Groundhog Day is a real thing. (Nov 19)

We all, ok well – most of us, remember the movie Groundhog Day. I’m kind of stretching the term “remember” to work here because I only saw it once and I was a kid, and I don’t recall much of it except that he kept waking up and it was the same day over and over again. Novel idea some might think, the recreated it in Edge of Tomorrow (I enjoyed the movie) recently. Well I’m here to tell you that it is real.

Out here on the high sea there is not much in the way of variety. We have a job to do. The scenery doesn’t change, the water is always a deep blue. We wake up in the morning, like every morning and go through the motions, preflight, breakfast, standby. Fly. Lunch, standby. Fly. Maybe fly some more. Dinner. The hours after we fly are spent doing compressor washes and then reading, or watching movies, or just hanging around making jokes. The forced English and confused expressions abound as we try and communicate with each other. Then you sleep and the next morning you wake up and do the same thing.

I work out when I can on the helideck, pushups and some basic movements. I’ll tell you this – you’ve never done a pushup until you’ve done one on the deck of a boat that is heaving in the ocean against swells of water. For instance, on your up motion, if the boat suddenly pitches up with a swell, suddenly all the effort you had been putting into lifting yourself up from the deck is negated by the upward motion of the boat and you have to push twice as hard to achieve the full motion. Pitching left to right makes for an interesting balance act as your elbows strain against the forces trying to topple you over. It’s like working out in a random gravity environment. One minute you’re feeling lighter than ever and the motions come easy – the next you’re twice as heavy and sweat beads form on just one motion. The same of course applies to the pull-up bar we have installed too.

We’ve been at sea now for four days and we’ve done a bit of flying, I even spent some time circling the boat working on landings. My training pilot wants me to solo at 5 hours, we agreed that it would be our challenge to get me to solo standards by then. We will see. There is still something about a pitching deck, and a forward moving boat that you’re more or less supposed to “hover” over in a 12 knot attitude that weirds me out. I have no doubt in my mind that this is something I can master, and I’ve been watching him every flight, learning his approach and his takeoff.

He’s consistent, always gets a bunch of altitude on takeoff before turning out and flying away, it looks like a hard climb off of the deck, like he’s yanking the guts out of that C18 engine but I’ve never seen him go over limits. His approach is identical almost every time too – he come in on “final” right behind the wake of the Caribe and then offsets to the right a bit, just outside of the hanging speedboat (as a visual reference). He then flies parallel with the boat until he, and his tail rotor, are well past the antenna stack and any cables – than he jabs the left pedal in and puts the helicopter into sideward flight at 12 knots and creeps it over the deck and onto the rubber mats on top of the cargo net.
Every time. I’ve been filming the takeoffs and arrivals and watching the film in my cabin like I’m reviewing footage from a shoot house. But instead of looking for high elbows and flags I’m looking for angles, clearances, speeds, profiles. I think going into this next training flight I’ll be more ready for the approach and landing portion with all of this in my minds eye.

Did a compressor wash on the 500 tonight after flight ops were over, it was my first time on the starter and left side since getting out here. Felt awesome to finally be on that PIC side of the bird. What’s a compressor wash you ask? Well that is when we wash the compressor – obviously. All this salt water flying and, more so, hovering can be pretty abusive to the delicate turbine engine in this helicopter, so at the end of the day the mechanic hooks up a pressurized bottle of water to a rinse valve while I motor the starter to flush the engine clean of salt water. The battle with corrosion continues.

Motor the starter to 10%, release, motor back to 10%, release, mechanic dries the engine and moves clear, motor the engine to 10%, release, motor the engine to 10%, release, and then the fun starts with a full run up.

I’m slowly taking over elements of the current pilots job, like compressor washes, and helping Roxy (Orlando Roxas) with the post flights. Jose is finding he has a lot more time to stand by and observe these days. If all goes well I’ll relieve him flying too before the end of this leg.

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