Looking back at my last couple of articles, I realize I might be accused correctly of being a bit preachy. So I thought I might share a few personal missteps that have taught me some valuable lessons.
In the King James Bible, Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” This usually is misquoted as, “Pride goeth before the fall.” You get the drift. I’m not into self-destruction and I don’t bounce that well any more, so falling is to be avoided.
In 1974, I flew a Hiller UH-12E for a company in Alaska. This aircraft was similar to the Hiller OH-23D I flew in U.S. Army primary flight school. But the word “similar” in aviation, particularly in helicopters, can get you in as much trouble as the word “assume.”
The main difference between the helicopters was the engine. The OH-23D employs a 250-hp Lycoming piston engine and the UH-12E used a 305-hp piston Lycoming. I was given a check ride by the chief pilot. He asked if I had any questions, whereupon my pride stepped in. I, of course, stated in my best Chuck Yeager voice: “No, sir. Shouldn’t be any problems.”
With that, he told me to go forth and aviate. So I wandered around for a couple of weeks on a power-line project, getting to know the -12E.
One day, the load master assigned me to carry two folks up to a 5,500-ft mountain to replace a radio repeater battery. This was to be my first flight in the Hiller above 5,000 ft. So up we went. The engine sputtered a couple of times. Discretion being the better part of valor, I went back down to base camp and had my mechanic look at the helicopter. After a short review, he noticed the mixture handle was not all the way forward. He informed me I had screwed up by not advancing the handle, therefore the mixture was lean and caused the engine issue.
I went back up the hill, shot the approach and the engine quit. After an OK autorotation to a cliff, the helicopter (which was on full floats) bounced forward. The main rotor hit the wall in front of us and we went off the mountain backward.
After a couple rolls down a very steep slope, the snow stopped our descent 30 ft from a 3,000-ft cliff. All three of us were basically OK.
Upon review of the accident with the chief pilot, he informed me that the mixture lever did not control mixture. Although it was marked full rich and lean, it was only a mechanical shutoff valve. The little bit that it was off of the forward limit on the first flight had nothing to do with anything.
The NTSB investigation found that the altitude compensation devices in the carburetors had been installed backward in the recent overhaul. That caused the engine to go richer instead of leaner with altitude, causing the plugs to fail and the engine to quit.
So what did I learn from this?
As I was the aircraft commander, the lives of those men were dependent on my professional competence. I failed them. Not the chief pilot, not the mechanic, not the guy who did the overhaul. Me. My failure to fully understand the subsystems of the aircraft caused that accident.
Let’s see — that would be pride that caused the destruction of the helicopter, enabled by my haughty attitude that disallowed any questions. Them proverbs will get you every time.
The second failure of mine that would perhaps be of value to others was the retractable snorkel on the Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Firehawks. This was an idea proposed by Sikorsky to me as project manager for that department.
Efforts had been made to get a fixed snorkel to fly at more than 100 kt under the Firehawk. The only thing that we accomplished in that effort was to put a very large hole in the tank when the snorkel flew up and hit it.
As soon as Sikorsky suggested the retractable snorkel, I dismissed it as a foolish effort by engineers to fix a problem that didn’t need to be fixed. After all, nobody else in the world at that time used a retractable snorkel. Why would we?
Sikorsky persisted and designed the retractable snorkel. In the end, the capability to retract the snorkel and allow the Firehawk to use its speed is what makes it so productive on fires.
Lesson learned? Just because nobody else has done it, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. This is the reverse of, “That’s the way we have always done it, therefore it is correct.” R&WI