Wednesday, June 30, 2010

God said He's going to do great things with me someday

A friend of mine that is an ex-con tells this story the best. I'm not sure where it originated, but I like it and share it with you all today.

Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding."

Our own understanding can often get in the way.

My friend who told me this story has his own personal struggles, but he tries. His dad, now deceased, was a military career man. So, my friend had good potential and God is not done with him yet. My friend's life took a turn for the worse when he was enrolled in a commercial diving school, and one of his fellow students talked him into smoking some dope. That was a crucial turning point in my friend's life. Marijuana stole my friend's ambition and changed the course of his life for the worse. He ended up dropping out of the diving program. His fellow diving student didn't do him any favors by turning him on to a drug that many justify and consider harmless.

Anyhow here is the story my friend told:
The Little Donkey

A young little donkey was out grazing in a field one day when he heard God speak to him.

God said, "Little donkey, one day I am going to do great things with you!"

The little donkey perked up with excitement. He shared what God told him with his fellow donkeys who all thought, "Yeah right".

The years moved on and nothing much or special happened in the little donkey's life. The little donkey was getting old in years and God still had not done anything with him yet when God once again spoke to the little donkey. God said, "Little donkey, I'm telling you one day I am going to do great things with you."

The little donkey perked up again with excitement and expectation. His walk took on a little extra bounce as he made his way over to his fellow donkeys to tell them what God had told him. His fellow donkeys thought, "Yeah right".

The little donkey's life continued without much happening. The little donkey grew old and weak and finally went the way of all the earth by falling prey to the local predators without God doing anything significant or special with him that could be considered great.

The predators picked the little donkey's bones clean. Then one day soon after Samson came along and picked up the little donkey's jawbone and killed a thousand Philistines with it.

Not the embellished story of the little donkey's life, but the story of Samson and what he did with the jawbone of a donkey can be found in the 15th chapter of Judges in the Bible. You just never know how God may choose to use you. It may not agree with the liking of your own understanding, but if it serves God's purpose why should we complain?

"Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work." 2 Timothy 2:20,21


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Aviators Party at Camp Stanley

My unit, the 128th Tomahawks was stationed at Camp La Guardia in Uijeongbu where A210 is located close to the original MASH unit that inspired the television series. Our sister unit the 117th Toros was stationed at Camp Stanley where H207 is located.

My unit had Camp La Guardia all to itself, but our sister unit, the Toros, had to share their compound and Officers Club with an Arty Division (Division Artillery Headquarters). The Artillery guys tended to cramp the style that aviators liked to party, so the aviation officers of the 117th invited the aviation officers of the 128th over to their "O" club one afternoon to show the artillery guys how aviators partied.

This event happened to fall on the last day of our out going company commander Maj. Brewer's tour of duty, and the eve of our new company commander, "Maj. Lewman, taking command. Both commanding officers attended the festivities. It was setup to be a good party.

Drinking, conversation, and flying stories usually dominated the events along with some fun and games involving who knows what that usually involved either getting free drinks or paying for drinks for everyone else.

We were on the Toros' turf. Their main game involved a bell hanging above the bar in their club. If someone could kick the bell and make it ring, they got a free drink for themselves and everyone associated with them. If they failed to kick the bell, then they owed everyone else a free drink.

Kicking the bell required skill and talent. Our normal games at the 128th officer's lounge involved a dog tag check and the bend and scratch club of which neither involved talent and skill.

The 117th guys were pretty talented at kicking the bell. Needless to say, the 128th guys didn't do so well. Our unit was losing face fairly severely in the bell kicking department. Something had to be done to make up for our lack of skill, but what?

One of the aviators of the 128th thought of the frog eating incident that had taken place with none like Jimmy. He set to track down their champion frog eater so he could explain the bell kicking situation causing them to lose face, and then have the CFE challenge the Toros to a frog eating contest.

The CFE was tracked down and found quietly working on his own inebriation while observing the festivities. The situation with the bell was explained and he was encouraged to go and find a frog to up the ante on the challenge between the two units.

The CFE exited the building and walked around outback where a cook was busy peeling potatoes. The CFE asked the cook, "Do you ever see any frogs hopping around out here?"

The cook said, "Yea, sometimes over there you can find them."

The CFE set out on his search and soon scored with a good sized catch. This was bigger than any frog he had ever tried to tackle. The "V" shaped bone that supports the frogs back was almost as big as the CFE's index and middle finger. It wasn't a bullfrog, but it was plenty large enough to make a good show.

He soon returned into the club with his live catch and approached the bar and issued a challenge. The 117th guys looked at him like he was crazy and would have nothing to do with it. The CFE then approached a table where some non-aviator Army Ranger officers were enjoying an evening meal. The CFE issued them a challenge, "You guys are Rangers, come on and lets show these guys how this is done!" One of you want to have half of this frog?" None of the Rangers rose to the challenge. The CFE disparaged them with some contemptuous comment indicating his disappointment with the supposedly legendary abilities of the Rangers. Well, they weren't Navy SEALS like the Navy recruiter had described.

At the end of Army Flight School the graduating class flew down to Pensacola Florida and airlifted Army Ranger Candidates who had been left to survive in the wild living off the land for a couple of weeks. All the Aviator Candidates are told to bring bags of cookies to give to the future Rangers. If the potential Rangers were fortunate enough to not have a real ranger staff member onboard their aircraft, the cookies vanished with due haste.

The Rangers could probably learn a thing or two from the turtleman, and not be so hungry for cookies.

Anyhow there were no takers from the Ranger table and the 117th was starting to lose face because they had yet to produce someone to rise to the challenge.

It wasn't looking good for the men of the 117th, until someone from the Toros approached their junior WOJG (Warrant Officer Junior Grade) and told him, "WOJE! You will get up there and accept this challenge." A junior WOJG doesn't have much choice when it comes to things like this.

The junior WOJG approached the CFE and said he'd take the challenge.

The CFE looked over the WOJE and asked, "What half do you want?"

The junior WOJG said, "It don't matter."

The CFE decided to show a little compassion on the junior WOJG (they say nice guys finish last) since the junior WOJG had never done anything like this before. The CFE didn't tell anyone about this, but out of compassion he bit off way more frog than he should have. He stuck the frog's head into his mouth and bit behind the "V"bone previously mentioned. Needless to say, he had quite the mouth full to chew on. Then he handed the other half to the junior WOJG who promptly got down to business taking care of his half.

The two men stood at the bar keenly eying each other as they each worked on devouring their half. The CFE planned on simply putting on an act and disappearing out back to spit out his half once the show was over. Not too much genuine champion there.

Anyhow the bar was quiet as everyone observed the show. After a little bit the junior WOJG reached into his mouth and removed a clean bone. He held the bone up for all to see and then set it into an ashtray on the bar.

The CFE thought to himself, "uh Oh! I might have to really eat this thing." The junior WOJG pulled out another clean bone and set it into the ashtray as the CFE started to get serious about working on his half so that he could swallow it. He managed to produce a clean bone and set it in the ashtray with the others, but his mouth was feeling overfull as he had no previous intentions of swallowing his half until now. He knew he would have to also actually eat his half or lose face before everyone, so he started working on swallowing what was there.

As the frog went down, he encountered a serious problem. The frog was jumping in his stomach attempting to come back up. The CFE knew that if he threw up the loss of face would be extreme, so he attempted to keep his half down.

Well, the frog wasn't cooperating as it continued to jump in the CFE's belly seeking escape. The CFE knew that if the frog came back out he would lose face unless he could do something that exceeded "The Great Santini's" BS. He soon knew that vomiting was inevitable, and he knew what he would have to do. He was grateful for enough inebriation to help him accomplish what would soon be necessary.

Once it was evident that the frog was on his way back up, the CFE cupped his two hands together to catch the barf. When the hands were loaded up and the barfing had ceased the CFE looked at the contents of his hands and loudly exclaimed, "I guess this thing wants to be ate again!" He then drew his hands to his mouth and slurped the frog down for its second time to be devoured.

The frog started jumping again immediately once it was down the hatch the second time. The CFE knew he could not hold it down. It was time to up the ante.

The CFE again cupped his hands together to catch the barf. This time when his hands were full and the barfing was done he loudly exclaimed, "I guess this thing wants to be shared with everyone! Have some!!!" as he raised his arms and tossed the barf throughout the club. The observing denizens of the barroom made great haste to clear the place.

