Posted 6 years 97 days ago ago by Francis Meyrick
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...
Firing up with the Rotor Blade tied down.
Question: What kind of dumb, moronic, asinine, myopic, dim-witted, certifiable klutz starts up with his rotor blade tied down? And does all manner of horrible damage? Sometimes in excess of $100,000? Not to mention the real risk of rolling your bird over onto her side? (torque, when the blade finally does let go) And totally destroying her? Not to mention the risk of killing somebody?
What kind of NUT-CASE pulls a stupid stunt like that?? When you hear that somebody fired up with the blades tied down, 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....".
Answer: (small, squeaky voice) "A nut-case like ME, actually."
I find myself still wincing in embarrassment. How in hell's name... did I manage that. I had two near brushes with this particular ghoul. The first was when I was flying an OH 58 for the Sheriff's Office up in Arizona. I was told I had a VIP to take on a flight, but that the gentleman was actually very nervous. Would I please be nice. Sure... I'm kind of a well meaning, bumbling type hombre, and I try to be nice. So much so, that I had Mister VIP nicely seated, carefully seatbelted in, all nice and tucked in. If I had been still carrying my Teddy Bear around with me, I would have lent him to the VIP. I had been really, really nice. Read: distracted. Maybe there is something to be said for: "Get in, buckle up, and SHUT UP!" Anyway, I got as far as a nano second's worth of starter application, just a blip, before my eye traveled to the rotor blade, and I thought it was maybe a good idea to go and untie it. No damage, just a one second burp, and then I stopped. With a hurried "Let me just go check something", I hopped out of the cockpit, redressed the major error, and continued the flight. But for all my covering up, the message of my error went home. Damn. Not good.
I soon became a firm devotee of this trick: before you start up a two bladed helicopter system, ALWAYS park your blades at nine o'clock and three o'clock. Left-right. Never, ever, start up with your blades fore and aft. I strongly recommend it.
Well... The years rolled by. Many more flight hours. Thousands. And now I was in Africa. We had a political problem there, working with some of the locals who were easy to work with. And some, who were emotional, unpredictable, and bi-polar as hell. Black men with all the same attributes as many white honkies. Must be a human thing, being a difficult SOB. Anyway, I worked with this African gentleman dispatcher, who had this ability to go from rational to hyper hysterical in three seconds flat. He also had this unique talent of blaming everything on the pilot. You will come across this phenomenon a lot in the rotary world.
I was in my bird, one hot afternoon, and I had already logged nearly five hours that day. But there was more to do. I had just completed my checklist, and I was about to hit the starter. Somebody ran over. The Dispatcher was on the phone, wanting to talk to me. I switched the battery off, and hopped out. Walking back over to the office, with my life jacket still on, I thought of something, and turned around and went back to the helicopter. A few minutes later, I reemerged from my phone call, with my brain in a knot. He had wanted to give me another two hours' worth of flying, on top of what I already had on my list. I didn't have the daylight to do all that, nor did I have sufficient flight hours left out of my maximum permitted eight flying hour day. Once again, I was forced to patiently explain this, for the three hundred and fifty fifth time. He got emotional.
And so it was, that I legged it out to my bird, still wearing my life jacket, with my tiny mind full of calculations. How long here, how long to there, how much fuel, how much...
I hopped back in, strapped in, and then I had this irresistible urge to just hammer the starter. Battery on, fire in the hole. To hell with the checklist. Just do it. The little angel on my right shoulder, the boring dude wearing the white toga and sandals, he of course immediately said: "Hey! You always do the checklist!" I paused, for a nano second. The angel on my left shoulder, dressed in black, (funny guy), he of course said: "Oh, blow it! You've already DONE the checklist! Let's hit the road, homey!" I paused, my finger hovering over the starter button. But, for once, the white angel dude won out. Him with the skirt. He was right. I always did the checklist. So, wearily, I removed the digit that hovered in mid air over the starter button, and instead I went to the checklist.
