Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

26 September 2007

Aviation Jargon

It occurs to me that the aviation jargon we pilots so casually use might seem strange to someone not in our field. For instance, we refer to an aircraft as a ship. I did in my last post ("We Bought A Ship!"). Some of the responses hinted at the strangeness of my use of the word. Except for fellow pilot Hal Johnson, who congratulated me for getting another aircraft "under" me. As though it were a horse - a metaphor I accept; Two-One-Eight Alpha Lima is a good steed.

The earliest airplanes were flying boats, since airports as we know them today hadn't been invented yet. As airplanes grew and acquired more than one crewmember, much of the terminology carried over from boats. That tradition continued as seaplanes faded and landplanes prevailed. Thus we have port and starboard for left and right, and a host of other terms. That big vertical thingee on the back of an airplane is called a rudder, although it has less to do with turning the airplane than the same-named device does on a boat.

Moving forward (or upward, actually) we even refer to manned rockets as "space ships." In the original "Star Trek" television series, James Tiberius Kirk sat on the bridge in command of his starship Enterprise. Like the captain of a big ocean liner, he didn't do the actual driving; he had special people for that. If you were watching one of those old "Star Trek" episodes for the first time and missed the opening credits you might think the action was taking place on some wierd WWII battleship with the multi-gender crew and women in tight spandex uniforms and automatic doors that *whoosh* open and closed. The writers obviously assumed that nautical traditions would survive into the final frontier. Well...except for the nifty spandex uniforms; we didn't see any bell-bottoms on Mr. Spock or Lt. Uhuru.

Back here on planet Earth, I've also heard helicopter pilots call them birds, which is naturally and obviously more appropriate. A helicopter pilot will also sometimes call it an airplane, or just the plane. As in, "Man, the weather got so bad, all I wanted to do was get that airplane back on the ground!" But not a lot of helicopter pilots use airplane because it confuses even us.

By the way, you will never, and I mean never hear a real helicopter pilot call it a "chopper." It is just not done. We detest that word for some reason. Using it immediately pegs the speaker as either an outsider (a "non-aviator" in our parlance), a newbie, a rank amateur, a poseur, or worse, a newspaper reporter. Maybe all of the above. It's just sort of this strange thing that no self-respecting helicopter pilot ever calls his ship a chopper.

Although...down in Guanaja, everyone referred to Three-Four-Whiskey as "the chopper." If I ever called it the ship or the bird or the plane they wouldn't know what I was talking about. So I'd just say, "The helicopter will be ready when you get there." But me, being lazy and "helicopter" being an overly long, multisyllable word to say, I have to admit that sometimes for the sake of brevity I'd just say, "The chopper will be ready when you get there." But don't let any of my aviator buddies know that, okay? I might be drummed right out of the helicopter pilot corps.

18 September 2007

We Bought A Ship!

How many blog posts start out with, "I know I haven't posted in a while, but..."

Well here's another one.

I had wanted to take the summer off and just chill. But that didn't happen. Since I got back from Honduras I've been involved in the Search For The Perfect Helicopter for my new boss. It has not been easy. I mean, you'd think that helicopter brokers and salespeople would be falling all over themselves to sell me a half-a-million dollar helicopter. But no. Many times my calls went unreturned. Often I had to chase people down just to send me what we call "spec sheets" (component times and general records) for a particular ship. I've been to look at a few candidates, flown a couple. None were just right.

There was that one down in Sarasota, Florida that I looked at. It was very nice, although it did not have the most modern radio package. There were a couple of other things we didn't like too, and the seller wanted too much money for it.

Quick background lesson: Helicopters have a huge amount of rotating components: gearboxes and rotor blades and such. Some of these components must be overhauled at certain intervals. Many of them are also "life-limited." This means that after a certain amount of flight time you have to throw away that component and replace it with a new one. (By comparison, airplanes generally have zero finite-life components.) On a helicopter, overhauling and replacing these components can be costly. Thus, the closer the components are to overhaul or their life limit, the proportionately less that helicopter is worth. The key is to find a helicopter with good component times.

