Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual "Too much Gloom and Doom?"

Posted on April 6, 2010

Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual

Too much ‘doom and gloom’?

4/6/2010

         I’m enjoying the feedback I get from pilots, usually total strangers, who kindly drop me an email from time to time.
I had one today, and it just brought a smile to my face.

I have to thank you for the time you spent assembling the manual. I
am  Pilot/Mechanic investigating the possibility of flying the Tuna
fields. This is a HUGE help in understanding the way the business is
run and pitfalls Pilots can run into.
                                                        Eric Wolfe

Dude! You made my day!
This leads me on to something I find hard to express.
It is an odd feature about humans: they are quick to mock what they don’t understand. Certainly, there is some serious justification for the cynics who lump all psychic or ‘second sight’ manifestations under the headings of quacks, fakes, loooooonatics and bah-humbug.  Too many con-artists have scammed too many people. Anxious relatives, hurt and grieving parents, and over eager believers have proven to be easy victims for the unscrupulous, the deluded, and the rusty old seized ‘nut cases’.  The loopy-loos who don’t just have a screw loose. They have a whole bunch of the pesky suckers missing.
There is a problem here though. As so often is the case in the affairs of humans, we risk throwing out the baby with the bath water. All we see is gubby old soap scum and stains on the bath. We don’t see the tiny baby hiding behind that big yellow plastic duck. The one with the idiotic, permanently frozen, ever happy grin. The duck I’m talking about.
If we flush all that lot down the plug hole, we’ll be sorry later, if and when we ever find out.

          Many moons ago, when I was young and innocent, (well…. maybe rather randy), my first real girl friend was a soft spoken Irish lassy by the name of Roisin. She was a University Social Sciences student, and I was an Arts student, taking Economics and History. We went out for eighteen months or so, and I still remember her quiet, steadfast seriousness. She was an orphan, and had a reservoir of sadness inside her, which she kept hidden away from those surrounding her. She was kind, infinitely patient, thoughtful, and everybody liked her. Looking back, I can’t ever remember her ever having a quarrel with anybody.  If you said something sharp or cutting to Roisin, her eyes would go sad, but she would keep her peace. The quiet sadness would make you feel bad, and, unless you were a total blackguard, you had to back off.
I was a hopeless case, wild, and into fast motorbikes. Sky-diving. Poetry.  I read, I scribbled, and I would roar off over the mountains for days on end.  We ended our romantic relationship, without the slightest quarrel, and remained good friends. It was more of a case where she knew that whatever I was looking for, it wasn’t her. I kind of knew that as well.
Well, here’s the point of that story. I liked Roisin. We were close. Not in the romantic sense, but just as two friends. We talked for hours. Life, Death and the Universe. University students tend to do that. It’s mostly a good thing. It’s what makes our society free, as opposed to tens of thousands of young people, wearing the same uniform,  waving the same little red book in the air, praising the somewhat dull thoughts of a fat little Chinaman, invading the houses of the rich, and smashing up ancient artifacts. A "Great Leap Forwards" tends to be the clarion call of many a populist Big Government politician, today as before. From Chairman Mao to Comrade Barack. But does it work? I doubt it.
I enjoyed the discussions. I can still remember sitting around the fire at night, maybe ten of us. Talking. Arguing, discussing, debating, hoping… And I can still remember Roisin. Quiet, thoughtful, attentive, listening.
Wise. Wise way beyond her years.
I moved into a small apartment on my own. At 42 Rathgar Avenue, Rathgar, Dublin. I no longer wished to share. I wanted time and space to myself. To read. To scribble. To think. To be. Roisin moved in with four other girls. In Rathmines. All Social Science students. Once in a while, every few weeks or so, I would decide to go and visit. No phone call. Just a spur of the moment, uninvited, decision to go and see Roisin. Sometimes a month would go by. Her place and mine were about a mile apart. It was an easy walk.  Half way along the journey, there was an alleyway. Brick walls on both sides. It was maybe a hundred yards long or so.
"Hello Roisin!", I would call out, as I met her, half way down that alley.
"Hello!", she would wave, laughing, as she walked to meet me.
It didn’t just happen ONCE. Remember, no phone calls. No pre-arrangement. Just -purely- spontaneous.
It happened many, many times. No matter if we hadn’t seen each other for two months, we would meet…. spontaneously, half way down that alley. We had both decided, just like that, to go and see the other.
Who was the psychic? Who was picking up the other’s thoughts? Or were we both inclined that way? Or was there some other process at work here? One we don’t understand?

