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Saturday, August 12, 2000
Flashback '96: Claim Jumper and The Day of the Helicopters
Sorting through my old files, I came upon some pre-journal era journal entries. Here they are are, uneditted. I think they nicely illustrate the dark and the light of being Me.
[Just when I thought I was going to have an uneventful day...]
April 4, 1996
The Claim Jumper
I took myself to the Claim Jumper for dinner tonight.. or, well, I tried. At 9pm, the wait was twenty minutes, so I got my pseudonym and wandered around outside for a while. Eventually, I got cold, so I wandered in, where I had to stand for lack of available seats. For some reason this night, I was particularly aware of how sheep-like all the patrons were -- from eye to eye, not a shimmer of individuality in the whole place. Apparently, it wasn't that they were unusually herdy today, but that I was unusually unique. So much so, they had me thrown out. By the cops, no less.
I had finally found myself a place in the lobby to sit, by the fire. The couple in front of me, a couple of odd but matched geometry, was playing speed checkers. The rest of the lobby was populated by the well-dressed and mindless, out for a friday's night image parade. I was, as often, the only party of one.
Apparently there's a law against that.
So a couple of cops stroll in casually, and I am thinking to myself, are they going to have dinner, or are they on the prowl? And just then the she-cop, who had been feigning to walk by me, stopped and asked me what I was doing.
"Excuse me?" I said with a practiced indifference, and maybe a hint of "You're not THAT stupid, are you?"
"We've had some complaints that you've been standing around here for a long time." (I'm not kidding! That's word-for-word what she said, within the limits of my recollection!)
Well, this was so surreal, I had no problem playing it totally cool. So I leaned forward, kinda subtle like, and looked both directions, like I didn't want anyone else to hear, and I said, softly, "I bet if you asked just about anyone else here, you'd find out they've been doing the same thing." And I gave her a little nod of sincere confirmation.
She didn't even blink. Cops have no sense of humor.
"Is someone meeting you here?" she said accusingly.
"Noooo...." speaking slowly now, to the obviously-impared.
"Are you waiting for a table?"
"Do they have your name?" (Oh, this is going to get good)
"Nooooo...." They don't take your name at Claim Jumper -- they give you a pseudonym instead! I couldn't help but to crack a little smile on this one. When she asked for my name later, I was desperately trying to remember my pseudonym, but it was something difficult like Klikitat Brewers (I can't even remember it now -- it was something Brewers).
Naturally, next they wanted to see my id. Sorry, it's in my car. (It really was! Sometimes I put it in my ash tray when I'm going surfing and don't want to bring my whole wallet with me; and sometimes it stays in there a while...)
So what's my name? (Dammit, if I could only remember...)
"Excuse me? I wasn't aware I was obliged to hand out my name in order to eat dinner."
Anyway, I'll spare you the boring middle part, where I had a long discussion with them about how absolutely absurd this was, and how they're hopelessly biased to think everyone is a criminal, yadda yadda. I asked to talk to the manager.
"The manager wants you to leave. He's the one who called us."
I wanted to hear it from him. So she-cop went off to find him. Meanwhile, he-cop (good-cop) told me they'd had a recent rash of armed robberies at this particular Claim Jumper, and he's sorry for all the nonsense, etc.. etc..
So she-cop came back with the manager, who introduced himself to me, and I to him, and we shook hands, and he looked kinda nervous. He was very politic, and said, basically, he'd been robbed three times in the last couple of months, and he's been drilled on what to look for, and I fit the bill (and his breif description basically came down to: looking around instead of just sitting there by myself for half an hour), and he would like me to leave, and I can come back another time. (Huh? Hello?) And he mumbled something about buying me dinner -- another time.
So I made him put that in writing.
I don't know if it's worth anything, but I've got his card with his writing on the back "good for dinner, up to five members" or some such. And I had a little chat with him about his woes and the time he went into the back room to find his three managers with a 9mm to their heads (I didn't ask him if the robber had them all lined up ear-to-ear, or what....), and whatnot. And I asked him, so, gee, "what is going to keep this from happenning again next month? Because I'm prone to go to dinner by myself. And I usually do stand around and look at things." And he said, "well, maybe we'll get to know you." (I'm not kidding.) Given that I've been in there fifty times already in the last year... I dunno. But, he still wanted me to leave. Well, fuck the pigs, but, fool or not, the manager represents the business, and that's his prerogative.
Meanwhile, the cops had it in their head that they had to have my name. And they weren't going to let me leave without it. I gave them the paper with my pseudonym, which had been in my pocket. That didn't fly. "I take it you weren't listenning when I introduced myself to the manager right in front of you?" Even the manager had forgotten my name already. Geeze. So, with little else to gain, and a hunger to satisfy, I showed them my student id, and walked out.
