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Quitting Time

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Over on the "bad" JH forum some guy posted a question about how do we know when to hang it up? It's a question we old-timers end up asking ourselves eventually. I've been at this for 30+ years now. (I started learning to fly in 1973, so I guess 40 years if you count the ones before I was doing it for money).


My last job was flying a 206 for a rich guy in Alabama who used it 50/50 business/pleasure. We did a *LOT* of off-airport stuff, both day and night. Always heavy (when is a 206B *not* heavy?) No goggles, wouldn't spring for them. Although he wasn't a pilot himself (his brother is), he knew enough about aviation to know that what we were doing was risky. Very risky, sometimes. But he trusted my talent and was counting on my experience to not let us get in "too deep." But we did come close at time or two...or three. Good Lord, did we.


Over time I started to get a "feeling." I cannot explain it. I was not comfortable flying the helicopter anymore. Even on a "milk run" on a CAVU day I'd find myself feeling uneasy as I flew along. Again, nothing specific, just a general feeling of malaise. I started playing the "what if?" game obsessively. I figured/hoped things would get better, but they only got worse. Each flight became more and more tense.


And so I quit. Told the Boss I did not want his job anymore, and left it at that. Didn't want to seem like a coward. That was back in April of 2011. The helicopter still flies...has not crashed...with someone else in the seat. I'm just glad it's not me.


Shortly after leaving, a friend called and suggested I go up to Washington State and dry cherries in the Sikorsky S-55. And so I did that in the summer of 2011 and again in 2012. I flew, maybe 20 hours each season, mostly just hovering over the cherry trees after it stopped raining. Not the safest thing I've ever done, but not the most dangerous either. Just me and no pax (not even a copilot) in a lightly-loaded helicopter in good Day-VFR conditions. And with only 1.5 of fuel, I didn't even have to sit in the thing for very long.


Things were cool the first summer. Heck, I was in a different machine - a just-barely-second-generation helicopter with a radial piston engine...one my father flew in Korea back when it was new...and to be honest it was a challenge getting really proficient in it.


But then last season was different. I'd hover along, feeling just super-paranoid about the engine quitting. I knew...believed...hoped...I could put it down okay between the rows or on a road between the fields and then get out if it rolled over. But the worry about the engine failure was beginning to overshadow the pleasure of simply flying the helicopter. And I don't think I'd be any more comfortable in one of the turbine-conversions - I'd just find something else to worry about.


I'm usually not one of those who believe in fate...like those who believe that your "number is up" at some point and there's nothing you can do about it. And I know that I can just as easily die in a car (or more probably, motorcycle) crash as a helicopter accident. Yet I cannot shake this feeling that I'm just not comfortable flying helicopters anymore. (Ironically, I don't feel the same way about airplanes.)


Maybe I just know too much about helicopters. Isn't that a laugh? Can anyone know "too much" about them? But maybe I've seen too many crashes over the years...heard about too many pilot failures and too many mechanical failures, and I really understand now just how many things can go wrong on any given flight. And it's weighing on me. I fly along thinking about all the shafts and gears and bearings and linkages...and then I think about all of *my* past screwups that almost got me and everyone onboard killed, and...


...And you can't think about that stuff or it'll drive you crazy.


So now in this sort-of-post-retirement I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I mean, I'm only 57. All I know that I *don't* want to fly helicopters for a living anymore. I'll have to make a decision about Washington soon - to be fair to them so they can line up another driver in my place. If you asked me today I'd say no, I'm not going back up. On the other hand, being there is a whole lot of fun. Great people, good times.


So we'll see.


Scoff if you will. Whistle past the graveyard all you like. Call me a wuss or a pansy. I can live with that. And maybe that's the point.

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Its not just you by any means. I know cops who have had the same issue. Nothing going wrong, no need for concern, and they just start getting the "feeling of impending doom" which is what I have heard it called. I had a partner who finally got to the point where he was just scared to death to go on even the most basic, non-event calls for fear that something bad would happen. He eventually got out of LE because he became completely ineffective and he knew it. He actually went out on stress/medical. Generally (in my observations only) it seems to occur in cops who have had fairly "active" careers. Your brain telling you that you've cheated death one to many times. The only problem is, like in your case, will it end if you stop flying? You give up flying, what takes its place? Next you cant bring yourself to get in a car for fear that you might crash too?


