Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (20) “Ring-around-the Roses, One Time, Darling “

Posted on March 9, 2014

I love the view from my office…

Of Helicopters and Humans

Part 20: Ring Around the Roses, One Time, Darling

(why bother to fly one time around the platform??)

Crew room talk. As opposed to bar room talk. Same passion, without the booze.
And without Dotty Lotty, the Bar Maid. The luscious one, with the big boo…. heart. I’m engrossed writing a scribble. I think it’s important. I have no idea why. But I’m totally in my own little world, contented, not listening to the multiple conversations going on in the crowded room. And the TV blaring away, complete with regular advertisements, cynically cranked up in volume. A decision orchestrated by some marketing sadist somewhere, on the ritzy twenty-seventh floor of a Sky Scraper no doubt. May he burn slowly in Hell. And suffer premature and chronic, agonizing erectile dysfeeeee issues.

Gradually, some snippets of conversation insist on impinging on the relative tranquility of my mind. Rats. A group of five pilots are having an increasingly heated discussion. Three against two. The three are basically saying that they have no idea why you would orbit a platform before you land. Why bother? Waste of time. You can tell the wind from the waves. The other two are saying, yes, you should. It’s a recommended procedure, says one. No, says the other, it’s mandatory. Mandatory? Yes, he says, it’s in the Operations Manual. What, for light ships?
I’m thinking hard now. My creative bubble has burst. Thoughts being massaged messily into dubious prose, evaporate into ephemeral, soapy bubbles. And go ‘plop!’ Against the ceiling of Reality. I stop assaulting my defenseless keyboard with my staccato two-fingered so-called typing. Dammit, I know orbiting is recommended. But is it mandatory for light ships?
I sure didn’t think so, but I should know. For sure. Damn. Now those guys have got me thinking.
I make a mental note to check.

One guy, loud talker, bullet proof, is saying that, apart from the crane, why bother to orbit? And he seems to be implying that if the platform tells you over the radio that the crane is in the cradle, and you can SEE the crane is in the cradle from far away, then what the F#@K? Why waste time orbiting? He says it with a degree of know-it-all superior smugness that disturbs my instinctive bent towards Pacifism. I have a slight, nascent urge to kick him undiplomatically in the nether regions. I know why. Memories come back, and I find myself mentally shuddering at some of my less-than-stellar moments. I’d need a whole gaggle of fingers to count them all up…

1) There was that time…
(Cringe) Not good. Landed on this floating derrick barge. Not a big deck, anyway. With a huge, impinging obstacle on one corner. Big Old Radar Dome thingie. What you can term the Ideal “Helicopter Swatter”. Here-it-is. Right on the corner of the helideck. Designed by an engineer. Applaud Don’t you know it?

I KNOW (I swear) I looked at it very, very carefully from the air. Windy, blustery day. Planned my approach. Slid in. Real careful. Concentrating. Did good. Shut down. Performed a routine after landing walk-around. Like I always do. Ho-hum…


There, right beside my tail rotor, at the other end of the deck, was a thin, white, whip antenna. Inches away. Fastened neatly to the edge of the helideck. I had completely missed it. And I had flown two orbits. I stared at it in horror. The natural thought occurred to me, the coward, to not say a word. Perform a take-off, get out of there, and forget it. Put it down to(my)experience.
It wouldn’t do. I might get into trouble, but this was a real hazard, and if they were going to yell at me, then so be it. I took some photographs, and emailed them to my base. Then I exercised my Stop Work Authority, and respectfully pointed out to the Barge Master that this would not do. He wasn’t very nice.
“What’s your problem? We’ve had helicopters coming in and out all day for a week!”

A week? I called my base, and passed on the Barge Master’s comments. I wondered how to answer the inevitable question I was expecting. “Why did you land there, you certifiable Clod-Hoof?” I knew I was just going to have to say: “I was really, really concentrating on that Radar Dome thingie, and that was an awfully thin, white whip antenna. And I’m really sorry but I just missed the bloody thing…”
That question never came. Instead, I was told I did absolutely the right thing, thank you very much for ‘fessing up honestly, now we can FIX IT. And, oh-by-the-way, the Big Bosses want to know HOW COME OUR HELICOPTERS HAVE BEEN GOING IN THERE FOR DAYS, and nobody said nuthink. Nada. The Bosses are wondering if people are doing their post flight walk around or what!?

