I’ve mentioned the need to wash the helicopter in the last two posts, and you might get the impression that I’m somewhat obsessive about it. I’m not, but there is something very therapeutic about the task. …A task, by the way, that I absolutely hated back before I was a pilot when my job was to wash helicopters. So many little nooks and crannies and dirt gets into every single damn one of them…Grrrrr…
I have a strange relationship with my helicopter. The failure of one single critical part could mean my instant and ugly demise. I therefore have a little vested interest in seeing that it remains airworthy. Luckily, I used to work for the manufacturer of the ship. This gave me access to all kinds of technical data and information that would not be available to the average pilot or mechanic. Over the years I learned how the helicopter was designed and is built from the rivets outward. So it’s not a stretch to say that I have an intimate (if one-sided) relationship with this FH1100, N4034W.
Sunday was beautiful and clear with just enough wind blowing to keep it from being miserably hot. I put on some sunscreen (forehead of ever-increasing size), gathered my supplies, then went out to the ship, took off my shirt and got to work.
And I have to say, I like to work alone on this particular job. People often generously offer to help, which I appreciate. Usually I’m all about letting other people do my work. But to me in this case they just get in the way. Typically, they like to get the job over with, get it done and get back inside out of the heat, which is completely understandable.. I like to take my time. It’s not just a wash job, it’s a detailed and thorough inspection. The boss’s name may be on the registration card, but it is my baby.
Washing it means more than just throwing some soapy water on and then hosing it off. If only! First and foremost is to note what kind of “dirt” is on the airframe and where. The engine produces an oily soot that coats the entire fuselage aft of the exhaust stacks. And it’s interesting to see that it’s heavier on one side than the other. You’d think that the flow of air down the sides of an aircraft would be uniform, but it is not. There are complicated aerodynamic reasons for this. They are not important. It just “is.”
I also look for fluid leaks. There are a myriad gearboxes, oil lines and connections. The whole powertrain flexes and moves depending on how much power I’m demanding of it. It takes a lot of power to take-off; somewhat less power for steady-state cruising; and low power for an approach to land. If things were absolutely rigid, stress-cracks would develop. Clever designers understand this and allow for some movement. But this movement can cause leakage. Not to mention the helicopters naturally vibrate a lot, which can also cause leaks.
Additionally, there are a lot of grease fittings. And it’s interesting to see which ones “throw” grease. (A lot of grease coming out can be an indication of bad seals.)
Fortunately, Three-Four Whiskey leaks very little. This is a source of great pleasure to me. See, all helicopters leak, and it’s surprising how much oil can leak out and still be considered “normal.” It is said about certain models that “If it ain’t leaking, there’s no oil in it.” This also used to be said about Harley-Davidson motorcycles back in the day (the day before I owned mine – which didn’t leak a drop).
I open all of the maintenance inspection panels, and pore over all those nooks and crannies that I used to despise. Now they have meaning and importance. I look for corrosion and cracks and worn bearings and things that just don’t seem right. I’ve caught just a couple of things so far: fluid lines that vibrated too close to each other and would start fretting if not moved back apart; a broken wire. All in all though, it has been an incredibly dependable and trouble-free helicopter.
It takes a good coupla-three hours to do a proper wash job. When I’m done it looks like a new helicopter! It’s incredibly satisfying to see the results. I should have taken “before” and “after” pictures, but I’d be too ashamed to show you the bird in its dirty state. However more than just being clean, I know that it is a safe, airworthy helicopter that will get me from here to there and back again. And it’s funny. A clean helicopter is a happy helicopter. It seems to fly “better” when it’s clean. Don’t ask me why, or even to quantify it. My imagination, you say? Perish the thought! It knows when it’s clean, it just does.
So that was my Sunday. Of course on Monday it rained.