With no more frog to consume the CFE got himself another drink and went about his business of enjoying the evening. Topping the Great Santini's fake barf consumption even though he couldn't hold seconds down either was enough to save face. All seemed well between the two aviation companies showing the DIV-ARTY guys just how aviators partied.

The junior WOJG actually had done an excellent job keeping his half down, but one of the Army Rangers approached him and told him that some frogs are poisonous and can kill you. The junior WOJG set out to find the CFE from his sister company to share the news. Once informed, the CFE looked the junior WOJG square in the eyes and said, "I know. That's why I thew mine up." The junior WOJG spent the following few minutes in the club's restroom sticking his finger down his throat attempting to cause himself to barf without success. He survived though.

Finally the evening came to an end and all the men from the 128th headed to other haunts, but the repercussions from the aviators party at Camp Stanley were not yet over. We had all joined together to show the artillery crowd how aviators partied and had done a CAV style job of doing it. The following day the full bird colonel in charge of Camp Stanley placed all of the men from the 117th that had attended the party on restriction. He then placed a telephone call to our brand new company commander, Maj. Lewman.

Once Maj. Lewman got on the phone the colonel said, "Major! I need the names of all of your men that attended that party that took place over here last night."

Maj. Lewman who had also attended the party replied, "Colonel, I may be new but I'm not stupid! Bye!" Then he hung up the phone. Conversation over. Nothing else was ever said or done.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

From Bus Bum to Helicopter Pilot

Bus Kid
The picture is of my son Micah playing "King of the Bus". He is in the toy draw. He would pull them all out and then climb in and play. He still has a strong streak of adventure running through him.

The bus was a 1969 GMC school bus converted into a motorhome by my friends Dwayne Langham and Steve Hingle. The bus was painted brown and the school bus banner on the front was replaced with "Jesus is Lord" over a white background. The bus was 39.5 feet long and weighed over 16,000 pounds.

My friend Dwayne showed up in the bus at my mama's house when I was going to college at SLU in 1988. I was making good grades in college till Dwayne showed up. We'd stay up all night talking about Jesus. When the sun rose, Dwayne would head to his bus to sleep and I'd head to class. Not a good combination for academic success. Anyhow I ended up dropping out of school, buying the bus from Dwayne, and decided to move to North Arkansas.

Why North Arkansas?
Steve and Ellen had visited Jo and I in Alabama and told us about when they lived in North Arkansas. I had also floated the Buffalo National River on a Sierra Club camping trip when I was fourteen. We put in at Boxley. The river was up a little. This was also my first experience in a kayak. I now owned a couple of Kayaks and thought the kayaking would be better in North Arkansas than South Louisiana, so off we went; myself, JoLynn, Joanna, Cai, Micah and SadieDog.
White River RV Park, Calico Rock, Arkansas
We arrived in North Arkansas in the fall of 88' where we spent our first two weeks at the White Buffalo Resort. The resort closed down for the winter back then, but the manager told me about his dad's place in Calico Rock, Arkansas. I visited his dad, Jerry Newhouse, who rented me a spot for $50 dollars a month.

I pulled the driver's seat out of the bus and replaced it with a cheap trash burner wood stove. That was probably the most memorable winter I can recall in all my married life. I thought it was fun too. The wood stove would not hold enough wood to burn through the night, so prior to going to sleep I would drink a lot of juice. This caused my bladder to wake me up about 3 or 4 am every morning, and I'd throw a couple of more logs on the fire and take care of business before going back to sleep.

Jerry was a handyman besides a Resort owner and he accumulated a lot of scrap blandex chip board. Jerry told me once that the blandex burned good and hot and I should try it. NEVER AGAIN! The wood stove overheated and became cherry red, then it started huffing and puffing and tap dancing inside the bus. It was like it had a life of its own, and a little on the scary side. But, we survived without further incident and never burned any blandex again.

There was also a young kid, Eric Faulkner, that worked at the local gas station. Eric knew me as the ole bus bum that would come by the gas station to fill up an old station wagon and occasionally get a flat tire fixed.

After we left Calico Rock I eventually went to work for Air Evac Lifeteam. Air Evac was a pretty small company when I first went to work for them. Starting pay was less than 20K a year back then. When I got medically grounded in 2006 my annual salary was 52K a year. ...And I bet, you thought helicopter pilots made a lot.

One day shortly after hiring on with Air Evac, I had a flight to the small hospital at Calico Rock for a transfer to a larger hospital. Inside the hospital hallway there was a fair sized group of people. I eventually got around to surveying the faces and recognized Eric. He was now a brand new EMT. Eric had also recognized me and had quite the puzzled look on his face. After all he remembered me as the bum who lived in a bus.

When I recognized him I said, "Hi Eric. How are you doing?"

Eric said, "H, ho, how'd you get that job!"

I said, "Well, if you find the right Cracker Jack box you can be anything you want to be."

Here is my story of how I found that box: The Road to Flight School

I still see Eric from time to time and we usually have a good laugh over that story of the bus bum turning into a helicopter pilot. Here is a story with a picture of Eric Answering the call of duty. He is a good man and a good medic. We have not encountered each other enough to be close friends, but I always say hi when I do see him and he seems like one that would make a good friend.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BeauSpots ~ my appaloosa stud

Appaloosa Stud BeauSpots

God I loved that horse!

If I could have Beau, SadieDog, and a pet crow all together life would be better than good.

That would be my ideation of a perfect pet scenario.

When I owned Beau I had access to a small pasture by our house on North Cherry Street and I also worked on a 1250 acre soybean and cattle farm that I kept him at some times. I also owned a mare named Dixie at the same time I owned Beau. Work was about 20 miles from where I lived. If I had to move the horses between the two places I needed to get someone with a horse trailer to help me.

Beau was already broke and trained when I got him as a 2 year old. Studs are interesting and if I had the proper facilities and resources, a stud is what I'd want again as my personal horse. Studs can also be dangerous, though I always felt comfortable with Beau. Whenever he had not been rode in a week or so he always bucked a little when I first got on him. It didn't take long for him to settle down though.

Beau was shy of water and didn't like wading through it much. Whoever trained him must have used a switch on him a time or two because Beau didn't like them either. I never had to hit him with a switch, but if there was a puddle of water blocking the trail and Beau refused to cross, I'd ride to a tree and break a switch. All I had to do was show it to him and he would promptly prance through the water.

I watched Beau breed Dixie through a barbed wire fence one day. Being around a mare would always perk him up. I rode him to the SLU Colosseum to let him get an anthrax vaccination shot once when there was an anthrax scare going on. There were a lot of horse owners and horses there to get the anthrax shot. Ole Beau got to prancing and showing out in the presence of the mares. It was kinda fun. Several people asked me what I would charge for a stud fee. I wish I'd known more about all that in those days. I didn't have any business since then and still don't now.

I had a friend that was a bull rider and owned horses that would help me move my horses with his horse trailer sometimes. I had Dixie moved to where I worked and needed to move Beau there too because my home pasture had been ate down pretty low. My friend wasn't available with his trailer, so early one morning I put my saddle on Beau and headed to work 20 miles away. We left the house at 6am and arrived at work at 9am. For the last mile of that journey Beau had his head down as if to say, "Come on man! How much more are you going to ride me today?" We only had a little ways more to go. When Beau got within 500 yards of our final destination, he sniffed my mare. Beau snorted, threw his head up, and pranced the final 500 yards like he had never rode the 1st mile that morning.

Beau was a good cutting horse too. He could stop and turn on a dime. My boss would often send me out to check the herd in the morning and cutout any cows that appeared sick, and herd them to the roundup pen for treatment. The cows were all black angus and they all look pretty similar. I'd spot one that looked a little sick and start to cut him out of the herd and he'd vanish into the sea of black. Ole Beau still knew what cow I was after even when I lost site, and would soon have him separated out.

I think riding a good cutting horse and working cattle is my favorite thing to do on a horse. Here is a YouTube video of a champion appaloosa cutting horse:

That sure makes me miss you Beau!

I teased my cousin Paul Lebeau once. He thought I was going to run him over, but as long as the horse was skilled he was pretty safe. And, Beau was pretty skilled. It all worked out, hey cuz?

I was taking Beau for a pleasure ride one morning and decided to wade him out into the middle of a cow pond for a drink of water before leaving for the ride. I wasn't going to let him drink too much, but he had other ideas. With me and my saddle on his back, Beau laid down in the middle of the pond and drank till his heart was content before standing back up. "Beau! That my good saddle buddy!" Another time I was riding him bareback and he thought he needed to scratch his back, so he just laid down and started rolling over on his back side to scratch. I just spread my legs and waited till he was done. What a riot you were Beau!