Because you arent "afraid" of anything related to flying I would bet. More of a feeling of apprehension, your mind pounding you with "what if" scenarios. Does any of that sound applicable? Maybe a form of flying PTSD for the lack of a better term?


Have you tried talking to someone trained in this stuff? In police work, it used to be optional to talk to the Psych after a traumatic incident. Kids being killed, a shooting or other violent encounter. Now-a-days, most agencies require you to talk to someone. My agency requires that you attend 3 sessions with a counselor after a traumatic incident. By them ordering you to do it, it took away the stigma of "talking to someone about your feelings". If you didnt go, you could be disciplined. Who can make fun of you for going if its an order, right?


I have worked with cops whom Ive witnessed tell other cops that they are pussy's for talking to a counselor. Those days are gone. That finally came after to many cops were becoming alcoholics or committing suicide after responding to situations. Someone decided that maybe we (the affected) probably were not the ones best suited to decide it we were OK. Many times its just having someone tell you the process that your brain takes to repair itself.


Think back to your flying experiences? Im sure you have had a number of white knuckle moments where you got back to the pad and sat quietly during the cool down and thought "What the $%^& just happened? I cant believe I almost did that!" You as the pilot know you were just seconds from the end but you managed to pull it though while your passengers were yuckin' it up in the back seat completely unaware of the severity. How is that any different than a cop who get shot at and missed or a firefighter who has a roof fall on them and they escape from injury any different from a pilot having an engine failure and nailing an auto perfectly and surviving? Its not any different in my opinion. A front row seat to death is what it is. Some just make flashier headlines.


Cherry drying, Frost, power line work? You know the deal, but you condition your mind to assess the risks and put things in their proper place. For some reason, your mind has decided the bucket for the danger thoughts is full and its over flowing into the rational thoughts bucket.


Im not a Dr or a psych. I have no psych training. Everything I rattled off is just my opinion. I may even be way off base to someone who took a semester of Psych 101. Im just trying to relay some of the things Ive been told from the 3-4 times Ive had to sit on the couch myself. You arent crazy or a pansy. Anyone who thinks that has has probably never had one of those true "Oh S--T" moments where you have to go be by yourself for a few minutes after you have realized what just happened or they are a liar.


If it is serious, maybe passing on this one particular job might not be a bad idea, but I would suggest talking with someone who knows how to deal with this type of thing before you hang it up completely, because it affects a lot of people in many different professions.


(This is where I would put my liability and legal disclaimer if I had one :D Every post needs a happy face)

Edited by Flying Pig
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My two cents... First off I'm about to finish my private so I don't have a lot to offer as far as flying goes but as far as near death... There was a moment in afgahnistan where I KNEW I was dead. And somehow I'm still here today. And that experience made me realize im already dead. At some point in the future I will die and nothing will change that fact and I had to face and accept that to be able to function. I have no desire to hasten that and will do everything in my power to delay it as long as possible but I accept and I'm over the fear of if. A career in helicopters may kill me but than again so may many other things, and I absolutely love flying. And there in lies the key. If its to point that you no longer enjoy flying helicopters well than there's no reason why you shouldn't just stick to fixed wing. If you still love bringing your ship into a confined area though maybe some soul searching should be done to accept the risk.

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To "Nearly Retired". You have worked long and hard to get where you are now, as it should be for anyone who is jealous about your cockpit seat.

It doesn't sound like you are but don't be affected by criticism of those who haven't yet paid the price to get where you are, but still want to be where you are.

I identify with what Flying Pig says also. A lot of wisdom there.

Counterrotate did a good job on his quote too.

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Seven years ago or so I had an engine failure in a single engine airplane while working a fire. I was deep in a burning canyon, and it wasn't really a good time to happen. I ended making a successful forced landing on the mountainside, and I ended up flying the airplane on fires again, but it wasn't the same. My heart wasn't in it. I flew another 40 or so sorties, and left to go do something else in the middle east.


As the years have gone by, I've grown more cautious, more careful, and far less bulletproof. We rediscover our mortality as time goes on. It's seeing friends die. It's knowing more and more about our craft as we discover just how vulnerable we are. It's the developing understanding that we're fragile, and that we can't replace what breaks or wears out on us, sometimes for life.


