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?

27 August 2009

Changes, Holding Patterns, and Comedowns

I never really liked that dark blue background with the white text. Too hard to read. I noticed that a couple of other bloggers have changed their background colors, and so I figured that since it's been...what...over three years that this blog has been up, maybe it was time to redecorate - you know, spruce the place up a bit.

Or maybe it's time to put it to bed once and for all. Surveys indicate that more and more people are Facebooking and/or Twittering these days. And Facebook is much better for posting pictures. Are blogs still viable anymore?

I had done my Recurrent Training in the helicopter last week. And if I do say so myself, I did pretty well. Smug with pride at my god-like mad flying skillz, the very next day I showed up at Pensacola Aviation where I am taking lessons in pursuit of my Instrument Rating. That's the one the FAA requires you to have if you're crazy enough to want to fly inside of clouds. I never did. That's why I fly helicopters! We helicopter pilots generally fly down low, in the terrain. Smart helicopter pilots stay well clear of clouds. (You need the Instrument Rating to fly above 18,000 feet, too, which is where our King Air spends the bulk of its time.)

So my instructor, Will and I went up in this little Cessna 172. I wear a "view-limiting device." This is like a pair of oversized, opaque sunglasses with a little cut-out in them that allows me to see just the instrument panel. The idea behind flying on instruments is that you do it when you cannot see outside because of the aforementioned cloud.

The task for this lesson was Holding Patterns. This is a deal where air traffic control "parks" you over a navigational fix somewhere if things get too busy. You go to the fix and then start flying racetrack patterns in the sky. There's a procedure to it, of course. The inbound leg should only be one-minute long. If there is any wind, you have to adjust the outbound leg to make the inbound come out right.

And there was wind. Plenty of wind!

I went 'round and 'round and 'round, never getting it quite right. Eventually Will gently suggested that we move on to something else. Will is a lot younger than me, and doesn't have as much total time. I think that he's a little reluctant to criticize me when I go wrong. I can be...you'll find this hard to believe...a bit "bossy" in the cockpit. And I think it inhibits Will from being as assertive as he should be. I did warn him of this in advance. Still, he is much too deferential. He needs to be tougher on me, kick my ass some more if I'm ever going to pass the checkride.

The lesson did not end on a good note. I was not happy. The holding pattern lightbulb did not come on, and I did not suddenly "get it."

There's always next time.

But I'll tell you what: Every time I get to thinking that I'm the World's Greatest Pilot, some little event comes along to disabuse me of that silly notion.

26 August 2009

You're So (anonymously) Vain

In my post, “Going, Going…” I mentioned that when you read a lot of blogs you sometimes learn more about the blogger than you’d want to know. Such is the case with one blog I glance at. This guy purports to be a military veteran, a helicopter pilot and further, purports to currently fly an air ambulance helicopter. However these things are unverifiable considering that his blog is anonymous and the profile picture he uses is of a small, two-seat Robinson training helicopter. There is no picture of him, no email address, no real information at all. Hmm... Perhaps he doesn’t really exist?

This is the problem with the internet. You can be anyone you want to be, even if you’re a nobody. Because a nobody can be a Somebody if that nobody has internet access. Anyone can publish anything they like, anonymously. Trouble is, some people who do this want to be taken seriously.

I did not mention the name of the particular blog I was referring to, and it does not appear - never has - on the right-hand side of this page. I did say that while this blogger and I *purportedly* have aviation in common, I doubt very much that we’d be friends in real life. Reason being, his blog is not at all about flying but entirely about politics and his hatred…yes, hatred of liberal democrats. (I keep clicking on his blog in the futile hope that he’ll write something…anything…about flying, but every time I do? DENIED!) Nope, nothing about flying – just politics. He and his peanut gallery of anonymous followers truly believe that the country is on the verge of destruction (engineered by guess who?), being destroyed from the inside out. It's as radical a stance as I've seen.

