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Location:Texas, USA Naturalized US Citizen of Irish extract -   Fixed Wing and Helo trucker.Interests: "The Absurdity of Man". I am a proud supporter of Blarney, Nonsense, and Hooey. I enjoy being a chopper jockey, and trying to figure the world, people and belief systems out. I'm just not very good at it, so it keeps me real busy. I scribble, blog, run this website, mess with rental houses, ride motorbikes, and read as much as I can. I went solo 44 years ago, and I like to say I'm gonna get me a real job one day. When I grow up. ("but not just yet, Lord, not just yet") For my aviation scribbles see www.chopperstories.com.... enjoy! I wish you Peace in your Life. May you always walk with the sun on your face, and a breeze ruffling your hair. And may you cherish a quiet wonder for our awesome Universe. Life isn't always good. But it is always fascinating. Never quit.
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A Blip on the Radar (part 1) "Staying with the Herd"
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A Blip on the Radar (part 1) "Staying with the Herd"
(this one bounced off a single phrase in the review by Tara Shannon on my story "If you're good...")




credits:  Vangelis, "Ask the Mountains"
(YouTube)






                   A BLIP ON THE RADAR

(Part 1:   Staying with the Herd)


  "What do you do for a living?"
It's a valid question, as we all trudge our way meekly or otherwise through this vale of.... of... flowers. Some people plan careers, and stick to that plan their entire working lives. Some even stay in the same place. That must be nice. I wouldn't know. I'm not like that.
I get restless...
I'm just a blip on the radar, that shows up unexpectedly, and frequently unwanted,in different places...

Some people have ordinary, hum-drum, safe and sensible jobs. They like it that way. That, also, must be nice sometimes.  
Me?  Oh....You don't want to know...
I spent five years flying helicopters off Taiwanese and Korean tuna boats.
Yes. Flying-helicopters-off-tuna-boats. All over the Pacific Ocean.
Why?  I guess it seemed like a good idea....
If... you're interested, I'll tell you the story.
I'll shut up, if you're not. And go away. Disappear off your scope...
Just be sure to tell me, ya hear....?

Five years....That's fairly unusual. Many pilots only sign up for one six month tour. Many of those don't complete that tour. They quit in disgust, or they get fired.
Or, not infrequently, they crash and die. I talked with some ex Vietnam pilots who commented ruefully that the accident rate amongst tuna helicopters was higher than Vietnam. That at first glance alarming statement does in fact bear up to scrutiny.  It's a combination of adverse factors. For instance, a lot of the maintenance takes place out at sea. This puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the field mechanic. Who may not be that experienced. Or that familiar with type. The way a helicopter works, you had better spot a hairline crack in some vital component or structure at the very early stage.
If you don't...
that flaw will propagate very quickly indeed. When you're talking vibrations, you're up against a dramatic exponential progression.
2...4...8....16...............32.............64!!     Ccrrrrrrack!
I once heard a Hansen Helicopters pilot, real cool character, remark over the radio to his buddy that he thought he had a small vibration. A few minutes later, he said he was turning back to his ship as a precautionary measure. Dead cool. A minute after that, in the same tone of voice, he was asking for his buddy to get the hell over there, because he was 'going in the water- NOW!'.
Boom. That fast.
The supply of spare parts was another problem. It could take weeks and weeks for a much needed spare part to arrive, via another fishing vessel. Or maybe via the Phillippines, from Guam, through Fiji, to some port in... Papua New Guinea.
Where you might be going. Depending on the catch. The customer. And the freezer container ship, which might or might not be going to...somewhere else.
The Solomon Islands maybe. Or Easter Island. Nauru. Truk. Rabaul. Tarawa. Madang...
Heck, you might be going just about...anywhere.  It was only human nature to push the limits...a little. To try and please the captain, and keep the show on the road. Just soldier on with the tail rotor gearbox... making a bit of metal. Not really....much. Just...a little bit. Showing up on the magnetic chip detector. But... it'll be all right.
And of course, next thing....
Another problem was simply the nature of what we did.  Just about anything. Long range searches. Fifty, sixty, seventy miles.  With your mothership long since disappeared over the horizon.... five hundred miles or a thousand miles from land....
and not a soul around, not a ship, nothing.... believe me, it get's interesting.
It gives you a whole new understanding of being alone...
We did emergency medical runs. Injured crew members. Shopping trips.  Take the captain to go visit his buddies and go gambling mid-ocean. Herding...

