HeliNews

A magazine for helicopter pilots and operators.

One of the things that has always bothered me about being a helicopter pilot — rather than an airplane pilot — is the dearth of good reading material about flying helicopters. The standard flying magazines here in the U.S. — Flying, Plane & Pilot, AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, etc. — rarely have an article written specifically about helicopters, for helicopter pilots, or by a helicopter pilot.

Sure, sometimes they throw us a bone, but it’s always with a catch. For example, in 2003 Flying magazine did a review of the Robinson R44 Raven II, but it had to share its pages with a review of a Porsche Cayenne. (You can read the article here.) It’s more common for them to put one of their airplane pilot/writers in a helicopter for a flight to write a “gee whiz, that’s cool” piece about helicopters, often fraught with technical errors. I remember one piece I read in a magazine where the author claimed that you must never let go of the collective, but you could let go of the cyclic. That author has obviously never flown a Robinson or Long Ranger — both of which I’ve flown extensively. I assume they’re representative of most helicopters: they have a pilot-friendly collective but a cyclic that’ll have the aircraft doing aerobatics if you let go of it.

What’s Out There

In the U.S., there are several helicopter-specific magazines. Rotor & Wing is the granddaddy, a monthly magazine with industry-specific content. Like most print publications, its page count has dwindled considerably in recent years. Content seems geared toward the heavy hitters of the industry, with articles about helicopter sales, new developments in helicopter technology and avionics, and reports from the North Seas and military operations. While I realize that it’s an important source of information for the industry’s heavy hitters, it can be pretty dry reading sometimes — especially for a small desert-based piston pilot like me.

Rotor, the magazine of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) is a quarterly publication. HAI is the helicopter industry’s big association. I was a member for about 2-1/2 years but soon realized that they really didn’t give a damn about operators with fewer than five helicopters. Everything they do is for the “big guys.” Their magazine isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if you’re interested in anything other than HAI’s internal operations and the big operators they service. And their Web site is ugly, difficult to navigate, has many non-functioning links and “features,” and contains little content of value to non-members. (One of these days, I’ll have to write more about my experiences with HAI.)

Vertical MagazineVertical magazine is a slick publication from Canada. Of all the aviation magazines that arrive on my mailbox regularly, it’s the one I prefer. It’s got more content geared toward helicopter operators and pilots. It regularly covers issues such as flight training and does profiles of specific helicopter operators and operations. The photography is outstanding. And while I feel that they still gear content toward the big operators, there’s enough in each issue to satisfy the reading needs of little owner/operators like me.

HeliNews

HeliNewsApparently, however, the best helicopter-specific magazine comes from down under. Australia-based HeliNews is a magazine any helicopter owner or pilot can really sink his or her teeth into. It combines photography that’s almost as good as what you’d find in Vertical with articles written by helicopter pilots for helicopter pilots.

I recently received two sample issues of the magazine. The May 2008 issue has articles covering the following topics:

  • Profile of a corporate CEO who does mustering (cattle herding) with an R44
  • A day in the life of a New Zealand contract pilot in Scotland
  • Australian Navy – U.S. Coast Guard pilot exchange program.
  • Australian Federal Police helicopter operations
  • Helicopters in the movies (just part one in this issue; I don’t have part two!)
  • Military helicopter air show team
  • Practicing autorotations to grass
  • How ADS-B works
  • Switching from Robinson R22 to turbine helicopters and back

All this in addition to the usual collection of columns, editorials, and news about the helicopter industry.

My question: Why can’t a North American publication give us more content like this? Rotor & Wing? Vertical? Are you listening?

Me? Writing for HeliNews?

You might be wondering why I have two copies of this magazine. After all, I don’t think it’s widely available — or perhaps available at all — in the United States.

Well, I’ve been asked to submit an article for the magazine and, if I don’t drop the ball by procrastinating and I submit something worthy of publication, I’ll be a HeliNews author. At least once.

There’s nothing more pleasing to me than to have some of my work published in a high quality magazine.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work.

On Bird Strikes

Not nearly as rare — or as dangerous — as you think.

Yesterday’s dramatic landing of an Airbus plane in the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey has put the topic of bird strikes on everyone’s mind. As usual, the media is spinning stories about it, apparently to generate the fear that sells newspapers, gets listeners, and keeps viewers glued to the television set.

Pilots — the people who know aviation a lot better than the average news reporter — also know a bit about bird strikes.