One night in Iraq, just outside Basrah, I began a steep descent and asked a young sergeant sitting next to me about his ears. He replied that he only had one eardrum; he lost the other to an RPG in Bagdhad. I didn't feel like blowing out his other eardrum, and told him so. We'll extend out a bit, come down a bit more gently. "It's okay, sir." He said with confidence that only youth can muster. "If the army wanted me to have a new eardrum, they'd issue me one."


That illusion can sustain us when we're young, but at some point in our lives, we begin to understand the truth more and more. We also have a sense within us, if our judgement is honed to recognize it, that tells us when we need to redirect our efforts. When our heart is no longer in it, when we begin to wonder less when we get to fly again and more about when the flight will end, and when family and other interests and grandkids and so on begin to take a greater importance in our lives. It's different for everyone, and there are no wrong answers.


Up until about six months ago I was working primarily in Afghanistan, and there were some nights when I really wondered what the hell I was doing there, or other places that we frequently operated. The year previously we did a black hole approach in wind, thunderstorms and nasty weather, driving rain and a very black ocean to a runway in the middle of nowhere west of Africa, rapidly running out of divert options and fuel choices, had to go missed and hold, and finally arrived tired, frazzled, and wanting to be done for the night (but having another eight or so hours to go). Same questions asked...wouldn't I be happier doing something else right now?


The grass is always greener. I found myself doing something else, and thinking perhaps it wasn't so bad back there, doing what I was doing before. I found myself coming off some drops and runs into fires that left me breathing hard, my heart beating hard, and my knees aching at the end of the day. This summer I finally bought a cane in the middle of the fire season, because my legs hurt too much each evening to get around. I carried the big bottles of Ibuprophen, and had a flight bag stuffed with joint remedies. I no longer seem to have even a three hour bladder. Such is life and I'm not at the retirement point...just worn out in some respects.


Babies do "pica," where they ingest all kinds of things off the ground, dust and rocks, and things they shouldn't. Some of it is their body telling them they need minerals or things germane to their growth. Some of it is just curiosity. As young adults, we seek out sex and play toys. At some time past that, we work furiously at building a career, and buying the staples...furniture, house, and so on. Some actually live in one place long enough to do that, though not often pilots. Somewhere in that grand chain, we reach a point where something in our nature tells us we don't see so well driving at night any more, and there's no thrill in speed. Maturity means that over time we see the same experiences from a different perspective (as some unnamed wise man once said), and we begin to make different decisions regarding those same events. Retirement may be one of those things.

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Shortly after leaving, a friend called and suggested I go up to Washington State and dry cherries in the Sikorsky S-55. And so I did that in the summer of 2011 and again in 2012.


Things were cool the first summer. Heck, I was in a different machine - a just-barely-second-generation helicopter with a radial piston engine...one my father flew in Korea back when it was new...and to be honest it was a challenge getting really proficient in it.


But then last season was different. I'd hover along, feeling just super-paranoid about the engine quitting. I knew...believed...hoped...I could put it down okay between the rows or on a road between the fields and then get out if it rolled over. But the worry about the engine failure was beginning to overshadow the pleasure of simply flying the helicopter. And I don't think I'd be any more comfortable in one of the turbine-conversions - I'd just find something else to worry about.


Five Washington State cherry drying accidents during those two seasons, 2011- 2012. I don't think those accidents helped your mindset any. In fact, a company by the name you have in your profile, Golden Wings Aviation, had two the same day, one was Fatal.


Maybe its not you. Maybe a few of those companies need to think about quitting. Make sure you're not in a barrel of bad apples.


SIKORSKY S-58B N9043N WPR12LA292 Nonfatal


ROBINSON N282MC WPR12LA259 Fatal(1)


SIKORSKY S-55B N855TC WPR11LA356 Nonfatal


HUGHES 269C N3623Z WPR11LA325 Nonfatal


SIKORSKY S-55B N5663 WPR11FA350 Fatal(1)

Edited by iChris
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Sometimes, we all need a break from whatever we are doing. You cannot be focused on the same thing 24 hours a day without feeling it somewhere else. Call it burn out, PTSD, battle fatigue, or depression but whatever it is, it leads to accidents.

Take a break. Do something different. Sail. Golf. Baseball. Wear yourself out doing something different. I do not personally like counselors or psych doctors but talking to someone, even your buddies in the profession, may be just what helps the most. And if you need someone unbiased, give me a call.

