You're out in it, living and breathing with the environs you pass through, not hiding behind safety glass and air-conditioning. Today on the ride home I smelled a dead cat (confirmed with a visual), chocolate cookies baking, fresh asphalt from the patch in the road, another dead cat (see above), and plumeria flowers in bloom.
It was a dark and stormy night. Peanuts fans know that Snoopy always bangs that phrase out on his typewriter. Mr. Schultze's beagle gives homage to Edward Bulwer-Lytton. That's the opening line to what many consider the worst piece of fiction ever written, there's even a bad fiction contest named after him. What does that have to do with helicopters? Nothing except that Corbin took his three students out for a drink last night to celebrate. Each passed a check ride this week. A CFII, one CFI, and a PPL. I chose a rum and ginger beer concoction called a dark and stormy. It's a refreshing libation but I bet if you spent an entire evening consuming them, the drink name would be a good description for your commode come morning.
The check ride is a two part evaluation; a 2 hour oral exam followed by the practical exam. I felt pretty prepared for the oral because I've been studying with the big kids (potential CFI's) for the past few weeks. And I spent a bunch of time writing key things over and over. Turns out all that trouble I got in through the elementary years was worth it. Tangent alert. I got caught doing something stupid (no idea anymore what it was) and Mrs. Kluetch assigned me to write something 500 times as homework. That night my dad showed me how to tape pencils together to write two lines at a time. Nine-year-olds think their dads are the smartest men in the world. That night convinced me that I had the coolest dad as well. O.K. back to the front.
Early on Corbin suggested that I spend some of my free time writing various things over and over to make them stick. Do them until you have it verbatim, then once a week after that. Occasionally he would give me a new paragraph or what ever as we went along or he'd randomly ask me to give him the definition of land as soon as practical to make sure I was keeping up with my studies.
It's a super boring way to study but I got the pay off in the oral exam. Question number 1: Tell me everything you know about the rotor system on the R-22. Deep breath. Rattle off: The R-22 has a semi-rigid, deep under-slung rotor system with modified coning hinges. Two symmetrical blades of D-spar construction with stainless steel leading edges, aluminum skins, and aluminum honeycomb. The blades cover 25' 2" and have a 7.2" chord. Pause to inhale. Examiner raises his hand to stop me, O.K., O.K. that's enough, good job. Part of me was all, right on and part of me was fuck off dude, I ain't done, I haven't mentioned the 8 degree twist.
The wind socks stiffened nicely while we were inside. 18 gusting 24. For sure the limits of my ability. The practical exam is a list of maneuvers that you must perform within a certain standard, example: the student will maintain a hover height of +/-2 ft, a heading of 10 degrees, and be within four feet on pivot turns. Well shit, I can do everything maneuver-wise but flying is like skiing, you can tell what kind of day you're gonna have on the first turn.
My first turn was good, I felt loose and relaxed. I banged out a quick-stop (that one took me a while to learn) on take-off. Immediately into the auto rotation. I've never done one into that kind of breeze before so I didn't know how far I would glide but its +/- 200 feet for the private standards so really all you need to do is not scare the examiner to death and you'll pass.
He got out his red pen (it really was red) and scribbled a bunch. He looked over and said, don't worry this is just for the debrief. Remember what I said inside, each maneuver is pass/fail and I'll tell you right away if you failed so no news is good news. Now show me a shallow approach to North Lima.
That was a beautiful shallow approach, nice job on the power management. But this is North Charlie. Check ride nerves, relax, you're doing fine.
We ended with my nemesis, the slope landing. Luckily the wind was still nice and gusty so hovering was a bitch, much less landing one skid at a time. I approached the slope and yawed to and fro while I tried to keep her steady. I started a descent then pulled in power, announced I was starting over and backed away from the slope. The examiner said, remember movement is stability. Just set it down.
So I did. Then I picked up and he instructed me to ask Tower for a full stop. Shit did I fail? Must have, cuz we haven't done a governor off landing yet. O.K. Shane, I'm satisfied. Your ground knowledge is impressive and your flying is right where it should be at this level. You don't have any bad habits that need correcting. Congratulations. Really? Yeah, really.
Well, I stepped outside this morning and saw my shadow. It startled me, so I ran back inside to ponder six more weeks of highs in the low 80's. Frightening, but I'll make it. So I've met all the requirements set by the FAA to take the practical exam for private pilot. Including a solo cross-country flight involving landings at three airports. Corbin and I flew the exact route the day before per FAA regs. We bounced a bit on the leg up the coast to Upolu. It's on the northeast tip of the island and subject to the sea breeze from the west and the trade winds which usually blow northeasterly. Some of the trade winds get over the top of a ridge line called the Kohalas. Mixing wind speeds and directions mean the captain just illuminated the fasten seat belt sign in a big plane. In an R-22 it can mean changes in altitude of tens or twenties of feet per second, constant strain on your seat belt, and a heli that generally feels like it's flying you.
What are you supposed to do in that situation? Probably speed up and get the hell out of there, right? Nope. Slow down, hang out, try to keep the ship straight and level. Oh yeah and it's time to change radio frequencies. So take your eyes off the road (so to speak), fix the radio, halfway thru check outside and make sure you're still an agreeable distance from that mountain, back inside finish dialing in WKRP, exhale.
We did a couple of landings at Upolu then it was off to Waimae. The air was a little smoother but not much cuz Waimae lies (or lays, I never remember that rule) between the Kohalas and Mauna Kea, at 13,796', the highest point in the Big Island, so wind naturally flows through that opening before going over the top of either obstacle.
The Upolu leg is much more beautiful with its steep hills, coastline and sparse population. But Waimae has a highway to follow all the way and a couple of golf courses. Which while not as ascetic, offer some sweet crash landing options in the event of an engine failure or other such thing my mom doesn't want to think about.
But Corbin does. He constantly asks me where the wind is, where I'd try to get to, that sort of thing. What would I do if I had an electrical fire? Engine fire? Pants on fire? Sometimes he does fun stuff like say, "Hey, are those whales over there?" I look out that direction and he closes the throttle to simulate an engine failure. And simulate ain't quite the right word cuz bad shit starts to happen quickly if not corrected.
So we landed, filled out logbooks and talked about the next day's solo flight. We had a sobering conversation about my odds of limping away in the event of a real engine failure. I got a bad night's sleep, did a pre-flight, and took off to the northeast all by my lonesome.
I've picked rocks, dug ditches, handled explosives, run a trap-line, raised mink, sold puppies, ridden motorcycles, told fools which team to bet on, shoveled shit, skied powder, helped fat white guys shoot majestic creatures, and more, all to make a buck. I've also worked in Botswana, where the only way to make a buck is with eight pulas.