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The Simple Stuff Can Bite You - Part 1

Posted 6 years 126 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick

I have honestly tried to share with you some of the really horrible moments. Spread across Tuna Boat flying, Law Enforcement, North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Africa, and elsewhere. Sure, I didn't actually break anything. I actually never even scratched a helicopter. But maybe it was more of a "lucky near miss" than merely an "academic potential". I nearly, nearly screwed the pooch. I got so close I got to smell his damn doggie breath. I didn't like it. So I slowed down. Backed off. I accepted I was not perfect. Not even remotely. Not only was I not a brilliant pilot. I was perhaps just a very average fixed wing and chopper jockey. I needed to slow down. And watch myself... re-evaluate where I stood on Risk. It's the simple things that get you in helicopters. It's not the Green Man from Planet Yuptulia cutting you up in his convertible Flying Saucer, practicing barrel rolls. Nothing as exotic as that. It's the STUPID little stuff that trips you up. The routine. If I can get that point across, I'll be thrilled. Here is an example, one  which does not paint me as the great Sky God. But, hopefully, it can show you how easy, easy, easy, the stupid, simple stuff can bite you...

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Dynamic Roll-over accidents
Question:  Now, a roll-over type accident is typically a low time helicopter pilot's mistake, right?  Or a student pilot, right?
When you hear that somebody rolled a helicopter over, what do you -honestly - think? "There for the Grace of God", go I? I doubt it. I imagine you think: "Dozy bugger...!" And "that would never happen to moi...".
Back up right there, amigo. Back the bitch up. WAY UP.
(Sigh). Lemme tell ya a story against myself...

Answer:  (small, squeaky voice)   "I nearly did it, actually..."

I already had thousands and thousands of hours. I was in Africa, and it was HOT. I was at this poky hole of a place that was masquerading as a major airport, and waiting my turn to get the hell out of there. One Passenger on board. There were helicopters everywhere, and big old African blunder buses (Boeing 727's if I remember) coming and going. And blowing hell out of everything with their engine wash. Those guys will turn on the spot, firewall one engine, and not seem to notice the absolute chaos behind them. Or they just don't care. Corrugated iron fence sheeting flying through the air, pedestrians flattened, helicopters spun around, and total mayhem.  There was an Antonov taxying, a few commuters, and above it all, the emotional African gentleman in the tower, who was doing his best. His heavily accented English, coupled with the machine gun velocity of words, coupled with the static, coupled with the fact that many African pilots were talking in their own language, produced in this weary Irishman's psyche ONE overwhelming emotion:

"Let me the HELL out of this  place..."

But I had to wait my turn. So I sat. Turning and burning. Cooking. Twenty minutes. Marinating in my own body juices. Sick of it. Getting grumpy. Getting dehydrated. Getting a headache.  All the Blunder buses had priority over us mere rotary fodder. Anyway, they spoke the language, and we were just interlopers. Waiting, waiting... Beside me, three other helicopters were also turning and burning. Occasionally, we would kind of look at each other. Shake our heads. Another romantic, helicopter flying day in beautiful Africa.
Shit hole...
When I finally got the call to taxy to the runway, delivered in a heavily accented micro second, before he moved on to yet another blunder bus, I was primed and incandescent hot to trot. Wound the throttle up, in a hurry, (before he changed his mind), and pulled pitch quickly. No time for "little amber caution lights", and all that BS.  Let's get going…

(??????) (What!!!???)  (DAMN...!)

In a nano-second, I had achieved a truly astonishing angle to Terra Firma.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, I was sure.
I was way off on a kilter. Either the control tower had rolled hard right, or I had rolled hard left.  One of the two. Another nano-second, and the control tower had rolled back hard vertical, and now dust was floating above the cockpit floor. The collective was hard down. I was actually trying to push it through the floor.  Damn...
My buddy, turning and burning beside me,  came over on the radio.
"Hey Moggy! Watch it, I think your left skid is sunk in the tarmac!"

He was right. The right skid, on my side, was wholly unaffected. I had actually looked out my door, at the RIGHT skid, wondering about the tarmac and the heat. I had seen nothing to alarm me. It was the unseen LEFT skid that had sunk into a soft patch on that scorching hot day, and the stage was set for career disaster. Normally, I take off real smooth and gentle. Normally, I am real careful. Normally, this would never have happened. But as Murphy's Law dictates, the weird one-off collusion of different factors all at the same time (fatigue, heat, hurry, soft tarmac on one side only, soft tarmac on side away from pilot's view, etc, etc)  had me well on the way down the Yellowbrick Road towards a whole lot of paperwork, and huge personal embarrassment.  It's pretty horrible how low that rotor disc will dip. In a split, split second. Where I had sunk one skid in, there was a permanent shiny black groove, that stood out clearly from the rest of the dull top coat. My fellow pilots, with that usual great compassion for their suffering buddy, of course immediately dubbed the track "Moggy's Mark" for the rest of my sojourn there. Like:  "I was parked just down from Moggy's Mark...

Helicopter Flying is a thinking Man's game. Not a jock's game. It's a game for the soft spoken Man. Not the Loudmouth at the Bar. Don't listen to him. Your survival chances go way, way up exponentially if you have a discrete, but highly developed, super cautious side of you, that asks good questions. Informed questions. And demands answers.  A side of you that is willing to pause, back up, and think through the Master Plan again.

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 Molly McBride! 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. He is also the author of “Moggy’s Tuna Manual”, a Tuna Helicopter safety initiative, available on ‘Smashwords’.