I've been taking 3 week annual vacations for the last 7 years. Coming back to work is harder each time. Unfortunately for me, retiring isn't an option and I make too much in my current position to start over again from the beginning. But if I had the chance....

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Guys, first of all I appreciate all the thoughtful feedback and input. It's nice to hear other people's "take" on the subject - especially the younger pilots but all you experienced guys too.


Please realize, I don't hate helicopter flying - or any type of flying for that matter. I still love it very much. There is...even now...nothing on the planet that compares to seeing how smoothly I can make one of these contraptions come off the ground and into a stable hover. I do appreciate and enjoy the challenges they offer. But as I said, I cannot put my finger on why I'm simply no longer comfortable flying helicopters. Maybe I'm just tired of playing, "What if...?"


I took my "biennial" last year in a Cessna 182. I've owned three airplanes in the past, and I really enjoy flying fixed-wing. It's *so* much less stressful! I flew along thinking, "Why don't I do more of this?" Oh yeah, because helicopters are "fun" and airplanes are "boring." Isn't that the line we tell ourselves?


We tell it to ourselves until the time we do a night approach into a poorly-lit confined area...an approach that takes every bit of your talent and skill and after you get it on the ground you think to yourself, "Am I always gonna be good enough to do this...Am I always going to be 100% at my best?" The day you cannot answer that in the affirmative is the day you better start looking for another line of work.


And Chris, if my mindset was affected by helicopter accidents, I never would have pursued this as a career. Back when I was fourteen in 1969 I became friendly with the guys who flew the traffic-helicopters for two radio stations in NYC. One guy in particular, WOR's Frank McDermott was very friendly and helpful to me. Then one day he was in the middle of a traffic report when...something...happened. His 47G-2 crashed onto and through the roof of an apartment building. Somehow, Frank's dead body landed on the grass in front of the building, apparently batted there by the tail rotor! Did he try to jump out? It seems inconceivable, but there wasn't any other logical reason how he would have been separated from his machine and end up so far away from it.


Welcome to helicopters, Bobby! You still want to be a pilot for a living? Well, yeah. Over the years I've crashed a Bell 47 *and* an Enstrom. Thankfully they were both very early on. And equally thankfully, I did not die.


And yes Chris, I'm well aware of the accidents Golden Wings had that summer of 2011. They were both pilot-error accidents, so your snippy comment about operators needing to quit is inappropriate and insulting. I knew and was close with the three pilots involved - good pilots all of them. (Nobody is sure why the engine caught fire in the S-58 accident you posted - that was a different operator.) In our case, Stephen's death (the wire strike) hit us all quite hard. But his aircraft did not fail him and he was well trained and qualified - it wasn't his first season drying cherries. We all hate hearing about pilots who screw up and pay the ultimate price. But Stephen was not the first friend I've lost in an aircraft accident, and unfortunately he probably won't be the last. (Oh, and our other ship - the one that did the SWP thing into the trees - was not badly damaged and was back flying this past summer.)


Now let me add: When I worked for GW, one thing I did *not* worry about was maintenance. Those guys know the S-55 better than anyone. The engines in those helicopters have ridiculously low TBO's that GW could, but does not, overfly. Not only that, but we operate them at very low power settings while drying. I was typically using 28-30" MAP which is hardly working for a supercharged engine. I knew that my engine-failure paranoia was irrational, which is how we pilots deal with things and keep doing our jobs.


After a lifetime of accident-free motorcycle riding, I finally had an accident on my Sportster back in 2010 in which I broke my arm. A lady ran a red light at a t-intersection. I managed to avoid hitting her, but fell down in doing so. During my recuperation, I wondered how I'd be - wondered if I'd be too paranoid to ride anymore. I fixed the bike up and as soon as I could I got back on it and rode. And yeah, at first I was a little "nervous," but that soon went away and I quickly got to feeling like "I'm back" if you know what I mean. And now, I don't even remember that first ride after the crash.


To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett: I fly, I ride, I throw caution to the wind. It's not that I'm "scared" of flying. I just don't want to fly helicopters anymore is all. For me, it's quitting time. I don't absolutely rule out some part-time helicopter flying in the future - it's just that my heart isn't in it anymore. Or maybe there is something else to do with my life. Right now I'm open to any and all possibilities, something I could not say in the past because I was married too firmly to this business.