Item # 1. "Tie-downs and intake covers removed."
("well, of course they are. You think I'm stupid?") As per routine, long, old, ingrained routine, I swung my gaze to the left. To the nine o'clock position.
Swing gaze abruptly to the right, three o'clock position.
My brain stalled. In a nano second, I considered and dismissed a thousand possibilities. The main rotor blades had been stolen? Unlikely? They had fallen off? I had already looked on the ground. Nope, they hadn't fallen off. That left one distinctly uncomfortable possibility...
My gaze swung to the twelve o'clock position.
One main rotor blade.
Yoo-hoo! Here I am! Oh, by the way, some dickhead tied me down just now...
And I remembered that I had hopped out, and walked away, and then returned, a good little boy, to tie my blades down.
Fooled! Fooled by being in a rush. Fooled by the temptation to cut a corner, 'cos after all I was in a hurry.And of course, in that horrible predicament, when you know you have really, really, almost messed badly with the pooch, what does a professional pilot do? What does he think? I'll tell you exactly what he does. And what he thinks.
His first thought is: "Did anybody just see that??"
And you look frantically left-right-left, to see if, even now, some observer has got you cold. If, even now, he is either laughing his socks off, or grimly making notes.
Nobody had seen it. I exited, suddenly only three feet tall, corrected the mega mistake, got back in, and flew off. No damage. No $100,000 repair bill. No egg farm all over face. No rolled over helicopter. Nothing. Got away with it.
That night, upon my return, I wondered if anybody would come over and say anything. Maybe the Big Boss. Maybe he would want "a word" with me. Maybe.
But...nope. I had gotten away with it. Sticking laboriously to the checklist, like a good little soldier, had saved my posterior. Again. Would I ever learn not to cut corners?
A few weeks went by. As so often happens to pilots, the transgression needled on me. I needed a Father Confessor. Just a good buddy. To share it, get it off my chest. I went and talked to my African American buddy, a pilot I shall call Eboniah.
Funny dude. Soft spoken, highly intelligent, insightful, with a vast repertoire of stories to tell. Great Poker face as well. Which he turned on me. He had me sussed. Only I didn't realize it.
I told him the whole story. He listened, without interruption. When I was finished, he fixed me with a solemn, judgmental expression. "Do you realize", he said sternly, "how potentially serious that was?"
I nodded, crestfallen. I knew. He proceeded to give me a stern lecture. I nodded, guiltily. Part of me was still feeling guilty. Another Part of me, however, was thinking: "Well, thanks, judgmental buddy of mine. Next time I need some peer support..." But then his face split into a big, ear-to-ear grin. He laughed.
Fooled ya, you daft Irish mutt...
"That ain't NUTHIN'...", he chortled. "Do you want to to know what I did?"
"Oh!", I thought, the sudden change in emotions catching me by surprise. (I'm no good at Poker)
"Errr, yessssss". My turn to look stern and reproachful. Fold arms. Tap foot.
"What did YOU do, Mister?"
His turn to adopt that little puppy dog look. And throw a theatrical look around us, as if to make sure that nobody was listening. He then proceeded to tell me about climbing in with this old, ancient, weather beaten Oilfield hand, who promptly pulled his cap over his eyes, leaned back, and went asleep.
Eboniah admitted to me that he thought words to the effect of "what an old duffer!", and proceeded. With the checklist?
Or from memory. I'll let you decide.
Ready to hit the starter.
A voice came over the intercom. A lazy voice. An old Oilfield hand voice. A tobacco chewing, no-nonsense, shoot from the hip old Oilfield voice.
Eboniah, surprised, replied:
There were some thoughtful chewing motions from "the old duffer", who was still comfortably reclined, with his cap over his eyes. He continued:
"AIN'T YOU GONNA UNTIE THE BLADES FIRST?"
