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Fessing Up

Posted 8 years 13 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick

In the life of every Man, Woman, or Newt, there comes a point when He/She/It faces a moral dilemma. To wit:  do I confess, and maybe get shouted at? Or do I keep it quiet, and hope nobody notices? Every Man, Woman or Newt has to answer this question in his/her/it’s own way, but the question will rear its ugly head, sooner or later. It will define your humanity.

(He/she/it… this PC - political correctness is killing me…)

Wind the clock back, going on between two and three decades.  So there I was, my humanity in tow, sitting in a Super Puma AS332L, on a fu-fu-freezing cold winter’s morning, on some Newt-Forsaken piece of concrete, way up in North Western Europe. Working my way down a long checklist, trying to coax this lumbering beast into life.

It was all down to Fate, of course.  It had seemed like a good idea at the time. But it hadn’t really worked out. I was bored to distraction, mindlessly repetitive straight lines on auto-pilot, and the constant clammy grey overcast, the biting wind, the dour and humorless locals, and the ever present winter gloom had dampened my spirits. Added into the mix was the fact that I had been assigned the grumpiest, most hysteria prone training captain in the entire world of two-crew helicopter operations, and the fun factor on a scale of one-to-ten was pegged somewhere around minus three hunnered an’ forty.  But I had made some progress I guess, and I was long since cleared to fly with any captain. The Great One for today was one of the reasonable ones, pleasant and affable, and the day was likely to be just the usual boring, grey performance, without the cockpit hysteria. I was on my own now, starting the animal, and when it was all merrily bumbling and turning, the Magnificent One would make his leisurely entry.

That was… the plan. Um. But now I had a problem. The battery was offline. Why? I looked at the switches. I looked at the checklist. No solution. Why is the stupid thing not playing? I looked at the temperature range. Yeah, it was, admittedly, in the yellow. We were not really supposed to start it there. Too cold. But we had, often enough. And it had all worked out. So I had gotten used to ignoring that bit. And now, I realized, too late, on this REALLY cold morning, (bloody Baltic), the battery (WAY in the yellow)  was NOT going to come online, and I, in technical terms, had applied an inward, rotating, lateral torque force on the pooch. There was a reason why the designers had crafted the checklist the way they had, and there was a good reason why I was now in a pickle. I had ignored the checklist. Oh, rats.

The door opened, and the Captain climbed in. The battery temperature had crept up into the green, courtesy of the surrounding environment heating up, but still remained firmly offline. We fiddled and faffed about, but in the end, we were forced to call maintenance. And shut down. Late departure. Paperwork. Trouble. And later…

Call to the Chief Pilot’s Office.

(Rats. Rodents. Mammals of the order Rodentia…  Here we go…)

In we go, and I sit down. Chief Pilot and Director of Maintenance. This is not going to be good…

“Francis…! Tell us what happened.”

So I told them.  They looked at each other. Then they looked at me.

“So you mean to say, the battery temp was in the yellow, but you started anyway?”

“Yes, I’m sorry”.

I detected amusement. (What’s so funny? If you are gonna ream me, well, ream me, but quit smiling…) (you’re not supposed to enjoy it…)

“Francis! We thank you!”


“You have saved us a whole lot of work. This is by no means an isolated occurrence, but it is flat out the first time we have a pilot who is honest and truthful enough to fess up! There has been a huge investment of Maintenance man hours wasted, on researching a problem that we increasingly suspected didn’t exist. Everybody ELSE swore the battery temperature was in the green, but we were seriously beginning to have our doubts… and then, fortunately for us, YOU came along…”


A few minutes later, I left the Chief Executioner’s Lair, buttocks surprisingly un-chomped, with this accolade playing in my somewhat totally bemused head:

“As and when you leave this company, there will be a note in your file, drawing the attention of any inquiring future employer, to your demonstrated integrity…”


Very strange. I guess I got that one right, then. The fact that I was that gormless and naïve, not-very-bright and dreamy, that the thought of lying never entered my tiny mind, was –for once – a blessing then. Very odd. Strange world, those heli-bangers…


Wind the clock forward, two decades, and… not a battery this time, but I’ve gone and upset the pooch again. That previously mentioned, inward, rotating, lateral torque force. Pooches don’t like it.

Oh, hell. Now I’m sitting on a derrick barge in the Gulf of Mexico. Staring in horror at something worse. A lot worse.  Somebody… had found a real nice place to mount his antenna. That open, flat spot, up there. Also known as…

The heli-deck…

And I, lowly worm, I had completely missed it. I never saw it. And my tail rotor had missed it by… a whisker of a kitten’s mustache. I only found it on the post-flight walk around.  Oh, no! 

I could immediately see what had happened:  there was a rather tall and prominent twenty foot high radome there, and said obstacle (that I really didn’t want to tangle with) had tunnel-visioned my attention. Here’s a picture of IT:

It was my first time landing on this barge, which had only newly been contracted to our customer.  I had paid a lot of attention to the big doo-hickey. And missed the damn antenna.
So here I stood, on a hitherto pleasant day in the Gulf of Mexico, alone, and unhappy with myself. The fact that the antenna was murder to see from the air was scant consolation. I felt bad. I had let the side down. What to do?

