30 November 2007

Rooftop Pads, Good Stories, and Lousy Reporting

One of my favorite stories used to be told by a guy that became a close friend after he recovered from a serious heart attack.
I flew him to the Cardiac center in our old Bell LongRanger days. He caught a glimpse of the rooftop helipad as I flew past it downwind, and said to himself, "That thing looks like a postage stamp! I hope this S.O.B. is good!"
(Our flight gave him five good years until "the BIG one" took his life.)
this blog post today and found it quite interesting... thought you might find it interesting too.

It pays Kandy and me a supreme compliment, and reinforces
what I've said before about the media. (Links are all out of date at that post, but you'll get the idea.)

28 November 2007

Gentle Evisceration

I had never heard of Avi Lewis.
From reading the comments to this video, I understand he's a Canadian media person.

I certainly had heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I think she may be the bravest person on the face of the earth.

Watching the video will take just over 9 minutes, but will educate you in ways that may surprise you!

26 November 2007

Big Bubba's Excellent Adventure-

Whoosh, he's here. Whoosh, he's gone.
I'll take whatever time he can offer with no complaints.

He wanted to be home for Thanksgiving.

He's homesick, partly for the oddest of reasons... the weather in Mesa makes him feel a little like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day". It's much the same, day after day. BB was actually hoping for chilly, gray, overcast days. A little snow or rain too please... that'd be gravy on those mashed potatoes!

Thanksgiving morning I got off the killer shift I wrote about earlier, and came home to grab a couple hours shuteye. BB boarded a USAir A319 in Phoenix... temperature 84 degrees F.

When he called as the airplane was taxiing to the terminal in Bigtown I had done the addition:
Collecting his bags- 30 minutes.
Walking to the train- another 10 minutes.
Riding the train to our meeting point-90 minutes.
Total- 2 hours, 10 minutes.

My drive to meet him at the station would take just over an hour, so I showered and got a couple cups of Arabica in me. After an hour, while Sara Jean began the finishing touches on our Turkey-Day feast, I headed out solo to pick him up. My timing was almost perfect... the train pulled into the station 10 minutes after my arrival. It was spitting fine grains of snow and was 34 degrees as BB loaded his bags into the car.

What pleasant changes we are seeing in this young son of ours. He has always been considerate of others, but the issues he must contend with now are more serious-
One of his best friends is having serious personal issues. It's gratifying to hear him talk about life and the important things he faces, and hear how he weighs both sides of an issue carefully. We know he'll still make mistakes along the way, but the mistakes he makes won't be because he hasn't given them considerable thought.

We open the door at home to that wondrous smell... and of course, Sara Jean's tearful welcome.
BB hasn't eaten, so he is ravenous. We are like Jewish parents... it's wonderful to see him pack it all in!

He's beginning to learn the hard lesson I learned when I first left home in 1966- you can't do it all. Over the weekend he is selective about who he visits.
I'm proud of his choices... an invalid neighbor that has loved him like family... an older cousin with Alzheimers who has always known how special he is.
Some peers are aware he is home. If they want to see him, they can drive the few minutes to visit with him here under our roof.

Sunday comes too soon.

Traffic to the airport will be heavy. Gettin' through security will take longer than normal. We leave 'way before necessary so an accident or flat tire along the way won't be a catastrophe. We stop along the way and get a Big Bubba favorite... White Castles... there's nothing like 'em in Phoenix!

We get to the airport two hours before his flight is scheduled to depart. Hugs and kisses are not so sad this time... he's coming home for Christmas, and he's bringing
Desi with him! It'll be fascinating to see how long it takes Lucy to become comfortable with Desi again... the dynamics of their relationship have changed... this is HER house now!

I tell BB we'll stay near the airport until he's at the departure gate... just to make sure there are no glitches. We are 15 minutes away from the airport when Sara Jean's cell phone rings. He has made his way through security quicker than we expected, but when he arrives at the gate there is a BIG GLITCH... the agent informs him the flight is overbooked and he may not get a seat on the airplane. I know and understand why the carriers do this... But Thanksgiving weekend?!!
We stop off at a safe place and wait for more information.

