The Hiller 12E had been delivered to the job. Literally. It was sitting on a trailer in the customers business yard all by its lonesome. The truck driver had, after driving all night in the rain, gone to the Motel for some sleep.
I walked around the helicopter and noted that it was sitting on the wrong trailer. Wrong in the sense that the Hiller which has wider skids was usually moved on a wider trailer.Imagine that? This helicopter sat on a flat deck trailer and the skids went out to the full width of the trailer and sat on the metal frame of the trailers edge. Not good.
I looked for the guide posts that slid at an angle into the edge of the trailer to help landing and take offs. They were missing and in fact there were no provisions for guide posts. Who landed this on the trailer I said out loud to myself? A voice next to me said,”that would have been tricky”. I looked over at my customer, who added, “you need a hand” ?
“A truck, a set of ground handling wheels and a tall building with a large chain hoist would be nice” I said,” but I know we have only one of those three items and in fact I don’t know where the truck is parked” .”We only have two Motels,so that is easy” he answered.
“Well, how about a small crane or boom truck, that would work” I added. “Nope not in this little town” was the answer.
They had put the helicopter on the trailer with a chain hoist in the hangar, ratchet strapped it down and brought it to me to offload .
I explained to my customer as we undid the ratchet straps just how precarious an operation this was. The helicopter had been driven here in the rain. The low blade would be,”loaded” with water, water that would only all sling out when the rotor r.p.m. got going fast. As I increased the rotor r.p.m. on start up the unbalanced blade would get the helicopter bouncing and sitting on the edge as it was ,meant that I had a good chance of sliding off the trailer before I could get the engine up to flying r.p.m. There would be no proper warm up of the engine so it would be start, throttle up and pull collective. Not good.
My customer suggested leaving one or both ratchet straps on until the r.p.m. was up and for a second I thought; but no.I could try a warm up that way but what if the helicopter shifted? Even with the helicopter tied down it had obviosly shifted and sat askew on the trailer now.
A bouncing helicopter slides off the trailer,with the straps still almost holding it, or- just as the strap is loosened but not undone, – well , I didn’t need to finish that thought. I believed my best chance lay in a quick run up
I did a thorough,or so I thought preflight of the helicopter. It had been through a lot of rain, towed backwards so fuels were drained, ( had the fuel settled out) and the air cleaner cover removed.The air cleaner was supplied by an induction/intake hose that sat above the bubble facing forward. A pie plate looking cover held on with 4 inch standoffs let the ram air flow around the plate and into the hose. Because the helicopter had been towed backwards I checked that water had not got into the hose and down to the air filter. The air filter was clean and dry ,a drain on the bottom of the air filter had probably done its job. All good
With the customer and about a dozen onlookers cleared from the area I got in and with preflight checks done to that point ,started the helicopter. There would be no mag check and the run up would be quick and dirty. The Hiller had a mercury clutch that allowed a rapid engagement and run up. I hoped that would help as the out of balanced blades rocked the ship.I had the r.p.m. and the collective coming up quickly and as I pulled up, the Hiller lifted smoothly off the trailer. Sliding sideways I started to breathe a sigh of relief as the engine barked and almost quit. I yawed a little pulled collective and set the Hiller on the ground beside the trailer. What the… ? A run up and mag check produced no further engine roughness. Further checks were in order ! Bad fuel ? Maybe, but I had sumped fuel tank and carburetor . After a few minutes of looking around the engine I had my answer. The intake hose that went to the air cleaner & carburetor had a bow ,like a sink “P” trap just before the air cleaner. When I lifted up and moved, the water in the trap had sloshed into the air cleaner.
Today, all these years later I can clearly see the chain of events that I allowed to build. I could see some of the risks at the time as well. I should have stopped and had the helicopter lifted off elsewhere or by other means. But as I said on a previous blog, I had not seen as many things go wrong as I have some 30 years later.