Flying in May

A brief summary of my week so far.

I started my first full week of work as a pilot for Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters on May 11. I’m on a week on/week off schedule, and the week starts on Tuesday. I’d already worked at least 20 days since my start on April 12, but this was my first normal week after training and various days off.

I’d planned to fly my Robinson R22 helicopter up to the canyon on Monday, but winds were howling. When I called Papillon’s tower in the early afternoon, Carrie informed me that they’d already shut down for the day due to wind. I figured that if they didn’t want to fly Bell 206L-1 Long Rangers in that wind, I certainly wouldn’t want to fly my R22 there. So I loaded up the Jeep and drove up late that afternoon. I got to the camper just after sunset and spent the next few hours before bedtime putting away groceries, making the bed, and cleaning up after the mice that had moved in (again) and were living somewhere out of sight in the camper.

Tuesday morning, I found myself set to be a break pilot. That means I didn’t have a helicopter of my own. Instead, I’d fly at lunchtime for other pilots. The wind was already blowing hard that morning and, by 10:30 AM, we were shut down. At one point, the wind hit 50 knots. All the pilots gathered in the break room and waited. At first, the weather hold was until 1 PM. Then 2 PM. Then 3 PM. None of us expected the wind to die down, but by 3 PM, it was flyable. The other pilots filed out and into their helicopters and spun up. The loaders loaded passengers. I watched from the break room window with the other two break pilots. It was past lunchtime and we wouldn’t be needed at all. I didn’t fly that day.

Wednesday was a completely different story. It was still a bit windy, but not too windy to fly. And I had my own helicopter, Copter 20.

Now there’s a weird thing about these helicopters. They’re all different. They all have their own little quirks. Some are fast, some are slow. (The high skid utility ships are usually slow.) Some are clean, some are impossible to keep clean. Some are dry, some leak live sieves. (Copter 12 comes to mind.) Some vibrate on the ground, some sit smoothly. Some rattle in the air, some don’t. It’s kind of like they have personalities. Like people.

I’d flown Copter 20 before, but couldn’t remember anything about it. It wasn’t much of a leaker and it turned out to be relatively fast. So fast that I wound up catching up to Copter 8 a few times when I happened to take off right behind it. I don’t like catching up with other helicopters because then you have to pass them. When you pass them, you have to stay in front of them. And your passengers think you’re ripping them off because they’re going to get back 2 minutes before the helicopter you passed (they get back two minutes later). They don’t realize that the other helicopter is just plain slow.

Of course, I’m skipping over the weird part of the day. The fact that I couldn’t seem to start the damn helicopter. My fault. After going more than 10 days between starts, I forgot part of the procedure. Duh. Too embarrassing when the Chief Pilot has to start it for you.

It was windy, but certainly flyable. It must have been. I flew 4.9 hours. That’s a bunch of North Canyon Tours and three Imperial tours.

Thursday was another day. Less wind, and I was third priority in Copter 12. Copter 12 leaks to the point where you can say it’s bleeding. But there’s a saying around here about Bell helicopters: if it’s not bleeding, it’s not alive. When I talked to maintenance about the leakiness, they told me it was like a Harley and I shouldn’t worry about it.

Helicopters are a lot like Harleys, then. They leak, they vibrate, they’re slow, and they make a lot of noise.

Copter 12 is also fast. Fortunately, I didn’t catch up with anyone. Although I was the third priority pilot and should have been flying most of the day, things got slow. My first flight, an Imperial Tour, was the nicest flight I’d done since starting the month before. Smooth, easy to maintain altitude, and perfectly relaxing. I even had English-speaking passengers, so I could talk to them about what we were flying over and near. A good tour. The next two tours were not as good. It got progressively rougher, especially around the Dragon (west side of the canyon). I did three flights and took a break for lunch. Then, after lunch, I did another flight. That flight was weird. I started to take off and heard the torque horn. The torque gauge read 102.4. I asked for a pad and landed. They pulled the passengers off. A guy from maintenance came out. He patiently explained that torque can climb as high as 105 for up to 5 seconds before there’s a problem. If the gauge isn’t blinking, there’s no reason to stop. They loaded the passengers back on and we took off again. My door popped open just after takeoff. I had to wait until I was in stable flight over the forest and on course before I could slow down and slam the damn thing shut. How annoying. The rest of the day was spent in routine safety and drug abuse training. Then I made a trip to the big tower (covered in another TravelBlog entry). When I got back, I found that someone else had already closed out my helicopter for me. So I hung around and helped the other pilots close out theirs. Total flight time: 3.4 hours.

Today, I was a spare again. But I preflighted two helicopters with Ron, another spare. I flew an Imperial Tour for someone’s lunch and would have flown a North Canyon tour if the passengers had shown up. Instead, I shut down. That flight had been in Copter 21, which I decided I liked. I think it’s very fast, but I could be wrong; there was no one near me during the flight to judge. I did get back right on Hobbs time. I didn’t check the clock; I always forget to do that.

More another time…gotta run.

What do you think?