An hour later... he has a boarding pass! They are loading the airplane.
Sara Jean and I resume our trip home.
Thirty minutes later her phone rings again... the airplane has a flat tire. They are trying to find a replacement tire. BB and the other passengers have been off-loaded and are stuck until the tire is fixed.

Long story short- they fix the tire and BB gets home 3 hours later than expected, but nevertheless he is home safely. The knowledge that many of the folks on that airplane missed their connecting flights on Thanksgiving weekend makes me sad... for them, and for the USAir support people that have to deal with the (rightfully) irate passengers. What a mess.

But once again I'm amazed at the facts of all this:
BB paid less than $350 for his round-trip tickets.
It's 3400 miles from our home to Phoenix and back. Driving round-trip in a car getting 25 miles per gallon would have cost approximately $340, and that's not counting the overnight stay, both going, and coming.
It seems to me that flying, in spite of its surprises and hassles, is still quite a bargain!

21 November 2007

What Is It About Pilots?

... Or maybe it's just "Macho" at work?

First, keep this in mind-
We've just changed the schedule at our base. We're trying 7-on, 7-off. It makes for a long work-week, but the time off is great!
My story begins as I have received a call late in my shift on the last of 8 days in a row... (I'm repaying one of the "trade days" I needed to go to Hawaii that I spoke about in an earlier post).
It's been a butt-kicker. When we talked about this 7/7 schedule I forgot there can be days when you strap the BK to your back and pretty much keep it there until quittin' time. I flew 5.6 hours yesterday, and have flown 3.3 as the phone rang for this flight.
This week has been like that. I was REALLY lookin' forward to time to go home when this call came in!

I sigh, check weather, and agree to take the flight. It's to a University... a teaching hospital 130 miles away. When I get there I'm gonna need some kerosene to make it back home. I ask dispatch to check and see if my memory is correct... that my landing helipad has fuel available right there. When they verify it does, I ask them to call and see if someone can meet me and make sure I pump the fuel safely.

This hospital is known for its helipad rules...
Don't turn the tail rotor toward the building...
Don't hot-offload unless your patient is tryin' to die immediately.
The rule I have always liked best is... "Sometimes it's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission."

But I decide to be a good boy. I land near the BK based at the hospital, then snuggle up close to the fuel pump so we don't have to pull the hose too far. My med-crew stays aboard until I pull the throttles on the engines and stop the rotor with the rotor brake. We unload the stretcher and my crew gets on their way to help the patient. A guy wearing a flight suit with Captain's shoulder boards comes out to the fuel pit and I walk over and introduce myself. He's younger than me, but no Spring Chicken. He begins to show me how to operate the fuel system, and together we pull the hose off the hose reel. At this point he says, "By the way, we NORMALLY land East-West on this pad".
His BK IS in fact pointed West. Mine is pointed North. I specifically pointed it that way for safety... to keep anyone departing or approaching the aircraft as far away from the tail-rotor as possible.

Remember now... I'm now at 8 days in a row, and I'm damned tired.
I bite my tongue and say, "Please tell me what is unsafe about the way I parked."

He's taken aback a little, but after a moment's hesitation says, "Well, it's just the way we normally do it around here."

I'll ask you... Do you think he was trying to establish a pecking order?
I did.
So I quit biting my tongue and said, "I'll tell ya this, partner...
Right now I don't give a flyin' flip about what you do around here normally. I landed that way because I felt it was the safest way to land. If you can show me how that's not the case, I'll be glad to do it your way."

Pecking order firmly established, we finished pumping my fuel and went to his quarters where he brewed a pot of coffee and we got to know one another better.
He's actually a nice guy... a National Guard Apache pilot.
Just needs a little social trainin', that's all.

