Of Helicopters and Humans (2) “Nuthin’ like a Good Hammer “

Posted on October 17, 2009

Of Helicopters and Humans

2. There ain’t nuthin’ like a good hammer

(On the problems of ‘Remote Authority’ and the back-and-forth tussle with Anti-Authoritarian ‘Type A’ tendencies amongst SOB pilots. Helicopter operations frequently allow our PIC’s to develop partial or total disrespect for Head Office. The Boss may be hours, days, and hundreds of miles away. Self discipline is critical, because ‘imposed discipline’ is not even nearly as efficient, and may also merely temporarily smother existing anti-authoritarian tendencies. Sooner or later, these may express themselves anyway, disastrously. Knowledge is power. To listen brings knowledge. Having worked on both sides of the equation, I immediately confess: I am a SOB pilot)

(But one day, one day, I’s gonna be damn near as good as you)

Johnny was not a bad kid.
At the age of six, he had a serious run-in with his sister’s cat. And afterwards, with his big sister. It wasn’t that he meant any harm. He wasn’t being bad. He had watched Uncle Moriarty shave. And that old geezer, once he was done, would stroke his skin, beam at himself in the mirror, and act all pleased. Johnny thought shaving was real cool and grown up. One day, he took the razor, and admired it. He looked around. Maybe his sister’s cat would look better after a shave. Johnny tried it. It didn’t work out, and there was a whole lotta trouble.

At the age of seven, Johnny discovered climbing trees. The higher, the better. He was often warned not to do it. “Johnny, if you fall out, you could seriously hurt yourself. “
“Yes, Mom… “
He did it anyway, and he fell out. He got a plaster from Mom, little sympathy, and, worse, the promise that Dad was going to be informed. That was not good. This escalation up the chain of command was the stuff of nightmares.
He got a lecture about all the risks. And a stern warning: don’t do it again!
“Yes, Dad… “
All went well for a very long time indeed, at least three whole weeks. The trouble was, the big kids climbed trees all the time. Johnny wanted to be like the big kids. All tough and brave and so independent.
One day, a big kid challenged Johnny to climb this big old oak tree.
“I can’t “, Johhny said sadly, “I’m not allowed to… My Dad says so. “
The big kid laughed and laughed.
“Are you a chicken? MY Dad says the same. But I don’t care. I do it anyway. What does HE know? Stupid Old Fart! “
Johnny was impressed by the big kid. Where was his Dad, anyway? At work, in some remote, boring old office, miles and miles away. Hmmmm….
Up he went, a rotten branch gave way, Johnny fell badly, and spent a few painful days in hospital.

Many years later, Johnny decided to become a helicopter pilot.
He got to be where he was pretty damn good. He rated himself, easily, as an above average helicopter pilot.
He also obtained his A+P mechanic’s license.
The chicks loved Johnny, and Johnny was having the time of his life. About the only thing he didn’t like about helicopter jobs was all the rules and regulations. There was often a whole book full. And it changed all the time. It got to be annoying, a paper pushing exercise. It had nothing to do with real helicopter flying.

His mates, all pilots who had been there longer than he had, told him about some of the short cuts. It wasn’t strictly legal, or by-the-book, but everybody did it. So what the heck, anyway.
It all worked out just fine. The years went by. Johnny by now had suspended much of his respect for any Head Office. He had very little belief in the value of anything that emanated from there. To him, the Chief Pilot was an archaic form of ‘Remote Authority’. It was a necessary institution, but just for show. For the insurance companies, and the like. The Chief Pilot, some crazy Irishman named Moggy, was a complete idiot anyway.

One day, Johnny’s rotor brake failed completely. He couldn’t fix it. He was working off a tuna boat, flying a Hughes 500. It was windy weather. He sent a satellite fax to the Remote Authority, advising them of the problem. Back came an immediate reply:
“Stop flying. The ship will be in port in a few days anyway, and I’ll meet you there with spares.
Moggy “

Johnny wasn’t happy. His Korean captain wasn’t either.
Johnny sent another fax.
“Captain wants me to go on flying. It will be okay.
I’ll be careful.
Johnny “

Back came the instant reply.
“STOP flying. Repeat: DO NOT FLY. Not worth the risk. With the wind conditions you are having in your area, you may not be able to stop the blades from spinning. Believe me. I will see you in Majuro in a few days anyway.
Moggy “