I wish I knew how to train horses. I can ride, but I never learned how to train one. I do all right with training dogs though.

I wanted a horse so bad when I was young I'd have done almost anything to have one. Owning a horse is a big responsibility, and requires some resources to take care of them properly. Simply staking them out in your yard might do for a while, but is far from ideal. Sadly I ended up loosing Beau early. He had gotten a little lean during the winter and my boss had just started working on fattening him up. Beau had free access to Dixie and would try to breed even when she didn't want too. One day Dixie kicked him in the head and killed him dead. I think that experience crippled me some. Before Beau's untimely and too early death, I'd go for what I wanted even if I wasn't fully ready. Now I feel a little bit of restraint preventing me from just going for it in more things than just horse ownership, unless I know I have my ducks fully lined up and I'm truly ready. How often does that happen?

I won't ever get another horse unless I truly have proper facilities and resources to care for the animal more than adequately. Just because you can afford to buy one doesn't mean you are able or can afford to keep it properly. At my current age there is a good chance that won't ever happen again in this lifetime, but "Beau, it was my great privilege to have known and owned you buddy! I wish I could have done a better job. You certainly deserved to live a longer fuller life. I'm so sorry my friend."


Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't Tease the Panther

I've not given myself the luxury of recreational reading in a long, long time. But, I've been catching up lately. I just finished a book tonight and wrote a review on about it. Since that took up my time, I share my review as my Tall Tale post for today:

Here it is:

I love reading negative reviews on Amazon. They usually save me money. Of course I pass them through the precious or worthless filter before I decide whether or not to spend my coins anyway. In this case it would have been my loss should the reviews have dissuaded me from the purchase.

I just finished reading "The Overton Window", and then went to Amazon to read the negative reviews after the fact in this case. A little backwards from my normal modus operandi. From the negatives I read I probably would have bought the book anyway and would have been glad I did after reading it.

I wish we could turn back the hands of time and have this book published under a pseudonym and then see what kind of reviews it would have gotten.

But hey, I found the negative reviews almost as entertaining as the book. Thanks guys!

Reading the negative reviews before writing my own review has probably changed what I would have wrote originally, but not the reason I gave Glenn's book only 4 stars, which I'll share at the bottom of my review.

All the negative reviewers probably think anyone who enjoyed the book and/or gave it a more positive review than their's have probably already entered the early stages of baptism into the cult of "Glenn Beck". Hey Glenn, you're not the charismatic "anti-christ" are you buddy?

After reading this, I think I'd buy the autographed copy in the wooden box if Glenn would inclose a personal signed note vouching that he didn't use ghost writers. Did you Glenn? As they claim. If you did, I'm disappointed. Still enjoyed it though, and if you choreographed the whole nine yards; good job regardless of the ghost writing.

I've always thought life wouldn't be too bad as long as I could still play a game of chess and enjoy a good book regardless of my physical condition. When it comes to enjoying a good book, this one would hit the mark for me. To all the pedantic nitpicking points in the negative reviews; come on guys, this is fiction! Plausible fiction. You try to sound so erudite yet display no concept of the suspension of disbelief in literary works. Give me a break!

Okay, "don't tease the panther" might have pushed it a little bit. I probably would have been tempted beyond what I was able to endure if a hot babe I was attracted to hopped in the rack beside me even though I think any male that disrespects the marriage bed is only an immature punk and not a mature man. (Unfortunately thanks to the influence of our culture, I've had my immature punk days. If I could do it over, I'd do it different.) I do appreciate the fact that Glenn didn't go over the top with too explicit sexual displays that goes beyond innuendoes that too many authors think is required to sell novels and movies. Thanks Glenn. I also appreciate the fact that Glenn showed good dialogue does not have to be salted with the use of expletives which is another indicator of immaturity for those who use them.

We live in precarious times. Anyone who can't recognize that has their head buried in the sand. I enjoyed how Glenn blended fact with fiction throughout this book, which he generously elaborated on in the afterword. That should be an eyeopener for all except those who prefer the bliss of ignorance.

A cord was struck with me as I read in the afterword, "When your mind suspends disbelief, it may also become more willing to consider a broader spectrum of possible outcomes to the events and agendas that are playing out around us every day." Yeah! As a pilot I like for my mind to go first where my body might have to follow. That involves looking at the full spectrum of possibilities from best to worse case. Should the worse case attempt to materialize, it makes dealing with it easier than being surprised. Then Glenn followed that with a paragraph about fighter pilots.

All I can say is the fighter pilot's prayer: "Lord I pray for the eyes of an eagle, the heart of a lion and the balls of a combat helicopter pilot." I don't have any combat helicopter time, but I personally know some of these men and am richer for the friendship. Likewise, regardless of the name of the author of "The Overton Window" I am richer for having taken the time to read and enjoy the book. Thank you Glenn!

So, "The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best." Are they those who's immune systems are compromised by greed and blind ambition inflicted with the virus of corruption, allowed by a populace asleep at the helm? If so, we are in pretty deep kimchee. It won't be pretty once the fermenting is done.

I don't mind yielding to a superior debate when I believe it is the right thing to do, and I become convinced of its merit. Page 210 describing the four types of people in the world comes close to convincing one to yield. Glenn could have spun this story anyway he chose. He could have made all his detractors happy. Unfortunately it is obvious that our so called visionaries are tainted by corruption and greed. "Do as I say, not as I do!" Yea, no thank you!

"And so this government of the United States was brilliantly designed to keep that weakness of human nature in check, but it required the people to participate daily, to be vigilant, and they have not. It demanded that they behave as though their government was their servant, but they have not. In their silence the people of the United States have spoken. While they slept the servant has become their master." Oops.

Okay, why only four stars? "It was hard, she'd said, because it wasn't a street address that she'd been given, only a latitude and longitude." Sheesh! There was a time when a pilot also had to be skilled in navigating if he/she was to be useful. Now with GPS any dummy who can plug in the numbers is good to go. So how many times does Google Maps turn up an inaccurate location when a street address is entered? Yeah, thank you! If the latitude and longitude is accurate, the location is accurate anywhere in the world. Street addresses are not standard and useful world wide, while latitude and longitude are. You would think a protagonist of Molly's caliber could handle a simple set of latitude and longitude coordinates. That flaw would almost make you want to be a progressive if all the aspects of progressivism were as simple as that. Latitude and longitude are not that hard folks! Otherwise, excellent book Glenn! I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Thanks.

Friday, June 18, 2010

First for Real IFR flight as PIC

WO1 David B. Robert PIC = Pilot In Command
I struggled in flight school with instrument training and almost didn't make it to graduation because of my poor instrument flying skills.

They say graduating from flight school is really only just your ticket to learn. I'd have to agree. Korea was a great place to exponentially increase your learning as a pilot. I was told that those who got assigned state side (in the Continental U.S.) were lucky to get 200 flight hours a year. I managed to get a total of 500 hours my 1st year in Korea. So, the opportunity to learn was certainly there.

Army Aviation is designed to have an all weather capability. We are required by Army Regulations to file and fly IFR unless doing so would hinder or prevent the mission from being accomplished. North of Seoul, where I was stationed, there is no IFR structure, so 99.9% of all of our flying in Korea was VFR. I'm probably one of the rare few Army pilots who managed to get some actual IFR time while stationed in Korea. Harry told me about getting socked in on the top of a mountain east of Seoul. He called ATC and got himself an IFR clearance and then did an ITO off the mountain, so all weather capability can come in handy when you are where you can utilize it. It can also be dangerous if you are not steeped in the "right stuff".

An ITO is an Instrument Takeoff where the pilot departs the ground and establishes flight solely by reference to the aircraft flight instruments without outside reference.

If you are skilled in the ITO technique, you can depart in zero, zero conditions. The wisdom of this is debated because of the previously mentioned "good idea to always have an out". What if... you have to return for landing shortly after takeoff due to a chip light or something? You usually need a little bit more than zero, zero to land safely. Harry was good to go because clear weather wasn't far off and there were no instrument approaches back to the mountain he was on.

After my 1st year in Korea I was pretty comfortable in the aircraft as far as VFR flying goes. Every Army aviator has to complete an annual instrument checkride to remain on flight status. Even though I did not get any additional instrument flying exposure during my 1st year in Korea having the extra 500 hours in the aircraft did make me more comfortable, and my annual instrument checkride went well. That helped my instrument flying confidence a little.

