Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 19) “Pilot-not-in-command; Moggy, Moggy, what DID I just do…?? “

Posted on February 21, 2010

A Blip on the Radar

Part 19: “Pilot-not-in-Command; Moggy,Moggy…what DID I just do? “

(Pilots tell me they find “Moggy’s Tuna Manual ” truthful and honest. Thanks, guys. I’m glad. I don’t try and portray myself as a super hero pilot. Because I know… I’m not. I make mistakes, just like everybody else. Of course, ‘they’ don’t all admit it. Many experienced pilots become arrogant and proud, judgmental, conveniently forgetting their own past learning mistakes…
I’ve seen some of these guys become instructors, check pilots, etc, and adopt a golden halo of their own superiority.
Entitled to use withering sarcasm to smash and slam low ranking pilots for the slightest, trivial transgression…
This sends entirely the wrong message.

The implication is that when you’re good, you don’t make mistakes.

Bullshit. A good, defensive helicopter pilot accept his own human fallibility, and is on a sharp look out to avoid trouble. Not to mention acute personal embarrassment. Always.
Here follows a description of an occurrence, that I’m not proud of. Actually, it still sends shivers down my spine when I recall it. I’m not aware of anybody else in the History of Tuna Helicopters who has ever pulled this little trick…)

This… can happen to the brain as well

Accidents happen, they say.
But in the helicopter flying world, these accidents can kill. It follows that the prudent helicopter pilot will always try and think ahead. To the “what if ” scenarios. What if this-and-this happens? Then I will do THAT. Now you have actually thought about it. Beforehand. Maybe read something up on the subject. Seen it in “Moggy’s Tuna Manual “. Discussed it with a fellow pilot. You have digested it. For sure, you are now a much better pilot. But what of the sudden, cataclysmic events that you have never -ever- in your wildest dreams thought about? That happen so incredibly swiftly, that the events become almost surreal? Taking on a dream-like quality?
It is to be hoped that you never experience these events. But if you stay in the world of helicopters long enough, never mind the mercurial, quicksilver world of tuna spotting helicopters…. well, you will experience these nasty surprises, my friend, believe me, you will…

I had landed my beautiful Hughes 500 on another Taiwanese ship.
This particular crazy captain, one I wasn’t impressed with at all, was off on another gambling spree. That night he would probably return, drunk, even more in debt, moody, and determined to take his frustrations out on his unfortunate crew the next day. It seemed he would never learn. Gambling at cards is a real mug’s game. It’s almost as silly as believing the election trail promises of an American wannabe presidential contender. Watch my lips, no new taxes…

I had dropped him on his opponent’s vessel, and then shut down there. After a wait of a few hours, I had been told to return to my own boat, alone. All I had to do was fly the ten minutes back to my boat. Easy…
The deck was rocking a bit, with a stiff breeze blowing through. Twenty five knots or so. Some spray. No biggie.
The deck helper of that boat had come up to assist me. He was a bland, unsmiling individual, who revealed little expression on his weathered face. We untied my bird, and I did a pre-flight. Then I hopped in, and fired her up. Only the belly hook kept me from possibly sliding on the rolling deck. I warmed her up, and then smoothly started to advance the throttle.
Routine… nothing special.
I always enjoyed this stage. The anticipation. I would look forward to the freedom of flight. Always. The excitement.
I couldn’t wait. I absolutely loved to fly. I still do…
Now I was at full throttle. I checked the gauges, and everything was in the green.
Routine… nothing special.
I had done this a thousand times. Now to disengage the belly hook. I squeezed the trigger on the cyclic, which released the belly cable.

the famous (or infamous) ‘belly cable’

Even if the ship was to rock violently now, I had already achieved full RPM. I could always haul her off in a hurry if I was forced to. Next was a gentle increase in collective pitch. A smoooooth collective pull, nice and gentle, but positive nonetheless. Obediently, my faithful steed ‘sat up’. The undercarriage shock absorbers were now extending, and it gave the pilot a taut feeling of readiness. She was ready to go, light on the skids. I was vaguely aware of the deck helper staring at me unblinkingly, with that emotionless expression.
Routine… nothing special.
I had done this a thousand times. I was supremely confident. I eased in a fraction more collective. She “sat up ” just a little bit more. Obedient. My baby. My beautiful baby. Docile. She was telling me that she was ready to go.
I eased up a bit more on the collective lever. And a bit more…
Routine… nothing special.
I eased up just a bit more. Now she was really ready to go…

A thought screamed into my mind…

Like a galloping horseman on a dark, storm tossed night, a scary messenger with desperate tidings.
A strange awareness. A lurch in emotions. A sudden sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Hang on here…
In a trillionth of one second, a distant message was coming through. It was amplifying in my brain. The voice that spoke it, was elevating into a crescendo.
Hang on here… Something is WRONG!

