Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lunch Date

It is easy to forget what is going on "over there" as we all grind through these "tough economic times" and worry about the future of health care or our job or whatever.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch 3 other 160th Flight Leads. One currently serving, three retired. I work for EMS brand Y (as in Why did they do That?). Another fellow just took a job with Hermann in Houston. Yet another fellow is going to be a missionary in a foreign land. The active duty guy wants to work in our area when he retires, and hence keeps the communication open. So we have lunch when he is stateside.

So we are sitting there at the Macaroni Grill on a regular day when I ask him about a recent mission in which his chalk two aircraft crashed on departure from a "warm" landing zone. The gist - people were shooting and they were leaving and there was no support anywhere nearby. The zone was typically dusty as all get out, and a 47 really pumps it up. On departure chalk two crashed. Americans died. My buddy in the lead aircraft had to make a decision.

Leave or land.

He says at the lunch table, "I had to go back and look for survivors, any man here would have done the same."
I appreciate his faith but can't help wondering how I would have acted. In my nine years in the seat, I did trash one perfectly good MH-47 under fire, but never had to make a decision like that. After 12 years flying in the "real world" I am also more cynical, more jaded, more aware that it's really all about money here in the U S of A.

He flew back into that dark hell of dust and dirt and blood. They trust the the velocity vector and the acceleration cursor more now-days than we did when I did it. He landed on his system, and did the right thing. And found out the bad news.

Apparently the military isn't quite so generous with awards these days. For what he and his crew did, I would recommend the Medal. He didn't die. We'll see.

So I am sitting there and I can feel the karma flowing out across the table. I am not a big karma guy, but I don't know how else to describe it. Honor? Integrity? Do those words still matter in our country? I sit up a little straighter. I hold my head a little higher. I feel somehow - for just a few moments - elevated. I tell him that. It's the only award I have to offer.

The waitress asks, "will this be together or separate?"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I wasn't flying with Oscar the day I learned how to hover. He was my primary instructor, but for some reason I was with the IP supervisor. This fellow was an old smoker, had thousands of hours, and had taught many monkeys to fly. He did not favor the technique of taking me to a big field and letting me humiliate and scare myself while gyrating wildly to and fro.

"Let's try ground taxi first" he said. "You have the controls. Use the pedals to keep the nose on the line, put in a bit of forward cyclic, increase collective just until we slide forward on the skids, just a little now!"

As I pulled up on the collective while twisting the throttle at it's end, lift and torque took over from gravity and friction and the nose ground to the right with a jerk and a horrible sound from the skids. I immediately pushed the collective back down without un-twisting the throttle and the engine revved.

"Easy now son. When you move the collective you have to compensate with throttle and pedal, all at once! Try again - and get the nose back straight on the line

Again I pulled, but this time I also pushed my left foot forward. Another grinding sound and a lurch, and we are once again looking straight down the lane. This time I don't move the collective, and I do move my feet, and we sit there quivering with enough power in to make us light but not enough to lift us off the ground.

"Okay, now ease in a bit more forward cyclic. You are doing fine."

I push the cyclic forward just a little, and with a shudder and a lurch, and a grinding sound we slide forward a few inches.

"Very nice! You just taxiied a helicopter."

My head feels as if it is swelling inside my helmet, hotspots from the suspension straps are beginning to burn my scalp, sweat is running into my eyes, and I don't think moving forward a couple of inches is much to feel good about. This is hard.

"Okay, let's do it again, only this time try and keep us sliding that way." He points down the lane. I move the controls again, we begin to slide, and this time I feel how much to move the controls so that we don't stop."

"Very good," he says. "You are taxiing. But you are wearing out my skid shoes. Nice and easy, use a little more power to get us a little lighter on our skids."

I increase collective and throttle and left pedal. The aircraft rocks forward on it's skid toes and I see his hand move toward the cyclic in my periphery. I move the cyclic slightly back and we settle back level, and move forward. The grinding sound is less pronounced. But we are still sliding metal across asphalt.

"This is better, but you are still grinding off the skid shoes. Give me just a bit more power and see what you can do."

I move the controls. The grinding all but stops. We are moving forward about as fast as I would walk, and rocking ever so slightly from corner to corner with accompanying scrapes as first the front then the rear skid ends touch. I can feel this, and without thinking I begin to move the cyclic counter to the rocking.

He says, "if you bring in just a bit more power, you won't drag the skids as much."

I add a tiny bit more power, throttle, and pedal. We move forward smoothly, a couple of inches above the ground.

"Okay, now you know how to ground taxi, and oh by the way, you are hovering!"

I immediately overcontrol and lose all coordination and drop us hard back onto the ground. I am tired already.

He laughs, says "good job" and takes the controls to demonstrate a traffic pattern. I adjust my helmet to ease the burn and try to learn.

I have hovered.