Today was my first real day of flying for the Shilla Jupiter. The first flight of the day was run of the mill, except that instead of flying with the Captain or the First Officer, the Second Officer is the designated passenger on this boat. Not sure if that is a Shilla thing or if that is something to do with this Captain and First Officer. I keep using “first officer” in these posts because it’s familiar to me and what I naturally write, but for anyone coming out here he’s actually the “Chief Officer” and they call him “Chosa” on the Korean boats. “Yansa” is the second officer, “Bosso” or “Bosson” is the deck boss. Anyways, back to the day…
The second flight of the day was one of the most fun flights I’ve done as a helicopter pilot in my entire career so far. Granted I’m just getting started with this career and most new experiences are exciting enough for me to write about them. Some of you long in the tooth gray haired dogs of aviation will chuckle at this like it’s just another day, but hey – you were young once too.
I got the helicopter fired up per normal, we were clipping along at 12 knots or so and the wind was just off of the bow in what was a damn near perfect crosswind on my right side. The Yansa climbed up into his seat and fastened his belt and then a moment later we were airborne. Early that afternoon we’d met up with three other Shilla boats, the Sprinter and the Harvester (I miss that boat, mostly the D-model and luxury cabin) and another I didn’t get the name of (it was making a set and had its nets out), and they were all headed in different direction from this spot, maybe at 20º angles to each other.
Once I was airborne I asked the Yansa what we were doing and where we were heading and then he pointed at one of the other boats and made a gesture with his hand of landing on the deck, and then keyed his mic and said just as much.
“Landing, landing, ok?
So I kept my speed low and my altitude low because the boat, the Shilla Sprinter, was fairly close by and it didn’t take long to get to their vacant heli-deck and set down. A Korean crewman was waiting for us and once the helicopter was down firmly I gave him a thumbs up and he ran up to my door and handed my a plastic bag filled with what looked like boxes of medicine (later I would find out they were in fact boxes of medicine). Yansa took the bag, and waved off the other crewman before pointing at the Harvester.
“Ok going Harvester, ok?”
That’s all fine and good Yansa, but they have an MD 500D sitting on their heli-deck what exactly are we going to do over there? I thought to myself, the answer becoming somewhat apparent as I turned out over the water. He undid his lap belt and scooted down to grab the long rope and grappling hook that was attached to the GPS buoy that we carry in the helicopter for marking a “payow” if we find one. Sure enough when I turned out off of the starboard side of the boat I could see exactly what was happening and set myself up for it. On the heli-deck the pilot and mechanic, watching and taking pictures, flanked the bright yellow D-model on either side. Along the upper deck railing in front of the bridge the officers and crew had assembled to see what was about to happen, and at the front of the ship on the bow was one crewman waiting.
I made my approach over the slow moving Shilla Harvester and parked my pontoons between the heli-deck on my left side and the windsock on my right side and put the helicopter into a “hover”. I use quotes around hover because anyone that has flown out here knows that the ships and the ocean are always moving and as a result of that, so are we. Meanwhile the Yansa climbed out onto the pontoon of the helicopter and lowered the grappling hook down to the man on the bow.
I took turns alternating between my instruments, the windsock, and the lip of the heli-deck to maintain my spacing and position in a hover that was so stable it surprised even me. Every time I would glance toward the bridge to check my spacing and height the Captain or radio operator would wave at me. I’m sure they started to think I was a big jerk for not waving back, but the last thing I was going to do was let go of my collective while I was in a confined “hoist” operation over the bow of a ship getting rolled by swells of blue ocean.
In what was probably only a minute or two at most the rope was lowered, the bag was hooked to it, and the rope and hook were raised back up. Yansa climbed back into his eat and got fastened in and then told me we were good to go. I pulled pitch and climbed out and forward away from the ship, the bridge, the windsock, and into safety. As we started to turn out I stuck my hand out the side of the door and waved at the guys on the boat below. Their insistent waves finally returned.
I had just completed my first external load, hoist operation, in a very uncharacteristically unique way. I’ll tell myself later that all the study I had put into the book side of vertical reference flying was the reason I was able to get into such a stable hover and why the operation went so well. I hope that there are many many more cargo transfers like this one.
After that we chased down a Japanese boat that had wandered into our little formation of Shilla Company boats, they had turned and were making great speed away from us but I think the Captains wanted to know the name or something like that because they had us chase it down, and the Yansa used a big set of binoculars to check the boat out, presumably looking for the registration. We circled it once, and then pushed onto a school nearby that it was making speed for, we circled the school a dozen times and the Japanese launched a speedboat to race out ahead of the main ship. I haven’t figure out why yet, were they claiming the school, or trying to herd the tuna back towards the boat so they could set sooner? I have no idea. All I know is that it felt cool whipping along in the helicopter, turning out over a speed boat bouncing off of waves below us, the large menacing Japanese boat bearing down on our location.