Francis Meyrick

Learning to Fly Helicopters (7) “Joy, Caution, and Tragedy “

Posted on October 17, 2015

“I am a small Man, limited and struggling, but the Universe is my Father “

Learning to Fly Helicopters

Ch.7 “Joy, Caution, and Tragedy”

I have been scribbling stuff all my life. But some chapters, some stories, have waited many decades to be written. Many are still… waiting. I don’t quite know why. Reluctance, for sure. Based on what? The unthinkable? Facing the dragon? Acknowledging certain truths of the game?
The Helicopter World is a small community. If you want to know how small, wait until somebody crashes. Despite better and better hardware, better maintenance, better safety programs, pilots.. still… crash. Inevitably, word speeds around the globe at the speed of Light. I was absolutely stunned to hear that my Flight Instructor, the soft spoken vegetarian, him who had so carefully worked with his first ever student -me- had died. In a training helicopter crash. That I couldn’t immediately digest. We had shared a cockpit together, but that was only part of it. We had shared an experience together. Life. Excitement. And I was stunned that he was now dead. I never did find out what happened. I wasn’t even sure the full facts were known.
Time went by. The Helicopter world is a small community. If you want to know how small, wait until somebody crashes. Word speeds around the globe at the speed of Light. I was once again absolutely stunned to hear that my Examiner, Floyd, the laughing examiner, with a love of throttle chops, him who had so cheerfully checked out his first ever Irish student -me- had also died. In a firefighting helicopter crash. Witnesses said he went into smoke, and never came out. His widow sued Bell Helicopters, and won a substantial settlement. I never did hear exactly what transpired. I wasn’t even sure if the full facts were known.

These two deaths came on top of many, many others. Not just in helicopters. But in skydiving, fixed wing flying, and aerobatic flying, I was -time and time again- to receive truly horrifying news. Or watch really bad stuff unfolding right in front of my eyes. The pretty girl from France, on holiday in Ireland, on a beautiful, sunny day, blue sky & wafting clouds, who finally pulled her ripcord at about twenty five feet above the ground. Right in front of my eyes. Only the extractor chute had time to appear.

I later escaped a few times from situations myself, many of which I describe -or intend to describe- truthfully elsewhere. Watching a buddy skydiver (with whom you have just done a free-fall two man link up) pull his ripcord early, way too high, you are amused. He got that wrong! And you track away, hands coming in beside your hips, arched at the waist, feeling the acceleration coming in. Now you are sizzling across the ground. You are laughing to yourself, you feel so good. You feel like you are an experienced sky diver, enjoying himself, who knows exactly what he is doing. A few nano split seconds later, as you -frantically- flare and pull your ripcord (whistling though twelve hundred feet AGL in a Max Track), (five seconds from ground impact) you don’t even have time -right there- to wonder what in hell’s name just happened. The ferocious opening SLAM (you’re not supposed to open a “Para Commander ” -way before the modern ram air chutes- doing a hundred and eighty), kind of wakes you up that you just really GOOFED.

The incredibly short canopy ride to the ground (still seeing stars) is where the process of analysis starts. If you’re like me, you spend days thinking about it. Weeks. You return to skydiving a chastened fellow. The hubris is diminished. I was a fool. And I damn near killed myself. How in hell…? There was nothing wrong with my altimeter. Or my parachute. Or my training. It was ME. I screwed up. I simply mis-read my height. Over confident. Way too relaxed in free-fall. What a mistake. I will NEVER, ever, do that again.

In the fixed wing world… I made Jumpmaster in skydiving, and I made Flight instructor in airplanes. Over the decades, so many cases of friends and acquaintances dying. Needlessly. All the time. The weekend warriors. And the professionals. I sold a Cessna 150 to a gentleman, who subsequently died in it with his son. I had a lot of flight time in G-BCTV, all instruction given, and I had sent many a student solo in her. It was stunning to think of a smoldering wreck lying in a field. With two dead bodies. Again, there was nothing wrong with the aircraft. Or the pilot’s training. They were flying a precision flying competition. The name of the game is to arrive over an exact spot at a precise split second in time. They were a little early. So… slow it down. Slow it down a bit more. A bit more… put some flaps down… a bit more… stall/spin/death. It upset me for days. He was not my student, but I somehow wished I had done more. I subsequently changed my instructional technique, to reflect the lead up to this accident, but that is another story. One day. Perhaps.