View Larger Map
Soon after passing my instrument checkride I was given a mission to an Air Force Base at the far southern part of South Korea at Gwangju. There was plenty of IFR route structure south of Seoul. I was excited. I would get to practice my instrument flying.

I planned my mission the night before with great detail and was ready.

When I woke up the next morning the weather was absolutely terrible. It was a beautiful day for a good, competent, skilled instrument flyer, which I wasn't. I remembered the warning my last instrument IP gave me when I passed my final instrument checkride in flight school, "Take those clouds seriously. They are nothing to play around in." So, I told myself, "I guess we'll go VFR or Special VFR everywhere today. So much for all that planning."

Lt. T.C. Newman
My copilot that day was a black Lieutenant T.C. Newman. He was a good pilot, but he was green like I had been upon arrival in Korea, fresh out of flight school.

Regardless of flying experience or ability you had to have at least 3 months of flying experience in Korea before you were made a PIC (Pilot in Command). T.C. had not yet hit the 3 month mark.

All the men I flew with when I was green took good care of me and groomed me to excel in Korea, but all the flying we did was VFR. I did not have the opportunity to build any quality experience with seasoned guys in the IFR realm of flight. I did have plenty of marginal VFR flying experience. This mission would be covering plenty of territory, especially once I got south of Kunsun, that I had no experience flying in VFR or otherwise.

T.C. and I did our preflight and soon departed Uijeongbu for Osan AFB to pickup our PAX which were a few American Army Officers and a Korean General.

We crept into Osan on a special VFR clearance picked up our PAX and departed on a special VFR clearance heading for Kunsan AFB.

We made it into Kunsan with a special VFR clearance also. At Kunsan we refueled. One of the American Officers tried to talk me into using the weather as an excuse to RON (Remain Over Night). He mentioned something about knowing a WAF at Kunsan. My work ethic caused me to decline and press on to complete our current mission.

We departed Kunsan on a special VFR clearance in route to Kwangju AFB.

I had been into Kunsan before, but everything south of Kunsan was new territory for me. As mentioned in previous marginal weather flying posts I talked about how familiarity of your AO (Area Operations) helps. Besides being new territory to me, I could feel the weather getting worse. Besides simply getting worse it was quickly going to the point where VFR flight would no longer be possible. I had all of my instrument flight preparations with me, but I had no confidence in my ability to pull off the flying part. I had to do something though, because soon the weather would force us on the ground.

I wondered how T.C. did in instruments, so I asked, "T.C. how'd you do in instruments?"

He came back with, "I did good."

That's all the vetting he had for my next decision, "Kunsan departure control. Tomahawk 1234 requesting IFR to Kwangju."

Departure control replied, "Tomahawk 1234 Roger. Climb to and maintain 8,000 feet."

I pulled pitch to climb and we soon entered the soup. I worked on getting my crosscheck to lock in. I wallowed 30 degrees left then 30 degrees right. My crosscheck wasn't coming in. Besides that Kunsan gave us instructions involving equipment we didn't have, e.g. DME etc.

I'd respond, "Tomahawk 1234, negative DME"

Finally they told us to just track to the Kwangju NDB.

After struggling to get my instrument crosscheck to lock in without success, I decided to give T.C. the controls to see what he could do.

I said, "T.C. you have the controls."

T.C. responded as he took the controls, "Roger. I have the controls."

T.C. didn't do any better than what I had done. He was also wallowing 30 degrees left and right. It didn't look like he was going to lock into a smooth crosscheck anytime soon. I thought to myself, "Oh boy, ROWBEAR, what kind of trouble did you get yourself into now." If either of us did not lock into a good crosscheck soon, this was likely not to turnout good.

I let T.C. wrestle with it a little longer before I decided to give it a try. Finally I said, "Okay T.C. I have the controls."

He visually affirmed I had them before releasing them and saying, "Roger. You have the controls."

My crosscheck locked in! Thank God! I smoothed out. After remaining on the controls long enough to make sure it was real and to feel comfortable. I handed the controls back to T.C. When he received them smooth, he remained smooth.

One of the American Officers in the back who was also an aviator told me later instruments can be a little rusty sometimes. He also said that as we climbed through 7,000 feet a big sucker hole opened up, and the Korean General unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up, and pointed to the ground as if to say, we should land.

With the flight experience I have and the things I've seen, when someone learns I'm a pilot and invites me to go flying with them, I'm not too keen on the idea especially if I don't have access to the controls and familiarity with the aircraft. I can only imagine what it felt like in the back of that aircraft when we pulled up into the clouds and started wallowing 30 degrees left and right as we climbed.

Once T.C. and I both smoothed out, the rest of the flight was fun and uneventful. We were still at a pretty high altitude when T.C. caught sight of the Kwangju airfield and told the controller, "Airfield in sight". I would have preferred practicing the approach to a lower altitude. But, we made it.

The American Officers invited us to join them at the club, but I declined since I knew tomorrow would also be a big day knowing the smarter thing to do would be to get a good night's rest.

One of the American Army Officers told us the next day that the Air Force Officers in the club wanted to know where the junior fly boys were that flew that helicopter in there in that kind of weather.

I would have only one more for real IFR flying experience in Korea that is another story in another way. The instrument flying all went well with this other story and my copilot and I were both glad to get home due to the instrument option.

One of my buddies in Korea later went to the Instrument Examiner school at Fort Rucker while I was instructing Contact, Tactics, NOE, Nighthawk, and NVG. He talked me into being his student pilot. That ended in disaster. Fortunately not a crashing disaster.

I wouldn't become truly comfortable and competent with instrument flight until I became a contract instrument instructor pilot back at Fort Rucker. I'm sure that job experience helped me to survive the IIMC experience I had in the post: 178 seconds to live.

In my post: Marathon HEMS Shift I mentioned the July 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics article "Why Medical Helicopters Keep Crashing". This article offers solutions. It is a long and complicated subject. There are detractors and "devil's advocates" on all sides of the issue even what I think would be the optimum best improvement to increase HEMS safety. And, that would be an apprenticeship portal company possibly government subsidized that operates dual pilot, all weather, with no autopilots that all pilots interested in moving into the Helicopter Air Ambulance sector of flying would have to pass through to become certified for single pilot HEMS operations. Like the 3 months minimum time in country to become a PIC, these men or women would need a certain amount of time and exposure to different flight experiences while flying with experienced pilots that have already been there and done that before getting signed off as able to be a qualified HEMS pilot. But then in this world we are often faced with "the way it is" and "the way it ought to be". Rarely do the two coincide.

There you have it! Another Tall Tale I'm grateful to have survived.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Korean Soldiers are Tough!

The air mobile training we did mostly involved Korean troops.  I remember flying American troops a couple of times.  The Americans were large, heavy, and slow loading and unloading.  It was tough getting a Huey off the ground with a full load of Americans onboard.  The Koreans on the other hand were small, light, and fast.  The aircraft usually came off the ground quite easy.

The Koreans, especially the Tiger Brigade,  also had a tough reputation from their service in Vietnam.  It was said they would build large bonfires at night while no one else dared,  and the Vietcong did not mess with them.  If the Vietcong did mess with the Korean Tiger Brigade, they soon learned to regret it.

On this particular lift I was flying with CW2 Foster Oats. Foster was a Cobra pilot and was a Cav Trooper in Vietnam. Although our unit was not Cav, Foster still wore his Cav hat quite often. He was a good man. Since he was a Cobra pilot I didn't fly with him much. This might have been the only time I flew with him, but this was quite memorable because of what I'm about to share. Foster is second from the left helping me hold the cow in the picture.
Foster and I were in the chalk four position of a flight of five. I was sitting in the left seat.

Our LZ was a saddle. A saddle consists of two hill tops and the dip between the two. The lead aircraft landed on the top of the hill on the left. Chalk two hovered against the slope descending left to right. Chalk three landed in the trough between the two hill tops. Chalk four, Foster and I hovered against the slope descending right to left. The trail aircraft landed on top of the hill on the right.

It was Foster's turn on the controls and I was sitting in the left seat, as Foster hovered against the slope, while I sat watching the Korean soldiers jump out of the aircraft. The right side of the aircraft was close to the ground, so those soldiers had an easy, short jump from the aircraft to the ground. The soldiers exiting the aircraft on the left side had every bit of ten feet of air to pass through before they contacted the ground.

I remember sitting in the left seat watching them jump out. Besides their weapons, they each carried forty pound packs on their backs. They would exit the aircraft and scream toward the ground. When their feet would hit, their knees would buckle and then they would rapidly head off into the bushes. I sat there watching and thinking, "Dang! I'm glad I don't have to do that."