There was one for sale up in New Jersey (still is for sale, in fact). On the surface it appears to be a very nice ship at a very good price. But in scrutinizing the component list, the owner cleverly buried a little fact: One of the four turbine wheels in the engine will shortly need to be replaced. Very shortly. The wheel costs $12,500 by itself, not to mention the labor to dismantle the engine to get at it. And as picky as the overhaul shops are, who knows what other "little" discrepancies they'll find? The prospective buyer could easily be looking at a bill of $50,000 on top of the purchase price. Needless to say, we passed on that one.

I kept coming back to that ship in Sarasota. It was just super-clean and it flew very nicely.

About a week or so after I'd been down to see it, the seller called me up. His name is Philip Carey and his company is Engage Aviation. Philip normally sells big planes (airliners and such), but he's a helicopter nut and a pretty decent helicopter pilot. So he decided to branch out into the used helicopter market. He buys them, puts them through a complete overhaul, puts a nice interior in and then gives them a new paint job on the outside. He can "spec-out" the ship any way the buyer likes - for a price, of course. Here is the ship he had for sale.

And that is the one we ultimately bought.

Last Monday began a flurry of back-and-forth phone calls and negotiations. We finally came to an agreement on the price and the boss said, "Go get it." The next morning I was in a Beech 1900 airliner headed for Tampa. (I do not like flying on the airlines. I would have preferred to drive but time was of the essence.)

It really is a beautiful ship. Right-click on the picture and select "Open Link In New Window" to see how the paint gleams and sparkles in the sun. The paint and interior (done by Lance Aviation in Lakeland, Florida) are gorgeous. Honestly, it looks like a brand-new Bell 206B and frequently gets mistaken for one by people who do not know. Those of us in aviation can easily spot the things that mark it as being "old," but the thing about helicopters is that with continuous rebuilds and component replacement, they can realistically last almost forever.

Those strange angular protuberances on the front of the cabin are wire-cutters. Helicopters often land at places that are not airports, as ours certainly will. Whenever you're operating "off-airport" there is always the danger of hitting some sort of wire, especially at night. This usually results in a fatal accident. The wire-cutters at least give you half a chance of surviving the event. It's just a little bit of extra insurance that I requested we install. As luck would have it, this ship already had them.

So I got the ship back up here to the Pensacola area on Thursday. The boss started using it for his business on Friday. We flew right through the weekend. Then I had a day (a grueling day, I might add) of Recurrent Training yesterday. That's a whole story in itself. It's been hectic, to say the least. But hopefully it will all settle down into some sort of routine soon as I begin the life of a Corporate Pilot.

11 September 2007

In Dreams

(Please press "PLAY" and let the song run while you read this)

Two of my blogger friends, David and Hal recently both posted about strange dreams they've had. David's was bizarre, rich fodder for the amateur or professional psychiologist. I can't even begin to describe it, but you can read about it here. Hal's dream was only slightly less odd, in that he was dreaming about two butchers he used to know; dreaming about men with big cleavers in other words. Don't ask me; my name ain't Doctor Freud.

I read Hal's post this evening, but I'd been thinking about dreams since this morning. Thinking about them as in - I never remember them. Never. Friends often regale me with detailed (and lurid and vivid) accounts of their dreams - dreams full of real people and conversations and complicated plot twists and...and I'm thinking, How do they remember these things? I know why they're telling me, and I'm happy to listen, albeit somewhat jealously. But I think people read too much into their dreams. Dreaming may merely be the state in which our brains get to cut loose without the constraints of dragging around our physical bodies.

I know that I do dream. When I wake up, I sometimes am still "in" the dream for a few seconds. And if I consciously try to think about it I can sometimes recall a snippet. But usually I can't even do that. The moment my attention is diverted - like thinking about how badly I have to pee, the dream evaporates...disappears faster than a tab of acid at the Burning Man festival. And then no matter how hard I try, I can't get it back.

