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?

02 October 2011

Old Warhorses

It's been a busy couple of weeks! Since I’ve been back in Pensacola, I’ve been to see two Sikorsky S-55 helicopters that Dave Smith of Golden Wings Aviation in Brewster, Washington is/was interested in buying. We have to replace the one that crashed and burned, and the prospect of more business for next season means that we'll have to add more aircraft. Trouble is, there are very, very few of these S-55s left. Time is taking its inevitable toll on the survivors. They are, after all, nearly sixty years old.

The first one was up near Atlanta, Georgia. It was absolutely gorgeous. Recently refurbished, it looked like it just rolled off the assembly line…a brand-new 1955 model helicopter. The owner had it on some contracts and it was actually flying and making money for him. Bottom line: He wasn’t looking to sell.

I knew the second one was not going to be as good. It lives down in south-central Florida at a small airport. It’s been sitting outside for nearly ten years, and hadn’t flown in a long, long time, since a hurricane damaged it in 2004. I’d seen an old, post-hurricane picture of it and it looked rough back then. Helicopters do not improve with age, especially if they’ve been sitting outside in a harsh environment, as this one had. The skin of the S-55 is magnesium, not aluminum as is more conventional. Magnesium does not stand up well to salt air.

I knew the ship was bad, but was sad to see that it was worse than I'd anticipated – beyond economical repair. It wasn’t even worth the money it would take Dave to have me haul it up to Washington.

I shook the owner’s hand, telling him we’d be in touch. But both of us knew that the ship was a goner. What had once been a proud, good-looking, money-making helicopter was now a rusting, worthless hulk. Sooner or later the landing gear legs will get weak, and a strong wind will come along and knock it over. It’ll die right there, like an old warhorse put out to pasture with no one taking care of it. These things tug at the heartstrings of a pilot. I took a picture of it for posterity and left.

Looks good from here? When you get closer...and not much closer...the flaws begin to appear.


Bob said...

Great narrative, Bob, of something that is obviously close to your heart. Great photo too.

Craig said...

No, the magnesium alloy skin of the S-55 isn't conducive to, nor planned for, a sixty-plus-year lifespan. Evidence here: http://hrs-helicopter.com/images/HRS-CIVIL-SURVIVOR/montage.jpg

Bob, I may have leads for you in Atlanta (a different one), New York, and Arizona. Contact me if interested. AAviating@gmail.com

Evan said...

Why is the S-55 used for this work rather than a newer (easier to fly and more readily available) helicopter? Is it just because the S-55 is cheaper to buy due to its age?

Bob Barbanes: said...

Good question, Evan! The S-55 has a huge (53 foot), slow-turning rotor (220 rpm). It puts out a big, gentle downwash that does a great job of drying the cherries without beating them up.

By comparison, a modern, two-blade rotor system will often turn close to 400 rpm (or more). The Huey, for instance, generates a strong, "choppy" downwash. It does the job, but the farmers like the job we do with the S-55.

There's nothing we've found that does as good a job drying cherries as the S-55. It helps of course that they are cheap to buy if not operate. As long as we can still find them and keep them flyable, we'll continue to use them.

Evan said...

Thanks for the reply, Bob. That makes a lot of sense.

It'd be interesting to know just how many flyable S-55s still exist, but that information is probably impossible to get.