Well you know you can never say anything on the internet without starting a flame war, and sure enough this blogger deduced that I was talking about him. I suppose he was feeling much like Warren Beatty felt the first time he heard Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” He (the blogger, not Warren Beatty) fired off a comment to my original post, then made a post on his own blog about it, encouraging his coterie of toadies to come here and make their presence known. Their responses on his blog were full of the amateur (and worthless) psychoanalysis we’re all so fond of.

I make no such assumptions about this blogger. I have no idea why he is like he is, only that from his writing he comes across as a bitter, bitter man. He does hate, and I did call him a hater, and he was offended by that. And, as internet patrons often do, he resorted to schoolyard tactics, shooting back that I’m not any different/better because I once called Nancy Pelosi a “loony.” Which I did. Which she is, let’s be honest.

To the blogger-in-question and his followers, the world is very black and white. If you don’t believe what they believe, if you’re not in lock-step with them, then you’re the enemy. That blogger characterized people like me as (and I quote), “…dispassionate ‘don’t worry, be happy’ types (who) blithely accuse others of hate while throwing stones through the walls of their glass houses, ignoring what appears to be a concerted attempt to collapse our economy.”

Wow. Please read that sentence again. “…A concerted attempt to collapse our economy.”

That’s first-rate paranoia, man. If Stephen Stills had not already written “For What It’s Worth,” he would have had to re-form the Buffalo Springfield and write it now. Oh come on, you remember:

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line
The man come and take you away

And again, this is what I don’t like about the internet. Anyone can say anything with no recourse. People like to think that they’re being “passionate” about things. Yeah…it’s easy to be passionately anonymous when you're being critical. But that’s just immature sniping from the sidelines. I say, if you’re really, truly passionate in your belief that the country is being destroyed from the inside out…that there really is a concerted attempt to collapse our economy…then you should go out and goddam DO something about it (like, maybe get active in politics?), not whine on a blog like an anonymous little child.

Or shut up.

Senator Ted Kennedy died last night after losing the fight with a brain tumor. Never mind that it must have been a horrible, painful way to die. Never mind the career in public service that Senator Kennedy had was long and illustrious. Never mind his many accomplishments, his years of public service when he could have easily said, “Screw it!” and lived off the family money in Hyannis Port. Never mind any of the good things that the man has done in his long life. Never mind the awful tragedies he's had to bear. Forget all that. The anonymous blogger I wrote about in “Going, Going…?" Today, less than twelve hours after Senator Kennedy's death was announced, he posted a chortling: “Mary Jo Kopechne Was Unavailable For Comment.” (The post had, typically, almost no content.)


His entire blog is like that - radical, mean-spirited and nasty. See, I think people like that…people who always see the negative side of everything…those people are just miserable scumbags. You didn’t like Teddy Kennedy? Fine. At least have some decency in the man’s death. To make a comment like that is sinking to a new low. Which I didn’t think was possible. But comments like that come easily when no one knows your name.

But this is what politics has become, and what it’s done to us as a nation. It’s a form of total negativism that brooks no compromise, no middle-ground, only extreme polarization. I call it The Limbaugh-Hannity Syndrome. It makes people hate others so much that they lose their humanity.

I miss the old-school media, where there was accountability. If a newspaper reporter wrote something, he had to back it up with facts. If you disagreed with him, you knew who he was and you could challenge him directly. Same thing with TV reporters, whose integrity was put on the line every time they went on camera. Remember when CBS produced some bogus and easily-debunked documents about George W. Bush’s military background? Dan Rather (eventually) lost his job. Didn’t anybody at CBS remember that typewriters of the 1970’s couldn’t easily do a superscript font? Sheesh.

Now, there is no accountability on the internet. Now it’s all innuendo and opinion – anonymously, of course! Sure, with anonymity comes great freedom of expression. But that freedom comes at the price of trustworthiness. I do not trust anything I read that is posted anonymously. In fact, I view all of it with great suspicion. It makes me wonder why the writer is so ashamed of his views that he is unwilling to put his name to and stand behind them. (La Gringa gets a pass on this. She is in Honduras, and she is very critical of the government. She has a very real concern for her safety and maybe even her life.)

