Francis Meyrick

A Lonely Cockpit

Posted on November 24, 2008


I guess I can recognize danger pretty well.
I bloody hope so anyway. Especially in Aviation. And even more especially with helicopters. The fact that I am still alive, having logged more than 10,000 flying hours in helicopters, aerobatic “stunt ” aircraft, open cockpit biplanes, and other somewhat oddball contraptions,.. in a wide variety of flying arenas around the world….it would be nice if that proved that I am really quite an ace aviator… but it probably means that despite being a somewhat scatterbrained, quasi-intellectual moron… I’ve really just been dead lucky. No, I have never even scratched a helicopter. Not a mark.

Ah! That little voice! That slightly concerned, slightly sardonic, heavily sarcastic little voice in my mind… that says…

“Well… not YET anyways…. “

Yes, I admit it. I worry. Sometimes I worry a lot. I guess I’ve been hanging around the skirts of Mistress Aviation too long. How often have I seen other pilots get clobbered by “TTFS “? Which is an acronym for ‘Those terrible few seconds’, in which pilots boob, drop the spoon, and instantly transform a hitherto unblemished career into one of our worst nightmares? Deep down, we all know it. You could serve somewhere loyally and cheerfully for twenty years as an aviator. Never do nuthin’. Next thing: your right brake suddenly fails in your Cessna Turbo 210 whilst taxying in a strong quartering tailwind (it happened to me). There you are, slewing left uncontrollably, heading straight for a thousand gallon water tank, and a thundering DISASTER.
Which will not do your three-bladed constant speed prop any good, nor your freshly overhauled TSIO-520 engine, nor (Heaven forsakes!) your reputation… And you have that awful choice.
1) slam on power, hoping that will give you more airflow around your rudder, so you can swing RIGHT out of harm’s way? Knowing however that you are also pointing the WRONG way, towards an immovable object, and that – if you miscalculate – you are going to pound that damn water tank ten times as hard?
2) pull the mixture control, coasting all the time, kill the engine, pump your working left brake as best you can without pulling yourself even further in towards all those obstacles on your left, and HOPE (!) , brother, just HOPE… that you stop in time…
(I did). (just)

But if I hadn’t… would I have been remembered as a good chap. not a bad pilot, who just had (everybody grins) “that little bit of bad luck when he SAID ” (everybody grins even more) “that his right brake failed ” ???
Hell, no….
I would have been remembered as that “Moron up at the Sheriff’s Office… comes blasting down the taxiway… doesn’t allow for the wind… demolishes a 1000 gallon water tank… chops up his prop and engine… never goes on fire only because he gets SOAKED…. what a performance… “
(Ah, this cruel world…)
It follows that you try and PLAN ahead. You try, basically, at least I do, to let my imagination swing ahead and contemplate the various awesome possibilities. Maybe go talk about it with other people. What IF… I was flying along, and… the weather really clagged in… very low IFR ceilings… and I diverted to my alternate… only to find my alternate really unexpectedly closing in… now WHAT would I do?
Or. If my OH58 tail rotor gearbox seizes solid, and I fly back to my airfield, and enter autorotation, when I get to the bottom, and flare, THEN what happens?
Those… are the kind of questions pilots ask one another. Or their little sardonic inner voice does.
What… am I going to @#$!!ing well do… IF… such-and-such occurs?
I kind of like that little inner voice. He’s my buddy. Sort of. Even though he can be a sarcastic, snippety, mean old sod.
Mostly though, I can keep him in his place. As long as I plan ahead. Prepare beforehand.
Don’t ever let the situation get you to where, well, NOW what you’re trying to do is LEARN ON THE JOB… become a TEST pilot… you’ve arrived overhead a situation that you’ve not encountered before… worse… you’ve never even TALKED about it before. Now that inner voice will have a field day.
He’s just going to let you have it. Right between the eyes.

Which… takes me back to THAT day. That famous day. One of the loneliest moments I have ever had in the cockpit. Yeah… I had NOT encountered it before. We had… sort of talked about it… sort of… but we SHOULD have practiced it… and we never did. Then…. I was there…. and I could sense that little inner voice of mine clearing his damn throat…

I’d been scrambled in a hurry. Three guys had been caught trying to burglarize a house. The owner had returned by chance, there had been a first class shoot-out, with one of the robbers getting a bullet in the shoulder. The guys had fled in a white Chevy pickup truck.

Not many minutes later, way out in the desert, there he was….

one white dot…. bouncing along in one hell of a hurry….