2) That time in Africa.
Oh, man. (Cringe) Talk about a Hoo-ha. I was told I had some VERY IMPORTANT people to take out. I remember the local Boss specifically wagging a finger at me, and telling me to CAN the dirty jokes. Best behavior! Yes, Boss, I had muttered, attempting to look meek and submissive. He had rolled his eyes, knowing well my penchant for disrespectful witticisms. No target too sacred. Maybe he had heard the one about the big breasted, red nippled Mermaid. He sure gave me a stern look. So I had been very good. Flying these somewhat serious, humorless, unsmiling, very important scarecrows around and about. All had gone just tickety-booh. I was polite, and respectful, and I flew as smooth as I could. Hummm… Nice day.
And then. Oh, boy. And girl. Mama Mia! (Papa Luigi! Nino Carlitos!) I could have invoked them all, but it wouldn’t have done me any good. The cluster fu-fu- fricasso to beat ’em all.
We arrived at this big, new, multi-multi-multi million dollar oil platform. The pride of the pack. The VIP ogres were all hanging out the window, ooh-ing and aah-ing. I normally flew a 300 feet fly by, nice and noisy, with a bit of bank and loud blade slap thrown in for good measure, making double sure everybody knew I was ah-coming. But with these awfully important Head Honcho Grand Inquisitors coldly witnessing my every move, I had felt constrained to perform a very mellow 500 feet fly by. Very docile. Downwind, base and finals if you like. Prim and very proper. Well… I had asked for, and gotten, an instant “Green deck” from a very nice African Gentleman who promptly answered the Radio. Trouble was, our good buddy had vocalized the correct words (to me), as per the book, but omitted the minor step of actually carrying out the required action. To wit, talk to the other very nice African Gentleman. The one sitting importantly in the humongous, Dinosaurus sized CRANE. So there we were, sliding down on short finals, a model of harmonious in-balance by-the-book flying, (maybe), only to find Tyrannosaurus Rex swinging hard out in front of us. Due to size and obstacle and proximity, I had time for a silent (“YOU ARE KIDDING ME!!”) (“Papa Luigi!”) and then I was forced to honk her over in a hard evasive turn. 45 degree angle of bank. No style, no finesse, just good old “way-hay” here we bloody well go…

The intercom exploded. You know it. These are career defining moments. But the Ogre in the front was sticking up for me, and telling the two Honchos, busy squealing in the rear cabin, what had transpired. We went around, re-established contact, re-did the whole attempt without the “way-hay” thing. And the squeals. The moment we had landed, and I had cleared them to exit, three Exocet missiles erupted from my helicopter. Awesome. Not bothering with bags. Just teeth-on-legs, moving down the stairs like a formation of starving, really rabid Pitbulls. I shut down, and walked down with some of their bags. I never saw the Three Ogres again, but I sure HEARD them. I think the whole platform could hear them. Boy, was somebody getting a new orifice, free of charge.

3) That other time in Africa.
Not me this time. But it could have been. Easily. Two of my good buddies. Bell 412. We had this ongoing issue with passengers leaving bags and boxes and stuff on the helideck. Often hard to see. Lying on top of the safety fence, half tucked against the edge of the platform. We were told to refuse the landing and go around if we saw such items. Another real good reason for a reconnoitering orbit. Well, I could have easily visualized cardboard boxes flying around the place. Maybe even the local African Queen’s leopard skin handbag. I’d once contrived to flip over a metal maintenance stand. Not just once. Over and over and over. A very large 19 passenger helicopter, taxying past me, whilst I was innocently walking along, showed THEIR disdain for mere low-life, unwashed Bell 407 jockeys by picking up and expertly hurling an (empty) beer cooler at my head. I remember the look of horror on the Captain’s face. Which expression was NUTHINK, believe me, with the expression on mine.
But my buddies took the biscuit. Try casually explaining away a BRIGHT RED, METAL TOOL KIT, blown right off the helideck. Which fell a hundred feet, landing with a clattering crash between several ex-pats working below. Pain-ful. Lots of pa-per work…

4) And of course, there all those million other valid reasons to do a careful fly by.
Wind direction. Strength. Turbulence? Maybe swirling wind, gusting, sweeping around obstacles. You haven’t lived until you look down and see TWO wind socks flying off the same platform, pointing in starkly different directions. It turns out (when you ask) that you are supposed to gaze into your crystal ball and KNOW that when the wind is from a certain quadrant, compressor gases mess up one of the wind socks. So rather than re-locate it, they have mounted a second wind sock, and you, you rotary dimwit, you can pick which ever one you prefer. And what’s your problem?