I am no expert on politics or the economy (or life, or anything else except flying for that matter), and I do not pretend to be. I am not a genius, but I’m no idiot either. Call me na├»ve, but I trust our political system and our system of government. At least I trust it enough to know that it is self-correcting, and if this Obama guy screws up too badly, he’ll be outta here! in three short years. But I am not about to jump to any conclusion that only eight months into his presidency, it is already a total failure. (Very soon we’ll have the elections for the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives. Republicans are going to be clamoring to regain some seats. We’ll see what happens, and afterward we won’t need a weatherman to tell us which way the wind is blowing then. Should be interesting!)

Yes, I realize that I'm ranting about nothing...that I've wasted my time and yours on some silly, insignificant internet thing that only gets around 200 visits per day. My own blog only gets around 50 visits per day. Neither of us are curing cancer or setting the world on fire in terms of "readership."

My name is Bob Barbanes. I am a working corporate helicopter (and King Air!) pilot who lives in Pensacola, Florida. If I write something you don’t like, you can call me on it – literally. My phone number is 850-512-2663. If I’m out flying, leave a message and I’ll call you back. My real email address is on every page of this blog.

I always encourage comments here. I don’t need to screen and pre-approve them the way some bloggers do, and I never delete them. So feel free! Of course, if you want to comment anonymously, that’s okay too. Feel, um, freer.

20 August 2009

Fun Day (Therapy)

The helicopter went in for its Annual Inspection on June 24th, nearly two months ago. There were some “issues” that came up, and the two-week inspection turned into a month-and-a-half inspection. Nothing serious, but in aviation, nothing is ever simple.

Oh well…

Two weeks ago, with all inspections and repairs done, we rolled the ship out for its maiden “operational check flight” (we don’t used terms like test flight anymore). The damn thing wouldn’t start. The cause was not immediately apparent, so the troubleshooting began. Luckily (and inexpensively) it turned out to be a bum gauge. But the process added a full week of “down time.”

Last Thursday…finally…we got it running. Our mechanic, Chris and I took the thing up for a short “shake-the-bugs-out” flight. There were none; the ship flew beautifully – just like it did before the Annual.

And then I parked it. The Boss didn’t need to go anywhere. If ever there was a good time to have maintenance issues, this was it.

Today, I had some annual Recurrent Training scheduled. The good folks at Lunsford Air Consulting were sending over one of their Bell 206 experts. He was going to fly with me, then (hopefully!) douse me with Holy Water and pronounce me good-to-go for another year. Our insurance company requires it, and it’s just good common sense.

And don’t you know, the Boss decided he wanted to fly. Today. Of course.

We are nothing if not flexible. What happened was, I took the Boss to where he needed to be, then met up with the Lunsford instructor and did the training at a different airport. Right when we got done, the Boss called and said he was ready to go home. Good timing!

So I got a good three hours of flying in today. Some nice cross-country flying, and an hour-and-a-half of show-me-what-you-can-do training. (By the way, we pilots confusingly call a “cross-country” any flight that goes from one place to another. It doesn’t mean trans-continental, but rather just from here to there - doesn’t matter how long or short of a distance.)

I don’t get “check-itis” anymore. That’s when you get really nervous with an FAA Examiner or Instructor Pilot looking over your shoulder. I mean, I’ve been at this for a long, long time. If I don’t know what I’m doing by now, something’s wrong. I know I’ve got some bad habits, and it’s always good to hear constructive criticism from an objective observer.

So the training was fun. I don’t often get to do certain things…like emergency procedures and some out-of-the-ordinary maneuvers. Flying the Boss (and his friends, family and business associates) around requires that I fly pretty conservatively. On the rare occasions when I’m by myself, I resist the urge to “play.” It would be easy to go practice engine-out landings or some such, but the risk of doing so by myself is high. I don’t like risking the Boss’s helicopter. It ain’t mine to risk, after all. The best way to do those things is with an instructor. And that only happens once a year. I look forward to it.

