He said he knew this pilot was super slow in doing anything, even for them. He would deal with the issue.

It was a perfectly pleasant conversation. I said that questions would be asked of me, as that sort of expensive loiter time was bound to be picked up later at accounts level, and at the Dispatcher level, and seriously queried. The Field Foreman told me not to worry, and gave me a piece of paper with his name and phone number, with instructions that I could tell anybody to call him for an explanation of what had happened. He also said flat out that he was perfectly happy with the way we do things, and the high level of safety orientated efforts we made. I was relieved to hear that.

In conclusion:

1)  I would say that I personally, if I had been the Hottentot pilot, armed with fourteen minutes advance notice, would have caused the incoming aircraft ZERO delay. I would have made it a matter of pride to have been sitting in my aircraft, turning and burning, and lifted off the moment the incoming machine swung into view. That’s how we mostly do things out there, and most of us pilots from different companies all get along very well with each other. Even if I had been “caught on the hop” sitting in the galley, with a machine orbiting outside, I would have hopped up the stairs with alacrity, and popped off the deck in under four minutes. I’m sixty. The Firebird pilot sounded like a much younger guy, and he should be able to beat me up the stairs handily. He walks and moves like he’s ninety nine.

2) Apart from the wholly unnecessary financial cost to our customer, this delay had serious planning, fuel and down time repercussions. I’m an old hand, and I can keep a cool enough head to work changing things out quickly enough. I knew I would have to go and get fuel somewhere, and I ended up getting into Kuala Lumpur a few minutes before down time, and then scraping back into Bombay a few minutes before sun set. If I had been forced to RON in Kuala Lumpur, that would of course have denied our customer the availability of the aircraft ready to go the next morning at home base.

3) This sort of thing… it’s not what we are about. As pilots, mostly we all muck along together real well. Camaraderie. Just working guys doing our jobs. I hate to see any form of “Road Rage” creeping into our working lives in these here waters.  I would much rather we keep all our pilot minds calmly focused on a number one priority: Safety. Destination Zero.  We don’t have time for silly “grudge” theatrics.

It’s distracting. And potentially dangerous.

Sincerely

Aloysius “Bugsy” McDermott the third

Call sign “Blackfoot 25”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It is said that, a few days after this missive, at a meeting of Senior Management, in the board room of said major helicopter company, amongst many items, some far more pressing, attention was nonetheless paid to this letter.  The chairman of the meeting, addressing the (brave) junior middle manager, inquired:

“Did you contact the Foreman mentioned in this… this… occurrence report?”

- Yes, Sir.-

“What did he say?”

-Well, Sir, I took the precaution of sending him a copy of this report, and I asked the gentleman if this was a correct and factual description of events as far as he had participated in them”

“What did he say?”

-Well, he said, Sir, yes, most certainly. He added that OUR pilot was polite, respectful, and did everything right….-

“Did he say anything about the pilot flying for our competitor?”

-Yes, Sir, he said… (cough)… he said that guy was a flaming [email protected]####!, Sir.  And they had already fired him, and told his employer he was not welcome on any of their platforms. Apparently, when confronted about this, he yelled at the Field Foreman, Sir.”

There was a ripple of amusement.

A voice spoke up: “I thought Bugsy had quite a temper himself…?”

“Yes Sir”, said the brave Middle Manager. “We’ve talked to him about that in the past. But it’s only because he cares, Sir. He means well, in his own blundering way. This time, he really kept a tight lid on it…”

Another voice spoke up: “We’re negotiating another big contract with that customer. I’m thinking we looked good in this little dust-off…”

There were murmurs of assent.

Somebody asked:  “So there is hope for Bugsy, despite the short fuse…?”

A chuckle went around the room.  Everybody knew Bugsy. Bugsy was at times challenged in the diplomacy department.  Severely challenged.  He had been mentored to work on his “delivery”.

“Yes Sir”, said the brave Middle Manager. “His heart is in the right place, Sir. He appreciates his job.  And the customers like him…”

After that, it is said, there was silence in the room, as the busy participants, with far larger fish to fry, nonetheless carefully looked over the missive, a copy of which was placed in front of each person present.

After a couple of minutes, it is said the chairman looked around the room, his face carefully neutral, and asked:

“Gentlemen, are there any questions about how Bugsy handled this obvious provocation?”

There was only Silence.  Shaking of heads.  Titters of amusement.

“Next item on the agenda”, the Chairman murmured, softly, but clearly well pleased with the turn of events…  

 

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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?