Thursday, May 25, 2006

Warning: Old Navy Helo Pilot story ahead...

Tragically, it's not mine. One of Jarrod's animator homies, Kent Lidke, used to fly helicopters for the Navy. In Antarctica. It is one of those jobs that is actually even more badass than it sounds, as Kent's stories attest. This one's a gem. Many thanks to Kent for letting me post it. I'll pester him for more.

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Warning: Old Navy Helo Pilot story ahead...

Back in the day, we flew some GPS surveyor guys from the New Zealand Geological Survey up to some unknown peak down on the ice. 60 kt winds, gusting to 80, the friggin' helo wanted to lift off at idle. They needed something like 45 minutes to an hour to get the precision they were looking for, so we shut down, and they climbed up the last 50 or a hundred yards to the top of the peak to set up their gear. After about an hour and 15 minutes, I finally decided I better go see what was up, so I pulled on my Korean War surplus Arctic parka over all the stuff I was already wearing, goggled up and climbed out. The wind would've just about blown me off the mountain, so I more or less crawled up to where they were. By the time I got there, my face was so frozen I couldn't talk clearly, so I had to gesture at my wrist and shrug in order to say "How much longer?" They said they needed about 15 more minutes, so I crawled back down to about 50 feet from the bird and curled up in the lee side of a rock to smoke a cigarette, more for the challenge and to kill time than anything else. The zippo lighter, contrary to claims, will not light in all circumstances, but the survival matches did the trick, and I sat on the side of a mountain in Antarctica no one had ever walked on before, smoking a cigarette in an 80 knot wind.

Anyway, after a while the guys crawled down from the peak and we all climbed into the helo. According the airspeed indicator, winds were still 60 to 80 kts. The book says the wind limits for starting up are 45 kts. Fortunately, in a completely unrelated chapter, the book also says the airspeed indicator is unreliable below 70 knots, so we decided it was fair to say that we didn't KNOW the winds were over 45, and hit the starter. Well, the damn thing was so cold soaked that the first engine wouldn't start, but the starter motor already had the rotors turning a little and if we didn't spin them up quick the wind would probably flap them right into the tailboom, so we flipped the starter over to the other engine hoping the battery wasn't dead yet. That engine lit, but hung up and didn't make it all the way to idle speed because half the fuel manifold was frozen shut. I opened the throttle wider, hoping if I let it run for a couple minutes the fuel lines would thaw out, and that when they did the sudden fuel surge wouldn't blow the engine up. Sure enough, after a couple a minutes there was a whump of compressor stall and a whine as the engine tried to overspeed, but we caught it with the throttle. After that getting the second engine started was easy, and all we had to do was manage to take off in a blizzicane.

We lifted off with the stick shoved almost all the way forward and still ended up backing out of the lz, and once we had a little room pulled the stick back to center. It was like popping a big parachute, 0 to 80 in no seconds with a right roll to get turned around in the direction we were going and diving down the mountain like Franz Klammer to try to pick up some airspeed to go with our ground speed. It seemed totally insane but it worked like a charm.

I would do that every day of the week and twice on Sunday if I could. That was a great f'ing day.

I would sincerely like to thank you all for paying me to do stuff like that.

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See ya. I'm off to be a helicopter pilot in Antartica. *Sigh*

In lieu of going to fly a helicopter myself, I will seriously bug Kent to let me put up his awesome post on how flying a helicopter in Antarctica is like being a real-life space explorer. It's possibly the most badass thing I've ever read. Stay tuned, true believers.

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