Francis Meyrick

Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual – Introduction

Posted on July 11, 2009


A nostalgic Photo: ‘my old bird’ – a Hughes 500 that never let me down

The best things in life are wild and free

“Moggy’s Tuna Manual “

Memoirs of an Irish Tuna helicopter Pilot
on Taiwanese and Korean purse seiner fishing vessels

Hints, tips, techniques, wild tales, and a good time

To all my tuna friends
and in memory of too many guys who didn’t make it home…


This manual owes its inception to a cry I have heard many times in various forms.

“I wish somebody would write a decent manual for those damn first-trippers! “

The ‘first tripper’ being a derogatory term used to describe the obvious newcomer to the field, who unwittingly has broken one of the unwritten rules, or executed a hair raising landing on a nearby ship. I have also heard the phrase “R-22 virgin “, ‘lost landlubber’ and ‘150 hour wonder’ used in the same manner, indicating the low-time fresh graduate of an R-22 school with no real commercial experience.
I was once a ‘R-22 virgin’. And very proud I was of my Commercial. By the time I made it to the ‘Tuna Fields’, I was racking up over four thousand hours, but that did not prevent me from accidentally upsetting some other pilots, and I know the phrase ‘damn first tripper’ went rapidly out over the airwaves!
My training -if you can call it that- was typical: about one hour. Another pilot had ‘walked off’ my boat in disgust, (after only two months) and my employer needed a pilot NOW. One day I was in Scotland with a promise of a job six weeks later. At three the next morning I got a phone call from the small island of Guam, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, saying:
“Your ticket is at the airport – the boat’s waiting – we need you NOW! “
I got off the long transcontinental flight -right across Siberia and Japan- at the airport in Guam, and found myself sitting in an old Bell 47 helicopter. After barely an hour, I was pronounced fit and able.
At that stage I discovered the boat had already set sail, and was some forty miles south of Guam. I was told to “head south – you can’t miss it “. I guessed I probably could….

Off I set anyway, on my little ownsome, and after investigating several vessels, I finally located my boat sailing full speed off over the horizon. Running tight on fuel, I caught up with my future home, and my first landing on a tuna boat -underway at full speed- was a self taught hands-on affair. The entire crew seemed to be out watching the arrival of their new pilot, and I wonder what the bets were.
And that… was the sum total of my ‘training’.
I knew nothing. Nada. Zip.
Small wonder then that the first time the boat stopped at sea, I wondered in complete puzzlement why everybody was so interested in a dead tree floating in the water!
That was in the early nineties’, and little was I to know I would spend five years flying off Taiwanese and Korean tuna boats.

I eventually moved on, flew fixed and rotary for a Arizona Sheriff’s Office for three and a half years, then a sojourn flying Air Ambulance, and after that I came to the Gulf of Mexico, flying offshore. I’ve been here for over five years again.
I think I can safely say that since my tuna helicopter flying days, a lot of air has passed around my rotor blades. I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, and made a few whopping bad mistakes. I have come close to wiping myself out, and frightened myself severely a few times. Above all though, I avoided possible future disasters by the kindness of more experienced tuna pilots, who unselfishly shared with me some of their experience gained the hard and painful way. No, I have never crashed. Touch wood. Touch a tree. Touch a whole damn FOREST. I have never even scratched a helicopter. But if I had never had any help, never had any advice, never had mentors… I would be stone dead by now.
I have waltzed -innocently- into many situations where…

a small amber caution light…

…flickered on inside my retarded brain. Where a little voice said to me:
“Hang on! Jimmy was telling me about this! This is where I have gotta watch it!
Hold on here now! “

And it is only in hindsight I fully realize how important those informal bar flying sessions actually were.
Many of the guys that I talked with were proud, stubborn old mules. Typical tuna pilots. Odd dogs, out of the mainstream, defying convention. Anti-authority. However, over a quiet beer, in some Godforsaken offbeat locale on some third world island, all were willing to tell on themselves, and admit their past mistakes, their learning cycles, and their prize f….. ups.
I always admired that. It takes a lot for an ex Vietnam Cobra pilot to admit where he screwed up on the tuna fields, and ‘splashed out’. Jim was one such a man, who reckons that the Hughes 500 is the ‘only machine’ that he could have been in and survived his high speed crash. Moody, occasionally sullen, introverted, and quick tempered, he nonetheless -patiently- answered all my simple questions. He spent hours with me, and he taught me a lot. Rough on the outside, he revealed to me a much softer side. He cared. All you had to do was ask. Jim was a willing teacher, who sought no reward.
Another tuna high-timer was Bob, who taught me all about avoiding rotor strikes near microbursts! I will always remember Bob for his quiet worrying about the offshore bird count.

