Why more of us didn’t die in crashes I’ll never know. Some did.
I had been looking through my old pilot logbooks. All six of them. Another pilot had asked me online about my experience with helicopters other than the Sky Crane that I currently fly. It got me looking in my logbooks at the types and models of helicopters I had flown. Besides the S-64 Sky Crane I have flown 46 other models of helicopter.
One turn of the page led to another and the photos that I have been taping into my logbooks since 1974. I stopped and looked at some of the flight times from summers in the early ’80’s. Wow! I was doing some crazy hours back then. I went down the page looking and remembering. 12.7, 12.5, 13.1,13.0 hours and on an on, without a break for two weeks.
The flying wasn’t point A to B either. We were doing mosquito spraying in urban, rural and industrial areas. A 1.5 G turn every few seconds, low level, heavily loaded in a wire environment. The flying started at 04:30 and went to about 22:15. We carried a heavy dry clay based insecticide that is still used today. There was no jettisoning the load that sat in two saddle tanks. Wires were everywhere, especially in the industrial areas and some of us got to meet them up close and personal. When you do this type of work, its generally agreed that its not if you will hit a wire, but when. The result of wire strikes with a helicopter varies with the circumstance, fate, Gods will and just plain dumb luck. The safety Guru’s will tell you that my fatalistic belief that a wire strike is inevitable is wrong. Well; I defy anyone who has done this type of flying for more than 10 years to tell me that he or she has never had a wire strike or taken evasive action that didn’t result in a significant over torque or over temperature of the helicopter.
I may know one person who fits into that elite group and no, its not me. I had one wire strike and I have a nightmare about it every once in a while. That wire strike made me a more diligent pilot when I work in the wire environment. I do helicopter firefighting now and yes we are almost always low level in the wire environment.
A few years back I was flying the Sky Crane with another Captain on a huge project fire. Our route from the dip tank to the fire had us transitioning up and down a burned over canyon. In the canyon sat the blackened poles and structures from a power line that now lay burnt and melted on the ground.The few poles and metal structures that remained no longer served any purpose and would almost all likely have to be replaced.
The other Captain commented and chuckled that I still flew the Canyon at a height that placed me well above the phantom wires.Yes I did.
When his turn came to fly, the other Captain flew the same route at the same wire avoiding height. He heard me chuckling into the intercom and knew why I was amused. ” Hey”, he said. “It’s why we are both still here after all these years” “right” ?
Yes it is.
Tim Tucker, who teaches the Robinson Safety Course, often tells the story of his one wire strike. Anyone who has a wire strike and lives to tell about it is very lucky to be alive.
I have a lot of friends who fly for fun. Rich guys with Hughes 500s — there are three of them in particular. They fly very low — usually only 50-100 feet or so off the desert floor — when going from point to point. It’s not so bad if you know the terrain and hazards, but it sets you up for a bad low-flying habit. One day, one of them will be flying low in an area he doesn’t know so well. And then maybe he’ll get the cure for low flying.
I like the idea of putting pictures in my logbook. I’m just finishing up my first “Professional’ sized log book now. Maybe I’ll go back and add some old photos to it.
Thanks for keeping this blog. I enjoy your stories. One of these days, when I find/make time, I’ll go back and read your older entries.
Your low flying friends will most likely hit a wire in an area they have flown many times before. They get complacent about where they are and/or somebody strings a line that wasn’t there last week.
Either way, its a bad end.