19 November 2007

Sara Jean, Thoroughbred

I was bragging about my wife again, trying to describe her to a fellow pilot, so I asked my paramedic-
"Hey Dave, how would you describe Sara Jean?"

And that's no exaggeration. One of these days I promise to tell ya the story of how we met. It's a sordid, but interesting tale.
Seventy inches tall, blonde, and a face that renders some men speechless...
I love her more now than when I met her.

We've been together 27 years. I never figured I'd be able to stay with one woman that long. Part of the reason our relationship has worked is that I still find her stunning. The other part is that I've matured, and realized I had to put some work into patching cracks between us for our foundation to remain strong. Knowing she is doin' the same has made that job much easier.
I know I'm demanding, and a hard guy to live with. She's sometimes hard to live with too, but for different reasons...
she's a thoroughbred.

As I've written, on our way home from Hawaii we stopped for two days at Big Bubba's apartment in Mesa, Arizona. We wanted the chance to visit with him alone, (all three of us had made the Hawaii trip, remember), and we knew we'd need the time to wind down and regain our balance.
"Winding down" has a different meaning for Sara Jean than most of us...
Windows need cleaning? Carpets need shampooing or spot removal?
How'd this sink get in this shape?!
It's one of the things I love about her. She keeps an immaculate house, wakes me with a cuppa Joe, feeds me too much. In my wife alone there's enough energy to power a town of 1000 or so.

So I'm sitting at Big Bubba's computer... blogging, I think.
From behind me I hear, "You're gonna kill me."
I turned to look and she's serious... that beautiful face is ashen.

"No honey, nothing can be that bad. I'm NOT gonna kill you."

"Yes you are. I've done something terrible!"

Her hands are behind her back. She brings them around front, waist high, and has to cup them to keep the contents from falling to the floor. In those cupped hands she has what looks to be scraps of paper with something else mixed all through them. It looks most like the nest some exotic bird would build.

"What is it?"
"Your Datebook. I washed your clothes and forgot to take it out of your pocket."

Yeah, she's stunning alright... I'm exceedingly stunned!
It's November, so what she has done is completely destroy 11 months worth of contact names, phone numbers, and addresses. Tax info, combinations to various push-button door locks, dates that I needed to remember for whatever reason... now literally in tatters.
She can't help it... she felt she had to be doing something,

I bet I have the cleanest Datebook in the country!

17 November 2007

"Love Is In The Air"

A song I love,
A handsome guy,
A cute gal,
A classic Cadillac convertible,and,
A skywriting Stearman...
What's not to like?

15 November 2007

Go! Stop! Go!

I wish I had a quarter every time this has happened in the two decades I've done this job...

Dispatch calls-
"Weather check for P-Ville, please... it's a scene flight."

I check closely 'cause I drove through schmutz coming to work.
"Yeah, I can do P-Ville."

"Okay, you're on standby for an MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) on Interstate ## just North of P-Ville."

We all dash to the John as a precaution, then wait for the phone to ring again, which will either cancel us or force us to push the "pause" button on the TIVO.
And we wait.
And we wait some more.

My Paramedic says "this is taking too long, we're not goin' anywhere" just as the phone rings...
"Your flight is a GO."

We quickly move to the aircraft, get both engines started and take off. We've just gotten high enough to see above the treeline when Dispatch crackles over the radio...
"Your flight is cancelled."
I make one circuit of the traffic pattern and land.

Bein' cancelled is aggravating for several reasons.
I'ts expensive... starting the aircraft is the hardest thing you can do to it. I just shocked and expanded some pretty exotic metals within two combustion chambers, waking two engines and bringing them from ambient temperature to 700 degrees centigrade in just a few seconds. There are limits on the number of times you can do that before you have to throw out the old exotic metal and buy new exotic metal. $$$$$!
Starting the engines costs money. I just did it for no revenue.

Over the intercom to my crew I wonder out loud...
"Okay, how long do you think it'll be before we are called for a flight to the hospital at P-Ville?"

