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.
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.