Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (15) Things that go “Klunk! ” in Flight

Posted on June 5, 2013

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any WORSE… f@#k’n SHARKS…

Of Helicopters and Humans

Part 15 – Things that go “Klunk!” in flight

Have you ever had something unexpectedly go “Klunk!” in Flight? Or even “Klunkety-Klunk-BANG!” Or something suddenly set up the Rattle from Hell? An unexpected series of explosive pops? Have you ever coolly exercised the heights of your aviator professionalism, with the correct Pilot Responding Etiquette?
To wit, the correct cockpit interrogative questioning? CRM, and all that? You know. Like:
Dude! What the Fu-fu-fu… was THAT…!?

I have. And, if you are a pilot, so have you.
I remember, one day, we were beaching out, happily minding our own business. Just the two of us, Me and a customer VIP. Important guy, with whom I got on real well. But you always remember, he owns phone numbers to people who can get you fired in a heartbeat. So you have to watch the Black Gentleman on a Bicycle jokes. Or the Irish, why-did-God allow the invention of Whiskey type jokes. (you know, He was concerned that the Irish might otherwise rule the world).
I was trying to be good. “Pee Cee”. (politically challenged, right?) We were flying in a beautifully maintained, gleaming, single engine Bell 407. It was a nice morning. Sun was just up. Calm seas. Excellent visibility. Smooth ride, with a brand new turbine above our heads. Just installed the day before. Shiny. New. Nice. Expensive.
We were talking about women. I was telling him about the two most terrifying words I had ever spoken in my entire Life. (the second, and last, time I said: “I do“).
He said that was Nothing. He could beat that hands down.
Really? Really! Alright, PROVE IT! Sure…
Turned out, he had suffered a similar experience, but with the two most EXPENSIVE words he had ever heard in HIS entire life. It was in a Divorce Court, and the two words were: “You lose.”
In this way, we were, as the saying goes, flying along FD & H. That’s a technical expression. In pilot’ vernacular, it means Fixated, Directed and Holding Steady to your course. A perfectly good and healthy pilot mental attitude.
(It is of course also referred to as fat, dumb, and happy.)
All of a sudden: (really loud, really high pitched) Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…!!!
True to my profession, and my reputation as a cool professional, I said:
Dude! What the Fu-fu-fu… was THAT…!?

It had sounded like a bearing, screaming at a very high frequency. It had lasted for about five or six seconds. There was no mistaking that incredibly high-pitched whine. Not good. Not good at all. We looked at each other. He wore an expression of horror. One of those “Yikes! That wasn’t good!” expressions. I thought it was almost comical. Until I realized I probably wore the same look. Hurriedly composing myself, I said:
“Errr… I think we’ll just turn around, eh?”
“Yes”, he said, with singular feeling. “Let’s just turn around…!”
We flew back. No more funny noise. No more wheeeeeeeee… Weird. We were almost back home, and I was five minutes away from joining the traffic pattern, when, all of a sudden:

Yikes. This time it lasted longer. A good ten to twelve seconds maybe. We looked at each other. There was another helicopter on frequency, a friendly bird, just landing somewhere, and probably about to go off frequency. I called him, and asked him to stay up, as we had a problem. He immediately agreed, good guy, and now we had a guardian angel within a few minutes flying time.
Just in case.
We landed uneventfully, and the maintenance crew were waiting.
An hour or two later, they had poured all over it, gone all through it, poked everywhere, ground run it, tested it, poked it, prodded it, and… nobody could find anything wrong.
“Francis! There is nothing wrong with this helicopter! It’s a brand new engine, for Goodness’ sake!”
“Errr… Well, hell, I didn’t make it up!”
Accusing glances.
“Well, if you don’t believe me, check with the customer. HE heard it as well!”
Eventually, they asked if I would take two of the mechanics along for a test flight. To see if we could duplicate the event. That is also technical pilot-speak. It means:
“Go up and see if it really is broken…”
“Away with ye! And don’t come back until it’s BUST!”
Duh. Okay. I decided to stay within auto-rotational distance from the field. Just in case I became a glider. Off we went.
Nothing. Smooth ride. Normality. The two mechanics were not pleased. Getting pissed, was maybe a better description. Soon, they were berating me for wasting everybody’s time. They were real busy, and they had better things to be doing than chasing after phantom noises. Furthermore…
I wasn’t really listening. I was trying to figure out what airspeed and power combination, or what flight maneuver, could possibly precipitate that strange bearing howl. I was turning right. Turning left. Adding power. Reducing power. Changing Airspeed. Basically, I was trying to break it. Let’s see if we can really, really make this baby squeal…
(ah, Bingo!) (cool!)
Now I was all pleased with myself. Now I knew exactly….
Unfortunately, my two onboard Aircraft Maintenance Technicians did not share my warm glow of satisfaction.
(Hmmmmm… Pay-back Time..)
I smiled sweetly. Innocently. Unhurriedly. Quietly venomous.
“Are you sure? Don’t you think we should fly it a bit more, and see if we can really, really BUST it?”
(lots of vigorous gesticulating; fingers jabbed downwards. We want to LAND. NOW. Really? YES! REALLY!!!) (Oh, okay, if you insist…)