Oh, rats. Johnny was used to doing his own thing. This was stupid. Who the hell was this Moggy dude to think he knew better, sitting in his office fifteen hundred miles away? Fukn Irish motormouth…
Johnny was slow of belief. A real case of S-O-B. Because Johnny knew, from long experience at this sort of thing, ever since he was six years old, that he-knew-better. Dammit. So he went flying anyway.
Two days later, shortly before going into port, Johnny had landed back, and, to his surprise and dismay, after shutdown his rotor blades would not stop. They just kept right on spinning. No matter what he tried. He pulled the collective up, he tried rocking the cyclic. He experimented in every way he could think of. The wind just kept motoring the damn blades.
He was in the midst of yet another experimentation with the controls, when there was a sudden loud ‘Bang!’.
One (or more) of his blades had struck the tail boom. When everything finally stopped whirring, there was a big dent in the tail boom. About twelve inches long and six inches across. And deep. Uh-oh. Now what.
The captain reported the incident by fax. He also complained in the same fax that his pilot was drinking heavily.
Especially spirits.
This time there was a satellite phone call. Johnny knew these sat calls were very expensive. It therefore surprised him how long that call took, and how he hardly even got a word in. His head was ringing at the end of the call.
Damn, that Moggy dude was mad… Oh well.
He walked up to the helideck, and had another good luck at the dent. It sure was pretty deep. Hmmm…..
He fetched a hammer, reached up inside, and gave it a few experimental whacks. The initial blows didn’t do much good. But once he dialled up the volume, he started to see results. After a bunch of hammering, it looked pretty damn good. Moggy would be pleased. He told the captain he had repaired the problem, and the next day they went flying again.
All’s well that end’s well, Johnny thought. He sent this fax:
“I fixed the problem. I took a hammer and the dent came right out. We are back flying. No need for you to come to Majuro. Johnny “

The reply was instantaneous, within minutes.
“Are you totally NUTS???!!! Are you an A and P? Look at your maintenance manual! It is a stressed monococque structure. No repairs are allowed! You don’t know what internal stress damage has occurred! FOR FUXSAKE! DO NOT FLY!! What about the rotor brake? Did you fix that with the hammer as well??
Moggy “

And in this manner, it came to pass, in the year nineteen ninety nine, that the skies over Majuro were clear and blue, save for one small, ominous black cloud. A meteorologist, on examining this curious phenomenon, would have discovered that the black cloud was centered over a solitary figure.

I was waiting on the quay side, with a long box, which I had cleared through customs with monumental difficulty.
After a long and arduous series of passenger flights. Amazing the funny looks you get when you try – with a straight face- to check in a spare tail boom in a very long box. I had with me also a drive shaft, spare couplings, and a tail rotor gearbox. And a bunch of tools. The fact that it all got accepted (after a fine) owes much to the good sense of humour of the staff of Continental Airlines…
The costs, coupled with the loss of earnings, where already through the roof. All because this SOB person, this slow of belief pilot, had been too pig headed to listen. It had started with a simple rotor brake failure. It had escalated to a very expensive and rather sick joke. If I didn’t get this SOB (Slow of Belief) pilot off that boat, I just knew it was gonna become a catastrophe. However, the Big Boss, the owner of the company, wanted him to do one more trip. Then the boat was coming into Guam anyway, at the start of a three month re-fit. His plan was for us to fire the pilot then.