So, I get to my car, and I'm leaning against it, looking accross the way at the new Pizza place, trying to figure out if they're still open, and running through my head other places to go this late, and the she-cop walks up and tells me I have to vacate the premises. I said, immediately, "I'm parked for THAT restaurant, there." pointing to the pizza place which did, in fact, share this parking lot. "You going to eat there?" she asked. "I'm thinking about it." (Had I said "yes" or "no", she would have used that to lever me onward one way or the other.) Conceding the round to me, she turned to leave, but informed me that if I hung around there that they were going to get called back. I told her I didn't think it was going to take me that long to decide, and I asked her what else was open for dinner this late. She said I'd have a hard time finding anything, other than the Claim Jumper, that serves past 10pm, and she looked at her watch and said "And, well, that's what time it is right now."
So when they seated me at the Pizza place, I said "Now, you're not going to call the cops on me, are you?" and, naturally, they looked at me kinda funny, so I told them the story.. And for the rest of the night, it was "Here's your pizza, sir. Can I see your ID please?" and "Sammy's: where you can eat without being hassled by the cops.", and so forth.
You know, I don't think I would get hassled this much if I were actually a criminal. A few more episodes like this...
I just got an hour-long ride in the back of a Hughs 500 helicopter, and it was an experience I highly recommend. Especially since it was free (it's amayzing what you can do if you just shave, look respectable, and put on a tight skirt). (Just kidding!) Don't underestimate the odds of getting a free ride if you want one -- after I returned from the first, I was offerred a second by someone completely unrelated, but had to turn it down 'cause I was scheduled for my actual "intro" flight which I had come for in the first place. Everyone I met there seemed to genuinely have fun flying the things, and wanted to share the wealth. (And half the people there had lots of wealth to share. I was admiring one of the helos [a new style Hughs 500, spiffier than the one I got the ride in] and the owner and one of the freelance instructors walked up to fly 'er around. I asked them what they were up to, and they said "just take'n 'er for a stroll. Wanna go?" Gosh dern, wish I could!)
April 14, 1996
The Day of the Helicopters
For the ride I took, we left the back doors off, so I got to dangle my toes out the side (and my headset at one point, but we wont tell anybody about that, will we?). The 500 uses a turbine engine, which is impressively smooth and quiet, so the overall noise level during flight was probably no worse than a Cesna with no doors, maybe even better. Since the main rotor is basically a constant-speed prop, there's little change in the engine noise when you take off, and even the change in blade noise that you hear from the ground is much less noticable from in the cabin, so the take off was a very smooth transition in which the ground just fell away without warning. It was reminiscent of some cool special effect from Blade Runner (no pun intended!).
The realy nifty thing about helicopters, I discovered, is that you can (legally) fly them much closer to the ground than fixed-wing planes, so the views--and the general sensation of flight--are spectacular. (It turns out you can land a helicopter just about anywhere you have the property owner's permission -- even in your own backyard.) We flew down the coast, only a little higher than the beach cliffs. It was pretty cool buzzing by the surfers at 125mph, but still being close enough that I could count the fins on their boards when they wiped out. Yes, that's right, the 500 cruises at over 110 knotts, which makes it faster than a Cesna. There was a point where we passed by a Cesna, in fact, which was a very unintuitive experience (Hey, that Cesna's going backwards!). We also did a high-speed climb gaining over 1000 feet in under twenty seconds.
The actual purpose of the flight was to get one of the new instructors up to speed on the 500, so we spent a bit of time doing things like landing over and over in 90 degree heading increments, circling a point while facing it, circling a point while keeping the tail over it, etc.. Perched over their shoulders, I was surprised to see how much pedal she had to use to compensate for the heading, until I realized that despite the fact that we were standing still relative to the ground, we were actually flying sideways at 15 knotts in the prevailing wind.
Eventually it was time to go back, and, from the practice area, tower gave us clearence direct to the pad, which meant we just skimmed right over the runway (look both ways before crossing the runway!), hopped over a building or two, and swooped down to the target triangle. From there, Fabio took the controls again, and we levitated over a couple of parked helicopters and set down on a wheeled palate only slightly bigger than our own footprint. (At the end of the day, they use a little electric cart to tow the helos in on these porta-pads.)
For my intro flight, we left the Hughs 500 behind (at $500/hour, I'm sure you understand..) and hopped into a Hughs 300. Contrary to the sleek, exotic asthetic of the 500, I can imagine the 300's were once used to deliver Spam to remote military outposts. The 300 uses a standard Lycoming piston engine, but with it mounted vertically on your back, it sounds just like a semi truck when you're starting it. There's a small switch on the dash which engages the rotor clutch, and you toggle that back and forth a few times to ease it into action and get the rotors up to speed.
The three controls on the helicopter are: the pedals (I didn't notice him ever calling it a rudder), the collective, and the cyclic (rhymes with cycle, not sickle). The latter two are named by the effect they have on the main rotor: The collective, which is a bar off your left hip, collectively changes the pitch of the main rotor blades, making you go up and down. The cyclic, which is the stiff rod sticking up between your legs, cyclicly changes the pitch of the blades so that, for instance, the blades can have a steeper pitch toward the back of their rotation than they do by the time they swing around to the front, thereby causing the main rotor to fly itself into a new pitch angle.