At that time we were taking a shortcut in the interest of expediency. Each seat had individual seatbelts. Allowing the soldiers to use the individual seatbelts proved slow. In Vietnam the use of seatbelts was rare to nonexistent so I was told. Often the birds didn't even have any seats in them. The soldiers simply sat on the floor. Our rear cabin seats were setup as a bench facing the door. Five soldiers sat on each side. Our crewchief sat in a forward facing seat just behind and between the pilot and copilot's seats. The crewchief assisted with loading and unloading. Some of them were known to toss slow moving troops out the door. Our shortcut involved using a single cargo strap on each side of the aircraft to secure all five troops on each side.

When we came in for a landing the crewchief would undo one end of the cargo strap so the troops could disembark. While probably not near as safe as individual seatbelts, the cargo strap was more than they did in Vietnam, and proved faster than allowing individual troops to deal with their own individual seatbelt.

I sat there watching each troop disembark in turn when the last one jumped out. The crewchief shouted, "we're clear". Foster began to pull pitch to take off from the slope we were hovering against. I watched the last troop's feet scream for the ground. When they were only one foot above they were snatched out from under him. He crashed down on his back with eyes wide open.

I was temporarily nonplussed. The troops feet were hung up in the end of the cargo strap. The strap had stretched tight with only a foot to go. As Foster started to lift the soldier off the ground, the crewchief shouted for us to wait because one was hung up. Foster smoothly and cooly backed the aircraft up and down as the crewchief wrestled to pull the tangled strap loose.

I watched the soldier again glad it wasn't me. A trickle of blood came out from the side of his mouth. His eyes were still wide open. Finally the crewchief was successful in getting the strap loose. The Korean soldier climbed to his feet and hurried off into the bushes to join his buddies. The crewchief informed us that we were clear again, and Foster then completed a smooth takeoff.

This flight probably wouldn't have been memorable if the soldier had not gotten hung up.


ps  Regarding speed. One of the Vietnam vets told me about a resupply mission in Vietnam where the vietcong had the helipad zero'd in with mortars.  The aircraft would fly in, flare over the pad as the crewchiefs tossed stuff out the door during the flare, then quickly roll forward and pull pitch for departure.  As the Huey barely cleared the pad, a couple of mortars would strike behind them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Discussion of Abby Sunderland's Attempt to Sail Around the World

I sometimes participate in an anonymous Helicopter forum that is sometimes hard hitting, sometimes puerile, sometimes informative, and often entertaining. If anyone gets an inclination to participate, it is important to read: The Rules of Engagement (ROE) first.

The Abby Sunderland story of her attempt to circumnavigate the world in a sailboat has interested me. Even though it is a JUSTHELICOPTERS forum occasionally other topics show their face, and a discussion of Abby's attempt found its way there. The below post by Popeye while attacking Abby's father pretty hard seems to provide to my sailing illiterate mind cogent arguments regarding the sailing aspects of Abby's attempt.

I provided a followup response to Popeye's post, and I present both here.

PLEASE NOTE: Anyone who posts anonymously on the JH forum is NOT truly anonymous.

Also, JUSTHELICOPTERS provides a lot more than the forums and is a good resource for anyone interested in knowing more about the helicopter industry.

The Real Sunderland Reality Author: Popeye Date: 6/14/2010 10:54:33 PM

Abby Sunderland was rushed out the gate in an ill prepared attempt to get an obscure record. She had to stop at Cabo for major upgrades on her boat. There were 2 auto pilots on the boat and the electrical demand exceeded the ability of the wind generators and solar panels to supply power. This was in California and Mexico, not the overcast Atlantic or Souther Ocean where you might not see the sun for days. Bad omen and signs of total incompetence before even leaving the Americas.
Abby continued to have problems with the 2 auto pilots for most of her trip. She stated in her blog that she had no wind-vane steering because her boat went too fast. This of-course is nonsense. I have sailed boats with twice the hull speed of her boat that used the system. Zak Sunderland, her brother in his circumnavigation and Jessica Watson in her record breaking circumnavigation had wind-vanes installed. I can only guess she was parroting the misinformation her father gave her. Monitor wind-vanes do not require electricity to run and are the preferred safety navigation system for most epic adventurers.

When both navigation systems inevitably failed Abby stopped in Cape town to replace them. Her Father flew down to help. As well as replacing the navigation system he helped with repairs. Rather than wait for a cradle at the boat yard to hoist the boat out to repair a scratch in the hull, they did the most boneheaded and dangerous repair you can do on a sailboat. They tied a rope to the top of the mast and using leverage pulled the boat over to expose the hull (photos on Abby's blog Thursday May 13). I have seen masts snap when this has been tried and the fact that her mast later broke might not be coincidental.That action creates enormous stress on the mast and deck fittings. It is something you do on hobby-cats and small sailboats, not on a 40 foot boat if there are any alternatives. Again, incompetence, rushing and ignorance setting her up for failure.

The builder of her boat, Marty Still, warned them not to continue as it was the wrong time of year for the southern Ocean in that type of boat with such an inexperienced sailor. Her father let her go anyway.

The claims of Abby being an experienced sailor are put to rest in her own words and actions. In her blog on June 2 I was horrified to read on that she went on deck in a storm at night without her foul weather safety gear. She stated she didn't have time to put it on. Sailing 101 tells you otherwise. It took her days to get dry and warm again.

The photo of her boat de-masted are a pictorial record of her inexperience. You can see the trailing mast and sails in the water. A mast can and does puncture the hull of the boat if it is allowed to dangle from the boat after going overboard and bash against the hull. An experienced sailor would cut it free to eliminate the danger of sinking the boat. She either (a) didn't know to do that (b) was not equipped with the necessary tools (c) didn't have the strength. Any answer is reason to believe she shouldn't have been out there in those conditions. I think she was so controlled from shore by her team that when the mast went down and she lost contact and was left to her own devices her inexperience showed.

Two Sat phones and two auto pilots do not make you safe if you do not have the fundamental survival skills. Her father put her life in jeopardy when he allowed her to continue from Cape Town into the Southern Ocean at the most dangerous time of year. Her boat was knocked down twice, Jessica Watson had her boat knocked down 7 times in her record breaking circumnavigation. The difference is Jessica boat was more suited to the task, was better prepared and she is a vastly more experienced sailor than Abby and was through the southern Ocean before Abby got to Cape Town.

Abby did a great job and was lucky to round the two capes in relatively mild conditions(Jessica had 5 knockdowns before she entered the Indian Ocean). I would have applauded her efforts if common sense prevailed and she stayed in cape-town and continued when the weather was better.

Her father equates this with letting a 16 year old drive a car. But you don't let a 16 year old drive a car on ice, at night with no headlights and bald tires. That's the equivalent conditions he put Abby in.

The difference between the balloon boy's attention seeking Dad and Abby's Father is that Balloon Boys dad did not actually risk the life of his kid in an attempt at fame and fortune.

My Response to Above Author: Interested in learning Date: 6/15/2010 12:35:59 AM

"The difference between the balloon boy's attention seeking Dad and Abby's Father is that Balloon Boys dad did not actually risk the life of his kid in an attempt at fame and fortune."

Good post Popeye! You obviously appear to know more about sailing than any of the other posts I've read on this subject. You make good sound cogent points in your post regarding sailing and I accept them.

I've been sailing, but the extent of my sailing experience could be compared to someone having a couple of rides on a helicopter. By no means could that person be considered a helicopter pilot after a couple of rides. Neither am I a sailor.

I do see a difference in the ballon boy's dad and Abby's dad though other than the one you pointed out above. The ballon boy's dad fraudulently called 911 when his son didn't really need any help and he knew it.

Abby really needed help.

So how culpable is her dad? By your post, it is pretty clear to me now that he is the type of individual whose glass is half full. If you're half the sailor your post indicates you are, and if you are also a seasoned helicopter pilot then we both know that glass half full attitude can get you seriously hurt or killed in both sailing and flying helicopters.
The last I heard, stupidity is not a crime. Stupidity can extract an extreme cost. Fortunately Abby dodged the ultimate cost here.

This is a good analogy you made: "Her father equates this with letting a 16 year old drive a car. But you don't let a 16 year old drive a car on ice, at night with no headlights and bald tires. That's the equivalent conditions he put Abby in." Kinda like trying to do a Blackhawk job in a Bell 47. Not smart. I don't know that the extremes are that extreme because I don't have the experience to judge, so to me it seems more like trying to accomplish in a Huey something a Blackhawk is way more suitable for like carrying a full squad.