We did all of the usual maneuvers, and the unusual ones too. The instructor found a tiny little clearing in some trees near the airport into which he asked me to demonstrate a “confined area” approach/landing. Heh. He’s obviously never been to our hunting camp. The “little” clearing he found was plenty big enough. Piece o’cake.

I only messed-up one maneuver, the dreaded Stuck Right Pedal. In this case, we simulate what would happen if the tail rotor pedals were stuck in the full-right position (or nearly so). It is an emergency situation that is virtually impossible to occur in a Bell 206 because of the design of the control linkage (and very improbable in other types), but the FAA still has it in their curriculum and so instructors want us to demonstrate it. And so I tried. Let’s just say that we would have lived but the Boss would’ve probably had to buy a new helicopter. The not-so-dreaded Stuck Left Pedal demonstration went a lot better. It’s just easier with the left pedal stuck forward is all – you’ll have to take my word on it.

In the end, it was a full day of "flying," even if the total actual flight time for the day wasn’t all that high. I was immersed. Engaged. Back in the saddle. It had been nearly two months since I did any “real” helicopter flying, and boy, if felt good.

Although I shouldn’t be, I am constantly surprised at how much I still love flying helicopters. After all these years and all these hours of experience, and the 50- or 60,000 landings I’ve done (and that’s no misprint, I’ve done around sixty-thousand landings) - and no matter how much I say I hate it and how I’d rather be doing something…anything…else, I still get a big kick out of flying these crazy contraptions. It is what I do.

Thank God I do it reasonably well.

18 August 2009

Going, Going... (Part I)

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I’m shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one
And no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

So sang Simon and Garfunkel in their 1966 Top-40 hit record, “I Am A Rock.”

"I touch no one and no one touches me." Cheerful stuff, eh?

If you read blogs, you learn stuff about the bloggers. Sometimes you learn stuff you wish you didn’t know. There is another helicopter pilot whose blog I sometimes read. Unfortunately, it is nearly totally devoted to politics and his fierce hatred of Liberal Democrats. He almost never writes about flying. His anger at those he thinks are ruining this country is unsettling. You read his blog and wonder: Does this guy ever laugh? Does he go to bed angry every night? Is every waking minute devoted to thinking about politics and how screwed-up the country is becoming? It seems so. And it seems sad. Because aside from our common interest in helicopters, I doubt very much if we'd be friends in real life.

After you read this post, you may feel the same about me.

I try to keep this blog about flying, and leave my personal life out of it, except when I can exploit it for the numerous humorous fuckups I continually make. But indulge me, won’t you, if I go off in a different direction for a bit?

I’m sort of depressed lately. A couple of months ago, my friend and main motorcycle riding buddy Jacob moved away. Then a couple of weeks ago Matt and Alisha moved up to Atlanta. This past weekend, we moved Gene over to Jacksonville. In what seems like an instant, the people who are closest to me have left. The town seems so empty. The house seems empty. Or maybe it’s my life that seems that way.

Yeah, yeah, I know that if I had a family of my own (e.g. wife, kids, in-laws, etc. or even a dog) I wouldn’t be so down. But I’m a single guy and I hate pets. My friends are my family.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly cloistered in Paul Simon’s womb room above. I certainly don’t read much and I goddam hate poetry. But I do have my own sort of armor. I have flying (thank God for that) and my motorcycle (more on that later). I have my “alone things.” They just seem that much more alone lately. And it sucks.

