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?

01 July 2011

This Crazy Business (Flying)

My friend Mikey and the two helicopters he flies.

It’s a nutty business, this aviation. I wonder if people in other occupations have as much fun as we.

On Wednesday there wasn’t a cloud in the sky (rats!), so I hopped in the car and went down to the airport. Dave Smith Sr., owner of Golden Wings Aviation provides lodging and two meals per day for his pilots. My intent was to get lunch but I knew I would probably have to cook it, which is fine by me. Sure enough, most of the guys were out doing stuff and none of the remaining ones were in a mood to do anything (people much prefer to eat than cook), so I fired up the charcoal grill just outside the hangar door. Funny, how everyone seemed to break loose of what they were doing to come eat. Soon we had burgers, chips, macaroni and potato salad. Basic, yes. Filling, very. Lunch is something we do very, very well around here.

Mikey called right at lunchtime as he sometimes (read: usually) does. He flies for a grower who owns his own ships. Mikey has flown up here for three seasons now, and all the Golden Wings guys treat him like he’s one of their own. It doesn’t hurt that a) he’s a great guy, and b) he and I are good friends. We are all like a big, happy family. I’ve had the terrific pleasure of working with some great groups of people in my life, and I’m thrilled to see this has not changed. We have a ton of fun at the Brewster Airport.

Because we are all technically on stand-by to dry cherries, Mikey normally spends his days at their very remote company hangar which is in a big grove up on the side of a hill about 8 miles south of town. After all, it can rain on any day and we have to be ready to pull the trigger and go dry. For him, it can be an isolated existence. Luckily his generous boss lets him take the ships out and “stretch their legs” whenever he wants. Sweet deal, if I do say so myself. So anyway, Mikey asked what we were doing for lunch? I told him I’d throw an extra burger on the ‘barbie if he wanted to come down.

“I’m firing up the Huey…be right there!”
he said.

I laughed. I thought to myself, "Sure, just jump in your helicopter and come visit for lunch." How many people get to do that?

Soon, we all heard that iconic blade-slap sound that lets everyone know a Huey is approaching. (Actually, I can usually hear the equally-distinctive growl of the tail rotor first.) Under the scrutiny of eight other hyper-critical professional helicopter pilots (no pressure!), Mikey shot his approach cross-wise to the runway (as per the federal regs governing such things), then hovered into the ramp and set down, just as smooth as can be. (That boy can fly! a damn helicopter, and I love watching him do it.)

These S-55’s, with their big, Curtiss-Wright radial engines need to be run-up every three days if they don’t fly. See, over time all the oil drains out of the single, humongous main bearing in the engine. If you let it sit for a while and then go to start it up, that bearing can get damaged before the thick, 120-weight oil makes it up there from the oil pump. The “simple” solution in that case is to hook up a portable pressure-lubricator device to an oil line on the engine utilizing a quick-disconnect fitting, and then pre-oil the bearing. To prevent having to do that rigmarole, if we haven’t flown we merely start ‘em up every three days to circulate the oil. And “my” ship was due for a run-up…my ship which is located in a cherry grove about 8 miles north of town.

Pilots LOVE getting “stick time” in different aircraft. The plan was for Mikey to fly young Brandon up to our field in the Huey. Travis (who was already there) would then fire up our S-55 and take Mikey (who hasn’t flown an S-55 yet) for a ride “around the pattern,” which is pilot-talk for “going up and having a little fun for no good reason.” Then Mikey would take Travis up and let him fly the Huey back to his hangar. Three guys would get a little stick-time in two ships on an otherwise no-fly day. (And I wasn’t one of them, dammit!)

Brandon’s face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when Mike offered to let him fly the Huey. He quickly grabbed his headset and bounded out to the ship with an enthusiasm that caused us old-timers to smile, remembering back to when we were at that stage. Mikey hovered it out to the runway, set it down, and then gave the controls to Brandon. Never having flown one before, Brandon did a nice job of lifting it off the ground into a stable hover. I could just imagine the grin on his face as he pulled up on that big collective lever by the side of the seat to increase power, nudged the cyclic forward and eased into forward flight.

Later, Travis had asked me to pick him up at Mikey’s hangar, so I drove up to be there before they landed. The wind was really ripping by the time I heard them coming, so Mikey did the actual landing in their tight LZ (landing zone). Nevertheless, Travis had gotten enough time in the ship, including a landing up on the beach at Soap Lake, to give him the perma-grin.

I love flying, I love aviation, and I love people who fly. We have this neat opportunity to see the world as few others do, to master these wacky machines, and to make a living at it. As I've said before, I'm one of the luckiest sons o' bitches on the planet. I didn’t fly at all on Wednesday, but it was one of my best days ever in this crazy business

Me and Mikey out messing around in "his" Bell 206B


Mike Morris said...

It's great to hear stories like this. I am just got my PPL last week and am starting a journey down this road.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Thank you, Mike! This really is a crazy, fun business. Good luck with your PPL! I hope you find that it is the best thing you've ever done- whether or not you pursue flying as a profession.

Bob said...

I love reading your stories about flying and no, most don't get to have the fun at work that you do. Blessed, man. You are blessed.

Craig said...


Was your dad William J.? If so, I found his NAVCAD group graduation photo from Corpus, May 17, 1944 - just 5 weeks ahead of my dad. Send me an email at AAviating@gmail.com and, if you'd like, I'll send a high-res scan. Happy 4th.


Mike Morris said...

Thanks Bob! I plan to pursue it as a career. I'd like to continue flying, but I'm currently waiting to see how the new GI Bill changes are going to affect me. I can't wait to start instrument training.

I have fun every time I go up and no matter how I feel about the flight two things happen. I always have fun and I always learn something.

Anonymous said...

Just had to add that your last paragraph is perfect. God knows how many people my family has been acquainted with through quirky circumstances from the airports we have been at through the years, with some of the friendships lasting years. Aviation is truly an oppurtunity to have some great things happen in life with some wonderful people!

B. said...

a day i'll never forget. does every pilot remember the day their huey cherry was popped? oh yea u were worried about mikey with 8 hyper critical pilots watchin? what about me? never even getting within a 100 feet of one and now I am trying to calmly hold a hover infront of all of you critical ass pilots and not look like an ass myself haha owell it still on one piece.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Hah, you did fine, man even with all of us pilots watching. Your ability impresses us all. Just remember, no matter how many people are watching...be the helicopter.

And yes, everyone does remember their first flight in a Huey. I know I do ;)