Bird Strikes are Not That Rare

The truth of the matter is that bird strikes aren’t nearly as rare as many people think. I can think of five bird strike incidents that touched my life:

  • Years ago, on a Southwest Airlines flight taking off from Burbank, our plane flew through a flock of white birds. It was nighttime and I don’t know what the birds were — seagulls? — but I clearly saw them in the glow of the plane’s lights, flying past the wings as we climbed out. When we landed in Phoenix and I left the plane, I glanced through the open cockpit door and saw the blood on the outside of the windscreen. Bird strike.
  • On my first day of work as a pilot at the Grand Canyon, one of the other pilots had a bird strike during a tour. The bird had passed through the lower cockpit bubble and landed in a bloody heap on the pilot’s lap. He flew back with the bird there and a very distraught front seat passenger beside him. The cockpit bubble needed replacement, of course.
  • While waiting at the Grand Canyon for my charter passengers to complete an air tour with one of the helicopter operators there, the helicopter my passengers was on suffered a bird strike. The pilot calmly reported it as she flew in. When she landed, there was bird guts and blood at the top center of the helicopter’s bubble. She’d been lucky. The helicopter, an EC130, has a central intake for the turbine engine and the bird hadn’t been sucked in.
  • On my very first rides gig with my R44 helicopter, I was taking a group of three passengers for an 8-minute tour around a mountain near Aguila, AZ when I heard a loud clang. Instruments okay, controls felt fine, passengers weren’t reacting. I didn’t know what it was until I landed. That’s when one of my ground crew pointed out the dent in my landing gear’s fairing. My first (and hopefully, only) bird strike had been a non-event for me, but likely a lot more serious for the bird. (Of course, I wasn’t very happy to get a dent on an aircraft only 11 hours old.
  • When a friend of mine took me up in her Decathalon airplane for a little aerobatic demonstration, we hit a bird on takeoff. It went right into the engine at the base of the prop and we instantly smelled cooking bird. My friend climbed enough to circle back and land safefly at the airport. She shut down the engine and climbed out. I watched from the passenger seat as she pulled the remains of a relatively small bird out of the cooling fin area of the engine. After discarding the bird bits, she climbed back in, started up, and we took off again.

That’s five examples of bird strikes I had firsthand knowledge of. In three of those instances, I was on board an aircraft that struck one or more birds. So when people seem amazed that an airliner hit a bird or two, I’m not amazed at all.

According to Wikipedia’s Bird Strike entry:

The first reported bird strike was by Orville Wright in 1905, and according to their diaries Orville “…flew 4,751 meters in 4 minutes 45 seconds, four complete circles. Twice passed over fence into Beard’s cornfield. Chased flock of birds for two rounds and killed one which fell on top of the upper surface and after a time fell off when swinging a sharp curve.”

I’d venture to guess that it happens to at least one airliner every single day.

Bird Strikes Rarely Cause Crashes

The media would like you to think that bird strikes cause crashes. They can, of course — yesterday’s Airbus ditching proved that. They can even cause fiery crashes with deaths. The media wants you to be afraid — very afraid.

But as my above-listed examples also prove, bird strikes can be non-events, often without causing any damage at all to the aircraft.

So what’s an air traveler to do? Worry that his next flight might end with a swim in an icy river or a fireball death? Or stop worrying about it?

What do you think?

On a more personal note: I’m glad the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 didn’t attempt a landing at Teterboro. My sister lives in an apartment building on the approach end of one of the runways there. A crash there wouldn’t have had a happy ending.

Reality Check

Are you as sick as I am of the media spinning what it wants to turn into issues?

I’ll admit it: I listen to NPR. (That’s National Public Radio, for those of you who spend more time in front of a boob tube than looking outside your own windows.) Not only do I listen, but I’m now a member of two NPR stations: KJZZ in Phoenix and Northwest Public Radio in Washington State.

Yes, I know NPR leans to the left. So do I. But I think it’s far more thought-provoking than just about every other media outlet out there. And it spends more airtime talking about what’s important in today’s world — world politics, the economy, etc. — than any other media outlet.

Let’s face it: does it really matter to you whether Britney has custody of her kids? Or who won American Idol? Or what happened on last night’s episode of [fill-in-the-blank mindless television show]? And do you really need to know about the fire that leveled an apartment building or the drug-related killing in the city?