In a fast dive, at 110 knots or so, we caught up quickly. We. One pilot, and two officers.
Three hundred yards to go. And I could see clearly where our friends were heading for. Another mile would put them in the foothills of a large mountain range. Steep gorges, rocks, bushes, trees… No roads. You could hide an army up there.
Now what.
This was a high risk situation. As far as we knew, there were three armed and desperate men in that vehicle. All our previous experience and practice was based on the helicopter providing orbiting command/surveillance in support of ground officers going in…
This time…
There were no ground officers. They were forty minutes away, running code, not sure of our position.
Two hundred and fifty yards to go.
There was silence in the cockpit. The Detective sitting beside me, the Lieutenant sitting in the back… what were they thinking?
A high risk stop, using a helicopter only….
“I’m going to try and bluff them… “
My inner voice was by now screeching in protest.
I refused to listen.
I switched on the siren, and, seconds later, we beat furiously low over the top of the pickup.
Then, shushing madly sideways, I turned our left side to the driver, giving him the full view of our large “Sheriff ” logo, whilst also giving my two passengers the best possible view. Both men drew their weapons, and aimed out the windows.
The Chevy altered course to his left, and instantly the helicopter cut him off, whilst maintaining a thirty yard separation.
All I could think of was ‘small arms fire’….
I was trying to keep a respectable range whilst still intimidating them.
“Any guns?… how many guys are in there….?? “
He braked suddenly and hard… the driver opened the door, and dived out….
“He’s running….! “
The helicopter moved to cut the runner off, and just as abruptly, he stopped, and ran back to the vehicle…
“He’s going to get a gun!!!! “
Momentary confusion. John was shouting from the back, but he had not put his headset on, and we could not understand what he was saying. Dean, sitting beside me, looked confused.
The helicopter was in a two foot hover, thirty yards behind the pickup, and the driver, the only person who had exited, seemed to be rooting around inside the cabin, his legs still outside…
“Holy…. “
I was aware that there was now a hesitation on our part occurring at a critical moment, when there should not be ANY.
At the very moment I decided to abruptly increase our separation, John solved the dilemma, and irrevocably committed us all…. with an impressive roar, he bailed straight out the door, leaping off the skid, weapon drawn, charging across the desert…
Followed a few seconds later by Dean, who lost several vital seconds by undoing his harness okay but forgetting his helmet lead…
And then it was all over… one suspect was cowering, holding his arms and hands up and forwards in a gesture of surrender and supplication….
“I give up, I give up, DON’T SHOOT ME… “

There were no other occupants. They had already bailed. We rolled them up later. One, hiding under a bush three miles away. And another, trying to hitchhike his way home, was arrested trying to hitch a ride off a plain clothes detective’s car….
He got his ride.

So it all worked out okay. Everybody was pleased. The Sheriff was thrilled. The newspapers lapped it up. My own boss grinned as well. Although she knew me well enough to know that hubby had some reservations about the exact unfolding of events…
And we debriefed. Extensively. And we went out and practised. And we all agreed, quietly, that we improvised, and that maybe we shouldn’t have…. and well, we got lucky…
“And let’s never get into THAT situation again… “

Time went by. Other things a happened. Some good, some bad. Some very exciting.
Some a little terrifying. But I found that I could never get that memory out of my mind.
Part of the memory was a visual 3-D image. Of the three of us in the helicopter, streaking low across the desert in a blur, catching up rapidly with the white Chevy pickup truck.
Three hundred yards to go.
110 knots…
Two hundred and fifty yards to go…

The other part of the memory is a constant replay of a little voice. A damn, pesky, accusing, sarcastic little voice.

A little voice that seemed to say:

“Okay….Francis… you IDIOT… and WHAT… are you going to do….


Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on December 28, 2008, 11:58 am

0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5 (0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this.

3 responses to “A Lonely Cockpit”

  1. Wow. Brilliant and exciting story. You keep the intensity throughout the actually story. The introduction is humorous and showed me a world (of helicopter terminology) that I was unaware of up until now. There were a few moments when I thought I would get lost in the technical terms, but you brought it back to me with a little joke or witty phrase. While I enjoy the introduction, I’m not sure if it functions as good support for the story. I worry a little that it may subtract from the intensity of the story. I do like how the bits about the little sarcastic voice are carried through all of this, though. That was funny, and something I felt I could relate to. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh, I agree. Lots of faults really. This was not a serious writing effort, just a bit of fun really. Celebrating "stupidity" elevated to an art form.

    Nice to take a break from ‘serious’ novel writing.

    Glad you enjoyed the excitement. A shade more excitement than I intended to have at the time….

  3. The first part of the story reminds me of the time when I got an engine overspeed indication on a 44 in cruise flight(I know…)After the engine and instruments were taken apart and investigated,it turned out to be just a gauge problem, thankfully .But the 45 seconds of descent while trying to cope with a problem that was not in the emergency procedure section….priceless!In an attempt to at least do something before  seizing the engine,I rolled throttle gently and lower collective to silence the horn and than throttle back on… and again and again till short final to this muddy gas plant in the middle of nowhere.Eye witnesses described the sound as "a disappointed jackass". Came in OK and landed with power .I should mention that I encountered different reviews from mechanics and management about my actions but that  "little voice " screaming :land me now !…..well that is what I had to convince myself on accepting from then on without second guessing.What if?…Thanks for a good story,Moggy!

Leave a Reply