From your post it looks like Abby's dad could use a lot more experience. I have to ask myself, "was he malicious in what he did? Or just unknowingly stupid?" Both can get you in serious trouble, one deserves the consequences way more than the other. Though both may suffer the same.

Our aircraft require an air worthiness certificate. We also require a checkout before we are allowed to do certain things. It appears in the sailing world anyone is free to do whatever they wish. Maybe not a good idea where the underage is concerned. How hard would it be for the coastguard to give a stamp of approval or a denial in a situation like this?

I'm curious; if Abby did have a suitable boat properly equipped for solo circumnavigation of the world, if the boat was properly handled (thinking of the inappropriate mast technique to inspect the hull), and finally if Abby demonstrated that she had the necessary nautical skill to include the judgment not to sail into hostile waters at the wrong time of the year, would you say it is okay for a 16 year old to attempt what she did?

You also said, "The builder of her boat, Marty Still, warned them not to continue as it was the wrong time of year for the southern Ocean in that type of boat with such an inexperienced sailor. Her father let her go anyway." It appears that was sound advice. We are often faced with conflicting views. Usually it takes a good strong consensus to sway us. (I've flown in weather in the military I wouldn't consider flying in, in EMS.) Even then you may see a contrarian. I remember years ago in IQD on a rainy night all the instructors except for one chose to stand down. I was one of the instructors that stayed on the ground with the herd. The IP that flew told me later that he wasn't afraid of just rain. There was no thunderstorm activity and it was a good experience for his students. That was an eyeopener for me. It is nice to have the experience, knowledge, and skills to go against the herd "wisely". It is also better to err on the side of safety when you know you don't know. May God help those who don't know they don't know which looks like what happened here. That doesn't mean He will, but for Abby I'm grateful He did.

IMO that was a good post you made Popeye. I appreciate you taking the time to express yourself. You've given me a better understanding and insight into what took place. Thanks.

BTW I was one of the main advocates for Abby and her parents down below. I'm still for her and am still inclined to give her parents the benefit of the doubt though you've shed some light on a lot. The light shed still makes me curious, how is it in the sailing world that someone can attempt to pull something like this without more oversight? Can you say, "Hello Captain Ron".

Once again, thanks for the time you took to make the post you did.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Marginal Weather Flying ~ Just for Grins

It's not really a good idea to do any marginal weather flying just for grins. I've learned that if something is going to go wrong, it will most likely go wrong when you are doing something you have no business doing.

The weather wasn't really marginal this day. It was actually pretty good. I wasn't in Korea either. I was flying offshore for PHI at South Timbalier 151.

I flew a 206B Bell Jet Ranger like the aircraft on the left in the picture below coming in for a landing at the end of the working day.

Though the weather was good the humidity conditions were such that when the oil men needing transport climbed onboard the inside windscreen immediately fogged up. I kept a rag near my collective where my left hand could easily grab it and wipe the wind screen clean when necessary.

I was working my tail off keeping the windscreen clean that day and getting tired of it when the thought hit me that there was nothing to bump into out there. I could see fine out of my side window and it was more than sufficient for what I had to do. So, the thought continued, "I should just takeoff and leave the windscreen obscured." After all it wasn't going to hurt anything, and so I did.

The oil man that had the pleasure of sitting in the front with me, looked at the obscured windscreen as I pulled pitch and lifted from the rig; he then looked at me all calm and peaceful without a care in the world; then he looked at the rag I had previously been wearing out. He grabbed the rag and started wiping furiously saying, "I don't know how you can see anything out here!"

I just looked at him and smiled. I didn't have to clean another windscreen that day. Life was good...

The above was short so I'll add another quick brief one from offshore...

I got a call to head to the beach and pick someone up. Soon after a fellow pilot buddy called and said he had a man on his rig that needed to go to the beach. He wanted to know if I could take him. It was no problem, so I agreed.

PHI had an altitude limit of 6,000 feet. Most of the pilots stayed between 300 feet and 1,000 feet never going any higher. Prior to landing on my buddy's rig I called weather to check winds aloft. All the way up at 6,000 I had a good tail wind that would get me to the beach pretty quick, so I made up my mind that I'd be heading way up there to take advantage of the tail wind after picking up the man on my buddy's rig.

The passenger climbed in. I pulled pitch and took off. Since I was heading to 6,000 I just left the pitch pulled in so I'd keep climbing to where I wanted to go.

In short order we went through 1,000 feet the highest altitude most oil men ever experienced in little birds. We kept climbing. The oil man didn't say anything until I climbed through 2,000 feet, then he looked at me with a puzzled look and said, "Where're you going?"

I looked at him and smiled with a questioning response, "To the moon?"

He said, "I, I, I believe you!".

It was still a good flight. Staying 1,000 feet or lower you never had to worry about yourself or your passengers needing to clear their ears to adjust to the pressure changes climbing to and descending from higher altitude causes. Also, it seemed a lot of oil men got scared up high. This passenger didn't complain and he also didn't seem to have any problems with his ears. He was obviously glad to have a short ride to the beach onboard a helicopter instead of a long ride on a boat, in spite of a pilot he didn't know that flew higher than most.

Clearing your ears would more likely be a problem if you were dealing with a cold. It is recommended that you not fly with a cold.

My wife often refers to me as "one more Dave". The two above were short, so I think I'll add one more that I was told.

It took place in the days before PHI pilots wore company uniforms. A seasoned pilot did a workover at a base where the oil men didn't know him. This pilot got together with the dispatcher to pull a PJ (practical joke) on the oil men. Since he was dressed like the oil men and looked like the oil men since PHI didn't have any company uniforms back then, he told the dispatcher, "My bird is ready. I'm going to go hangout in the lounge like I'm an oil man. After a little bit, go tell all the men the bird is ready and the pilot will soon be there as you point them in the right direction to go load."

Base dispatchers often assisted with loading.

The dispatcher went and relayed the message after a reasonable amount of time. The pilot joined the crowd and headed to the aircraft with them like he was one of the boys. When they got there, he climbed in the back as if he belonged with them.

There they sat patiently waiting for the pilot that was supposed to show up soon. Of course he wasn't never going to show since he was already there. After a bit and no longer patient one of the men started bad mouthing the pilot.

The pilot who was in the back joined in with the bad mouthing saying, "Yea, if that sorry SOB doesn't hurry up and show up soon I'm going to have to climb up front and fly this thing my own self."

A different oil man said, "Ah, you can't do that!"

The pilot said, "Well we'll just have to see." He then climbed out of the back and hopped into the pilot's seat. He noticeably looked around the cockpit until he spied the operators flight manual. He pulled the book out and thumbed through the pages until he found the section covering starting procedures. Then he started slowing going through the procedures awkwardly looking around for the required switch or whatnot. Saying out loud what he was looking for as he searched, "Battery switch?" His finger would go from switch to switch until he found the right one. Then with a happy exclamation he'd say, "Ah Battery Switch on!" as he flipped it. Then he'd go to the next item.

The oil men sat in the back obviously thinking, "yea right, this fool thinks he's going to fly this thing. It'd be a miracle if he even managed to get it started.

Finally the pilot read out, "Starter switch?" His search began. When he found it, he pressed the button, pulled the trigger, or did whatever was necessary for the helicopter he was in.

The turbine engine started to scream:

All the oil men bailed out with due haste when that happened.

The pilot completed a successful crank then he pulled his ID out and held it out the window shouting above the roar of the turbine, "I'm your pilot, I'm your pilot. It's okay, Come on and get back on" as he also tried to wave them back aboard.

The oilmen just stood there on the ramp shaking their heads no. The pilot had to finally shut down and call another pilot that he knew that one of the oilmen also knew to vouch for him before they would climb aboard again.

Shortly after that stunt, PHI pilots had uniforms.

Well, there's enough tall tales for today. I hope you enjoyed...


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Marginal Weather Flying ~ No Out

Soon after the flight described in Marginal Weather Flying ~ Smooth Sailing I had a very similar mission to the same area, and I once again had to pickup a ROK Navigator at the same airfield near Hwacheon. My co-pilot on this flight was the company's Executive Officer: CPT. Rice. The XO is second in command to the CO.

There was weather covering the area again. It was different from the other time though. The Buffer Zone was still clear, but the entry to the route we took to the airfield previously was blocked off. Farther to the west was clear and there was a small connecting valley that would take us to the rice paddy route to the airstrip if the weather would allow us to make it through flying nap of the earth.