In aerobatic flying… I have many, many stories. So many. Yet to be written , or posted. Maybe. I loved aerobatics. I read every aerobatics book I could get hold of. (there were not that many available, as I recall) I was never so happy trying to fly the perfect round loop. Then flying an OUTSIDE loop. Or hitting the smoothest vertical hesitation roll you had ever seen. Hitting the snap just right -perfect- at the top of an avalanche. The inverted pass, followed by a crisp, four point hesitation roll. The happy Lomcevak-with-smoke, which is not a precision maneuver, no matter what anybody says, but just a fun entry into a wild crowd-pleasing nutty, ass-over-tit oscillation. I loved flying along early in the morning, and flying a leisurely Cuban eight, just for the sheer mischievous hell of it. I loved flying into sunsets, and coming home close to dark.

But one story stands out. Yet to be posted here, on this little site. A story which many people will never believe, but it -truthfully- describes how I managed to knock myself out, stone cold unconscious, with the nose of my Christen eagle pointed almost straight at the ground. I was flying an advanced aerobatic sequence. I have no clue how the aircraft (which is designed to be aerobatic, and hence is not stable hands off) managed to fly itself out of that pilot induced mess. When I woke up, hands and arms hanging limp and useless, momentarily blind, and only able to hear, G-TARA was flying almost straight-and-level, in a very slight descent, almost TWO MILES away from the lakes I had been practicing over. That should have been completely impossible. On all subsequent flights, if I let go of the stick, she would just roll over and dive for the ground. But on that occasion, when I needed all the help I could get, somehow, I got it. From whence, I hesitate to even speculate. Somebody was flying that aircraft. And it wasn’t me.

The point of this preamble is, simply put, that I have loved to fly. Loved it with a passion. I have no regrets for becoming a pilot. But I do regret the Stupid. I have done it myself, so I cannot throw stones. I live in a glass house. But I have also seen so much Stupid. Aviation counts among its ranks the haughty, the sneering, those who look down their toffee noses at ordinary mortals. They are quick to sneer, quick to judge, quick to condemn. But it seems to me that some of the greatest self appointed Sky Gods, the most stern and judgmental of bosses, some of whom I have worked for, have long since -conveniently- forgotten their own ‘stupid’. It never happened. THEY are without sin.
They inspire not… they have no humanity, no compassion, no warmth. Limited understanding.
Some leaders listen first, calmly, to the whole alleged story, before they even begin to -softly-comment. Others don’t bother – they already know it all. They come down the phone from the get-go, screaming and angry. The former inspire. The latter discourage and demoralize. Very often the former… were better pilots.

One big reason why I scribble in general, is to “vent”. To get something out of my system. I suffer from insomnia. I often get up in the middle of the night, and scribble. For hours on end. Then, when it’s out, expressed, I can -maybe- sleep. But where the aviation scribbles are concerned, there is a special motive. I just don’t want any pilots who read this, to ever have to go through what I went through, exemplified in a simple phone call, a long time ago.
I called, his wife answered, and I bellowed, noisily and cheerfully, the way I often do:

“Hey, darling, it’s me, Francis! Where’s the old rascal then? Put him on…!”

And she… burst into tears. My aerobatic buddy had been killed, the day before. A smoking wreck, in front of his family.
I still feel totally awful about that blasted phone call.

Flying is wonderful. ‘Destination’ Zero IS possible. No accidents. None.
But it is SO easy to enter…

the hubris zone… Yes

I have done it. I cannot cast stones.
If we reflect, quietly, we know we are pilgrims. And if we bow our heads, and proceed quietly, with a deep respect, even awe, for the Universe that surrounds us, we will become -perhaps- better men. Safer pilots.

And if my little cerebral doodles, the Moggy scribbles, help even a little bit, that would be… reward in itself.

Peace. Fly safe. And for those who just fly arm chairs… enjoy.
Be gentle with this world. It is still, a beautiful place.

Scribbling Moggy

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Last edited by Francis Meyrick on November 16, 2015, 5:05 pm

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