Scene flights are cancelled for several reasons...
-Upon arrival at the scene, the ground crew finds everyone is okay.
-The patient(s) is/are DRT, (Dead Right There. We don't use the helicopter to transport corpses.)
-Our ETA is excessive. Sometimes it's quicker to transport the patient to the closest hospital for evaluation where the decision may be made to call us again. This happens OFTEN!

An hour passes. The phone rings. I pick up the receiver and don't even give our dispatcher a chance to speak...
"Lemme guess... we're goin' to P-Ville for the victim of an MVA."

And my dispatcher laughs out loud.

I guess there's comfort in things that never change.

13 November 2007

Cooldown Lap

Please forgive me for taking a breather.
I promise I'll fill ya in on the rest of the Hawaii experience, but I'm still trying to catch my breath...
We got home from the journey Midnight Sunday. Monday morning found me headed to the airport to fly with a student in the R22, then meet with an old Viet Nam Cobra jock that wants my help purchasing a new R44. No rest for the wicked.

This A.M., (Tuesday) is "payback" time. When we've used up our vacation days, we take days off by finding someone willing to "trade" days. Friend Dan made my Hawaii trek possible by covering for me, but needed me to reimburse his trade today. I rolled outta bed this morning and had to look around to see if the bed was in Hawaii, Mesa, AZ, or home... took a few seconds to clear the cobwebs!

When I finally hung up my ARMY flight suit and received my final printout of flight time, I had accrued exactly 2,999 hours in various iterations of the Huey... UH-1B,C,D,H, and M.
I've written before about my love for the old, stable machine.
A comment to a post below this one led me to
this Huey Pilot's Blog...
I'm always interested in reading about the distaff side of flying, and I'm particularly interested in reading about Elay's experience flying my favorite old bird. She's a new addition to my blogroll.

And "The Hits Keep Comin'!"...
Another Blogroll addition will expose you to flyin' fast and flyin' low/slow simultaneously.

Kandy and Darren are a husband/wife team.
Kandy flies EMS down in TX in the same gas hog I fly. Darren flies even bigger gas hogs, both military and civilian.
Go give 'em a look!

Upon further reading of Kandy and Darren's blog I find she flies the EC135... a newer, sexier, slightly smaller aircraft than the BK117
I "yank and bank" in.

And when I've caught my breath, I'll finish the Hawaii diary.
Thanks for bein' out there!

12 November 2007

On The Ground

By the time we start the helicopter to launch on a scene flight, most of the heavy lifting has already been done by Police, Firefighters, and ground EMS Crews. I'm in awe of the job they do, and uncomfortable with the attention we get because our part of this work is truly "batting cleanup".

I was "Google Alerted" to a blog because the writer put up a post about calling a helicopter to her scene on a night when weather was questionable. I like her style... and as always, smiled to see that EMS folks have similar experiences everywhere.

Go spend a little time at "My Life In The Firehouse" and see if you agree it's worth your time.
I've added her to my Blogroll.

A Photo of Greybeard...

Fellow blogger, former Marine, and former Presidential Candidate Cary Cartter is a guy I agree with much of the time. He comments here now and then. When he found out Big Bubba moved to Mesa he quickly volunteered to lend a hand if ever needed, and made me a lot more comfortable with the idea my son was 1700 miles from home.

We finally got together at the "Chevy's" restaurant in Mesa Saturday night, and Cary's beautiful wife took a picture of the two of us together. So if you're interested to see what Ol' Greybeard looks like, check out the pic at Cary's Blog here!

06 November 2007

Subs, (Not Sandwiches!)

I'm gonna tell ya about an extraordinary Saturday, but I forgot to relate something important about the trip to Honolulu-
Our flight from Mesa, AZ to Honolulu was on an ATA 757. The flight was full... approximately 200 people aboard. There were four bathrooms on the plane... three amidships and one up front. The flight took 5.5 hours. About 4 hours into the flight the bathrooms began to smell pretty bad... I think the holding tanks may have been nearly full. The otherwise satisfactory experience was made uncomfortable by the fact that from our seats four rows away the smell was strong enough to make Sara Jean gag.