I'm pretty sure I don't have nightmares. I always sleep well and wake up in a good mood. The key, I think, is that I routinely get about six hours of sleep, as I've written/whined about previously. For some reason I cannot stay asleep for longer than that. If I go to bed at ten p.m. I'm up at four. I go to bed at midnight and I'll be up at six. Maybe I just don't have time to dream.

I also think that my dreams occur in the very last few seconds of sleep - at least with me. For some reason, and don't quote me on this, I think that a whole big, long, involved dream - something that would take a very long time to recount - can happen in the blink of an eye. I think this because if I doze off for a just bit, as I did on an airline flight this morning, I wake up knowing that I was dreaming; I just can't remember about what.

I wonder why I can't access my dreams? I really wish I could. Maybe they'd be as spooky or strange as David and Hal's. Then again, I'm probably glad I can't. Ah well, don't want to dwell too much on the subject. It's almost midnight and I have to be up at six a.m.

06 September 2007

Dueling News Services

I know I shouldn't find this amusing...

I use two email client servers: Yahoo and Juno. Yahoo is much faster and more dependable than Juno, and I now use rbarbanes@yahoo.com for all "serious" emails. But I've had my BH206B3@juno.com email address for so long that I hang onto it for sentimental reasons. It's also the address I use when I register for websites and/or sign up for online services from which I expect a lot of junk mail. Every morning, I log onto Yahoo and check my real mail. Then I switch over and check Juno.

This morning, Yahoo's log-in/homepage greeted me with the sad news that opera singer Luciano Pavarotti died of cancer. Hmm, I didn't even know he was sick. No need to click on the story - I just noted the event in passing as I moved on to the Important Business of the internet day. After a while I finally got around to checking my Juno account. Their log-in page is pretty similar to all the others: World headline news, business headlines, current weather and some ads, to which Juno includes some annoying animiated pop-ups.

Opening Juno, in "Headline News" window was the blurb, "Pavarotti's Condition Deteriorates."

And I laughed out loud. Huh? He's dead - how could it get any worse than that? I would think that once you're dead your condition is pretty stable. There's a sitcom or movie gag in there somewhere, I know it.

Okay, we've all figured out by now that Juno's homepage does not get updated quite as frequently as does Yahoo's. In fact, most of the time Juno trails everyone else by a large margin. I think I read just last week on Juno that the search for Amelia Earhart will be called off soon if no further radio transmissions are heard. I've sent some emails over Juno that have gotten lost and, like Ms. Earhart will probably never be found.

At least I'm not holding my breath.

05 September 2007

Hurricane Felix, Redux

So Honduras dodged a bullet, as they say. Hurricane Felix was ultimately not the threat it appeared to be. While still offshore, it weakened from Cat-5 to Cat-4, which was good news. But it strengthened back to Cat-5 and jogged slightly to the south a bit before making landfall in a relatively unpopulated area of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

But you know, while that part of Central America may not have any big cities, it really doesn’t matter how many or few people live in the path of a Category 5 hurricane. The danger to their lives, the destruction of their homes is as equally real in a small town as it is in a larger one. It’s just that CNN and The Weather Channel didn’t send camera crews to Puerto Cabezas. We didn’t see TWC’s intrepid Jim Cantore out in the middle of it, holding onto a palm tree for dear life, feet dangling straight out, bravely reporting on conditions like we do whenever a big storm approaches any given town in the United States.

Ah, never mind. Once Felix came inland, it quickly weakened. The end-result is what counts. And although Felix still looked impressive in the satellite views, what was happening on the ground was not as dramatic or catastrophic. Thankfully!

A woman who lives in the northern coastal Honduras city of La Ceiba and who calls herself La Gringa maintains a “blogicito” that has become a sort of clearinghouse for information on Felix. People contact her from all over with their reports.

There is an obvious and understandable sense of relief, yes. But there’s also something else. A sort of, “Eh- what was the big deal?” I wonder if it will lead to complacency concerning future storms?