He gave me the controls one at a time, as we were cruising up the coast. The pedals are just like an airplane, or like when you're steering a motorcycle with your feet at high speeds -- pressure on the right foot makes you go right, pressure on the left goes left. (I always felt this was backwards, since you are "turning" the line between your feet in the opposite direction you want to go, but I figured it would upset people if I switched the cables so I'm trying to adapt...) The pedals were much more sensitive than on an airplane. A slip of the pedal's edge into the tred of my shoe turned me twenty degrees before I could compensate. They recommend starting out with tredless shoes, and working your way up (I'm not kidding!).
The collective is pretty straight forward -- pull up, you go up, push down, you plummet. It also has a motorcycle-style throttle on it, but you basically don't need to worry about that unless you're getting really severe with the collective. Working the collective and pedals together is a bit of a challenge, since the collective changes the torque of the main rotor, requiring pedal adjustments to keep you straight.
The cyclic is also pretty simple -- it's like having a handle attatched to the top of the main rotor. Push it forward, the rotor tilts forward, and you shortly follow.
All in all, flying it in the forward cruising configuration wasn't too hard -- much more active than flying an airplane, but fun and managable.
At this point, Fabio demonstrated an autorotation, which is an invigorating maneuver in which you kill the power and promptly plummet to the ground.
We actually did not reapply power until we were at a standstill, a few feet above the pad, staying aloft solely on the remaining inertia of the rotor. The rapid nose-first plummet keeps the rotor spinning by autorotation until you are close enough to the ground to flair out and set it down. You don't get much time, but then you don't need to find much space either.
Now I got to try hoverring over the pad.
Hoverring, I discovered, is completely different than flying forward.
Again, one control at a time. The pedals were no sweat, but then I knew what to expect from what I observed during my earlier ride--you have to compensate alot for the wind.
The collective was, I think, easier here than at altitude, simply because it's much easier to tell when you're going up or down if you're only five feet from the ground to begin with.
The cyclic, on the other hand, was not so straightforward. Especially in light of how (relatively) similar it was to an airplane during forward flight. He took control of the pedal and collective, and just gave me the cyclic. With that, I rather quickly turned the craft into a floating pendulum. It would start to fall off to the left, so I would give it a little right, and it would stop drifting, but the body would swing past neutral and cause it to start drifting right, which in itself magnified the swing, etc.. While consciously I knew I should probably compensate less, it was difficult to enact that when I was slipping toward the ground at a sharp angle. After a few seconds of this, I asked him for advice, and he just said it takes a couple of hours to get the feel for it. So he brought it back to neutral, and I tried again. Same thing--the correlation between the controls and the flight was delayed by so many derivatives that I couldn't consciously make any connection whatsover. We would get way out of whack in one direction, and I would consciously adjust, but it wouldn't have any obvious immediate effect, and then next thing you know, we're on the other ear. So he brought it to neutral again. So, for try #3, a good sixty seconds into the cyclic experience, I decided to use the force. He gave me the stick, and we just hovered there.
At this point, he was looking at me like I might be the devil.
So, he gave me all the controls.
Do you remember the scene with the harrier in True Lies?
Well, it was fun. Oops, getting too close to the ground! Oops, pulling up on the collective just turned me 90 degrees because I didn't compensate with the pedals! Oops, we're starting to swing like a pendulum again! Oops, we're drifting away from the pad! Oops, too high! Oops, helicopters can't do that, can they?
But, somehow, I managed to keep it within a reasonable proximity of the pad for a minute or two, at which point Fabio said OK and took the controls from me (for fear that my head would start spinning around?). Apparently it's "very unusual" for someone with my experience not to completely loose control of the craft.
Anyway, it was quite fun even as a one-time thing, and you never know when you'll be stranded on a desert island with nothing but a helicopter, a GPS, and a cupon for unlimitted in-flight re-fueling.
It turns out you can get a _commercial_ licence with only 150 hours total time, _only 50 of which needs to be in a helicopter_, which equates to less than $10K if you already have 100 hrs PIC fixed wing...
Anyway, here are some useful tidbits I picked up (mostly second-hand, fortunately): Always approach and leave a helicopter from the front. The blade in the back is nearly invisible when it's cranked up to full speed, and it can suck you in from quite a distance. And even closer is the turbine exhaust, which is basically the business end of a tandoori oven. Also, having loose objects in the cabin is a very bad thing, since they inevitably get sucked out the door, and some percentage of them hit the tail rotor subsequently resulting in your death and the unfortunate descruction of the helicopter. Apparently, the sherrif's helicopter was recently lost to a T-shirt. (I asked them if the guy had recently lost alot of weight or something... "NO! He took it off!" :-) Also, if you have a fear of heights, put the doors on.
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