But back to Saturday-
In an earlier post I mentioned our Hawaii classmate's husband Ken works for the Navy at Pearl Harbor. He wanted to give us a special tour of the Harbor facilities. Big Bubba, Sara Jean and I rode along with Ken and his wife as Ken pointed out different points of interest at both Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base. Many of the sights were familiar from movies we've seen, like "In Harms Way", and "Tora, Tora, Tora!"

Then we stopped at the Submarine base.
Security there is obviously VERY high.

I had never been close to a sub, and even though we were 75 feet away behind a fence, was happy to be able to get a good look at three of them... two at the pier near us, and one across the channel in maintenance.

I asked Ken if he thought there was any way we could get inside the fence for a closer look. He said he thought maybe I could do it with my retired ID card, but was much less sure about Big Bubba and Sara Jean. I asked the security guard if I could pass through the gate and he surprised me by saying yes, then asking, "Are you sponsoring the rest of these folks?"
The whole group followed me inside the fence.

The two subs closest to us were Los Angeles class... the "Bremerton" and the "La Jolla".
This is the Bremerton:

"La Jolla" is similar in appearance, but has "bow-planes"... the elevator-like control surfaces on the Bremerton's sail are on the bow of the La Jolla, and its sail is unencumbered.
We chatted for a while with the armed (12 gauge shotgun and sidearm) guard at the Bremerton, then moved on to the La Jolla and did the same. Walking back to the Bremerton, Ken noticed some sailors leaving the boat in their dress whites and said, "Ya know... sometimes when the crew is ashore they give tours on the surface ships"...
The idea of it stunned me. Was it possible to take a tour of an active nuclear submarine? I walked up and asked the guard.
I was amazed when he turned and picked up the phone. A few moments later the "Officer of the Day" appeared and escorted all of us down the hatch!
For the next hour+ the five of us were given a wonderful tour of one of the most deadly weapons systems known to man. We were not allowed near the reactor, but toured three levels aboard the Bremerton, asking what were probably stupid questions.
I would NEVER have thought touring the boat would be possible, and will NEVER forget the experience!

Dateline: Ford Island

Aviators know what I mean when I say I'm "behind the power curve".
We've seen so much... done so much. So much has happened, I've had to make notes on what to share with you. I'll try to blog in my spare time, (HA!).
Let me slowly bring you up to speed.

First- the idea of coming to these islands for a week... spending a couple days on Oahu, then hopping over to Maui for a couple days, then on to Hawaii for a couple... absolute crap. By the time we leave we'll have been here a week, and we won't even have done Oahu justice.

That's how it looks through these eyes anyway. Our rooms in the "Navy Lodge" here on Ford Island are fabulous. Two queen beds and bath, kitchenette, and separate sitting room with desk and sofa/sleeper. We sleep within 1000 feet of the remains of almost 1000 men that died on the U.S.S. Arizona.

This is another mini-High School reunion for me. I sponsored four classmates and spouses to stay here at the Inn with us. We arrived Thursday evening to very light rain and moderate temperatures. The rain stopped and we congregated at one of the Lanais for beverages and conversation with our classmate that lives here on Oahu and her husband who works for the Navy at Pearl Harbor.

Friday morning dawned beautifully and found us with coffee cups in hand on the front porch, overlooking the Harbor. Showered and ready for action, we drove one mile to the Battleship Missouri and signed up for the guided tour. It's impossible to describe the effect approaching this ship has on ya... almost 1000 feet long and 20 stories tall, 9-16 inch guns lying in standby, my thoughts went to what it must have been like on 6 Dec 41 to see a clutch of similar ships moored here. The tour lasted an hour or so and was well worth the time and money. From the bow of the Missouri it's impossible to miss the beautiful white structure that is the Arizona Memorial. That was next on the agenda.

