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?

28 June 2009

Requisite Michael Jackson Post

I must apologize for my tardiness. I received word this morning from the administrators of this website that all Bloggers must have posted something about Michael Jackson’s death within 24 hours of the event. Mea culpa, baby!

Is there anything I could write that you already haven’t heard or thought? Didn't think so.

We live, we die. No getting around that. Michael Jackson was a very public, controversial figure. Now he’s dead. So sorry. I liked his music. He leaves behind an incredible legacy. Okay, let’s move on.

Here is my favorite Michael Jackson song.

23 June 2009

The King (Air) And I

I mentioned before that we've been shopping for an airplane to buy. The search continues, and it occupies every working minute that I'm not flying the helicopter. In fact, this week I'll be driving over to Jacksonville, Florida to look at a particularly attractive jet. Jets are hot right now if you're looking to buy one (not so hot if you're trying to sell one).

In the meantime, we leased a ship, a Beechcraft King Air 200; a type that we are considering to buy. It's a twin-engine, turbine-powered plane with eight passenger seats (plus two pilots). It weighs 12,500 pounds fully loaded. The wings span 55 feet.

King Airs have always been known for their roomy cabin, load-carrying capability and utter dependability. Out on the wings, the Pratt & Whitney PT-6 engines are legendary in their reliability and safety. This particular King Air (a 1982 model) is a "nice enough" aircraft, with new paint and interior, but the engines have a lot of flight time on them and are, to be kind, tired.

There she is, in all her glory, N58GA

My former boss had one just like it (with better engines) in which he routinely flew down to Honduras where it stayed for a week and then came home. That King Air never gave us any problems...never broke...never did anything but start up and fly.

With two aircraft at his disposal now, things can be complicated for my current Boss. On some trips, it can be a toss-up as to which one to take. The helicopter limits him to just four passengers, while the King Air can take more people in air-conditioned comfort. We have no air-conditioner in the helicopter, and sitting in it on the ground for any length of time is brutal, especially these days where the temperature has been in the upper-90s, even with that big fan on top turning.

This past Sunday we had a King Air flight in which we took one of our guys from his home in Alabama to a jobsite in West Virginia. The Boss would not be onboard, and we'd be coming home empty. The schedule had us returning to Home Base around midnight. As I was driving up to the airport, my phone beeped.

"Look, I want you to be honest with me,"
the Boss started out. "When you get back tonight, would you mind flying the helicopter down to Pensacola instead of driving your car, and then coming down to Destin in the morning to pick me up?"

I certainly didn't mind making the short, 20-minute flight home instead of the one-hour drive. But I'd really planned on sleeping-in on Monday morning; it had been a long week that drove right on through the weekend. No such luck. Picking the Boss up in Destin at 8:30AM would mean waking up around six. Oh well...

I really like flying airplanes. Don't tell the Boss, but in some ways I like flying planes more than helicopters. My helicopter pilot friends clutch their hearts, grimace and swoon like they're going to pass out when they hear me say such blasphemous things. Many helicopter pilots find airplanes to be deathly boring and unchallenging. To them, only the rush of helicopter flying will feed their need.

But on our flight home on Sunday, as we cruised along serenely at 24,000 feet, I was able to climb in the back and retrieve some crackers and sodas. (Don't worry, there are always two of us flying.) I could've used the potty if need be; there is one installed. Helicopter flying is fun, no doubt, but airplane flying is just so much more relaxed. As I've mentioned before, if I take my hands off the controls of the helicopter - even if only to open a bottle of water - it immediately tries to turn itself upside down. Keeps you busy, that.

It'll be a while until I am checked-out and proficient enough to fly the King Air by myself. But I quite like flying with another pilot for a change. I've been a "lone wolf" (one-man show) all my life. Operating as a crew of two is cool because it feeds my unfulfilled airline pilot fantasies. I always really wanted to be an airline pilot. I have no idea how I fell into helicopters, really. It's just the path I ended up on, and I honestly can't complain. It's been a fun life so far. But sometimes I do wonder...