A lot of the captains liked us to herd the fish. Herd? Like cattle? Yes, kind of...
It involved keeping the fish inside the net, whilst it was still open, and slowly closing.
As the nets would sink down, to a depth of one hundred, one hundred and fifty, two hundred feet.... and as the ship would play out the nets, steaming around in a huge circle.... the fish, understandably, would often try and swim out.If they decided to go under the nets, you were, technically speaking, goosed.
Unless you wanted to go play submarine. (People actually did, often enough, but not intentionally.) If, however, the teeming mass of thousands of fish, the so-called foamer, stayed at or close to the surface, now you had a chance. As the foamer headed for the exits,you, the crazy helicopter pilot, could could screaming in, and hover noisily just ahead of the leading tuna.  If you hung close above the water, typically four to six feet, and pedal turned furiously, causing the tail rotor pitch to change constantly, in a high pitched, teeth grinding yowl, then.... you had a fair to good chance of turning the 'leaders' around. They would then swim back into the slowly encircling nets. If only one leader got out past the helicopter....you were done. The rest would follow, nose to tail... Just like humans.
You could watch them, hovering only feet above them, but there was nothing more you could do, except watch and enjoy the sight of a worthy, beautiful quarry escaping to swim another day... If you were really fast, you could keep the leaders in, and you could hold them all in.  But you had to be mobile. Because no sooner had you stopped them from crossing the line in one place, than they would be trying to break out at another spot fifty meters up the line. The speedboats couldn't keep up with a determined foamer trying to break out. Only a helicopter, flown by a dervish, wheeling, tail spinning, and moving like greased lightning,  could often save the day. And make the difference between a three hundred thousand dollar profitable afternoon versus a big fat zero.  With the Taiwanese captain, after three weeks of sailing maybe... and not a single fish caught, more than emotional. Over the radio. Screaming hysterically. My nickname was "Moggy".  In Korean, it means "mosquito". Kind of apt, I guess.
All I would get was:
"Moggy-Moggy-Moggy!!!....
behind you!!!...Gott!...Gott!.....Moggy!!....towline....go to towline....Moggy!!!
Come to back of ship! Come to shipppppp!!!....Moggy-Moggy....
                 feeshh get out...!!.....Aaaaahhhh!!!!
   
It got pretty intense. It was wonderful if you liked to fly...  After some of the lumbering big 21 seat helicopters I previously flew, or rather, just drove along... You could handle a nippy light helicopter like a turbine powered Hughes 500... and make it go like the ultimate teenager stunt motorcycle.



I used to spin-drive 'em just for the sheer fun of it. 'Spin-drive' means flying in a straight line whilst spinning around the vertical axis continually through 360 degrees. A bit like a kid's toy, I guess. Maybe exactly like a kid's toy...The problem was, at those low altitudes, you couldn't afford any mistakes. Additionally, huge rolling waves would come through. It was nothing to find yourself performing this low level air show in remarkably lousy weather. The captains would 'make a set' even in borderline gale force conditions. If they were desperate enough. Now you would find yourself well below the top of the waves, fighting to keep the foamer inside, whilst trying to keep an eye on that next big roller coming in behind you.  You can't do both... at the same time. So in practise, you would mentally time the seconds before that next big one was going to get you. With a couple of seconds to go, you'd kick hard left, check the wave, haul up collective lever, lift over the swell, and back down the other side to go back to what you were doing.
And again. And again. Hundreds of times...
It probably looked suicidally crazy. And many, many were the pilots who accidentally stuck their tail rotors into an unfriendly wave. Instant catastrophe...  
Hasta la vista!
I knew one guy who had crashed and been underwater three times. That can't be any fun. Swimming out from a drowning helicopter with enthusiasm, I'd bet... But his captain, the honorable customer, liked him... so his company, well, they would just... give him another four hundred thousand dollar helicopter.... and off they would jolly well go...





