Monday, September 27, 2010

Jetcopters Part 3

November 10, 1983.  Jetcopters did a lot of charter flights for most of the law enforcement agencies in the State of California and also the U.S. government.  Jim Deeth our Chief Pilot called me into his office one morning to go over the flight details for a flight I was to do with the FBI.  The FBI had their own helicopters and pilots, but elected to use our helicopter for a special flight on this day.  The company allowed the FBI to use our aircraft, but also required that one of our pilots be on board  the flight.  I did not know the FBI pilot for this flight, but assumed that if the company trusted him, I could too, but with a watchful eye. Normally when I was not the pilot of the aircraft, but an observer, I did not give or offer advice to the pilot. I did not touch or operate any of the controls including the radios.  Even though I might have done things differently, I think one should respect the pilot in command.  Whenever I was acting as the pilot in command and I had another pilot sitting in the seat next to me, this is what I would expect.  If needed, I would ask for help.  I did watch for other aircraft during the flight and if the pilot asked for my assistance, I would do as asked.   We departed the Van Nuys airport and flew to the Banning,CA airport.  This airport was located between two large mountain ranges. San Gorgonio mountains to the north and San Jacintos mountains to the south.  The purpose of the flight was to take several hundred pounds of special electronic equipment to a location known as Snow Peak. It seems that President Reagan was going to be in Palm Springs, CA and this equipment was to be used for the presidents security.   Snow Peak was near 9000 feet above sea level.  This is not a normal environment to operate a helicopter.  Typically the higher you go, the performance of the helicopter is greatly reduced.  For this reason, I took it upon myself to do some mental calculations to determine that we could land safely at that altitude.  Oddly enough, the FBI pilot did not?

So it was necessary to determine the weight of the helicopter, which includes fuel, cargo,  pilot and passengers. Also it is necessary to know the approximate temperature at the altitude for the proposed landing site.  These preflight calculations will give you the expected performance of the helicopter at altitude.  The main concern would be to know you could make an approach and then be able to hover the helicopter in ground effect safely.  Supposedly this pilot was very experienced and had been to this location before.  I am still being casually watchful, but also did not want to give any unwanted advice to the FBI pilot.   After all it was their flight to do, and I was just an observer.  We met three FBI technicians at the airport and proceeded to load the equipment on to the helicopter.  In the beginning the planned load for this flight, would consist of the FBI pilot, myself, one FBI technician and the electronic cargo. This would be our takeoff configuration.  At the last minute, the FBI pilot elected to take the other two FBI people.  Again, he is the pilot in command, so I will keep my opinions to myself. We sure didn't need the extra weight at that altitude.  We departed the Banning airport and climbed to an altitude of 9500 feet.  As we began our approach for landing, I am looking at the side of a mountain, but I do not see a place for us to land.  We continued the approach and I'm still looking. I am beginning to feel very uneasy and I can see the  pilot is not looking too sure of himself.  We continue closer to the mountain terrain and I notice that we are exceeding  the engine torque limits, the turbine outlet temperature is at the red line and we are losing rotor RPM.  This is all happening at once and I haven't got a clue of what his intentions are.   We were drifting into the side of the mountain and had lost directional control of the aircraft, which in turn was causing the aircraft to rotate to the right.  Also the aircraft was settling to the ground at the same time.  Now I am certain we are going to crash. At that same moment, the FBI pilot turned to me and casually said, "you got it".  Which means he was relinquishing control of the aircraft to me.  I had no idea of what was below the helicopter or if the ground was suitable for landing.  I had no other choice but to land the helicopter the best I could,  knowing we would probably roll down the side of the mountain.  This helicopter was not going to remain in the air much longer, considering the flight conditions we had.  I lowered the collective control, which controls the vertical movement of the helicopter in a hover.  I could not make any choices now and I had to go with what we had.  Luck was on my side, the helicopter settled to the ground and remained upright on slightly unlevel ground.  Needless to say, I am really angry with having been put into this situation.  After we off loaded the cargo and the three FBI passengers in the rear of the aircraft, the helicopter would be much lighter and our takeoff would not be a problem.  I told the two extra people that got on the aircraft at the last minute. they could get out now.  They replied, that they just came along for the ride and would be returning with us to the Banning airport.  I would guess that the two of them would have weighed together around 350-400 pounds. The ordeal we had just gone through, would have been much different without them on the aircraft .  At this point, I had used up all my patience and told the FBI pilot, that I would fly the aircraft for the remainder of the flight.  When I got back to Jetcopters, I walked into Jim Deeth's office and closed the door.  I then expressed my displeasure with having been put in that situation.  I also told him I would quit Jetcopters, if ever I was asked to babysit any more of the government's pilots. As I am writing this post today and also looking through my pilot's log book.  I noticed that I made this comment in the remarks section for this flight. THIS ONE ALMOST ATE MY LUNCH!  More on Jetcopters in the next post. . . . . . .

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