Hey, our King Air may not be a mighty 707 headed for Paris or London, but at night, as I squint at that big instrument panel jam-packed with all its "old school" round dials and switches, it might as well be.

13 June 2009

Getting What We Deserve

Ya gotta love Americans.

As a nation, we have come to believe and accept that if something bad happens, then by God someone is responsible. For decades now, anytime an accident happens, lawyers ensure that someone pays the “victim.” We have adopted an attitude of entitlement. It has become a social assumption: Someone is always to blame and someone will pay.

Heh. That may be changing.

Remember that US Airways Airbus that hit some birds on takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York and landed in the Hudson River last winter? Sure you do, it made this guy a national hero (especially to us pilots).

Captain Chessley “Sully” Sullenberger

In that amazing event, nobody died. Nobody really even got seriously hurt. They got wet, they got scared. Some cuts and bruises, some claims of hypothermia. That’s all.

Airbus floating nicely, people getting out, front of plane high and dry

Now, of course the passengers want to be compensated. Check out THIS article that appeared on Yahoo News this (Saturday) morning and which originated at The New York Times.

The article says that US Airways gave everyone on that flight $5,000. Ostensibly this was to cover the loss of any carry-on stuff or clothes they were wearing. Passengers who felt they deserved more were referred to US Airways’ insurance carrier, the infamous AIG.

And apparently, AIG is not playing ball.

The Yahoo/NYT article opens by listing the complaints of one Paul Jorgenson. He lost his wallet, laptop computer and car keys in the ditching, and of course his clothes were ruined. The article notes that Jorgenson did get his wallet back, and some clothes. However his laptop, car keys, sunglasses and – get this – cuff links were never returned. And because of this, he wanted money. Well, he wanted more money than the pathetic $5,000 US Airways gave him. So the airline generously gave him another $5,000! Not satisfied, he wanted even MORE. The airline then said, “Tell it to AIG.” Jorgenson did, at which point, the article quotes Jorgenson as saying, “Everything went downhill.”


Jorgenson – who wasn’t hurt, remember – got ten-thousand bucks from US Airways and yet he wants more?! Must’ve been some expensive cuff links!

I believe that Mr. Paul Jorgenson could legitimately be characterized as what we call a “greedy bastard.”

But he’s not the only one! Another woman who was on the plane with her husband and their two children wants AIG to pay for psychological therapy “…to reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress for her and her daughter.”

Not actual post-traumatic stress, mind you. Just the risk of post-traumatic stress in the future, should it ever appear. AIG agreed to pay for three therapy sessions. The woman felt that three sessions was insufficient. AIG referred her to her own health insurance provider, which unfortunately has a high deductible.

This woman, by the name of Tess Sosa, verbalizes what many Americans feel. Referring to AIG, she said, “Why should we be paying out of pocket? That’s what they’re there for.”

Uh-huh. Indeed.

Look, I’m sure that being on an airliner that hits birds and lands in the water has got to be a scary friggin’, life-passing-before-your-eyes, oh-my-God-we’re-gonna-die! experience. No doubt. I sure wouldn’t want to have to live through it, either as a pilot or a passenger.

And maybe, had I been a passenger on that plane, I’d be inclined to think that somebody owes me some damn money. I mean, yeah I know that flying is risky, but why should I have to bear any of that risk? If’n I ever get scared and want some therapy just in case lingering memories of this event ever resurface…or if I lose some clothes, and a laptop, car keys and a set of cuff links…I’ll want someone to fork over some cash, baby.

Or maybe not.

Yahoo News Article

09 June 2009

AF447: A Bad Omen

When we first heard about the AF447 accident, reports said it was an Airbus, in an area of heavy turbulence. There was one thought that ran through my head: Did the tail snap off?