* * * * *

A few minutes later, I was sitting in the cockpit on the ground, cooling the (brand new) (nothing wrong with it) engine down for the required time period. I was humming a quiet little tune to myself. The Ride of the Valkyries, if I remember. Or Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly… As I watched my two passengers scurry quickly into the Maintenance Hangar. Tails tucked tight between legs.
Same old, same old. More bods climbing all over the helicopter. Prodding, poking, looking, minutely inspecting. Ground runs. Lots of ground runs. Phone calls. More ground runs. Needless to say, nothing found. No surprise for me there.
Eventually. The lead Mechanic (who had not been aboard) addressed the Boss, crossly, in a displeased manner, in my presence, and in the presence of his own mechanics.
“This is NONSENSE. THAT is a BRAND NEW engine. There is NOTHING wrong with it. I don’t know what you guys THINK you are hearing, but it’s NOT the engine. I want to go up myself…”
Sure, said the Boss.
And, with a contemptuous finger jabbed in my direction, the Lead added:
“And I want a different pilot!”.
Sure, said the Boss.
I thought: “Thanks!” and “Shoot the Messenger!”, but I kept my face carefully neutral.
The duly appointed pilot was a good buddy of mine. When the opportunity presented itself, I took him aside.
“Would you do me a favor?”
“I think I know what’s going on. For some bizarre reason, it goes off in a moderate descending turn to the left, at about five hundred feet per minute, and at about sixty to sixty five per cent torque. The moment you stop the turn, or pull more torque, the squeal stops. I have no idea why. But here is what you do: fly around for a few minutes, and make sure he’s cussing up a storm. Make sure he’s run me through a shredder. When he’s totally convinced that I’m a dangerous idiot, and saying so, THEN put her into a descending turn to the left! Just make sure you stay within auto rotational range of the strip…”
Off they went. Within ten minutes, they were back. There was now a small army of interested onlookers. Word had spread like wildfire. The machine had barely touched down, than the passenger door flew open, and the Lead was to be seen erupting out. He was an older and perhaps portly gentleman, and not prone to moving quickly at all. But now he appeared highly agitated, and positively hit a running Warp Speed on his way to the Safety and Shelter of his Hangar. None of us had ever seen him move that fast.
We pilots all walked over to the helicopter. My buddy had tears of laughter pouring down his face. His mirth was such, that he had difficulty speaking at first. It emerged that he had done exactly as I had requested. The Lead had indeed cussed up a storm. I was the most incompetent, moronic, excuse for a pilot he had EVER had the misfortune to come across. Furthermore, he was going to tell the Boss, that this was the biggest waste of time and resources that he had ever…
On cue…
(The Lead was making frantic up and down leg movements, as if he was furiously pedaling a bicycle…)
My buddy, right up to the game, had raised his eyebrows, and asked:
“Really? Don’t you think we should fly it some more?”
On cue…

* * * * *

Twenty minutes later, the mechanics were all busy pushing my baby into their hangar. Ten minutes after that, I happened, casually, to walk past the open Maintenance Hangar door. Mechanics were all over her, and the engine hoist was already in position over the top. The engine was coming OUT.
The Lead was situated on top, directing the hoist. Our eyes met. He paused, and looked at me.
Pregnant… silence… wordless.
Everybody looked at me. They were all waiting. Waiting. For the dry, maybe withering comment.
But I, the most incompetent excuse for a pilot that ever walked the portals of Infamy, wasn’t about to spoil the moment.

I just smiled. Sweetly.

And slowly walked away…

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 12, 2014, 5:06 am

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