Flight Operations - Tips and Tails...All Tied-up..

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Names of the client, crew and fellow pilot have been changed for obvious reasons.

The scene is: New commercial helicopter pilot, first job, first contract, and first year of flying...

Things are going great, I've got about 30-35hr of spray time to start my career out now, and I'm thinking I'm pretty damn good at this pilot stuff! Time for a little ground check - LITERALLY!

We (Ace and I) had just finished for the morning because the wind had become too strong for spraying; gusting 20km/hr by the time I landed. When I landed, Ace had already pushed his machine into the hangar. He and our chubby little ground crew, Junior, were waiting for me to go have a late breakfast with them. I landed and shut down, tied up, and pulled the battery connection, and that was when it all began...

Just then, the client representative, Knuckles, came running over to me. He said he had gotten authorization from his boss to go for a reconnaissance (recce) flight and take a look at the spray area and get some pictures. Since he was in a rush, and my machine was still outside, we decided that I'd be the guy to fly him. COOL! A REAL LIVE PASSENGER! "Sure, I'll take you out," I said with the cool cockiness that only a 135-hr pilot possesses, as my good buddy Ace watched jealously from the hangar.

Getting ready to go, I fuelled up, untied, pulled the stack covers, and plugged in the battery. I was just about to start when Knuckles realized that the batteries in his digital camera were dead. He had to run back to the city office to get re-supplied. I got out and, because it was pretty windy, I tied up again. Then I went to water the grass behind the hangar while I waited for Knuckles, and told Ace and Junior to go to breakfast without me. Back comes Knuckles in a mad rush, re-supplied with batteries. We take the passenger door off to help him get good pictures, get all belted in, and we're ready to go. My machine didn't like to start if the engine was still warm, or hot, from a previous shutdown. It seemed to start better if you cranked it over for a bit with the magnetos (mag) off, and then flipped the mag on while cranking. So here I was, cranking her over with the mag off, just applying pressure to the mag switch with my fingers to turn it on when chubby little Junior comes running out of the hangar, like I'd never seen the hefty little bugger move in my life; flailing his arms madly in an effort to get me to stop...

Stop I did, and jumped out of the helicopter to give him hell for running up to the machine like a madman, just as I was about to start. He reached my side of the machine as I exited, and pulled me around to the side of the machine out of view of my passenger, Knuckles. Then he pointed to the tail of my helicopter. There flapping madly in the breeze was the end of my tie-down cord, which was all knotted up nicely in a perfect hitch knot, tying the main rotor blade down to my tail rotor gear box.

At that moment the little bugger redeemed himself immensely in my eyes and saved me from starting the machine while tied down. In a turbine engine machine, this wouldn't have been good. In a piston engine machine, I think this would have had catastrophic consequences, especially since the tie-down was one of those ones with the thick, round, tie rope made of the pull-cord type material, which I'm sure wouldn't have broken before the mounting bolts on the tail rotor gearbox. You all know how violently they start, when they decide to. If Junior hadn't stopped me, I am sure the tail rotor gearbox and blades would have made a hell of a ruckus as they were torn off and flung around the machine in a nice circular path 2 ft off the end of my rotor blade. It would have ruined the day for everyone I'm sure, and quite likely brought my career to a screeching halt!

Well, I was highly embarrassed in front of Junior, yet, also quite appreciative. I even bought the lazy bugger breakfast for about a week straight. As far as the passenger, I sheepishly climbed back in and concocted some cock and bull story about Junior wanting to check the fuel cap or some other bologna, and we went and did our flight. No worries, right? I think the passenger was already worried enough about flying with the door off (judging by how tightly he had yanked his seatbelt) and flying with a "still wet behind the ears" 100-Hour-Wonder!

Well since that time, I'm a believer of putting the blades in the 10 and 4o'clock position EVERY time, EVERY start! Also, if I'm interrupted from my regular schedule of events, or something is "out of the norm" as it was here, I have developed my own little safety technique. EVERYTIME I shutdown, I pull the battery, tie the blades down and put the stack covers on. ALL of it on, or ALL of it off! IF, for some reason I know that I'll only be shut down for a few minutes, but because of wind conditions I need to tie down, I drape the stack covers over the cyclic grip. This way, if I suffer from a temporary bout of retardation and hop into the machine without untying, AND don't look out to verify that my blades are untied, I still have the stack covers over the cyclic reminding me that I'm tied down. If I now still try to start the machine, then at least I'll have the strap that is sewn between the stack covers to strangle myself with after I wreck the helicopter!

Anyways, hope you can learn something from my mistake, or at least gain a little entertainment from it. Hope you guys all find something to share!

CDW

Commercial Helicopter Pilot (Now 2 000hr and still going - thankfully)
Pacific Region

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