The original post in this thread was inspired because of a curiously-timed post on the bad JH board by a pilot who wondered when he'd be where I'm at right now. Obviously it's different for everybody.


P.S. to Flying Pig: Great post, man! But do never apologize for your words or thoughts. Your opinions are worth just as much as anyone else's on this board. I (and a few others) post all kinds of opinionated crap here and I'm quite unapologetic about it.

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Excellent post. I'm a cop & a pilot so I guess I'm screwed. We are taught to listen to our sixth sense in both policework and flying. If something doesn't seem right it probably isn't. If you've got time to think you probably should be double-checking something.


They say that when a Formula One racer starts to think about the consequences then he's done. The mere thought is enough doubt to indicate its time to get out of the game.


Its better to be on the ground wishing you were flying then up in the air wishing you were on the ground.


My best man told me he was giving up flying and was going to open a strip club. I asked him why he would do that after all the work that it took to get where he was. His answer, "I've already done it. I've landed on carriers in sh*t weather. Maybe its time for something new because I've already done what I wanted to do".


He's flying a corporate Citation now. Guess he hasn't done it all or just didn't have enough money to open a strip club.


Sometimes its difficult to fathom quitting because we work so hard to get where we are. I know pilots that don't care if their kids want to learn to fly. I know pilots that don't want their kids to learn to fly or to be cops. They are jobs you really have to want to do and sometimes, being a brain surgeon would be much easier & pay better.


My uncle flew B-24 Liberators over the Hump in WW2. He flew a Cessna 150 for fun after the war and was so cheap that he would lean the engine out and cause damage that would be discovered on the Annual.


He got killed helping his grandson taking down an old treehouse in the yard when it fell on him.


One of the best pilots I ever met used to scare the crap out of me demonstating with the doors off that you could fly an OH-6 inverted.


He got killed at a bad intersection driving without a seatbelt on going over to get his flight physical.


You never know. Right now for me its the BS factor. Its not the swingshift, long hours & big decisions. Its a matter of the BS exceeding my patience level too many times. My wife and kids need me to have a job and I like flying (shhhhh...don't tell anyone.....) Hopefully, I can ignore that feeling of doom until my family has enough money?


You are probably better off to know or to listen to your gut. Maybe it just comes with age.


No one lives forever. Some people die young but others are old that never lived.


Maybe you just need to keep switching to different flying jobs until you learn just how dangerous they are :)

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Whatever you choose to do, know this, your message has value and needed now more than ever so don’t stop –er –ah, teaching. You’re obviously good at it and something this industry really needs. On that note, have you ever considered writing a book about your exploits? I’d buy it….


In any case, the glory of this business is; you can choose to be in it, or out of it, at any time. As you know, empty positions don’t last long as there is always someone ready to take your place. Plus, it’s empowering to know, you can just say “I quit” and walk away knowing the tables have turned. With that, try other things. Try to get that cushy PT gig somewhere and really enjoy it. If ya don’t, simply move on…


Either way, I’ve enjoy reading your schtick over the years and hopefully we’ll continue to see more….

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Right now for me its the BS factor. Its not the swingshift, long hours & big decisions. Its a matter of the BS exceeding my patience level too many times.


The membership sign-up sheet is in the back…..


Welcome to the club…

Edited by Spike
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I had my first car accident in over 10 years last night. In a parking lot. My fault. I did not see a parked car in the space behind me, and I hit it. Virtually no damage to my own vehicle, but I dinged the lady's van pretty good. I suppose I was overdue for something. I have never been at fault for an accident before and like I said, it's been over 10 years since I've been involved in one. The thing that I find rather ironic is that, over the last few months, I have been feeling this kind of building dread, like I knew something bad was going to happen to me, while driving. I have been over cautious and paranoid on the road, to the point where my arms and back ache when I get out of the truck, because I have been so tense at the wheel. After my little fender bender, the paranoia has evaporated. I am not really a believer in the paranormal, but I do believe that we have kind of a sixth sense that lays hidden deep down in our minds somewhere. Animals seem to have it, and I am sure we do too, but we have become good at suppressing it, because it is not something that our highly rational minds can quantify or explain.


I guess the ultimate point of this rambling post is to trust your instincts. You're mind is obviously trying to warn you about something. Listen to it. And do what makes you happy. If at this point in your life, it's not helicopters, then it is definitely time to give it up.