Remember American Airlines 587? This was the Airbus 300 that, shortly after “9/11” crashed on departure and not far from Kennedy Airport in New York City. The accident was attributed to “wake turbulence” from a heavy-747 that had departed ahead of the Airbus. But something very disturbing came out of that investigation.

The Airbus is a “fly-by-wire” airplane. In other words, there are no mechanical linkages between the pilot’s joystick controller and the actual ailerons, elevator or rudder. No pushrods, no cables, no nuthin. Just electrical wires that run through a computer.

This computer is programmed so that the pilots cannot break the airplane. It will not allow the pilots to make a control input so fast or severe that it would overstress the things. On the surface, you might say, “This is good!” Yeah, well…but there’s always an exception, right? And there is one here, too. It’s the rudder.

Investigators discovered that below certain speeds, the Airbus computer allows the pilot much more rudder authority than would be expected or assumed. In fact, without knowing it, an Airbus pilot could push on his rudder pedal with sufficient force to snap the rudder clean off. Which is exactly what happened with American 586.

Okay, to clarify, not the rudder but the fin. Most people would probably call the whole vertical tailpiece the “rudder.” But it’s not. The rudder is just the part that wiggles back and forth to actually yaw the nose of the plane (or keep the nose from yawing, as the case may be). It is attached to what we call the “vertical fin,” which is the big immovable part. As the rudder wags back and forth, it imparts it’s aerodynamic loads on the fin, which is attached to the fuselage.

On the Airbus, the vertical fin is composite, not metal like on your basic Boeing airplane. The whole fin slides into a slot and is bonded to the fuselage, much like a big model airplane. I kid you not. In the crash of AA587, the whole damn fin snapped clean off as the pilot tap-danced on the pedals in response to the rockin’ and rollin’ his plane was doing as it reacted to the wake turbulence of the 747 ahead.

As it fin tore away, the aircraft yawed violently from side to side, generating enough force to snap the engines off and send them flying in two different directions. (This is why reporters were confused at first. There were three “crash sites” in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Turned out that one was the airplane and two were just fires created by the engines slamming into buildings on the ground, away from the main wreckage.)

The vertical fin of AA587 as it was lifted out of Jamaica Bay.

Ever since this trait of the Airbus line came to light, I’ve never really liked riding in them (and I haven’t). I know it’s silly and irrational. I mean, how often do tails just snap off of airplanes in flight? I’m sure that Airbus has modified the algorithms in their computers so that it’s more difficult if not impossible for a pilot to stomp on the rudder pedal hard enough to damage the plane. Right?

But then I saw this picture.

What you're looking at there is the entire vertical fin *and* rudder from AF447. It does not look like it hit the water with the rest of the airplane. Rather, it looks like it snapped clean off and fell separately.

The question will be: Did it happen as a result of the crash? Or was it part of the events that caused the crash?

I had a bad feeling about this before, and it's not getting any better.

08 June 2009

Airplane Shopping

“You’re an idiot,” Matt said. It was not the first time he’d said something like that to me, and probably won’t be the last. In fact, our conversations are often peppered with such pithy “observations” by him. The occasion of this one was me bitching, as usual.

I should start at the beginning.

The Boss wants to buy an airplane to supplement the helicopter. Our business has expanded to the point where he and his employees need to range out further (and faster) than the helicopter can take them.

Airplanes are different from helicopters. They go places. We don’t ever go anywhere in our helicopter; we pretty much stay within a 100-mile radius of home base. So the idea of getting an airplane is kind of neat. I'll get to fly it. I'm what they call "dual-rated" in that I fly both airplanes (land and sea!) and helicopters. Helicopters are fun, but airplanes are fun in a different way. Airplane pilots can change their climate. We helicopter pilots are always stuck in whichever one we took off. If you asked me which one I prefer more, I'd have a hard time answering.

“I’m going to Dallas this Thursday,”
the Boss told me last week. “Set up some airplanes I can look at.” Luckily Dallas, Texas is, like, the airplane sales capital of the country. So, no prob.

