Too Risky?

I have a high risk occupation.
My everyday job consists of flying a 9000 horse power helicopter down flaming hillsides dropping enough water or retardant in one load to injure or kill anyone accidentally struck with that volume of liquid.
It is not an entry level flying assignment and for some helicopter pilots its just not for them.Too risky? It depends on how you define and quantify risk.
I some times enjoy flying other types of helicopters on different missions in much the same way that say an airline pilot would spend some weekends flying a glider or an open air biplane.
I was fortunate last winter to spend some time flying passengers to tropical islands and jungle resorts in Belize. Charter or passenger flying, while less hazardous in many respects to firefighting, is certainly not without its risks. The simple fact that you are dealing with people and their unpredictable behavior can ratchet the stress levels up. Some people are a joy to fly and some are nightmares.
One family I flew last winter were from England. The father was an interesting ,successful businessman who was listed as one of the five wealthiest men in Great Britain. The family had arrived in Belize on a sailing yacht that was fantastic in its design and luxury appointments. Like many super yachts it had a fast tender boat along with a powered dingy and the usual assortment of life rafts and other safety gear aboard.
The family when they flew anywhere took multi -engined private jets of the highest quality as you might expect. In some large corporations it is common to have the upper echelon in management fly in separate aircraft to mitigate the unlikely, but possible, devastating loss of the company brain trust in a single aircraft accident.
Countless times I have seen two business jets arrive and unload two people from each corporate jet and watch all four passengers climb into a single engined helicopter or fixed float plane to head out to a resort or lodge. The risk management department of those corporations must have, either not thought that whole process through, or washed their hands of the corporate vacationers when they got them to their time off destination.
It was the same for this wealthy family from England. I loaded everyone after a thorough briefing and off we went in our small single engined helicopter. Most of our initial flight was along the coast or over the barrier reef. My helicopter was a well maintained and appointed aircraft that I had every confidence in. We were equipped with pop out floats and all passengers had or wore life vests depending on our time or distance from the shoreline. The water below us was a comfy 80 degrees Fahrenheit and crystal clear.
Our next flight consisted of a tour of Mayan ruins and required us to fly over some beautiful jungle scenery.
Now a single engined helicopter means that you have just one power unit supplying power to the aircraft as most of you know or can understand. With a twin engined helicopter, while you have a second engine,there is only one common main transmission and other gear boxes, so any serious problem with any of those components and you are making an emergency landing no matter how many engines you have.
This brings us back to the subject of risk. In my regular job I mentioned my typical flying environment and yes it is hazardous to fly on fires. However, in my regular job we have two pilots on board who are fully aware of the risks,well trained, working in unison, clad in protective suits ,flight helmets and focused only on the task at hand. No passengers to distract us or do something unpredictable.
In comparison, my joyful flight with the incredibly wealthy family was over a triple canopy jungle. Could I be guaranteed to make an emergency landing in that environment that would result in no injury to my passengers. What would the result of that however unlikely emergency be to a pilots career if god help me any of those passengers were injured or worse on that routine flight.
As a pilot you have taken all due caution and yet if the worst happens through no fault of your own and a mechanical system fails in your passenger carrying aircraft, you have now entered into a very high risk scenario for you and the people you are responsible for.
A similar mechanical failure resulting in an emergency procedure while firefighting is different. Two pilots who have full knowledge of all or most of the risks involved in their chosen professions will deal with the emergency and live,(hopefully) with what ever the result may be.
My point to all this should be obvious by now.Its not just the perceived risk, but the risk and the result that we have to consider as professional pilots.

About Heligypsy

Has it really been forty three years flying helicopters all over the world? I guess its time to share some stories, I hope you enjoy my adventures.
This entry was posted in Belize, helicopter firefighting, Helicopter Pilot, helicopter tours, Random rantings, World Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Too Risky?

  1. mlanger says:

    Agreed that passengers are a huge unknown. If we ever meet in person, I’ll tell you my weird passenger story and how it affected me for a while afterwards.

    As for risks — I only fly single-engine aircraft and I usually fly over relatively hostile terrain — canyons, forests, etc. I might not be as risk-conscious as you — if I were, I might scare myself out of flying — but I try to minimize risks, especially when I have other “souls” on board that I’m responsible for.

    Would love to fly the heavy metal, but at this point, I think I’m too old to get my toe in the door.

  2. Scott says:

    WOW !
    mlanger has scared me out of flying !!

  3. Scott, I happen to know a few of your flying stories and we both know that you don’t really want me writing about those events. LOL !

  4. RC Love says:

    I always had a desire to fly helicopters, but never had the chance. I find stories like yours very intriguing. I am a radio controlled helicopter enthusiast and one day hope to fly the real thing.

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