        Years later, I remember that particular air show well. I was performing in a Starduster Too open cockpit biplane.
He… was performing in a souped up monoplane. He liked doing super low level loops. One after the other. I remember looking at his wings. I could see, or was it sense, his wings approaching an aerodynamic stall. Struggling to fly. Struggling to pass smoothly through the air. Despite the actions of the pilot, who was hauling back on the stick. Approaching the bottom of the loop, with the ground rushing up. He would pull through at fifty feet. Air show smoke billowing out.  The crowd would gasp. Cheer. And he would go back and do it again. And again. A dozen times.
I hated it. I knew it was WAY too close. I flew my loops much higher. I knew a thing or to about things going wrong. Like the day the map flew out of it’s pocket, and unfolded across my face, while I was doing an inverted ‘fly by’ in a Christen Eagle biplane..
"Interesting maneuver that last one?", the onlookers said to me afterwards.
And I thought:
"You bet it was. Nothing like being upside down at thirty feet and doing one hundred and forty knots and not knowing where the sky ends and the ground begins…"
And I said: "Oh, that? Nothing much. Just a hiccup!"
And they smiled, a little puzzled, and I thought:
   "Fuxsake Francis… fly the next one a bit higher!"

       So I talked to my friend. Him of the super low level air show loops. One time, we were standing in the air show tent, and we had a quiet moment, just him and I. For once, a brief moment, the crowds of admirers were elsewhere, the groupies, the pretty women, the hangers on. I looked at him, seriously, and worried about his jocular, dismissive reply to my concerns. He implied that I was "past it", and that if flying air shows bothered me so much, I shouldn’t be doing it.
I remember I sensed -suddenly- an awful, screaming falsity behind his too easy smile. An awful, awful, deep, hopeless despair. I knew he was lying. But I didn’t know why. Helplessly, I said, softly:
"You are going to die…"
He laughed in my face, unkindly, turned, and walked away.

         A few months later, he was dead.
A farmer found the remains. A smashed little airplane in his field. Two dead people. When the details slowly came out, I was shocked and horrified. We all were. From the impact evidence, it was clear the aircraft had been trying to pull out of a low level loop. Eye witnesses described the same. But this time, he had needed planet Earth to budge over a few extra inches. But there was much more to it.
He had been at a function. Where he had been presented, for some reason, with a bottle of Whiskey. He had departed from that function, with the full,new, bottle of Whiskey. In the mangled, unrecognizable wreckage, they found that bottle, strangely intact. Mocking the world of destruction around it. Half full.
From there, the awful truth slowly eeked out. He had been having affairs, with young, pretty women. His wife, heart broken, had committed suicide. Leaving a young daughter. His parents-in-law, who leaved next door, were probably a constant reminder to him of his betrayal. And this was the pilot who had put up such a facade for me. Such a show of bravado. But I know I simply sensed it. I just sensed this awful, awful thing going on, and there was nothing I could do about it. Other than to say, quietly, what I felt. Or, rather, what I knew to be true:
"You are going to die…"

As beautiful as flying can be, as wonderful a privilege it can be, to observe the world and its strange goings on from up above… somehow, this heart broken soul, tortured, bewildered, feigning only bravado and insouciance, chose that dimension to mock Life itself.  The ultimate "fingers".
Was I just sensitive, or was there more to it? I don’t know. But I do know I, who loved to fly, who simply lived to fly, was deeply shocked at what I saw, for a brief, fleeting second, behind that mask.

       On another occasion, I was standing at the edge of a Big Hole, watching an A-Star taking off with a very full load of tourists. I have never seen a coning angle like that on a helicopter.  I watched it take off down wind, and then perform a hard nose over, over the edge. The last thing I saw was the tail boom, sticking vertically up like a flag pole. I describe the story elsewhere, in the series "Of Helicopters and Humans".
I was left with an awful, awful sinking feeling. Premonition? I don’t know. But I was alarmed enough to make several inquiries about the pilot.

          Which brings me to flying tuna helicopters off tuna boats.
There’s something I sense at times, from the emails I get, from the articles I read elsewhere. From the forums in Cyberspace, where pilots talk pilot shop. From some of the YouTube videos, with some pilots performing wild and wonderful gyrations on take off and landing….
It’s hard for me to put it into words. But I think it’s important that I try.
Bear with me then, my friend, while I struggle to put into words what I see in my mind as shadows, flitting across the Universe. Shadows, moving over the waves, and shadows, momentarily blocking out the sun.