I called around and found some of what we’re looking for. One dealer even offered to send a jet over to fetch us. This, we agreed to right away. Sure enough, at the appointed hour on Thursday morning a Cessna Citation landed, taxied-in, scooped up the boss, his girlfriend and me and, as they say, “whisked” us off to Texas, where we landed two hours later. There were already two pilots up front, so it was a treat to get to sit in the back for a change. Riding in the cabin of a business jet can make you never want to set foot in one of those crappy "regional jets" ever again.

In Dallas, we looked at airplane after airplane. Some at this airport, some at that airport. Lots of airplanes. Tons of airplanes. Problem was, I was recovering from a nagging flu that just didn’t want to go away. I don’t get sick much, but when I do I become a big, whiny baby. By, ohhhh, the eleventh of twelfth airplane, I was pretty much airplaned-out.

Not to mention this other screwup. The Boss was staying for the whole weekend, but I had just planned on staying overnight and leaving out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport next morning to come home. However, things changed and there was yet another plane to see on Friday before my flight. Great. So now I needed a car. After the Boss got to where he was staying for the weekend, the aircraft salesman that had been chauffeuring us around got tasked to drop me off at a rental car place at D/FW, only “a little” out of his way. We pulled into what looked like the right place, he kicked me out and left. As it was pushing seven PM, I didn’t blame him for not hanging around.

I walked around and around, looking for the rental office. None was to be found in any of the three big buildings. It was merely a maintenance place where they wash and work on the cars. Nobody paid any attention to me, either. Finally I cornered some worker who (I swear) spoke only two words of English, maybe three. When he understood that I wanted to rent a car, he pointed in a far off direction. “Afuera,” he said. (Outside?) “I take you,” and he motioned for me to get into a nearby car. See, at D/FW there is a whole separate building where all the rental car counters are. You cannot just go to the remote facility like you can at most any other airport in the country. Damn you, Texas!

Anyway, by the time I got to my hotel room I was feeling poorly, dehydrated, hungry, frustrated, and aggravated. So I called Matt, naturally, and bitched, naturally, about my day.

“You’re an idiot,” he said. “You should be like a kid in a candy store. Instead, you’re complaining about having to look at airplanes. You love this stuff.”

And he’s right, of course. I do. I should be excited. Which just goes to show you how jaded a person can get. We probably will get a plane of some sort, probably soon. My life is fixing to change, hopefully for the better. Hey, who doesn't like a new challenge? I might even have to change the name of the blog from "Helicopter Pilot" to...ohhh..."Corporate Pilot" or something like that.

I really can be an idiot sometimes. And I can always count on Matt to point it out. I’m glad I have friends who are honest enough with me to tell me the truth. If I'd only listen more...

05 June 2009

AF447: Grasping At Straws

And now, five days after Air France 447 disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean, "authorities" are saying that debris recovered from the water is not from that Airbus. None of it. None of it?? Makes me wonder, have they even found the crash site?

They're also crawfishing on the terrorism angle. The French Foreign Minister has now said, "Nothing leads us to believe there was an explosion, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one." Uh-huh. In other words, despite their initial denials, "terrorism" has not been ruled out. Well, fricken duh!

There is no doubt that there was a lot of severe weather around that night in the Intertropical Convergence Zone. I've now seen the weather reports and satellite imagery for the area (thanks, Mike B.!). Lots of big, tall thunderstorms. And it would be challenging for pilots to avoid all of the "weather" along the way. However, I did read one pilot comment that the night did not seem unusual "on paper" - in other words, no storm-of-the-century conditions, just your typical late-Spring night in the ITCZ. On paper.

There was one pilot who reported seeing an explosion and a white streak of light heading straight down to the water. If he is being truthful, and if that white streak was Air France 447, then it exploded and descended in clear air, not in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Now, here on Friday morning the "authorities" are saying is that the probe that senses the plane's airspeed may have been faulty, which caused the crew to fly too fast or too slow in the turbulence. And of course the media is running wide open with this, in their quest to give you The Cause of this crash before their competition. But there's a tiny problem with this Inoperative Airspeed Probe Theory. See, all airliners have at least two airspeed probes. Could both of them have failed?