The only way to get to the Arizona is by water, so we had to drive to the other side of the harbor to visit her. There is a museum there with many 7 Dec exhibits, and we idled some time there while waiting to go into the theatre to watch a 20 minute film about the U.S. being invited into WWII. The film moved me to tears. We then boarded the ferry and crossed the harbor to the Arizona. There were 60 or so people on the ferry... many of them Japanese tourists. All were obviously affected, like me, by the film. What talk there was among the visitors was done at a whisper.

We've all seen so many images of the Memorial, you feel as if you've already been there. After disembarking the ferry we walked to the far end of the Memorial to view the names of the crewman that were killed that day, including those whose remains we stood above. A smaller separate plaque shows the names and dates of death of those Arizona shipmates who survived into old age who made the decision to have their ashes deposited here alongside their shipmates who died over 60 years ago.

We were the last tour for the day and the sun was low in the sky, so it was hard making out the outline of the big ship beneath us. On the bow, a buoy is tied so you can see the ship's length. Not quite as long as the Missouri, it boggles the imagination, thinking of something that large exploding... burning... sinking.

So our Friday was a full, emotional day.
Adjacent to the facility/theatre for the Arizona is a WWII submarine, the "Bowfin".
We intend to take a look there before we leave.

More to come...

01 November 2007

He Works In Strange Ways-

Sad news came last night...
The 25 year old son of close acquaintances was killed two nights ago.
He somehow got his car stuck in the Interstate median, then was struck and killed trying to cross the highway. (The vehicle that hit him didn't stop.)
Like our Big Bubba, he was an only child.

Engaged to be married, his fiancee' was expecting.
I haven't talked with his Old Man in some time, but I'm sure he would have been somewhat embarrassed by this pre-wedding pregnancy.
How do you think he feels about his coming grandchild now?

Hug your loved ones folks, and try to remember what's really important in your life.

Tonight we'll be in paradise.

We took the first step yesterday and arrived here in Mesa, Arizona just before 10 A.M. local time. Being a cheapskate added a little stress to our lives... my cheap tickets had us departing our home airport a little after 6 A.M.
Backward planning then indicates our problem-
It takes 3 hours to get to the airport.
Waking, personal hygiene, loading the car, etc., takes an hour...
Clearing security adds another.
So 6-3-2= a 1 A.M. departure from home.
We questioned if we should even go to bed. Knowing that I have to be up that early precludes me from really sleeping anyway-
I guess it's actually a good thing my system is screwed up from working nights all the time!

Every time we travel I'm reminded of the old George Carlin "Stuff" routine, (and I notice he's talkin' about Hawaii ! ):

What part of your stuff is important enough to pack and bring along?
After you're packed you stress out that you've forgotten an important part of your "stuff". So far we seem to have done pretty well...
the stuff we brung is the stuff we've needed.

Today is another adventure altogether...
I hoped Big Bubba would be able to tag a friend to take us to the airport.
No dice. His folks at work are tied up meeting an important deadline for a project and can't be torn away. So we're left with a couple options...
Call a taxi, or take the bus.
We checked, and the 20 minute taxi ride would cost $30. (Knowing how cheap I am, I'm sure you can see where this is leading!)
We checked the "Vally Metro" website and found we can make our
4 P.M. flight by boarding the bus at 1:19, one block away from Big Bubba's apartment. The fare- $1.25 each! We have to transfer to a different bus twice before arriving at Sky Harbor International, but transfers are free for the asking. I'm no expert on riding the bus, so I'm concerned about the logistics of all this. But if it all falls into place, I think we'll be using mass transportation to get to/from the airport here from now on!

The other night I thought of another coincidence. In my previous post I told you I had been to Honolulu on one other occasion...
on my way to Viet Nam.

The date of that flight?
1 November 1968... exactly 39 years ago today.

Aloha everyone!