Now THIS is a Bad Day

A good entry in the “worst start for a day” contest.

Okay, so imagine this.

I’m up at my camper at Howard Mesa (read about it elsewhere in these blogs). I have a terrible night sleep, mostly because my allergies are so bad, I’m wheezing. When the alarm goes off at 5 AM, it actually wakes me. (I’m usually up before the alarm.)

Although I set the mouse trap the night before, no mouse.

I spend my usual hour getting ready with no major problems. In fact, everything is normal.

I go outside, take the tie-downs off my helicopter, check the oil, look under “the hood,” and hop in. When I turn the key, bzzzzzt. I get out and tap on the starter. I try again. Bzzzzt. I get out and spray contact cleaner on the electrical do-dads. I try again. Bzzzzt. Okay, I sit there with the master switch on and wait about a minute. I turn the key. The engine cranks. And cranks. And finally catches. But is it my imagination or is it louder than usual? And vibrating more than usual? The clutch light goes off and I wind it up to 75% RPM. That’s when I notice my manifold pressure is 18 inches. That’s the kind of power I need to hover when I’m flying solo, not warm up the engine. And when I apply a little carb heat, the RPM drops about 10%. That’s not right, either. Shit. I throttle down and pull the mixture. I stop the blades, tie them down, and get into the Jeep.

The Jeep starts right away. (That’s a good thing.) I zip out the front gate, stopping just long enough to open and close it, then head down the old state road. It’s 6:15 and I can still make it to work on time if I put the pedal to the metal. Two miles short of pavement, I hear a thump followed by a rhythmic hissing noise coming from the back right. I stop and get out for a look. The tire looks low. And lower. Shit. I hop in the Jeep and race toward pavement. I don’t want to change a flat tire in dust with my uniform on. But soon the tire is very flat and I know I have to either stop or destroy it. So I stop.

I try to use my cell phone to call work. There’s only one bar of battery power and a very weak signal. I don’t have work’s phone number programmed in. I call Mike in analog mode and leave a message for him to call work for me. The battery goes dead. The car charger is back in the camper (four miles up the dirt road) because I didn’t expect to take the Jeep.

I spread a rug I had in the back of the Jeep over the dust beside the tire. (The rug in the Jeep is part of a Girl Scout “be prepared” thing.) I have trouble finding pieces of the jack. A man and his wife, just leaving their house, stop to help me. (Thank heaven I made it past the last house.) The poor guy messes around in the dirt. His jack isn’t tall enough. I can’t find the missing pieces for mine. The high lift jack bolted to the back of the Jeep is obviously for show, because even after we get it off the bumper, it won’t work. I find the pieces for my jack. We change the tire. I thank them and go on my way.

I arrive at work 45 minutes late. I look at the Priority Schedule and discover that I’m the top priority pilot. Shit. I track down the lead pilot to see if that’s right. He tells me he switched me with Scott so I’m the last priority. I breathe a sigh of relief. I recheck the schedule and discover I have only a half hour to get my act together for my first flight.

After my first flight (which was fine, thank heaven), I’m called out to do some TOPS training. (TOPS stands for Tour Operators Program of Safety.) This is inadvertent IFR training and it requires me to put on a pair of doctored up “foggles,” which prevent me from seeing anything except the instruments — and those only if I hold my head at a terribly uncomfortable angle. I endure a half hour of flight time, chasing the instruments, being reminded that JFK, Jr. died because he couldn’t do what the instructor beside me wanted me to do. Of course, motion sickness started to set in. By the time I was allowed to see the world again, I felt pretty crappy.

The rest of the day wasn’t so bad. I flew a total of 3.5 hours in my ship and someone else’s. Someone at work had a car cell phone charger that fit my phone and volunteered to charge it for me. I dropped off the tire at the public garage in Grand Canyon Village and later discovered that they couldn’t fix it. I called Mike and asked him to bring a new tire with him. I bought lunch at Wendy’s and, while I was there, picked up a salad to bring home for dinner. I left the salad in the fridge at work. I picked up a pair of tickets for the IMAX movie for the people who helped me that morning and didn’t I have to pay for the tickets. (The uniform again.) Then I spent 45 minutes trying and finally succeeding in getting a gift certificate for those nice folks to have dinner after their movie. When I went to drop it off at their house, they weren’t home and I had to leave the envelope on their doorstep under a big dusty rock so it wouldn’t blow away.

I had to eat canned ravioli for dinner. (That chicken spinach salad would have been much better.)

Now I’m summarizing my day in this blog. I still don’t know what’s wrong with my helicopter; we’ll clean the plugs and try it again tomorrow. I just hope it doesn’t need a new engine. I just sent my last big bucks out to Oregon for its replacement.

Ah. That’s probably it. It knows it’s being replaced and is getting back at me.

[Note: It turns out that Three-Niner-Lima had a very stuck valve. My report of our road trip to rescue it can be found in my Pilot bLog .]

What do you think?