It was too late…
In the next one trillionth of a second, I got as far as tearing my eyes away from outside back into the cockpit.
Glancing hurriedly down, I got as far as a fleeting realization:
Shit! That’s a HELLUVA lot of torque…
In another one trillionth of one second, I would have slammed the lever down, and averted catastrophe.
I would have….
It was too late…

There came a colossal KA-BANGGGG!!!!!
The Laws of Nature, as I had understood them until that moment, were abruptly reversed. The Great Galactic Universe performed a trick I had never, ever, seen before. In a flash, the ship disappeared below, into a deep pit that had mysteriously opened up. It simply fell into the abyss. I was now in a predicament that I had never imagined. My mind was stalling. I wasn’t flying. I wasn’t pilot-in-command. The ship had fallen away. Just like that. And I was rotating to the right, slowly.
And I hadn’t a clue what to do.
What the F@#!!K…!!!

Precious micro seconds flashed by, whilst my mind grappled with utter confusion. I had my hands on the controls, but I wasn’t flying. I was a passenger. A pilot-not-in-command….
Slowly, I realized that the ship had not fallen into an abyss. It was I who had been suddenly hurtled skyward. Fired vertically like an arrow out of a bow.
I eased down on the collective, and eased forward on the cyclic. Achieved some airspeed. Checked my altitude.
Holy cow….
Tried to work it all out…
It was obvious the belly cable had failed to release. Not realizing it, and with no reaction or warning from the unfamiliar deck helper, I had mistakenly pulled in more and more power. Yup, I was trying to lift a cool 1,200 tons of Taiwanese steel. The gear legs had extended normally, with the belly cable now going fully tight. As I had pulled in more power, convinced that all was normal, I had suddenly realized something was wrong. All that power and still no vertical lift off? But then, a trillionth of a second before my full realization, the belly hook had simply failed. Or finally snapped open. This had literally fired me off the deck, like the proverbial arrow, with a truly astonishing rate of climb of many thousands of feet per minute. That shocking departure, coupled with the strange slow turn to the right, had rendered me a stunned passenger for precious moments. A pilot-not-in-command….

Now I was flying again, worrying about damage to the helicopter.
Where did the blades go!???? Did they hit anything? Holy cow…
I was in the cruise now, still reeling in shock, trying to picture what my poor little baby had just gone through.
I was thinking aerodynamics. Thrust. Rotor blades. Maybe striking the tail boom. I was assuming the belly hook had failed.
But now an awful thought sledge hammered into my aching mind.
How do you know the HOOK failed??? Maybe the CABLE broke?
Oh, God…

Now I was trying to grapple with the picture in my mind of an altogether different scenario. And instantly, yet another horrible thought announced itself, like a brother demented horseman, a Valkyrie screaming in delight.
Oh, hell!! Fuk-fuk-fuk!!! How do you know WHERE it broke???
Long since in a cold sweat, now I gasped at the nightmare scenario of a long length of steel cable trailing out behind my helicopter, in approximate formation with my one and only tail rotor…
That was all I needed, for the wire to wrap itself around the tail rotor, and rip the whole rotor system, gearbox included, right out of the airframe… The resultant change in center of gravity would render the entire aircraft uncontrollable…
A catastrophe in the making.
A friend of mine had crashed that way, and almost died…

I looked at my air speed indicator, which was winding up through way too many knots, panicked, and abruptly tried to slow down. This, I realized instantly, as the nose pitched up, might be the worst possible thing to do. My mind clearly saw the unseen wire snaking towards the tail rotor, aided by my abrupt flare…
You IDIOT!!! Concentrate! Fly this puppy smoothly…
The next few minutes were nerve wracking in the extreme. As I slowly and smoothly headed towards my boat, a thousand scenarios playing through my numbed mind. I just couldn’t tell what was happening. Was it the hook? Or the cable?
The hook or the cable?
Am I trailing wire?
If so, how long is that wire?
Long enough to reach the tail rotor?
What other damage have I done?
Am I going to crash?

I was a very relieved pilot, by the time I touched down on my boat. I was even more relieved, when I climbed underneath, and saw the four foot of steel wire trailing from the (still closed) belly hook. I was right. It was the cable that had broken. Luckily for me, only four foot away from the belly hook. Not enough to reach the tail rotor…
I had been lucky. Again. What if I had not been fired off vertically? What obstacle might I have cannoned into?
What if the blades had flexed down, and chopped my tail boom?
What if…

I don’t smoke. I climbed down to the deck below, and asked for a cigarette. The Taiwanese that gave me one, a little surprised, tried hard to light it for me. But I was shaking so badly, so uncontrollably, that the lighter in his hand was doing circles around trying to match the flame to the tip. Eventually, concern in his eyes, he watched me suck in the first puff.
He smiled. I smiled back.
“Is good? “,he asked, meaning the cigarette.
I paused, reflecting.
Then I nodded.
“Is good “, I answered.
Meaning something else.
Is good….

To be bloody well alive…

Francis Meyrick

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Last edited by Francis Meyrick on May 19, 2016, 6:10 am

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