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?

31 May 2012

Mikey and Me

“Whatcha doin’?” Mike asked.
“Sitting here in the hangar, staring at S-55s,” I replied.
“Let’s go get breakfast.”
“Well alrighty then!”

After Mike bought me breakfast he dropped the other shoe. “Sayyyy, I wonder if you could help me pull the JetRanger into the hangar…after we take it and the Huey up and fuel them.”

His helicopter utilizes ground-handling wheels attached to the skids to move it about; it’s awkward and takes two people. And the fuel installation that Mike uses is remote from his hangar, way up a hill on another part of the orchard.

I’m not normally a “stick-hog.” I've got quite enough flight time, thank you, so I usually let the younger guys get whatever flight time is available, since we’re not exactly flying our butts off up here, especially before the drying season has really begun. But there were no young’uns around when Mike asked if I wanted to fly, so I said, “Sure!” Flying JetRangers is one of the things I do best. Maybe the one thing.

Mike Nehring and I are a little, um, competitive. He always likes to show me how good of a pilot he is (and he is), and I’ll admit that I get a little kick out of showing him how well I fly. So we’re always trying to out-do each other…seeing who can lift off to a hover more smoothly or who can do the smoother set-down. See, with helicopters, you don’t have to yank ‘em and bank ‘em to see who’s best like fixed-wing pilots do. Where it really counts is picking it up and setting it down from a hover, as well as general smoothness and accuracy in flight. It’s a fun sort of young-guy/old-guy competition, less painful than arm-wrestling or basketball, in both of which he can assuredly kick my middle-aged, out-of-shape ass. And it’s silly, really, grown men competing in such a way…showing off for each other. But hey, it’s what we do.

I have approximately…ohhh…maybe six or seven times the amount of flight time Mike does. But this does not mean that I am six times better than he. I’m not six times “safer” than he either. All it means is that I’ve been around longer, seen a few more things and made “a few” more mistakes. I’m more seasoned. We pilots understand this. It is how a “relative” low-timer like Mike can do the exact same job I do with a similar level of proficiency and safety.

I took the controls of his JetRanger, lifted it off just as smoothly as I possibly could, and then flew up the hill to the fuel tank. Mike’s ship flies soooooo nicely, even better than the one I normally fly down in Alabama. Our ships are only a couple of serial numbers apart, but mine has way more time on the airframe than his does, and it shows. At the fuel pad, I came whipping in to the LZ (landing zone), probably making a different approach than Mike would have. Meh- every pilot has different techniques. After tanking up, I lifted off, did what we call a “max performance takeoff” to clear the obstacles and flew back down the hill, hovering in close to his hangar door so we wouldn’t have far to push. Mike was complimentary – but then, I better know how to fly well considering how long I’ve been doing this.

Then it was his turn. We jumped into the Bell 204 and Mike showed me his stuff. As I said, he is very good, very smooth. He laughed gleefully as we turned during the take-off run and heard the rotor producing that iconic, “whop-whop-whop” noise that is so distinctive of the old Huey. I laughed too. Ah, the little things that amuse us…

Up at the fuel tank, he did make a slightly different approach – but not drastically so – than the one I made: Slower, with a more level cabin attitude all the way down to a hover. It was fine – and maybe even “better” in that I tend to come in a little faster, holding some airspeed a little longer, which is one of those (bad) habits you sometimes pick up when you get comfortable/complacent in a particular machine. (In fact, I saw Mike glancing at the airspeed indicator during the approach I made, probably thinking to himself, “Jeez, this guy comes in so hot!”)

The thing about Mike and me is that we really love flying helicopters. We treat it as an art…something to be practiced and maybe never fully perfected. We know we’re good, yeah, but we always try to be better. We know these crazy machines can kill you in a heartbeep, and we respect them for it. But we also enjoy the fact that we both do this…this…flying thing. It creates a special bond between us, as it does between all helicopter pilots. One day he will be as good as me…perhaps one day soon, because my best days as a pilot may very well be behind me, as hard as that is to accept. Hey,we all get old.

Meanwhile, we have fun trying to out-do each other in smoothness and precision.


Anonymous said...

you need to come to texas sometime and show me how to smoothly fly the antique i call my Hiller.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Russell, I got to fly our Hiller 12E last year. I assumed it would be like a Bell 47 - boy was I wrong! I thought I was doing "okay" and got overconfident.

As we came back to the ramp, I tried to do a little sideways-turning slide into the parking place. Nothing fancy or extreme, just a little pirouette. And somehow the thing got away from me and I got a little "behind" it. Nothing dangerous, and it would've worked out, but Hair-Trigger Davey (our check pilot) thought differently and, "Whoa, whoa!" grabbed for the controls. Of course, he'd just met me and didn't know me from Adam.

Hillers are weird.

So I'm not at all sure that I could "show" you anything, Russell. ...Unless you have a JetRanger.

Having said all that, I'm definitely planning on stopping by and seeing you on the way home!

Anonymous said...

airport next to us is F-35

Bob said...

Just caught up on your last two posts. Glad you are there safely and once again enjoying yourself in WA.

If your return journey takes you through Nashville again, let me know. You know one of my goals this year was to meet one of my blog friends!

Have a great summer!

Anonymous said...

I go to church with two guys who flew the S-55 their First of three tours of Vietnam. I am forwarding your post to them. One flew the S-55, first tour, Huey second tour, and OV-10 third. USMC. Second guy, S-55 first tour, Huey the second and third tours. He was still in Vietnam in 1975, wondering if he would be the last.
Ron in New Bern, NC
R-22, R-44, JetRanger3, LongRanger, UH-1B Huey. A real Rotorhead/photographer.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Ron, I would've thought that the S55/H-19 would have been long gone by Viet Nam. S-58/H-34 perhaps?

Mike Morris said...

Anything that has to do with aviation and especially helicopters gets me excited. Hearing the chop chop or especially the whup whup of a Huey causes me to stop where I am and admire (if I'm in a safe position). Sort of like the National Anthem. I hope I can get some time in the Huey.

hilo helicopter tours said...

What an awesome experience! I wanna feel that.

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