Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jetcopters Part 5

During the 1984 Olympics, which was held in Los Angeles, CA, Jetcopters had helicopters assigned to every domestic and international news and sports television networks.  We had the only downtown heliport, which was located within walking distance of the Coliseum.  I personally worked on the heliport approval for several weeks and in the beginning, it did not look to hopeful that the FAA would give us permission to use the site.
In the end, we got the nod to make our takeoff's and landings in the temporary heliport, which was a parking lot.

1984 Olympics opening ceremony 

I was assigned to an ABC television sports network out of New York for the seven day event. The Los Angeles and Orange county airspace was highly restricted and you could hardly fly anywhere in the city without being over one of the Olympic events. The Los Angeles police helicopter unit developed a special coding system, with an encryption guide that we used everyday for making entry into these areas.

This was the year that the Russians boycotted the Olympics for security reasons.  Before the Olympic events began, I made a special flight with a presidential team, which consisted of several  military generals and admirals to review all of the event venues to evaluate security.  We also had on board the helicopter an FBI agent to narrate all the security for each area.   In the end, the Russians, still did not come to Los Angeles.  I think in the beginning, it was thought,  there would be several terrorist actions, but nothing happened.  I was scheduled to fly at least 21 hours minimum during the entire time of the Olympics, in the end, I flew about 10 hours.

 I was scheduled to fly three passengers from the Van Nuys, CA airport to a location on the high desert called, Willow Springs raceway.  This was  30 miles north of Palmdale, CA  My passengers were Danny Sullivan, winner of the 1985 Indy 500, in his famous spin to win the race in the final laps, singers, Christopher Cross and John Denver.
Danny Sullivan had arranged for them to try out a couple of exotic Lamborghini Countouch sports cars for the day.

Danny Sullivan, kneeling, John Denver, seated, Christopher Cross, background
click to enlarge

I have always been a big fan of auto racing and also I enjoyed the music of John Denver.
I really had a nice day watching these neat cars race around the road course and enjoyed visiting with John Denver.

This was one of the perks of working for Jetcopters.  They seemed to have a lock on flying all the celebrities from both Hollywood and the entertainment world.

More Jetcopters on the next post. . . . . . . .

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jetcopters-NASA Part 4

While I was still working at Jetcopters, I got a call from one of the Los Angeles Federal Aviation Administration office's, requesting that I do some experimental test flights for NASA.  No, I wasn't selected to be an astronaut for a flight to the moon.  Although I must admit, if asked, I would sure do it.  The following week, I reported to the NASA Ames Research Center, which was located at Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA.  This was an old U.S. Navy blimp base.  During the early part of WWII, they hangered airships that were used for defense observation along the Pacific coast of the United States.  One of the interesting things about this facility, is that the blimp hanger still remains.  Back in the 1930's they used this building to hangar the Navy airships Macon and Akron. 

U.S. Airship Macon Moffett Field  click to enlarge

 The Blimp hangar is now being used by NASA  click to enlarge

The purpose of these experimental flights was to evaluate a new technique for making instrument approaches in helicopters.  Just a short history lesson regarding instrument flight in helicopters.
Years ago, when instrument flight was first developed.  The rules and procedures pretty much pertained to airplanes only.  This was mainly because most helicopters then and still today, are not equipped for instrument flight.  Also when these conditions (IMC) instrument meteorological conditions, existed, helicopters could usually operate in special (VFR) visual flight rules and operated in non controlled airspace and also with permission from the controlling agencies, they could enter controlled airspace, again this would be with special flight conditions.  As time went on, more and more helicopters are now able to operate in these weather conditions and also make instrument approaches for landing at airports around the country.

That's me on the far right along with two other NASA pilots click to enlarge

Typically, when an aircraft gets into the airport environment and is going to make an instrument approach for landing,  The approach begins at a designated point and descends along a very shallow flight path to the airport.  Usually at an approach angle of about 4 to 5 degrees.  This enables the aircraft to descend at a very low rate.  At the point where the approach ends, the pilots should be able to see the runway landing system and make his landing visually.  This would be called the decision height.  Usually around 200 feet above the ground, lower in some cases.  If the pilot does not see the runway or approach lights, he aborts the landing and goes around for another attempt.

Here I am at the controls of a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, these were used in the Vietnam war click to enlarge

Our test flights were to evaluate instrument approaches utilizing a much steeper flight path, up to 12 to 15 degrees on the approach. This would produce a higher rate of descent. Also to see if the pilot could react quick enough as t0 not  sag through the decision height before hitting the ground on an attempted go around.  I spent a week at NASA doing these flights.  I have no idea of why this concept was being tested or if it every was used.  Maybe in a military application, but I doubt it would every be used for civilian use.  Another adventure in the career of a helicopter pilot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some explanations to the previous post

Several of my friends are following this blog, and from time to time I may get a call from one of them, asking a question or for an explanation of some of the events that may have occurred during my career as a helicopter pilot.  Recently I received a call from one of my best friends, Ron Green who lives in Kansas City, MO regarding the flight described in the previous post.  He brought up some good points and ones that I should have considered at the time.  Which I did later, but sometimes later is too late?

click to enlarge

Over the years, their has been a tradition in the aircraft cockpit amongst pilot's about the pilot in command. He is in charge of the flight and all decisions regarding the flights operation will be made by the PIC.  Kind of like the captain of a ship.  On this particular flight the FBI had chartered the aircraft and requested to use their own pilot to act as PIC. I was requested to go on this flight to act as an observer to comply with the companies requirements.  Because of the nature of the flight and the fact that it involved the presidents security, I choose not to ask  too many questions or to interfere with the operation of this flight.  Jetcopters was a fast growing company and was pursuing the business of many government agencies.  We were doing flights for the DEA, CIA,FBI and the IRS.  For that reason I did not want to add anything negative that might reflect on future business.

Ron's questions , and I might add,  very good ones, is why didn't the FBI pilot do more prior planning on his part before starting out on a flight with marginal flight conditions.  Why did he elect to take two additional passengers that did not have a purpose during this flight?

I really don't know and could only guess.  It may be that on prior flights he had not encountered any difficulties and that he assumed that this flight would be pretty much the same.

Out of professional courtesy to the FBI pilot involved I have omitted his name.  Like myself, I know he will never forget this flight and the mention of his name, serves no useful purpose.

I would also not give myself credit for saving five lives and a million dollar helicopter.  I should have offered some more helpful suggestions prior to the flight and maybe taken control of the helicopter while it was still in it's performance envelope.  I do take credit for having made  poor decisions on my part.

Most helicopter flight activity is done in a sea level environment or at much lower levels above sea level.  The margin for error when flying a helicopter, my old flight instructor Jerry Getz used to say, is ZERO.  But when the conditions are not extreme such as the 9500 feet of altitude we were operating at,  some errors or conditions of flight can be recovered before disaster strikes.  Sometimes a situation is allowed to go to the limit, then a more experienced pilot  could take over the flight controls and recover the aircraft to a normal flight condition.  This has happened to me many times in my days as a flight instructor.  So I learned from this flight experience and the outcome was uneventful.  Ron, thank you for asking.  Back to Jetcopters in the next post.........................