“We used to have thousands of birds milling around here “, he would say. “Now it’s just hundreds. Why is the bird count going down? ”

He would worry about the impact of over exploitation of the Ocean’s resources, and advocated a much more active preservation role for those many island nations who control the fishing rights over large portions of the richest fishing grounds.
Ricky from Peru, a wonderful gentleman, told me what it’s like to go playing submarine in a Bell 47, and two other Hughes 500 drivers told me that a floating 500 rolls over inverted ‘real nice and slow’….
the same cannot be said for the adrenaline rush!

This ‘manual’ (I use the word loosely) then merely continues the tradition: an unselfish ‘passing on’ of information, tips, anecdotes and techniques that center on “the Art of flying a Tuna helicopter ” safely and successfully. There are also stories about the more human and cultural aspects of life in the Tuna Fields, and those don’t strictly belong inside this manual.
I am therefore slowly writing and posting those in the ‘companion series’ “Blip on the Radar “, also on this website. I have six posted so far, and another sixty two exist in outline note form…
I have written one novel, with a second one mostly finished. It’s called “The Tuna Hunter “, and you will find the first eight chapters also on this site. In that too, you will find some Tuna Flying descriptions.

This manual does NOT pretend to be exhaustive, or complete, or THE way to do things. One example of a highly contentious area is the landing technique on a boat that is rolling wildly with a heavy catch off the port side, Another is the use of ‘seal bombs’; many pilots refuse point blank to carry explosives in the helicopter. There are some great tales around about what happens if that little lot blows up inside the helicopter during flight. And then there are those pneumatic guns that fire steel arrows (with a wire trailing out behind) into floating logs. Just wait until they bounce, and go up through your rotor system.
Different pilots believe -passionately- in different things, but if this manual at least gives you an insight into the arguments for and against, you will be so much better prepared before you go out.
And you will know what to watch for…

There is a huge amount of time and effort gone into this manual, and it is an ongoing process. But if it saves just ONE pilot’s life, somewhere along the line, and if that pilot one day drops me a thank-you note… then I will be more than rewarded. It’s now thirty-nine years since I first went solo. And for some reason, I still get a wonderful thrill out of flying helicopters. All I need is a quiet morning, first flight, and I simply can’t wait to pull pitch and get going. One of these days I guess I might grow up and stop enjoying it so much…

As you read through this manual, I ask you to bear in mind that most of it was written in the nineties’. Those were heady days.
I was out and gone from tuna flying by 2000.

Now, in July 2009, as many of us old Tuna hunters look back at the difference only a decade of intensive hunting can make, we worry.
We worry that greed, shortsightedness, and a failure for the industry to self regulate may have devastating consequences.

For me,I am torn between the excitement we felt, the joy of thrilling adventure, the awe I felt when studying the vastness of the Pacific Ocean up close and personal, and a quiet despair. Tuna are beautiful fish. So, so beautiful to watch. They deserve to be caught, as Man has done for thousands and thousands of years, with respect for Nature, respect for sustainability, and gratitude for this great gift of the Oceans.
They do not deserve to be ruthlessly hunted into extinction, and cold bloodedly assassinated. As Wikipedia says, “the jury is out ” on whether Yellowfin tuna is being hunted today in a sustainable manner. Skipjack and Albacore are apparently doing well. But what of the Bluefin, that commands thousands of dollars per fish in upscale Japanese restaurants, just because it is threatened and rare? What kind of cynical nonsense is that?
There are many helicopter pilots out there, and for their safety and information, the many tips on survival and accident avoidance are as topical today as they were in the nineties’.
But what is changing slowly but steadily is this: unless the tuna industry and those Pacific nations that control extensive maritime fishing zones get their conservation act together, they risk many former tuna hunters like myself becoming vocal enemies.
The tuna is too beautiful, too valuable, too much part of the ecological habitat we ALL have to survive in, to have us stand by and watch dozens and dozens of massive new hi-tech fishing vessels being built every year. There has to be a control over this.
Is the tuna industry seriously negotiating conservation and sustainability? Or is this just talk, talk, and more pure BS designed to put a smiling face on that of the executioner?
While fishing companies race to make the last financial killing, before it’s too late?
The jury…is out. But this may well get very, very ugly very soon.

Fly Safe, may God go with you, however you perceive Him.
I leave you with a video below, which -for me- shows that mixture of the excitement of the hunt, and the awe and beauty of Nature.
Man HAS to live in balance with this fragile, precious, unique, and threatened resource…

I hope you enjoy my humble efforts, and I hope that, one day, you’ll instantly recognize…

that small amber caution light…

…going off in your mind! And if I helped plant it there, and you let me know, then I’ll be thrilled.

Live Safe, enjoy the ride

Francis ‘Moggy’ Meyrick

(all rights reserved)

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on October 29, 2015, 8:54 pm

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