Lori lives on the Cayos Cochinos, a group of low cays just off the coast near La Ceiba. Lori writes to La Gringa, “Well here I sit all boarded up, packed up and battened down -- and it appears that I just did a hard two days' work for naught!”

Matthew, who lives in the central Honduras town of Juticalpa, “Well, this is a little embarrassing. It seems all this blog posting was for nothing.”

Not at all! If Felix had jinked to the right (north) even just a little bit, and it easily could have done so, we’d be singing a different tune right now. We’d be singing much the same tune that was sung after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Matthew correctly points out in his blog that, “There’s still a long way to go until October…” the end of the hurricane season. And he’s right. We are not out of the woods. Another bad storm could come right behind this one.

Still, one has to marvel at the incredible good fortune bestowed upon the people of that area of Central America. Those in Puerto Cabezas might not agree, but if Hurricane Felix had to hit anywhere, it was for the best that it came ashore when (during daylight) and where it did.

As my friend, King Air pilot extraordinaire Mike Brady says tongue-in-cheekily, "Maybe there is something to all this praying."

We know there is, Mike. It could have been a lot worse.

04 September 2007

Yellow Bird

I watch very little television anymore. To be honest, although I get my internet and phone from Cox Cable, I don't subscribe to even their basic cable t.v. Why not? I dunno...thought about it, but just decided that I don't need what t.v. offers. I can get by without seeing who's on "Dancing With The Stars" or any of the inane dramas, "reality" shows or...are there even any good sitcoms on t.v. anymore? I wouldn't know. Don't want to, either. I get PBS and the local Pensacola commercial channel.

My computer then has become my lifeline to the outside world. This is not necessarily a good thing. We used to call watching television a mindless waste of time. In that regard, t.v. has nothing on the internet. You can literally spend your whole day and the next night wading through crap if you're so inclined.

I like reading blogs and watching vlogs (video blogs). In fact, I've become addicted both. I like seeing what's on other people's minds. One vlogger recently put up a video of him (crudely) playing the song, "Yellow Bird" on his ukulele. (Why I clicked on this, I do not know.) Maybe you've heard of the song, maybe not. It's a pretty tune with a Jamaican/Caribbean lilt. It's become something of a standard, a signature song of artists like Harry Belafonte, Arthur Lymon and others. The "classic" arrangement usually has steel drums, something no self-respecting "calypso-ish" song should be without (although the song is definitely not calypso).

The YouTube vlogger credits the song to the Mills Brothers. With every video posted, YouTube offers up related videos on the same subject. In this case, one of them was a clip of the Mills Brothers singing the very song.

As a music fan and former d.j. I've known about the Mills Brothers. But they were from my parent's generation. They were huge - in their day. Singing since the mid-1920's, their recording career lasted from 1930 through 1968(!). However they continued performing well into the 1980's, when death began removing the original members one by one. However, younger ones in the family stepped in and kept the torch alive in name at least.

I knew about them but I'd never been a fan. Not really my cup of tea. Ah, but with age comes tolerance and a wider appreciation of art and talent. In was in that spirit that I clicked on the video clip from 1971 of the Mills Brothers singing "Yellow Bird." And it's awesome! There is something about singing siblings - their voices just naturally blend together in a way that is almost other-worldly. It's easy to see why the Mills Brothers enjoyed such popularity. They are the embodiment of "smooth." Not only that, they look like they're having a ton of fun up there on the stage (Harry was always particularly goofy). That in itself is noteworthy because by that time they'd been singing together for over 45 years!

And here's the aviation connection. In the 1960's there was the always-struggling Northeast Airlines, whose jets were painted in a distinctive yellow paint scheme. They called them "Yellowbirds." Northeast began running
a t.v commercial using a version of "Yellow Bird" with the lyrics changed slightly. It was a pretty and catchy tune, and you know how I am about pretty, catchy musical stuff. Forty years later, I can still recall the lyrics.

