We left early, making one last stop at the FH1100 plant. *Somebody* (a mechanic) had removed the pouch containing the Airworthiness Certificate/Registration and *somebody* (me) forgot to check. Oops. Sadly, it would not be the only "oops" of the flight.
We struck out westbound, through Louisiana and over to a planned fuel stop in Galveston, Texas where we (meaning: I) made a big goof. Scholes Airport has always, to my knowlege been uncontrolled. We had a Houston section chart onboard, but we were navigating off of an old Gulf Coast WAC chart (larger scale, less map folding). The WAC chart showed Scholes as uncontrolled, as did our not-updated, VFR GPS. We made all the right radio calls on the very wrong frequency. Fortunately, there was no other traffic. On short-short final, the radio crackled alive. "Helicopter Three Four Whiskey, Galveston Tower."
Galveston tower? Uhh, go ahead. "Sir, didn't you know that Galveston has a control tower now, and HAS HAD one since..." Well, shit, no I did not. "Can you copy a telephone number?" Well I guess I can! So we go into Operations and I make the dreaded phone call: "Hey tower, this is the dumbass helicopter pilot." The supervisor chuckles and we "chat" awhile. He reads me chapter and verse of the FAR's (of which I'm quite familiar, thank you, but go ahead anyway). He does not ask for my name or certificate number, thank the Lord. (I file a NASA report anyway.)
After fueling body and helicopter, we head out again, following the Texas coast southbound. We pass over South Padre and Matagorda Islands. It's pretty, but it's a lot like home: barrier islands and slightly swampy mainland. Only they let you drive on the beaches in Texas, evidently. And camp right on the beach too!
It is only when we get south of Corpus Christi that the land begins to resemble our preconceived mental image of "Texas." Check out the image above of a ranch out in the middle of nowhere. Texans sure are proud of their state! Who else buy small-plane pilots would ever see that?
Then the fun began. The Secondary Hydraulic caution light illuminated, telling is that one of the hydraulic systems had lost pressure. Luckily, the FH1100 has two. The light had been flashing intermittently, so I wasn't sure if it was a light malfunction or if the system had really quit. In the air, there is no way to tell. (By the by, it is almost never a light malfunction.)
So we land in Brownsville, Texas and shut down for fuel. Imagine my non-surprise to see the tailboom coated with hydraulic fluid. Sliding the cowling back, we confirm that the #2 hydrapak indicator is showing "Empty." Greaaaaaaat.
That's 34W, our broken bird on the ramp in Brownsville.
Brownsville, Texas is about as far south as you can go in the U.S. and still be in the U.S. Yes, I know that Key West lays claim to the "southernmost point" but who cares? We're in Texas now, not Florida. Thing about Brownsville...it is a hole. A serious shithole. It had taken us just over seven hours to get there. We were fairly tired and very thirsty, so we checked into a nice hotel (meaning: one with a bar). We'd attend to the problem en la manana.
Turns out it was the pressure switch that had failed internally. The local mechanics at the Hunt Pan Am FBO were really nice and tried their best to help us out. But no matter what we tried, nothing would stop hydraulic oil from squirting out just as soon as the pump started turning. Only one thing to do: Wait for the a new pressure switch. Which we did. Which set us a whole day behind schedule. What started as a leisurely trip now became cramped for time. I had wanted to land on a deserted stretch of Mexican beach and go swimming. Now, it did not look like it would be possible.
Long story short, the factory FedEx'd the part to us, it arrived Saturday morning, and we were on the road again by noon. Brownsville is so close to the Mexican border that we crossed into foreign airspace almost immediately. We flew southbound cautiously, wondering what else was going to go wrong? Little did we know. Mexico almost turned out to be more than we bargained for. We came so close, so many times to having the trip really screwed up. But by some strange combination of fate/luck/providence, we kept squeaking by. But that's getting ahead of myself. Mexico will have to be a whole 'nother post.