Plastic sheeting. Commonly used offshore for sand blasting operations. Commonly used everywhere else near LZ’s for all sorts of brilliant purposes. Ever wondered what might happen to your lift if you had a piece of six by eight foot plastic wrap itself unexpectedly around one rotor blade? It might just give “inflow roll” a whole new dimension. I was told a horrible story (by an eye witness) about a Gazelle with four on board that rolled inverted on short finals due some kind of rotor versus flying plastic sheet entanglement. The witness told me it went from routine normality to burning catastrophe in two seconds.

Flares. I stayed for a long time on a Gas Condensate Platform off the coast of Angola. At least it was meant to be a condensate platform. Trouble was, the system kept breaking down. So then they just flared it off. For hours, maybe days, you would see this respectable flare, maybe thirty to fifty feet of flame, with ugly, black, half burned smoke and gases trailing beyond it. And you might be forgiven for thinking that THAT was it. Nope. What you were looking at there was merely the PILOT LIGHT. In the sense of “Starter Light”. (I hope you get the double entendre, there, eh?) (double meaning, you SchmorgasBord). If the system decided to REALLY flare… You were looking at a veritable two to three hundred feet PLUS eruption. The Operator’s chance of cooking up a delicacy. Instant Fried Chopper Jockey.

Sand. Always a lot of sand blasting going on. When it’s a calm day, the sand just lies there. And here comes Captain Bloggsy, not paying attention. With his nice, shiny, very expensive turbine powerplants. First you whip it up, and then… you suck it up. Expensive. Just like… (oh, never mind).

THIS was designed by the other f@#!!kn Engineer…

Unseen gases. What’s lurking down there, being vented, but hard to see? Compressor discharge gases? Unburned gases? I can tell you about a really neat twenty foot gouge I saw, torn in the steel of an offshore platform. How did they get that ugly looking gouge there? They used a helicopter. Caught in compressor gases on short finals. Heavy.

Low Obstacles just beside the helideck. Ideal trip-over candidates. Hook your skid and see a different world. From upside-down. Lights. Prime candidates. They get smashed (by helicopter skids) fairly regularly. But, not to worry, some design engineer will always come along and FIX that pesky problem. Solution? Put a welded, immovable, solid CAGE around the precious $10 light fixture. I’m serious. Yep. You gotta believe it.
(Damn helicopters… That’ll fix ’em!

High Obstacles
Insidious stuff. Sneaks up on you. I’m serious. It’s amazing what will contrive to hide neatly behind your window/door pillar. Out of sight, unless you squirm to look around that door pillar. This has killed people. Typically, it will happen at the end of a long, tiring day. You’ve landed on a platform with a Lift Boat (Big Mama)(Big Crane) dead ahead. On the left, multiple obstacles. Your right side looks clear for a side-step take off. Right? But, hang on. Didn’t you notice something when you did your orbit? Wasn’t there a flare or something there? You squirm around the window/door pillar, and sure enough (!), neatly hidden was a FLARE STACK. Or a tall, thin, ANTENNA. Just waiting, patiently, for the tired or busy helicopter pilot… Yes

Unexpected, Weird, Spooky, Funky Stuff Noooo
Here’s just merely one picture of Spooky. There’s always some-thing that will really get your attention. (I COULD have been a librarian… I could have) (Shhhh….)

Etc, etc… As the rotor… strikes.

* * * * *

Their conversation was still going on. Still arguing. I tried hard to shake myself out of my reverie.

“Errrr… Guys?” Faces turned inquiringly towards me.
I sighed. I didn’t want to appear some kind of self opinionated know-it-all.

(Because I really don’t know it all. Just ask my wife…) Speaking

“Not to interrupt… But just to interrupt… Can I just pitch something in, here…Please?”

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 11, 2014, 7:18 pm

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