We pilots tend to compartmentalize. We’re good at it. We don’t let issues from one part of our lives spill over into others. We take great pride in that…that we can put all of our earthly concerns aside and concentrate on just flying the plane. We leave the family arguments and all the other bullshit on the ground. And it’s true. When I’m flying, nothing bothers me. I’m too busy trying to keep from making some huge, stupid mistake, usually. Just let me fly, and I’m happy. I’m not one who drones along in the sky, reflecting on my life and all the things that are wrong with it. On the contrary, when I’m flying, I love life! Some would describe it as being “in the zone,” or “in one’s element,” although they both sound horribly trite and corny, however accurate.

We pilots lie to ourselves that we can do this on the ground as well – that we can bury our emotions and/or not show them. It’s something I’ve always thought I was pretty good at. Learned to be pretty good at.

My life has always been episodic. Growing up, our family always moved around. With a total of six kids eventually, my parents needed ever-bigger apartments. Then as I got older, I went from one phase to another, place to place, never settling down, never wanting to. Friends were…well…temporary. I kind of got to thinking that’s just the way it was. It never bothered me much.

It bothers me now.

Maybe it’s the all of the failed relationships (so many that I don’t even try anymore). Maybe it was my friend Jim’s suicide nearly thirteen years ago. I never told you about that. He was another riding buddy/coworker/offshore mechanic. We were close. It’s a long story – I’ll get to it. Anyway, the problem is that as I get older, I find myself becoming more attached to people. And I’m almost ashamed and certainly don’t like to admit it, but I’ve gotten more emotional about things too. I don’t understand that last bit at all. Tear-jerker movies never moved me. I used to laugh at them…laugh! Not anymore. In my mind, I’m still the same unfeeling, contemptuous, loner bastard I’ve always been. But deep down somewhere, I know that I’m not. Something’s changed. Getting older, maybe?

Now when friends leave it hits me. Hard. Like now.

So, like the amateur psychologists we all think we are, I try to analyze myself…try to figure out why I’m the way I am. Yes, I know I should probably let a professional do it. Because honestly, I have no clue (as usual). All I do know is that my little circle of friends is gone. I do have other friends, yes of course. But I don’t see them on a regular basis – not like Jacob, Matt/Alisha and Gene who were part of the daily fabric of my life…those who I saw every day...those I looked after and those who looked after me...those who were as close to me as my own family and vice-versa. I try to pretend not to care, but I do. Life ain’t very much fun right about now.

In “I Am A Rock,” Paul Simon slowly sings the last ironic line of the song:

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries.

Meh. Maybe I’ll get a dog.

14 August 2009

Mid-Air In New York

I used to fly sightseeing helicopters around Manhattan in the mid-1980’s. The infamous Hudson River corridor existed back then, and there was plenty of traffic flowing up and downstream. Yes, I had my share of close-calls. I used to worry about getting hit from the rear, since the helicopters we were flying were among the slowest aircraft in that airspace. You kept your head on a swivel at all times if you wanted to live.

The recent mid-air collision between the sightseeing helicopter and the Piper airplane was horrible to hear about. Watching the video (we knew there’d be video of it, right?) was heart-wrenching. The young helicopter pilot who died in that accident, Jeremy Clarke, was only five or six years-old back when I was doing his job…for a different company of course.

There have been a lot of calls for tighter restrictions on that sliver of airspace. People say that it’s been an “accident waiting to happen.” If so, we’ve been waiting an awfully long time. Sightseeing tours around Manhattan have been done from the West 30th Street Heliport since the 1960’s. I guess if we wait long enough, every possible accident will occur. The overwhelming fear is that another mid-air will happen again, like…oh…tomorrow. And the knee-jerk reaction is that something must be done, of course.

Thinking back, there have been three general aviation mid-airs in the New York area. One occurred between a police helicopter and a seaplane - but that was over the East River, not in the Hudson River corridor. The two others occurred in what we used to call the “airport traffic area” (now Class D airspace) around Teterboro Airport. All of them happened more than 20 years ago. The question arises: If mid-airs happen in “controlled airspace” (and sadly, they still do), how on earth can we expect to completely prevent them in the future? More regulation does not seem to be the answer.

But I’ll betcha it’s coming.