So here I sat, hot, frustrated, pondering stubborn little pilots, who think they know better, who will not listen, and who think that anybody who sits behind a desk in an office must be -by definition- a blithering, pencil pushing moron.
It seemed, over and over again, that the thought never crossed their minds that maybe -just maybe- I had done the job myself for years, and I actually did have a remote clue what I was talking about.
A net boat came slowly chugging in. You recognize the design. There were two people on it, an Asian driving the boat, and a Caucasian. That was probably our professional pilot, right there. I had never met him before.
They landed, and we shook hands. We decided to have a meal before we set off back to the ship. Chief Pilot and Pilot, all friendly like. Right.
Soon I was watching my professional pilot get drunk. He was knocking back the beers with gusto. I can drink with the best of them, but not at lunch time, and not when there is serious work to be done. I kept my face straight, but I was most unimpressed. His conversation told me that he had plenty of brains. It seemed a great pity the utilisation thereof was such a problem for him. To my surprise, he launched off into a long explanation of why it wasn’t necessary for me to have come all the way out. The dent was fixed, he’d been careful, there was absolutely no problem.
I marveled. After that long, sticky, expensive, difficult journey, with a ton of awkward spares, he really expected me to smile sweetly and just turn around? It seemed so. Not for the first time in my career, I wondered about changing my face. It obviously had innocence, naivety, gullibility, and “please kick me ” written all over it.
I was cold when I informed him – firmly – that I was not getting back on the plane.
Thirty minutes later, we were approaching the Sajo Olympia. A Korean vessel, bought from the Americans. Sleek and fast.
His protestations had now faded into silence, at last, and I was now interested in seeing this “repaired dent ” for myself.
A few minutes later, I was climbing the ladder to the helideck. I got to the top, four rungs to go, and now I was peeping over the edge. There she was, poor thing. Poor little baby. There she was…
I froze. I had four rungs to go, but I just stopped. I could see it immediately. I remember just blinking a few times.
I had to be wrong. I had to be…
But no…
I have seen some crazy things in aviation. Buy me a beer, and I can tell you a story. Lots of stories.
This… would be one of them.
The upper vertical fin was tilted over backwards.
The lower vertical fin was tilted forwards.
There was a kink in the tail boom, where the main rotor blade (or blades) had struck with sufficient force.
This meant that (in addition to questions as to the structural integrity) that the tail rotor drive shaft was not rotating in the same plane. It was in fact, whipping around, putting critical stresses on the coupling, the tail rotor gearbox input shaft, and the gearbox itself. And probably sending all manner of harmonic vibrations through the airframe.
And Mister Professional Pilot here, with an A+P mechanic’s license, was flying it that way…

I pointed out the anomaly from the Hughes factory design. From his reaction, it seemed to me quite obvious that he hadn’t noticed it before. I noticed it just popping my head above the edge of the helideck.
Further investigation also revealed (amongst other things) a cracked droop stop ring. Go figger…
I fired him. To hell with him doing one more trip. On the spot. Through clenched teeth. Red hot, and also partly in awe.
In holy awe, that some mothers do have ’em. It’s amazing what you can do with a hammer.

I’m sure glad I didn’t have one to hand right there and then…

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on October 17, 2009, 8:29 am

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3 responses to Of Helicopters and Humans (2) “Nuthin’ like a Good Hammer “

  1. Huh?Unf@&%^real!Yeah,good thing you didn’t have a hammer handy.I bet few more tools looked usable for the task. Johnny was a bloody idiot!

  2. I received an interesting email about this story.
    With permission from the sender, I quote it here as a "Nony Mouse".
    The sender didn’t want to get himself into hot water, and i can understand that.

    Here you go:

    Hi Moggy

    How much of that is true and how much is artistic license?  Did some
    dickhead really go flying with a bent tailboom, having taken a lump
    hammer to it?

    I’d really like to believe that this was a made-up story, told to
    make baby pilots (and some supposedly-grown-up pilots) stop and
    think.  However, last weekend, I saw the tail boom from an R44; the
    pilot (a PPL who had hired the aircraft for the day – no commercial
    pressure here!) had had a heavy landing, heavy enough to kink the
    tailboom.  There was a fist-sized dent on the bottom surface, about
    a foot back from the connection points.  If that had been me, even
    assuming I could have explained away the various ripples all over
    the bodywork, the dents on top where the pylon rocked, the skid gear
    having not so much a smile, but a big, fuckoff leer… well, I hope
    I’d look at a dented tailboom and get the aircraft back on a truck,
    but I suppose if you can overlook everything else, what’s a little
    dent?  Anyway, wonderboy decided it wasn’t that bad, and flew said
    aircraft back to base – about an hours flight, I think.  I got to
    see it in bits, just after they scrapped the entire tailboom.  The
    aircraft is getting its 2200 hour rebuild early…

    So yeah, I can believe there are some suicidally stupid people out

    Nony Mouse

    Answer to the Mouse from Moggy the Pussy Cat:

    No, my friend, it is exactly as it happened.
    ZERO artistic license!
    I mean:   ZERO

    And may a bolt of lightning from heaven strike me down deader than Obama’s promises if I’m lying!  

    (Crap! what was that fuk’n flash…)

  3. One of the fun things about running a highly informal off-the-cuff and who gives a rat’s ass anyway website is that ‘feedback’ jogs memories.
    That description of the poor R-44 adjusted in a manner not approved by Frank Robinson (met him a few times, by the way) reminds me of a story.

    Guess I’ll put it on the list to go and scribble some day!

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