2020 TO DATE:
As you know, our safety record for 2019 was the best it has been in the 10 years I have been tracking it. And, as I stated in last month’s issue, 2020 started off almost exactly like 2019, with a crash in which a passenger was fatality injured, but the pilot survived.
On Friday, April 24, while watching the local Phoenix news, I saw the report of the helicopter crash down in Mesa. Unfortunately, there was a fatality, the passenger, and at last report, the pilot was in the hospital. His status is unknown as I write this article. We wish him a speedy recovery. A witness to the crash was able to capture the final minute of flight on his cell phone. No doubt the NTSB already has that. Now, I make no claim to be an accident investigator, but it looks to me like the tail rotor failed, causing the loss of control resulting in the crash. The newscast showed the tail rotor some distance from the actual crash site, and as we all know, helicopters are not controllable without one. I am sure the NTSB will look at every inch of the tail rotor assembly and the maintenance logs in an attempt to determine the actual cause of the crash.
This is only the 2nd crash so far this year, and both accidents resulted in the death of a passenger, although this crash was a little different from the 1st one. The passenger in the helicopter was a highly skilled professional helicopter pilot, a well known news chopper pilot from the Los Angeles area with lots of hours in helicopters, and the go-to guy when it came to helicopter knowledge and flight experience in the LA basin. He will be missed…
A quick review of the NTSB website only showed the January fatal accident. The NTSB should have the preliminary report on this helicopter crash posted soon, and I will report on that in the next issue of the newsletter. With only two accidents involving fatalities so far this year, we are doing quite well statistically speaking, but we need to remain even more vigilant when we finally do go fly. A lack of flight time because of the coronavirus stay-at-home policy will certainly show up as a lack of proficiency, and we all need to be aware of that probability. It will NOT be a possibility, but a real probability! Some of us are able to maintain that proficiency and justify flying during the stay-at-home policy; we are out there doing mercy missions, like Flights for Life blood transportation, Angel Flights, hospital supply support, etc., but with very strict precautions. Life has not stopped, only changed, and we need to make sure we all get through these very trying times as safely as possible.
Kudos Section –
Going flying, escaping into the wild blue yonder, is a great way to enjoy quarantine. If you take your wife or a friend with you, don’t forget masks, and wipe down your controls, avionics knobs, door handles and your headset mic’s…
Oh crap, how much is this gonna cost??
So, if you remember from last month’s story, there we were, at the Vichy/Rolla International Airport in good ol’ southwest Missouri, with a dead battery and/or a major electrical issue, and with NO maintenance on the field. We were in the middle of nowhere, or at least very close to it, with Kelly asking me, “Oh Captain, my Captain, what are we gonna do?”
Fortunately, there was ONE person on the airport. An older gentleman (here after referred to as the “old timer”) was manning the FBO, and I use that term loosely. He explained there was NO maintenance on, or available at, the airport, and the nearest airport with reputable maintenance was Columbia, 46 miles up the road. Hmmm, this could become very interesting!
So, I came up with a plan. (I always have a plan or two running in the back of my brain – it never stops!). If we could just jump the battery and get the airplane started, we could fly up to Columbia, land, and get the airplane fixed on Monday. Ok, the plan. First thing on the agenda was to call the control tower at Columbia, explain my dilemma and see if I could arrange a NORDO entry into their airspace and land. I needed to find the phone number of the tower; however, the FBO did not have an Airport/Facility Directory, old or new, nor any listing for the tower at Columbia. Not a problem for an old Flight Service guy like me! Plan B: I simply called Flight Service on the 800 number and got St. Louis Flight Service on the line. They readily provided me the phone number. Good old Flight Service came through for me again! The control tower supervisor answered the phone on the 3rd ring. I explained my dilemma and asked if I could arrange a NORDO entry into their airspace and land. “No problem at all,” said the supervisor, “Just give me your N number, type and color of aircraft, the direction you are coming from and an approximate ETA.” I readily provided him with all the information he asked for except for the approximate ETA. I told him I would call him back with the ETA when, and if, I got the airplane started. Again, “Not a problem,” said the supervisor ”and good luck getting it started.” COOL! Step one of my plan completed.
Now, picture a scene right out of the Keystone cops. In order to jump start the airplane, we needed jumper cables, which I do not carry in the airplane. Naturally, I asked the old timer at the desk if, by chance, he might have jumper cables in his pickup truck, handily parked right outside. “YUP,” he replied, “Always carry them out here; never know when you might need ‘em.” OK, now we had cables. “Hmmm,” I said to myself, wondering if they were long enough to reach from his truck to my battery. He thought so. We looked under the truck’s hood, and lucky us, the battery was located right up in the front left corner of the engine compartment, so we could get his truck close enough for the cables to reach.
Now, another interesting fact about the Bellanca Super Viking and the battery access: The battery is located under the floor in the baggage compartment and is relatively easy to access, unless, of course, the baggage compartment is chock-a-block full of baggage, which it was. When Kelly and I travel in the Viking, I always put the luggage in the back, instead of the rear seats, to balance out the CG. The Viking tends to be a little nose heavy with only the front seats occupied, so putting something way in the back of the luggage compartment helps to keep the CG closer to center. With just Kelly and me in the airplane, I almost always tanker fuel in the aux tank, conveniently located right behind the rear seat.
Now, to access the battery box to hook up the cables, we had to unload the baggage compartment. That was easy, but presented another problem. I had to be in the airplane to start it, which left Kelly, the old timer, and all the luggage outside the airplane! Not the best solution, so I relocated all the luggage onto the back seats. I figured it wasn’t a problem. I could compensate the CG shift with a little trim. Then I raised up and proped open the floor of the luggage area, opened the battery box and put all the hardware back in the ski tube compartment for safe keeping. Fortunately, the old timer was very familiar with jumping batteries – us old guys know all that stuff – so I briefed him on the starting process, how and when to disconnect the cables, and how to close the baggage compartment floor once the engine was running. Unfortunately, Kelly needed to remain outside the airplane to make sure all was done, i.e., the truck moved safely away from the airplane and the baggage door locked – all the while standing in the prop blast. What a trooper!!
Good ol’ 541 fired right up, like she knew she was going to get fixed and was ready to go. Kelly, out there in the prop blast, bless her heart, did her part, locked the baggage door, climbed up on the wing walk and into the airplane, latched her door, buckled in, put on her headset, and with a big smile (and very wind-blown hair) said, “Columbia, here we come!” I punched up Columbia Tower on my cell phone, advised the supervisor we were departing, confirmed the arrival procedures and the runway in use, said “thanks for the great service,” and off we went. However, “off we went” was rather slower than cruise, with the gear still hanging down and power back, making sure we didn’t exceed gear extended speed.
About 10 miles out, I turned on all the lights out of habit, then remembered, “I ain’t got no electrics,” so I turned everything back off! I don’t remember the exact runway in use anymore, but it was a southwesterly orientation and we were coming from the south. It was a perfect set up for a 45 entry into the left downwind, which we did. I waggled the wings aggressively, saw the steady green light from the tower cab, and just made a nice normal no-flap landing. As we rolled down the runway towards the taxiway that the supervisor had previously suggested I turn off on, Kelly looked at me and asked, “Why are all those fire trucks following us down the runway?”
Tune in next month to see how all this turned out…