The green arrow on the Google Map below points out the connecting valley.

View Larger Map

Entry to the valley looked good. There was weather above it capping its top, but there appeared to be adequate maneuvering room through the valley below the weather to transition through, so we pressed on.

This was a different situation from the one previously described. This valley was tight, narrow, and rugged. There were no convenient rice paddies available to land on should the need arise. We were considerably below the tops of the peaks. Should the weather close off on us while in the valley executing IIMC procedures could prove quite difficult due to the close proximity of the rugged terrain. Attempting to land could be just as difficult due to the rugged nature of the valley floor. And, there was no room inside the tight valley to safely execute a 180 degree turn to return to better weather conditions should our route through the valley become impassable.

I have mentioned previously that flying is an exercise in stacking the deck in your favor. Here I had chosen a tough hand to play and I did not do a very good job of stacking the deck. I really had "no out" should the weather decide not to cooperate. An out is simply an available alternative course of action should the chosen one prove unworkable. It is a very good thing to have whenever you go flying. You always want to be asking yourself, "What if?"

Harry Reasoner wrote a classic piece titled: "Helicopter Pilots are Different". Reasoner's depiction portrays the attitude of the right stuff for a helicopter pilot. When I entered the valley I was in "the glass is half full" mode. That way of thinking can get you killed if you are a helicopter pilot, e.g. optimistically telling yourself, "The weather's getting better!" When it is really getting worse can cause you to encounter a cumulous granite. "Cumulous Granite?" Yea, that's a cloud that is not all soft and forgiving, but is rock hard and deadly because of the mountain it obscures.

Halfway through the narrow valley the weather started to close in on us. I had no out. The deck was not properly stacked. It could have easily been all over with for myself and CPT. Rice right then. I focused and maintained my poker face and did what I could which probably included a little bit of silent praying even though I had still not been born again. For a brief moment I only had ground reference through one narrow opening through the weather. If that had closed off we would have been IIMC in a very poor spot to have that happen. My pucker factor cranked up a few notches. Captain Rice never knew.

The weather did open back up through that one tough spot and the rest of the flight was inconsequential. After making it through the valley Captain Rice said, "Wow! Probably couldn't have done that with anyone else." I just smiled thinking, "If only he really knew just how close that was he wouldn't be so impressed." It was a good lesson for me. I would be more careful to better evaluate what I was about to put myself through in the future.

Except for my first for real IFR flying experience which I have yet to tell, I've always done a much better job of stacking the deck and insuring I had an alternative out available for all my subsequent marginal weather flying situations. Whenever your pucker factor begins to crank up it usually means that it is time to exercise an available alternative option. If you press on in the face of an increasing pucker factor you're more likely to encounter disaster. If you have other options available to you, experiencing an increasing pucker factor is usually a good indicator that you should do something else besides your present course of action. That's playing your cards. And, always insuring that you have other options available to you would be considered stacking the deck in your favor.

If you fly, fly safe!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Marginal Weather Flying ~ Smooth Sailing

Korea is known as "The Land of the Morning Calm" where ground fog is often found over bodies of water until the sun manages to burn it off.
Valley ViewAs a pilot I was treated to some remarkably beautiful sights involving ground fog especially on early morning flights. I remember once watching a valley full of ground fog overflowing a low spot in a ridge and cascading down like a waterfall into the lower realms of the adjacent valley that was clear.

Another time there was a huge clear cavern through the fog that led to the headquarters of a Korean General I had to pickup for the days mission. It was like flying into a long horizontal cave. Like a cave that gets darker the deeper you penetrate it, the weather got poorer the farther back and closer to the pickup spot we got. The weather allowed us access in and out though.

The Korean Peninsula is divided North from South by the DMZ (DeMilitarizedZone) which is roughly located along the 38 parallel.
Korean DMZ

View Larger Map

Immediately south of the DMZ is a thin strip of land approximately 5 miles wide called the Buffer Zone that requires extensive training to be cleared to fly inside of it as a PIC (Pilot In Command). I became a BZ pilot and later a BZ check pilot that trained others to be cleared to fly the buffer zone.

The Korean Buffer Zone is divided into 7 sectors. We trained aggressively in zones 1 through 4. Any flight in zones 5 through 7 required picking up a ROK Navigator before entering the buffer zone. This was more a formality than anything else. Harry told me that my own personal map navigation better be up to speed whenever I was required to pickup a Korean Navigator because totally relying on the Korean with the lag in our inefficient language communications could get you in serious trouble.

If it was obvious an aircraft was going to overfly the DMZ, the South would fire warning shots in an attempt to warn the pilot away. The North would not shoot at you until you realized your error and turned around in an attempt to get back to the right (south) side of the line. When the North Koreans shot at you they intended to shoot you down.

One of the men I trained in the BZ later returned to Korea for another tour as a Chinook pilot. During that tour he was involved in the recovery of an OH-58 that had been shot down.

View Larger Map
On this particular day I had a mission into buffer zone sector 5 north of Chuncheon. We were scheduled to pickup our ROK Navigator at a small Korean airstrip just to the northwest of Hwacheon. We flew relatively high to the Chuncheon Valley. The Pukhan River connected Chuncheon with Hwacheon. It is a pretty large body of water. When we cleared last ridge obstructing our view of the Chuncheon Valley we were greeted by a large expanse of ground fog.

The area to the north of Hwacheon inside the buffer zone where we needed to go was totally clear, but the Korean airstrip where we needed to pickup our ROK navigator was also covered by ground fog.

It was also clear just to the south of the buffer zone where we needed to go. If I could get into the valley that the airstrip was in we could comfortably follow the rice paddies to the airfield.

In the satellite view below showing the "Ridge Point of Crossing" you can see two valleys. The valley on the west was fog enshrouded. The valley on the east was clear. As luck would have it the airstrip we needed to get to for our navigator pickup was in the valley on the west.

Ridge Point of Crossing

View Larger Map

We descended into the valley on the east very near the green arrow showing the low area on the dividing ridge. The fog was not hugging the ridge tightly and we were able to easily hop the ridge and make it into the bottom of the western valley.

Once in the western valley we air taxied following rice paddies all the way to the airstrip where our ROK navigator was. It was easy and safe traveling to the airstrip over the rice paddies in a helicopter. We flew about 15 feet above the rice paddies at a comfortable airspeed that allowed us to easily see and avoid any obstacles. Also if any aircraft problems tried to beset us it would be an easy matter to simply land in one of the rice paddies. This was a comfortable and fun flight. There was no pucker factor involved. (Pucker Factor is a measure of the stress in any situation. A high pucker factor means high stress.)

AIR TAXI- Used to describe a helicopter/VTOL aircraft movement conducted above the surface but normally not above 100 feet AGL. The aircraft may proceed either via hover taxi or flight at speeds more than 20 knots. The pilot is solely responsible for selecting a safe airspeed/altitude for the operation being conducted.

ROK Navigator Airstrip P/U Point

View Larger Map

Once we arrived at the airstrip, I landed on the grass beside it. We could make out the outline of the buildings housing the Koreans through the fog. Pretty soon our ROK navigator came out with his helmet bag and personal maps. He double timed to just outside our rotor disc before he stopped. Then he put his gear down and simply shook his head indicating that he was not going to get onboard with us obviously because of the weather.

I had a full bird colonel onboard as one of my pax. He saw first hand what I had done to get to the airfield and knew everything was safe and cool, so he volunteered to get out and try to talk the Korean into going with us.

The colonel returned without the Korean shortly after trying to convince him. The colonel said, "He's not listening to me."

I said, "Well I'll get out and give it a try."

The colonel said, "I don't think he will listen, but go ahead and try."

I love languages. Unfortunately I'm only fluent in English. It seems conversations always gravitate to the easiest language to communicate in and so many people know English that it takes a real effort to practice other languages. I knew a little Korean. Most americans seem to focus on learning the expletives. Those didn't interest me. I really wanted to learn to communicate properly in the other language, so I practiced and the older Koreans obliged me and helped me.

When I got to our navigator I flashed him a friendly southern boy smile and told him hello in Korean, "ad-je-shee, ahn-nyong-ha-se-yo."

Then I pointed up the valley from where we came and said, "Cho-gi (There) jo-seum-ni-da (good)!" I followed that with, "ee-di-wa-ka-sip-se-yo (Come on with us)" and nodded with a smile. He nodded back, picked up his stuff and climbed on board with us.