        I absolutely loved flying tuna helicopters off tuna boats. I don’t regret the experience. I put a lot of effort into describing it in Chapter One of my -not yet finished- second novel, "The Tuna Hunter".  That chapter is called "The Empty Quarter", and it’s on this site. (I put up a few chapters on the site, hoping people would give me a kick up the tailpipe to go and finish the bloody thing.) You can click on this link:

The Empty Quarter

I would encourage you to read this chapter now. Having done so, I hope you’ll understand that it’s not all "gloom and doom" in what I’m trying to write about. You can spend days, weeks, months, and tragedy will not befall you, and nor will it cross your path as manifested in fellow pilot’s lives. But then, out the the steel blue, it happens…
How do we prepare ourselves for it? How do we avoid it? How… do we encourage that "small amber caution light" that goes off in your mind? And that small inner voice, that gut feeling, that strange awareness, that says to you:

"Hang on here! This is what Moggy was talking about! Hold on here a second! I could get hurt here…"

Much depends on you. And how sensitive you are to your own feelings. I think the answer lies in drawing some kind of balance. Pilots should go out there to enjoy themselves, enjoy their lives, enrich themselves financially, emotionally and culturally. There is plenty of opportunity for all that. And many are the descriptions you will find described in "Blip on the Radar" of the hilarity and utter nonsense Tuna Dudes get up to. From the shortcut I took to flushing out the crapper, to fish head soup, to your honorable captain physically miming – in the town’s best restaurant- exactly HOW you make love to an ugly woman.
But at the same time, as pilots, we need to have an awareness of what can go wrong, and what to do about it.
We all have to work on our own ‘psychic'(?) sensitivity…
There a million examples of where something happened to pilots, that they never -ever- thought would happen to them. Something that, when they heard about it happening to other pilots, they mocked as "how stupid". Ranging from hitting wires, to forgetting tie-downs, to taking off in a twin engined helicopter with one engine at idle, to flying into other helicopters, to flying into the water, to….etc, etc.
Guess what…
(Oops…)

In looking back over "Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual" so far, and the "Blip on the Radar" series so far, I worry a bit that maybe the "gloom and doom" side gets a bit too much exposure. The reason for this is that it’s hard to write about when it’s going well, and nothing untoward happens. How do you write "routine" up for page after page? It is therefore not surprising that the f… ups, the near disasters, the actual fatalities, of which there are way too many, get a lot of attention in my writing. I hope, dear reader, that this concentration on "gloom and doom" does not spoil your reading enjoyment.
It IS a necessary ingredient of a true, honest, purposeful description of tuna helicopter flying.

Yes, flying helicopters is wonderful.  I still have a blast. I still fly, almost every day when I’m "on hitch" here in the Gulf of Mexico.. Three, four, five hours a day. I still put in for the high flying jobs. And I went solo forty years ago. You’d think I’d grow up. By the time ten thousand hours rolls by, you’d think a guy would be getting bored. But no, give me a cold morning, and the chance to wind up an even colder turbine, and my little heart races in excitement. I can’t wait to pull pitch, and get going. As I climb through thirty feet, fifty, one hundred, one thousand… all my cares fall away. I’m flying.
I’m free….
In some of the following chapters, yet to come, I go into stuff I’m not really happy writing about. I know I’ve been putting it off.  Big time. But it’s crying out to be written. Quite a few readers have written to me and said that they have enjoyed the scribblings so far, and several have remarked on the "honesty". That last comment is important to me. Very important. I worry that I will come across as a pompous, moralizing, holier-than-thou self-appointed judgmental guru, if and when I loose that tenuous link with the reader, where the reader feels I’m being totally honest. And that must (and has) (and will) include my own totally stupid screw ups. There’s been quite a few already described, and there’s a fair few more floating around, waiting to be written up in due time, in what remains of my rapidly shrinking ‘gray matter’.

     The other problem has been names. Should I use real names or an alias for pilots who are now dead?
I once was furiously attacked for daring to suggest (innocently) that a pilot had flown into the water under control (CFI) in a classic case of the dreaded "Blue Out". A concept EVERY tuna pilot MUST be familiar with. All the evidence pointed to this, as the accident cause. The attack on me was in my face, furious, and I wondered if I was about to get punched out. I had no idea I was causing such offense to this pilot, who felt I was grievously insulting a very experienced pilot, who was not around to stick up for himself. That was far from my intention, but the episode taught me a valuable lesson or two.
In the event, I have used a mix. Some of the names are real, some are not. My intent in any case is not to hurt anybody’s feelings, and least of all the emotions of surviving relatives. I’ve tried to be ‘honest’ and faithful to my purpose:
*  to describe events that occurred, so other pilots may learn to  
   avoid those risks.
*  to remind myself, and everybody else, that, truly, "Here, but for the
   grace of God, go I…"
*  to avoid judgment. I firmly believe good men have died, not because
   they were stupid, but because things simply sneaked up on them.

Lastly, you may notice I spend quite a long time going into pilots’ "mindset".  In the sense of "attitude".
Correct.  I think that is simply crucial.  I’ll let you figure out why…

Fly safe, my friend, enjoy yourself. But…

be careful…

Francis Meyrick
       (c)

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on April 6, 2010, 11:10 pm


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