I wouldn’t be human if I denied that there is that little voice that urges you to get-the-hell in your bird, and speedily vamoosh the scene. Get out of there. Split. Nothing seen, nothing said, no harm, no foul. But what of the next guy?  It wouldn’t do. Had to be dealt with. It’s called “Stop Work Authority” and everybody has it. S-T-O-P. Whoa!


Took photos. Emailed photos to Base Manager. Telephoned Base Manager. Base Manager (doubtless) called his boss. Somebody calls customer. Customer calls Barge. Barge captain comes up, mad as hell. Shouts a bit. I stay polite. He chills. Safety rep comes up. He’s a nice old boy. We get along swell. He orders his guys to take it down, pronto. Now we are all getting along fine, laughing, joking…. The safety rep (funny guy) even poses beside the offending antenna. Announces that he has “the Finger of Death” and the antenna is hereby officially to be executed, and condemned to the chop. Makes us all laugh….

I ask him if I can use his photo, because it makes it easier for people to judge the height versus tail rotor plane. “Sure”, he laughs. “Just tell ‘em we fixed this sucker!”  This guy is a sweetheart.

But you know, in the choppy world, the paper train is rolling. Deep down, I’m feeling bad. Worried. Really, really like my job. Been there for years and years. Really, really like flying. And I HATE to be in the middle of the railway tracks, with this BLOODY BIG paper train barreling towards me. Questions coming…

TOOT-TOOT…!!   (oh, shucks…)

Well, they remove antenna, all friends, shake hands, smiles, I take off, continue pulling my rickshaw around the Gulf of Mexico, try hard to avoid stepping in any more Holy Cow plops, and eventually, I return to base.  Base Manager debriefs me, I write up an occurrence report, and then it’s time to go back to the apartment, and worry.

Why didn’t I see it? I should have seen it? Why was I so tunnel-visioned on that STUPID radome?

Next day, nothing said to me. Day after that, nothing said to me. Day after that…

One pilot slinking into the office of the Boss. Actually a Base Manager I really liked a lot. Great, warm human being, since retired, and always good for some witty insight into Life, Death and the Universe. Well read gentleman, former pilot, with stories up the akimbo.

Me: (sheepish) Boss?

Boss:  (Surrounded by paper work, computers, reports, files, stuff, more stuff)
          “Yes, Francis?”

Me:  “Errr…. Am I gonna be in trouble over this antenna thing?”

Boss:  (sighs) (holds up truly horrible looking paper work)

He says it patiently, the way he always does. I always feel a bit like an errant, barely house trained puppy, in the presence of Master. He is always kindly, but Master DOES NOT put up with… you know. Puppies who… Uh-huh.

“Francis… There IS a lot of trouble about it…”

My heart sank.

“But not with you…”


Boss: “We have had helicopters operating in and out of there for a whole WEEK, buzzing in and out. Not a booh, or a squeak, or even a whimper out of any of them. Until you came along.  The same wind conditions applied all week, and everybody would have landed in the exact same direction as you.  And what the Direct of Operations wants to know –stat- is this:  

Are these guys simply NOT doing their post-flight walk around?

Or, is everybody just CLAMMING UP…?

He’s not too happy about it, to say the least, and I can’t say I blame him…”

Me: “Oh! “

Boss: “So YOU are off the hook, for standing up and speaking out… You did alright.”

He added:   “ For once…”

(Oi!  Was that a dirty grin!?)

Me: “Oh…”

Boss:  (looking weary) “But I’m the fall guy, who has to interview all those other pilots, get some serious answers, and write it all up….”

*                    *                     *                    *                      *

In the life of every Man, Woman, or Newt, there comes a point when He/She/It faces a moral dilemma. To wit:  do I confess, and maybe get shouted at? Or do I keep it quiet, and hope nobody notices? Every Man, Woman or Newt has to answer this question in his/her/it’s own way, but the question will rear its ugly head, sooner or later. It will define your humanity.

*                    *                     *                    *                      *

Francis Meyrick


I like to think we are fortunate, that we have a handful of helicopter pilots about, who are trying their best, in their own clumsy way, to leave a helicopter literary tradition. To bravely go, where no blades have slapped. And no rivets have yet worked loose. Written texts, thoughts, blogs, and stuff pertinent to these conscience & humanity dilemmas we little rotary humans face. And fret about. One of these oddball characters has his own website, with a whole hash of stories, but only two regular readers. A sign that the genre has a long way to go, before it becomes accepted. I visited with the guy with the two regular readers, and asked him if I did right or wrong.  Or if I was just a moralizing, gibbering idiot, and a trivia bore?  He had been busy reading a Buddhist poetry book called “The Clouds should know me by now”, and seemed very much at ease.

He just smiled and chuckled. He seems to do that a lot. He doesn’t seem at all fussed about the ‘only two regular readers’ thing. Then he wrote something down on paper. I think it might have been one of his own poem thingies. This is what it said:

The Silence of the early morn’

Yesterday is broke and torn

Today is still a distant Dream

Thoughts well like a muddy stream

I am a mostly empty box

I try to fill with borrowed rocks

If only I could shut my face

I’d make this world a better place.