If the event were not so horribly tragic, I would sit back and laugh as I watched everyone running around like headless chickens, trying to figure out what went wrong in an event for which we have no - or at least very scant - evidence.

Which brings up my biggest question. A huge airliner breaks apart and crashes down into the ocean from high altitude. So where is the wreckage? It did not slip gracefully into the water like Michael Phelps off the high-dive.

Believe me when I tell you this, people. The "authorities" know more than they're telling us.

03 June 2009

The Disappearance of Air France 447

A big airliner on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappears over the Atlantic Ocean. The plane's avionics system sent a burst of transmissions back to the airline's headquarters indicating, we are told, electrical malfunctions and loss of cabin pressure. Only bits and pieces of the plane are found floating on the surface. Reports are that the "black boxes" may be lying so deep on the seafloor that they may never be found. Such is the case with Air France flight 447, a twin-engine Airbus 330.

So what happened?

Initial reports said something about turbulence and thunderstorms. This raises two immediate questions: 1) Could a bad thunderstorm bring down a jetliner? 2) Would airline pilots deliberately fly into such a destructive thunderstorm?

Taking the second question first, modern airliners like the Airbus 330 have excellent weather avoidance technology - much better than I have in my little helicopter. They have independant onboard weather-radar, and a satellite link to the airline headquarters that can provide additional weather information. Thus, airline pilots can detect thunderstorms well in advance and no, would not deliberately fly into one. But more than that, thunderstorms generate turbulence, and every airline wants their passengers to have a smooth, comfortable ride. Pilots go out of their way (literally) to avoid areas of turbulence if they can.

Can a bad thunderstorm bring down an airliner? Anything is possible. This is why we pilots avoid them. Modern airliners generally fly at altitudes higher than the most violent parts of a thunderstorm.

Needless to say, accidents like this call out the various idiots in the country who throw their two cents in. The former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, "Scary" Mary Schiavo has already raised the possibility of a lightning strike. Speaking on a CBS morning show she said, "For this plane, the difference is whether the lightning hit a fuel tank or got inside and took out the electrical system. It's like an atom bomb."

Oh for crying out loud. An atom bomb? This just tells us what assholes people like her can be. I've said it before and I'll say it again: You media whores...you fatuous morons who think you know something about something and just HAVE to get your face on camera...SHUT THE HELL UP!

Could it have been a lightning strike? It's possible - but not very likely. Could it have been sabotage or a bomb? Sure. If so, we might not know until some person or group comes out and claims responsibility for the act.

Do I have any idea at all what might have happened? I do not.

As dependable as we like to think air travel is, it's still risky. Planes have been disappearing out over the ocean since planes started flying across the ocean. It doesn't happen often, but it still does. And you know what? Sometimes we have no idea why stuff happens.

Take that TWA 800 flight in 1996 - you remember, the one that blew up after departure from Kennedy Airport in NYC one evening, within sight of people on Long Island. (TWA 800 was also headed, coincidentally, to Paris.) The NTSB came out with a "probable cause," tracing the explosion/breakup of the plane to an event in the center fuel tank area of the big plane. But they never said exactly what caused it. To this day there is speculation about what caused that crash, but nobody knows for sure. Or if they do know, they're not telling.

I'm sure the various governments involved will spare no expense to find the "black boxes." Time is of the essence though. Their little "pingers" that allow them to be found underwater only last about 30 days. Still, I'm confident they will be found. Whether they will reveal the answer to this mystery remains to be seen. Meanwhile, all we can do is shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to the fact that nothing is perfect. Hey, shit happens.

Unless you're Mary Schiavo. Then you go on CBS and talk about lightning strikes and atom bombs.