(oops...) (Eboniah slides out of the cockpit, suddenly shrunk to a mere three foot tall)
Oh, baby. Try and pass THAT one off like you meant to do it that way.
Last anecdote on firing up with the rotor blade tied down.
Another buddy of mine was a really, really high time dude when he pulled this stunt. Fired up a Bell 206 with the blade tied down, and with a mechanic standing on a stand, with the engine cowling propped open, and the mechanic's head stuck inside. The blade was firmly tied down a mere seven feet away from the mechanic's busy head.
Between the two of them, neither had figgered out what was going to happen. He wound it up to 60% N1. Blade not moving. No reaction from the mechanic, standing on the work stand, with his head in the cowling.
The build up of torque at this stage is gi-normous. What's gonna happen. Well, the rotor blade BROKE. It didn't snap off, a clean break, but it gave up the unequal fight, and succumbed to superior forces. Now the blade tie-down slipped off.
And now... the broken blade, dangling down, was free to BEAT HOLY HELL OUT OF EVERYTHING.
Tailboom, windows, cockpit... all got the pissed orf giant-with-a-sledgehammer treatment. Inside, the petrified pilot was hunched down, discovering all manner of religion faiths in an intensive, personal, deeply spiritual moment.
How 'bout the mechanic? He should have been killed. What we think happened is that the helicopter, which was luckily already tied down for the night, jumped violently against the straps. In doing so, it dealt a violent blow to the step ladder, which knocked the mechanic off. Onto the concrete, on his head. Probably a nano second before the broken, dangling rotor blade and the mechanic mutually shared the same point in space. For a very brief second.
Now this is the sort of accident that fascinates me, because EVERYBODY says "How Stupid!"
Whoa! Hold it right there, buddy. Back up right there, amigo. Back the bitch up. WAY UP.
We are all going to be much better pilots (and mechanics), not to mention much kinder human beings, if we study such events, and learn vividly how EASILY circumstances conspire to lead us simple little human being, by the nose, down the glory hole. Truly, there for the Grace of God... go you and I.
And if you truly believe this could never happen to you...
Well, there's a really good job going down at the local library.
Let me explain some of the innocent steps, that led up to this event. Some of the "accident rings" that started, one by one, to neatly line up in a row, just itching and waiting for that "accident arrow" to cleanly sail through all of them.
1) It was night. There were floodlights, but it was night time.
2) The pilot was fatigued. He had already flown a full day's flying. He was about to go home, when maintenance, who couldn't find the regular pilot on that aircraft, asked him as a favor to fire it up on a maintenance run.
3) The pilot was used to flying a totally different helicopter. It had been a long time since he had started a 206. For that reason, he was pre-occupied with the gages, anxious not to over temp this baby.
4) The pilot knew the mechanic was there. Yes, it's the pilot's responsibility. But he knew…there was a guy on a ladder back there.
5) The mechanic knew the pilot was there. Yes, the blade was tied down a mere eight feet or so to this right, but he knew the pilot was there.
6) The mechanic was tunnel vision focused on HIS piece of the maintenance puzzle. You are talking a massively experienced, thirty plus year professional, who can bring a huge reservoir of experience to bear on any particular problem.
A powerful focus on THAT particular area.
7) The pilot, a super high time guy, was intensely focused on NOT over temping a (for him) unfamiliar beast.
Disaster. For me, a big learning event, that I applied to my own thinking, experience and humility. If it could happen to those guys, with all their experience... Am I really thinking something like that couldn't happen to me?
Solution? Caution. Checklist. Slow it down. Think. Step back. Read accident reports. Study. Think.
Remember that "little amber caution light"? The one I often invoke? He's OUR saviour buddy. Let's listen to him.
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’, and two aviation themed novels. "The Tuna Hunter" (based on flying helicopters off tuna boats) and "Jeremy's War" (based on the author's experience flying aerobatics and air shows in open cockpit biplanes, and set in France during the vicious aerial dog fighting of World War One) (also available on 'Smashwords").