This morning, I was pleased to hear two essays on NPR that echoed my sentiments about certain issues almost exactly. I’d like to share them with you as examples of how listening to something with substance can help peel away the bullshit doled out by many other media outlets.

The Truth About Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama Endures Public Scrutiny” is an essay by Diane Roberts. In it, she discusses the controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s wife — a controversy which has been manufactured entirely by the right-wing media (i.e., the Fox network) and other media outlets who apparently have nothing better to talk about.

Ms. Roberts uses sarcasm to poke fun at this controversy, but she states the truth when she points out:

Where Laura Bush is all pastels and soft-focus, Michelle Obama is strong lines and high def. Where Cindy McCain is a frat boy’s dream girl — a blond beer heiress from the golden West — Michelle Obama is a tall, clever Ivy League lawyer from the South Side of Chicago.

So why is the media so dead-set against her? I think they feel threatened. Michelle Obama is apparently too real, modern, and smart for their tastes. So what do they do? They cast doubt on her character by spreading rumors and interpreting words and actions out of context and in a way that supports their claims.

Frankly, I like what I’ve seen of Michelle Obama. She’s a breath of fresh air — not a phony, old-fashioned “help-mate” living in the shadow of her husband. If Hillary Clinton had been more like Michelle Obama when she was First Lady, I think she would have earned a lot more respect — and more votes — in the primary season.

I’ll go a step further. I believe Michelle Obama is an excellent role model for girls and young women. Sadly, I can’t say the same about either Laura Bush, who can barely read a speech in public, or Cindy McCain, who seems like she’s just along for the ride. While I’m sure she does have her faults — we all do, don’t we? — she certainly doesn’t deserve the abuse she’s getting from the media.

It’s unfortunate that someone as well educated and intelligent as Michelle Obama has to play games to make herself seem worthy to doubters. I think she probably has a lot better things to do with her time than appear on a talk show like The View.

Acts of God? Think Again

Daniel Schorr is NPR Weekend Edition’s senior news analyst. He shares his commentary on NPR every Sunday morning, as well as other times.

Today’s commentary touched on something that has been bothering me: the acceptance by the Midwest’s residents that the recent flooding was an “act of God.” I was especially bothered by an interview earlier in the week during Talk of the Nation. In that interview, an Iowa farmer with 640 of her 800 acres of farmland under 15 feet of water insinuated that the flood was God’s will. She then turned her interview into a preaching session, telling listeners how good God was because he’d sacrificed his only son for our salvation.

Give me a break. She could have made much better use her time on a nationally syndicated radio show to explain what the rest of the country could do to help folks in situations like hers.

This, of course, came on the heels of still-President Bush’s comment last Sunday where he said,

I know there’s a lot of people hurting right now and I hope they’re able to find some strength in knowing that there is love from a higher being.

(I blogged about that comment because it bothered me so much.)

Daniel Schorr, in “Why Are There So Many Natural Disasters?” pointed out research and public statements by scientists who have studied the effects of man’s impact on the earth. These men have found that the flooding was caused, in part, by the land having been “radically re-engineered by human beings.” Farmland is getting ever closer to water sources, removing the buffers between creeks and rivers and farm fields. If the Iowa land were left undeveloped, it would be covered with perennial grasses that have deep roots to absorb water.

I can confirm how man’s changes to the landscape can affect flood waters. As I reported in my blog, my neighbor’s removal of naturally growing trees, bushes, and other plants from the floodplain near our homes changed the course of the wash that flows through it, causing extensive damage to his property — and mine. The lesson to be learned from this: don’t mess with the floodplain!

But in the midwest — and elsewhere in our country — cities are built in known flood plains. The residents depend on levees to hold back floodwaters in the event of a flood. They bandy around terms like “400-year flood” to give people the idea these floods only occur ever 400 years. Yet some towns can tell you that they’ve had several of these floods over the past 20 years. When the water can’t soak into the ground and is funneled through a series of levees, there comes a point when the levees simply can’t handle floodwater volumes. The result: levees break, towns and cities built in the floodplains flood.

Is this God’s will? Did God remove natural vegetation buffers around streams and rivers and replace it with plowed farmland? Did God build towns and cities in the floodplain? Did God build the levees that failed?

Daniel Schorr doesn’t think so. And neither do I.

Think

Is it too much to ask for people to think? To consider all the information that’s out there and form conclusions based on the evidence?

Or will you simply believe the hate messages and excuses you hear on network television and read in viral e-mail messages?