I simply...enjoyed it.  Raw nature at its best. The chase..., the hunt, the handling, the salt spray, the turbine howling, and the feeling of the controls in my hands, and the pressure of the pedals on my feet..  Fish jumping... Speedboats criss-crossing in frantic haste. The smell of the sea, jet fuel burning, adventure, and excitement...
And the awareness, the constant, striving awareness, of where the next wave was coming up behind me, of how much fuel I had left, of where the fish were, of how much power I was pulling, and where the wind was coming from, and how effective my tailrotor was given that power setting, that wind direction, that wind strength, and that rate of pedal turn... All of which varied of course continually. And I would weave, and bob, and jink, and race a hundred meters in a frantic dash, pedal turn violently, lift up over a wave, and then... do it all over again...
Throwing up masses amounts of salt spray, that I would spend hours afterwards clearing off....  to prevent corrosion.
With the cockpit doors removed, I would literally taste the salt as I got hosed from time to time. Sometimes I could see little rainbows appear and disappear... in the spray outside my windscreen.     
I once, after a particularly hectic session in appalling weather conditions, got a call to go to the bridge. The pilot on a nearby American ship, the Martinac, wanted to speak to me. Wondering what the problem was, I called him up. His voice, crackling and tinny in that peculiar 'transmitted way', spoke volumes:
"Hey Buddy! My name's Dave! Just wanted to say hello... This is my first fishing trip, but I've been flying helicopters for near thirty years.... Just wanted to say I ain't ever seen anything quite like that show you just put on!.... I reckon that was one of the best pieces of helicopter flying I've ever seen, either that...or you are...

... the craziest, dumbest motherfucker I've ever met....!"

   Mmmm... I knew he had a point. I wasn't the only one that flew that way.
A lot us long timers did. Some guys, a few, had been out there for twelve to fifteen years.
We knew what we were doing. None of us wanted to ever crash.
Too damn dangerous...
The whole thing was....
It was a drug. Kinda crazy. Kinda fun.... See the world. Bury the past. Move along...
A lot of guys like that.  

And then of course... there were the unexpected weather changes...

that's when things got REALLY wild...   





Francis Meyrick.
      (c)


Return to Index? (ChopperStories.COM)?  

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on October 27, 2012, 10:13 pm
We little humans, hurtling through the Universe on our tiny, pale blue dot, will find few answers to Life's great mysteries. But we should at least find many of the questions. To write is to ask. To seek. To grope. With humility, and humor. Peace.
 
storylover

The photos are amazing. I gather this is all auto-biographical.

Well, the style of writing: I didn't like it in one sense.
It's certainly not in any danger of being described as a literary master piece. However, it does convey the movement, the excitement, and a certain mood. And it does that very well.

"I simply...enjoyed it. Raw nature at its best. The chase..., the hunt, the handling, the salt spray, the turbine howling, and the feeling of the controls in my hands, and the pressure of the pedals on my feet.. Fish jumping... Speedboats criss-crossing in frantic haste. The smell of the sea, jet fuel burning, adventure, and excitement...
And the awareness, the constant, striving awareness, of where the next wave was coming up behind me, of how much fuel I had left, of where the fish were, of how much power I was pulling, and where the wind was coming from, and how effective my tailrotor was given that power setting, that wind direction, that wind strength, and that rate of pedal turn... All of which varied of course continually. And I would weave, and bob, and jink, and race a hundred meters in a frantic dash, pedal turn violently, lift up over a wave, and then... do it all over again..."

It's written in such a way that I, a lay person, can understand most of it, in return for a small effort on my part. Whether or not most readers would be willing to make that small effort, I don't know.

The music by the way, was somehow very fitting. I listened to the music while I was reading the story. Good.


"The longest journey starts with but a single step"
(Old Chinese proverb)
Posted on Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 20:02:37

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