Some days I’m much more self-aware than others. Some days, it’s like I’m in the cockpit with myself as an outsider, a third-party watching the other me fly the helicopter, while at the same time doing and feeling it directly. It’s an odd, almost out-of-body experience. I can see myself moving the sticks around…unconsciously, intuitively…and think to myself, “How does he know how to do that?” Because he…I…know that I’m not consciously telling my hands what to do; they just do it…somehow. Like I say, it’s quite odd.
And yesterday was one of those rare days when everything went perfectly. The air was so glassy smooth that it seemed almost unreal. I didn’t make any of my usual screw-ups. And the helicopter was doing its part, running exceptionally well.
You wouldn’t think that a mechanical device like an aircraft would fly differently from one day to the next, but it happens. And it’s hard to explain. A helicopter has many moving pieces, and things that don’t normally move but have a certain amount of allowable movement (or “play”) built in (like the transmission and engine mounts, say). These things have to fit “just right” with each other, and they usually do. However, sometimes the flight loads and power settings can combine to strain these moving parts ever so slightly. The parts can still be within their allowable movement tolerances, but not exactly their “sweet spot.”
And yesterday, all the bearings, bits, shafts, and other assorted moving pieces had found their perfect harmonic “set.” Nothing was even slightly out of whack. I reached up and affectionately patted it on the top of the instrument panel, “You’re flying good today, girl.” (I don’t know why we refer to aircraft as a “she” but we do.)
On the way home, as I approached our airport, the Navy had a few trainer planes in the pattern as usual. Not wanting to interfere with them, I dropped down low over the trees and swung around to come in from the north, over the river. The wind was still dead-calm so it didn’t matter which way I landed.
I made a textbook shallow approach to the taxiway that leads into the ramp. Then I slowly hovered over to where I parked the wooden platform that we land on. This is the tricky bit, getting exactly positioned. We pilots can be a bit anal about things like this – at least, I am. Although the helicopter can be pretty much anywhere on the platform left/right and fore/aft as long as it doesn’t fall off, I like it right here, with that skid tube on that stripe. Most times, I set it down and then have to “jiggle” it a little bit to put it in the right spot or to straighten it out. Some days it takes two or three tries to get it right. Yesterday, I hovered in and eased it down so smoothly and nicely that I had to shake my head in disbelief. You know the feeling when you have to parallel-park your car and you do it perfectly on the first try? Yeah, it’s like that.
This is the platform we land on, and the tug we use to pull the ship in and out of the hangar. The helicopter says "Police" on the side because we were using it in conjunction with the Sheriff's Department during an anti-drug presentation they were putting on at elementary schools throughout the county. When the girl at the decal place asked if it was legal for me to put big "POLICE" lettering on the side of the aircraft, I said, "Hell, I dunno. If the cops don't care, I don't care!"
Whenever I have such flights as yesterday's, I always ask myself, “Why can’t I do this all the time?” There have been days when nothing seems to go right: I’m always “behind” the aircraft; I make more mistakes than a student pilot on his first solo flight away from the airport; and when I get back home I can’t put it on the dolly to save my life. Usually this is when the Navy geeks are watching. Normally our little airport is pretty dead, people-wise. But occasionally some Navy guys will be hanging around, and everybody likes to come watch the helicopter land! Those are the days when I’m usually not on my best game, of course.
I don’t know why it is that some flying days are better than others. But yesterday was magical. If only I could figure out a way to make that happen all the time.