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And yes Chris, I'm well aware of the accidents Golden Wings had that summer of 2011. They were both pilot-error accidents, so your snippy comment about operators needing to quit is inappropriate and insulting.


Not inappropriate or insulting at all, certainly not meant to be, its just business nothing personal. When you see a chain of occurring accidents there’s a reason (cause-and-effect). The root causes are not always pilot-error; however, most often that’s been were the blame falls.


I’m just looking at and separating the personal side, their great guys to work for, from the business side pressures of getting the job done and making money. Taking into account how our environment affects us psychologically.


But then last season was different. I'd hover along, feeling just super-paranoid about the engine quitting. I knew...believed...hoped...I could put it down okay between the rows or on a road between the fields and then get out if it rolled over. But the worry about the engine failure was beginning to overshadow the pleasure of simply flying the helicopter. And I don't think I'd be any more comfortable in one of the turbine-conversions - I'd just find something else to worry about.


“Although contemporary American society is the safest in recorded history, citizens of the United States are living in an unprecedented state of heightened fear and anxiety. The concept of being at risk constantly appears in reports on threats to our health, the hazards of technology, our distrust of governments and our fears of society.


Accordingly, as Iain Wilkinson points out in his book Anxiety in a Risk Society, sociologists have come to identify our mediated knowledge of high-consequence risks as a major source of contemporary anxiety. This mediated knowledge usually comes from the media, which studies have shown increasingly present negative images about the world and often portray an exaggerated picture of reality.


Considering that the United States is the most media saturated society in the world, these negative, graphic media portrayals of life events have an unprecedented ability to affect individuals, and in some instances can induce real psychological disorders.”


The 'Fear Industrial Complex



Edited by iChris
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Not for nothing, but when parking, if at all possible, I back in so I can pull out. Sorry if that looks like a derail thread post. But back to the topic, If you do give up on helicopters, keep the back door open in the event you may want or need to rescind your current decision.

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I'm actually surprised that more high time pilots don't feel this way (or maybe they do, but no one hears about it). I've only been flying a few years, yet I share some of the same sentiment. Not sure if it's a maturity thing or as a result of all the NTSB crash reports I read (and I read a butt load of them).


Have you considered flying a desk for the last few years up to your retirement? I would think your accumulated knowledge would provide value in an administrative capacity to a great deal of operators.

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does this mean your changing your name to "Completely Retired" ;) you should seriously consider getting your CFI. since your burnt out on helicopters do the stuck wing gig for a bit. i would take lessons from ya. either way, its your life, do what makes YOU happy! sad o see you go, but hey: C'est La Vis as the locals say around here :)

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Hey Keaton, what do you care? That's nice of you to say, but you're not going to be "up there" this summer anyway either. Plus, if anyone knows about being "burnt out" on helicopters, it's you, eh? ;) Tell you what, I'll make a deal with you: You go back and I'll go back. We'll have some fun, m'kay? Maybe yours won't catch on fire again and I won't give myself a hydraulic failure again.


Ah but seriously, I would like to get my CFI and do some fixed-wing instructing. I *know* I could do a better job of teaching newbies how to fly than *my* original instructors did back in the 1970's. And I mean no offense to them- they were good instructors! But the way they were taught to teach...it was just...I dunno...wrong. I see it now. We'd go up and do these maneuvers, and each maneuver existed in a vacuum, by itself, with no relation to anything else. If I had current-me as an instructor, I could've learned to fly in a lot less time. ...At least, that's what my ego tells me.


And Chris, I don't mean to pick nits with you. Your posts are always reasonable and well-thought-out and you are highly regarded on this board, by me as well! But in this case I think you're off-base. What you said was:

Maybe its not you. Maybe a few of those companies need to think about quitting. Make sure you're not in a barrel of bad apples.


Companies? Bad apples? Then you list five accidents over the course of two years that happened to four different helicopter companies, only one of which was mechanical and only two of which were fatal. You somehow make a linkage between these events and "companies need to think about quitting." You justify it by saying:

When you see a chain of occurring accidents there’s a reason (cause-and-effect). The root causes are not always pilot-error; however, most often that’s been where the blame falls.