It was a good flight. We air taxied back up the rice paddies and jumped the ridge again at the same spot we previously used. Back in the clear air we then we got out clearance to enter the buffer zone and we proceeded to checkout the things we needed to.

The flight took enough time to allow the sun to melt off the ground fog we had to deal with earlier and we returned the navigator back to his airfield without having to deal with anymore fog. It wasn't quite as fun as picking him up, but I'm sure he had some tales to tell when he got back to his buddies who thought he'd never climb on board with those crazy americans who flew to their fog shrouded airfield.

It was a fun day...


Marathon HEMS Shift

I've been wanting to write another Tall Tale all day, but I've been foggy headed until now that it is almost midnight. I could and maybe should go to bed and hope tomorrow will be a better day, but I finally have the "can do" along with the "want to", so I think I'll strike while the iron is hot.

The July 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics found on the magazine stands now has an article starting on page 80 about "Why Medical Helicopters Keep Crashing" titled "Critical Condition" and referred to as unacceptable risk, a Popular Mechanics Investigation. I won't bother critiquing the article here and only brought it to your attention for those that may be interested in checking it out.

I first got involved in medical helicopter flying in the very early nineties. When I was working seismic and utility in the very early eighties 60 minutes ran a show featuring medical helicopter pilots who commonly did 72 hour shifts. The pilots were complaining about being tired all the time. My seismic mechanic referred to them as being a bunch of wusses. When I finally arrived on the HEMS scene 24 hour shifts were the norm, and it took 3 pilots to staff a base. When I finished in 2006 due to being medically grounded 12 hour shifts were the norm, and it took 4 pilots to staff a base. This tall tale is about the 3 pilot, 24 hour shift days.

Adequate crew rest is an important aspect of aviation safety. I've always taken it seriously and while I was flying I dearly protected my opportunity to get adequate rest, just ask my wife. Now that I'm no longer flying it is not nearly as big a deal any more, just ask my wife.

The 24 hour shifts worked around a 9 day cycle. I've heard it also called a Kelly Shift, and the link describes it best like this: Very popular with fire departments and emergency services agencies, the Kelly shift schedule uses three teams (i.e. platoons) and three shifts to provide 24/7 coverage. It consists of a 9-day cycle where each team works one 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off duty, works another 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off duty, then works a final 24-hour shift, followed by 4 consecutive days off duty. You can replace three teams with three pilots for the HEMS "Kelly Shift" situation.

Pilots working a Kelly Shift are required to have 8 consecutive hours of uninterrupted rest during their 24 hour shift. Uninterrupted rest was simply considered non-flying time. The 24 hour shift is divided into 3 eight hour periods, which set up several possibilities.

Possibility #1: The pilot reports for duty and does not do any flying in the first 8 hours. He or she is now good to complete the full 24 hours.

Possibility #2: The pilot flies in the first 8 hours. The pilot manages to not get any calls during the second 8 hours and subsequently has his or her 8 consecutive hours of uninterrupted rest, so he or she is now good to complete the full 24 hours and can accept flights in the last 8 hours.

Possibility #3: The pilot flies in the 1st 8 hours and in the 2nd 8 hours. He is now considered timed out and his relief pilot is called in 8 hours early without any extra pay back in those days. This pilot will now pull a 32 hour shift if the work load will allow him to get the required amount of uninterrupted rest. If he successfully pulls the full 32 hours the base is now back on track. As far as having to work an extra 8 hours with out pay... Well, the explained it in this manner: "you come in 8 hours early sometimes and you also get to go home 8 hours early sometimes, so by the law of averages it all balances out."

NOTE: a simple 30 minute flight bridging the 1st 8 hours and the second 8 hours legally times a pilot out so that they have to be relieved before the last 8 hours even if that is all the flying they do.

I had a 3 hour commute to the base I worked out of back in those days. A lot of pilots liked to call their relief pilot whenever it became apparent that it was likely they would time out as a courtesy to give them a heads up. Because of my three hour commute this practice didn't work too good for me. I always had my bag packed and ready to go before lying down to sleep. And, I always went to bed early enough so that I would awake with enough adequate rest even if I had to arrive 8 hours early.

I told the pilot I worked opposite to never to call me just to give me a heads up. I told him to just inform dispatch to call me three hours before I had to be there. This normally worked out well for me as long as "Murphy" didn't try to throw any flies in the ointment.

Our normal crew change was at 5pm or 1700 hours for the base this story revolves around. If the other pilot timed out crew change would be at 9am or 0900 hours. That meant I would get a 6am wakeup call so I could arrive 8 hours early without pay to cover a timeout situation.

The marathon HEMS shift I was about to do would be my first shift back after having 4 days off. I had been a little under the weather during this 4 days off, so I decided to go to bed at 9pm which would have given me a full 9 hours of sleep should the 6am wakeup call come because of a timeout situation.

After climbing in bed, I quickly fell sound asleep. It was one of the soundest sleeps I can remember. I was still quite soundly asleep when I heard the ringing of the phone penetrating my deep slumber pulling me back to the conscious world. My brain was already telling me that the other pilot had timed out. Adrenaline was preparing me for my 3 hour commute.

I answered the phone, "Hello".

Sure enough it was the other pilot, "Dave, this is Murphy."

I said, "Murphy? You timed out?"

He said, "No. I haven't timed out yet, but I've just got that feeling that I will and wanted to give you a heads up."

"Okay. Thanks. If you do time out, just tell dispatch to call me at 6.", I said.

He said, "Okay, bye".

I then looked at the clock. It was 11pm. I had been asleep for exactly 2 hours. For the entire rest of the night I lay on my bed staring at the clock. Sleep would not visit me again for a long, long time. It did not matter how much I wanted to sleep, it did not return.

Finally at 4am with only two hours left before I had to get up it was obvious that I was not going to get any more sleep, so I called dispatch to see if Murphy had indeed timed out. He did. I told dispatch that if he should call to ask them to give me a wakeup call to tell him I was already awake. Then I went ahead and got up. I had a nice shower. I then got a good breakfast and Jo awoke and we spent some quality time visiting before I had to leave.

I surprisingly felt pretty good during my 3 hour commute, and relieved Murphy the timeout king at the appropriate time. For some reason working opposite to Murphy things never did seem to balance out in the timing out department. After Murphy left I took care of my necessary duties to insure the aircraft was ready should we get a call.

I lay down and tried to get a nap in. Sleep wouldn't come. I went to bed early that night. Sleep wouldn't come. The flight phone didn't ring until just after 1am. I still had not slept, but I was now good to carry the shift all the way to the normal 5pm shift change time.

You could also timeout if you managed to get a solid 8 hours of flight time. I would come close, but not close enough to prevent me from finishing the shift at 5pm. I ended up flying a whole lot more than the little bit that timed Murphy out because he managed to fly a little in his 1st 8 hours and his 2nd 8 hours, but the way the rules were written I was good to go.

The Army put us through field problems where sleep was scarce and the men who flew in Vietnam did some crazy long hours when the situation required it.

The book "Chickenhawk" by Robert Mason is considered one of the best books describing the flying in Vietnam. I have no first hand experience over there, but Mason describes being so tired that they were bouncing the aircraft in on landings and just laughing about it. I read the book long ago and it might be time to give it another go. I've never got to where I couldn't land steady because of a lack of sleep. The biggest problem with an excessive lack of sleep is the effect it has on a person's judgment skills. When I'm foggy headed, my judgment skills are pretty poor and seem far worse than what I experienced during the marathon shift told here.

I never did get any sleep during that whole shift. We even had a PR (Public Relations) flight scheduled super close to shift change time. By then my eyes were so bloodshot I was embarrassed to take my sun glasses off. After being up all day the day before shift then only getting 2 sound hours of sleep before I was unnecessarily awakened, I was then out flying after being up for 42 straight hours by the end of my shift, but at least I had my 8 hours of uninterrupted rest.

In the helicopter industry "Uncle Sam" has long been considered the tooth fairy because he cranked out so many of us during the Vietnam Era that we are a dime a dozen. Bob Suggs the original owner of PHI once said he could drag up all the pilots he needs from the gutters of Bourbon Street. My salary when I first started EMS flying was less than 20K a year. When I became medically grounded in 2006 it was only 52K a year. It has been fun though for the most part and has provided a plethora of Tall Tales.

Well, I'm glad I managed to crank another tall tale out. Did I tell you how nice it is to have a clear head?


The actual other pilot's name has been changed to Murphy in honor of "Murphy's Law".