Yellow bird,
As new as a jet can be
Yellow bird,
The next time you fly,
Take me

...Or something like that. If you were living in New York and thinking about making a trip to Miami, that commercial would force you to choose Northeast Airlines, such is the power of advertising. Alas, it didn't help their revenue, and by 1972 Northeast Airlines, which had been in continuous business since 1933, was absorbed into Delta Air Lines.

I don't have a clip of the Northeast Airlines commercial, but we can listen to the Mills Brothers version of the original song. Enjoy!

03 September 2007

Felix And Honduras

Ugh. Looking at the excellent Crown Weather Services site (Tropical Weather Information page), I do not like what I am seeing. One thing is for sure, Honduras is going to get hit by a major hurricane. My worry is: Will it hit the Bay Islands, specifically Guanaja?

Back in late October of 1998, a tropical wave formed off the coast of Africa and meandered across the Atlantic Ocean. Ultimately it became Hurricane Mitch. The most popular forecast tracks had the storm moving off in a generally northwest direction. But it was late in the hurricane season and Mitch was a slow-moving storm without strong upper-level steering currents.

What really happened caught a lot of people by surprise. Instead of continuing on a northwest track, the indecisive Mitch got to a certain point and then made a left, southerly turn. It parked itself over Guanaja for three horrible days before slowly sinking into mainland Honduras. Miraculously there were only a few deaths on Guanaja, although the island was, for all intents and purposes, decimated. In Honduras, upwards of 7,000 people died - over 11,000 in Central America total, but no one really knows for sure because so many bodies were buried in mass graves and it was hard to keep official track.

One of the tragedies associated with Guanaja and Hurricane Mitch was the sinking of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ship, the S/V Fantome and the loss of all 31 crewmembers onboard. Remember, the thinking was that the hurricane would continue to track off to the northwest, not stall and turn southward. In an effort to stay on the safer south side, the captain was cruising the 282 foot, four-mast sailing ship back and forth beween Roatan and Guanaja in what he thought was the lee of the storm. In reality, he unknowingly drove straight into it. Author Jim Carrier produced the excellent “The Ship and the Storm,” an incredibly well-written and gripping book about Hurricane Mitch. I mean, literally, you will not be able to put it down.

For Honduras, Hurricane Mitch was a huge disaster from which the country has never really fully recovered.

And now, not quite ten years later there’s Felix. As of this morning, Monday September 3rd, the forecast tracks show it aiming straight for the north coast of Honduras. It might make landfall Tuesday morning at the Honduras/Nicaragua border, a relatively unpopulated area. This would be bad enough. But it also might just skirt the northern coast of Honduras. This would put the Bay Islands directly in its path.

(Image courtesy of www.crownweather.com)

If you click on that picture above, it will open up larger and you'll be able to see the nine different forecast tracks for Hurricane Felix that are issued by the various agencies who study this stuff. It is noteworthy that all of the forecasts agree that the storm will strike the coastline along a sixty-mile "window," right at that corner of Central America, near the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. If the storm follows the more southerly courses, it would put it over land sooner and therfore it would hopefully weaken. However, if the storm chooses the more northerly courses, the Bay Islands will be directly in its path.

Whichever way this storm goes, it is not going to be good. I still have a lot of friends down there. I know that some of them are going to be negatively impacted by Felix, no matter which actual path the storm takes. It’s a helpless feeling to watch this unfold in slow-motion.

I got an email from Danette Ebanks, the woman who is the accountant for the company I was working for when I lived in Guanaja. Danette and her big family are from the town of Mangrove Bight, which was totally destroyed – literally wiped out by Hurricane Mitch. Her email was ominous. The people of Guanaja are taking this storm very seriously. Saying that this would probably be the last time she would have internet access, she signed off with a line that tugs at my heart, “Pray for us and hope for the best."

You know I will, Danette. I’ll even pray for Matthew and Angel down in Juticalpa. And if you folks need a helicopter pilot after the storm passes, I'm ready to come back and help.