05 February 2006

Night Flying

I've said before, most of my EMS flying is done without benefit of sunshine.
Statistically it is much more dangerous. Recognizing dangerous weather and navigating are more difficult.
In spite of this, I have learned to love night flying.

It all started in Viet Nam. Our enemy found they could fire 122mm. Katusa rockets....(Big, Loud, and Scary).... at our compound and disappear into the background before we could respond and try to help them assume ambient temperature.
Our answer to this threat was to do a "Rocket Recon" just after sunset each night and just before sunrise each morning. We would take off with a team consisting of an OH-6, a UH1-C gunship, and a UH1-H "slick". The little OH-6 would fly at treetop level with Pilot, Crew Chief and Gunner looking for suspicious activity along a swath that marked the rocket's range. My job in the Huey gunship was, as always, to provide cover and protection for the little bird.
The slick flew at altitude and carried 30 parachute flares, which they would manually push out of the aircraft timed so that the area was continuously illuminated for me and the little bird. This system worked pretty well.......except when slick would announce, "that one didn't fire", meaning the flare didn't ignite, leaving two possibilities:
The parachute and the flare both failed and the 15 pound chunk of magnesium was plummeting to the ground, or......
the parachute deployed, and that same 15 pound chunk of magnesium was slowly floating to the ground, nearly invisible, for the two low birds to find with rotors or windshields. When that happened, the little bird popped up to get a better look at surroundings until we were sure the flare was no longer a threat.

The pilots that were involved with this recon mission were excused from duty during the day. The mission required you to fly 90 or so minutes at sunset and sunrise, so you had to roll outta bed pretty early to beat the sun.......most guys didn't like that.
I volunteered for them as often as possible, because it kept me from having to fly in the heat of the day.

There were other benefits too.
Flying machines work better in cooler air.
Fewer flying machines airborne meant less chance of a mid-air collision.
There was less radio traffic at night, so the radios seemed to work better too.
And the biggee for me:
When shot at, you could see the muzzle flashes and knew right where to put your rocket and mini-gun fire to convince those folks they needed to stop that behavior right away!

Now let's explore why I continue to enjoy flying at night:
I have been a manager in one field or another for over 40 years.
I have citations from various supervisors saying I am good at it.
I am not good at keeping my mouth shut when I am exposed to counterproductive management techniques.

While working days, I was almost continually within earshot of managers, (some of them my managers).
Some of these supervisors managed in ways not conducive to forming a "cohesive unit" of those being managed. When I tried to point out the error in their technique, I found some managers, (particularly my own), took offense at my constructive criticisms.
I missed a promotion that was rightfully mine because of my big mouth, and realized that my "constructive criticisms" could eventually cost me my job.

The solution was to pair up with another pilot that wanted to fly days. The Lead Pilot of our base can accomplish more while those he needs to coordinate with are at work, so he agreed to work days while I work nights......and I almost never encounter a manager.
So in the Winter, it's already dark when I come to work.
I do get to fly in daylight during the long hours of summer sometimes.

It's difficult to try to convey how beautiful it is to come into a major city from the relatively unlit countryside at night. The closest I can come is to use an example that requires some knowledge of rocks.........Geodes to be specific. When you crack open a Geode, the interior of the rock is hollow and quartz crystals blaze at you. (The picture isn't a good example of that.)
The first time you do it is a shock!
Flying into the city at night is like that......all the lights laid out before you are breathtaking.
Introducing someone to night flying for the first time, particularly from the helicopter with it's extraordinary visibility, is truly safisfying.

It's one of the things I will miss most when I can no longer turn a rotor blade.


Unknown said...

One of my very nice memories is the time you picked Ruthie and I up and flew us over SL, We went over the Arch, Busch stadium. I took picks with a regular old 35mm camera, and you told me you didn't think they would come out. To my surprise, they did, and very well. The pics don't hold a candle to my memory of that flight, shame Ruthie was only 5 months and slept through it all. She would love to do it now, I'm sure, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Ferdyflyer said...

Okay, if I get to SL you can take me up. I'm sure I won't mutter any words you haven't heard before if I get scared. I flew with my husband and two daughters in a helicopter over the Smokey Mountains. The view was beautiful; but I gotta tell ya I had a death grip on the seat. I'm not sure what good I thought that was going to do me if the helicopter crashed.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, one of the best was a filght from Kirksvilles MO. to SL.
Just west of the river at 6000+ Feet, clear clear cool night and you could see all the way east to SPI. What a unforgetable view.
Remember my friend, you were in the other seat. That was a helicopter ride.