Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (39) “Does High Intelligence equate to a Safe Pilot? “

Posted on July 11, 2015

Of Helicopters and Humans (39)

“Does High Intelligence equate to a Safe Pilot? ” FIRST PUBLISHED ON JUST HELICOPTERS ‘BLOG’

It’s a puzzling story. Have you heard it? It’s a recurrent theme…
A highly intelligent man. Who learns to fly. Helicopters or airplanes. And amasses plenty of flight hours. Plenty of experience. Yet insists on doing truly extraordinary things. Stupid, stupid stuff. Pushing it, pushing it. He gets warned. Many times. And he just laughs it off.

And then… catastrophe. Another shocking statistic.

And you think: Dude!? Brother pilot! Whatdafu-fu-fu… Were you THINKING?

The indistinct, blurry images of several (many) long gone pilots and friends come to my mind. I still remember…

1) the dude with the high performance, low wing monoplane. Low-level loops. Boy, did he like the low-level loops. Pulling out at the bottom… maybe 100 feet? Maybe. But I could have sworn I could SEE the pre-stall buffeting of the wings. Can you see that, from the ground? Pilots say you can’t. But if that’s true, I could at least SENSE the air struggling to maintain a smooth flow. He was LOADING up those wings. Stall speed increases with the square root of G’s? If your wing ordinarily quits flying at 52 knots, but now you’re pulling +6 G at the bottom… Amigo, have you thought about where you are heading, pulling like crazy at a hundred feet off the ground? How about a private BOX? I tried to talk to him. Several times. I wasn’t the only one. After one air show, he literally laughed in my face. He had a pretty girl hanging on each arm. I asked him, very discreetly, if I could talk to him privately. He laughed. Couldn’t I see he was busy? The girls giggled in delight. I upped the ante, and said could I talk to him in private, “pilot-to-pilot”. That, in pilot parlance, is a very polite way of saying: “Dude! We NEED to talk!” Or, another way of saying: “I’d like to keep this between you and me. That is my FIRST choice…”.

But no, he just wasn’t interested. Brushed me off. He knew what I was worried about. He’d heard it all before.

Three months later… he was playing the heavenly harp, and checking out his personal cloud. And the snazzy new wing feathers. Removed from this happy place. And so was his passenger. Low-level loop. High speed stall. At the bottom. Duh! Here was a highly intelligent man, well educated, successful, with his own business. Everything to live for. Just-not-listening. But WHY?

2) the dude with the Master’s Degree in Mathematics. IQ through the proverbial cathedral roof. Brains to burn. University lecturer at the age of twenty five. Gave it all up, to fly. Was always the guy who got in, when everybody else turned around. IFR to him meant a guaranteed means to get there. It was just a matter of flying the needles. I’m one of those cautious IFR bunnies. If the weather is “certifiably reported as piss-poor” (a.k.a. “CRAPP”) then I’m much more in go-around frame of mind than in “I’ve gotta land” frame of mind. With an ILS Decision Height at 200 feet, I’m starting to dribble in/advance throttles at just under 300 feet. The decision is actually already pretty well made well above 200 feet. Put it this way, I’m certainly not waiting until 200 feet, then having a quiet think, (ho-hummm… what will we do…?) (finish my sandwich), and maybe start getting into go-around decision mode at 150 feet, resulting in a descent in IFR to 100 feet. Or lower. Like some.

I was present at some of the airfields our hero contrived to land in, and I can vouch for the IFR weather. Horrible. On one really scary occasion, I flew with him, as a passenger. I couldn’t see squat until we were below eighty feet. But he was all happy, chatting away with the Tower like it was all one big joke. I remember I wasn’t laughing.

He met his match one day, many moons ago, heavily IFR in a twin fixed wing. When a partial power failure on one engine gave him a nasty assymetric thrust, during a “super low” attempted go-around. It was too much, even for him. A more cautious pilot, dribbling power on earlier, instead of all in one great hungry (desperate) gob at the very bottom, would have had a much, much better chance to figure out the problem incrementally. All the previous aircraft had gone around. Our hero HAD to prove his brilliance. He did. He went down in History as the brilliant guy, who analyzed his situation, (Oops!… stall-ling…) and then coolly informed ATC that he “was crashing”. Say what? BOOM! And then he burned. Brilliantly.

3) But the cake goes to… the man that nearly killed me deader than a door nail. I wanted so bad to engage in a politically incorrect action. To wit: surgically stab the SOB (Slightly Obtuse Buffoon) right in the head. Or smack him in the kisser. But it would have looked bad on my resume. Can’t do that sort of thing.

Here was again, a really brilliant man. Ran a very successful company. Owned his own helicopter. Plenty of flight hours. Employed lots of people. And everybody in local Law Enforcement for miles around knew him. Imagine a guy who goes to visit a friend, and lands in the friend’s driveway. In a residential area. Not once, but multiple times. And just can’t understand why everybody gets upset. 500 foot rule? What rule? He was at least fifty feet from the neighbor’s house! And his tail rotor was at least fifteen foot from the sidewalk! So? What’s the beef? The kids love me! I watched him one day doing aerobatics in his helicopter. Endless really steep turns and push overs. Negative G experiments?? Right over the middle of the town. I watched him for ages. Why would you DO that?
Another time was really bad. He couldn’t wait a few seconds in his pickup truck for me to depart, and just drove onto the apron. Flying past the turning, burning helicopter. He sped past just as I was lifting off the dolly, and turning into wind. The last thing I was expecting was a bloody big Ford F3500 to come blasting past. We damn near collided. Only a frantic collective snatch by me averted total disaster, as his truck narrowly sped under my skids. The point is that everybody was convinced he was going to die in his helicopter. The local cops, the DPS chopper pilots, everybody. Apparently, even his wife said so. Well… he could still have been with us today, but he’s not. Courtesy of a cable across a river, strung out at a height of twenty feet. Took a passenger with him, as well.

So back to the question:


To my mind, there IS another ingredient required. An essential ingredient. Some people call it “judgment”, or even “wisdom”. Or “Airmanship”, or “common sense”. I (being a simple soul) prefer to flat out call it “Fear”. I recommend Fear. A most outstanding virtue.

Fear, coupled with a good Imagination.

You know what it’s like coming down in free-fall, pulling the ripcord, twelve seconds to go, and absolutely nothing happens? I do actually. Been there. It’s no fun. It sucks. Do you know what it’s like looking down the wrong end of a very, very angry person’s firearm? I do actually. Been there. It’s no fun. But even if I had never been there, I think I still would be a careful Sky Diving student. And I would also be very polite to angry people with guns. Very-very polite. Because I have an imagination. I am capable of being afraid.

Some helicopter pilots… have no fear. No imagination. They may be endowed with brains by the bucket load. They may well understand Einstein’s theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, and even (I whisper this in awe) “Women”. But without Fear, they are vulnerable.

Like the Old Irish Chopper jockey said, when he was asked to look back on his long life, and to state the most terrifying moment of his whole career. Thoughtfully, eyes half closed, he mused out loud:

“The most terrifying moment? Oh, that’s easy…”

His audience hung on every word.

“That would have been a few seconds after I had said ‘I DO’ for the second time in my life…”

Fear. And Imagination. Strongly recommended.

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 11, 2015, 6:17 pm

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