First of all, I do not believe the five events constitute a "chain" of accidents. And when a pilot crashes a perfectly good helicopter, yup, we can call that "pilot error" whether you like it or not. Only Keaton's engine-blow-up in his S-58 was a mechanical, and that one really wasn't an accident in the "crash" sense of the word. He was able to set it down, jump out, and then run like a little girl for safety, hiding under a nearby fuel truck from the debris that was shooting out of that damn flaming titanium fuselage that they were trying to put out with water.


Nevertheless, I'm not willing to let a pilot (even myself) skate or avoid responsibility for *his* accident by making the specious claim that "the economic situation in this country caused me so much pressure and stress that I crashed my helicopter!" Nope, not me.


On a side, note, maybe people don't realize how many helicopters go up there to Washington State every summer to dry cherries, and how risky the task is. It's a relatively big, if temporary, industry. In the Brewster area alone last season there were about fifteen or sixteen aircraft working on any given rainy day. Down the river in Chelan and Wenatchee there were countless others (countless by me - I'm sure someone could've kept track of them). These were often single-ships sent up by operators from out of the area (like the one in which our forum poster Andrew Ridge died). They come from all over just to sit around and wait for it to rain. ADRidge's ship came up from Texas and another R-44 comes up from Arizona.


When they do fly, it can be risky, especially for the smaller helicopters that have to hover lower over the trees than the bigger ships like the S-55 and S-58. The R-44's flew around with their skids in the trees while I stayed a good rotor diameter or rotor-and-a-half above them in my S-55. Normally we S-55's stay above all the wires in a given field, so we simply cannot understand why or how Stephen ran into "his" wire. And the guy who flies the S-55 that got into SWP, he likes to fly right down in the trees like the smaller ships. He says that "his farmers" prefer it. (We are usually assigned to the same orchards season after season, so the farmers and field foremen get to know us.) But this technique bit him in the ass that summer when he got into a funky wind condition that he couldn't fly out of - just like happened to the guy in the 300 in the accident that Chris cited.


It's not that cherry-drying is so inherently dangerous or complicated, but neither is it a "piece of cake" job that any pilot could do with his eyes closed.


And it's not the operators who are "bad apples" that should quit the business. If one operator like Golden Wings quits, others would quickly come to fill the void. The demand for the service is there. And the service *should* be provided.


It's not like the risk to the general public is huge. Like other "ag" accidents, if we crash we crash into cherry trees not orphanages, elementary schools, hospitals or senior citizen centers. There's nobody in the orchards. We are usually alone or with another pilot who understands the risks. The helicopter is sometimes/often rebuildable. So what's the beef?


As far as I know, I don't walk around worried all the time. Usually I'm in a fairly good mood, outwardly. Sure, we all have pressures and stress in our lives, and those things *can* creep into our psyche while were flying. I don't know about other pilots, but I like flying because I can leave all of the BS of the ground-world behind and just concentrate on what I'm doing.


I've written about the day that Stephen died. When I heard about it I was quite upset (visibly so, I'm embarrassed to say - I guess I'm not the stoic, macho a-hole I pretend to be). My farm manager kindly said that although we had more drying to do, if I wanted to "stand down" for the rest of the day he'd understand. I said no, I'd keep flying. I did not share this with him, but "up there" I wouldn't have to think about Stephen. I could just do my job.


Maybe it's phony compartmentalizing. Maybe we truly cannot separate our personal non-flying lives from our pilot persona in the cockpit. And maybe that is the root cause of some accidents. But in that case, *I* felt better with something to do, even if that something was the same something that had just gotten my friend killed. Is that strange? I've often wondered about it.


In closing, I agree with most of you: Trust your instincts, listen to your gut. When it's time to quit, quit! For me, helicopter flying has lost its allure. I know some of you young ones probably think that could never happen, but...I thought so too. It can.


(Heh, you guys wanted a book? You got a book. Oh, and for the record? I haven't had an "exploits" in my career. In fact, I've had a fairly unremarkable career, doing fairly unremarkable things with helicopters. Sightseeing tours in Manhattan? Oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico? Personal/corporate pilot for a rich d-bag? Cherry drying? Oh please. BO-RING! At least, boring compared to some of the other posters on this very board - like Avbug for instance. Now *he* sounds like someone who should write a book! And there are plenty of others whose posts I look forward to and whose stories I'd like to read more of. Like Keaton, for instance. He's down in Haiti...Haiti! flying an R-44 for a guy. How much fun must that be! Hmm, any of yous need a ghost-writer? I don't seem to be doing anything for the rest of my life...)

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