Noilly Prattle: Persian Odyssey: Part XVII – Like a falling stone

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Persian Odyssey: Part XVII – Like a falling stone

desert landscape
We flew over the desert to a training area where the students were put through their paces on various flight procedures and maneuvers. I am glad to be able to report that communication snafus were at a minimum, so much so that I was able to relax enough to enjoy the flight itself and the views of the ever changing landscape below. If you ever saw the flight scene in the film Out of Africa it would give you some idea. I even spotted lots of camels on the desert floor under me. Finally we landed for lunch and a well earned break. There were several camels and locals nearby and my Texas cowboy asked me if I'd like to take a ride on one. Yeah, like you'd even have to ask, right? It was exactly what I was thinking: “Boy, would I love to ride a camel.” A little negotiation and a camel obligingly knelt down and I clambered up onto its hump. The camel stood up and hoisted me up with it and the guy whose camel it was led us around in the desert with me riding high and proud and having the time of my life. 

in my flight suit on the camel
After lunch we went back up, did some more training exercises until it was time to start heading back to the base. Well, I was pretty relaxed and used to flying in the helicopter, the student was flying pretty smoothly as well and there wasn't a lot of talk going on between the two pilots. Suddenly, without warning, the rotor quit and the damned Huey started to fall straight down like a rock, very un-Out of Africa-like, with the desert floor rushing up to meet us. I think I was too stunned to scream. The Texas cowboy sat there calmly observing the near but not quite panicking student who was struggling with the controls. Down we kept on dropping and I figured my time on earth was untimely up.

view from the back se

There wasn't much point in making a scene, so I just tensely awaited the end hoping it would be instantaneous and painless. Suddenly, I felt a jolt and the helicopter stopped falling like a rock and seemed to be falling as if something was cushioning it. The hand of God? The rotor blades were turning again, but I couldn't hear the sound of the engine. Shortly thereafter, the still cool as a cucumber cowboy pushed a button, the engine kicked in again, the Huey stopped falling and continued its normal flight back to the base. I found my voice and shakily asked the cowboy what the hell happened back there? He said: “Oh, that! It's just an emergency procedure for when and if you lose your engine.” “What if the engine hadn't restarted?” I asked. “Well, when the chopper falls like that the air catches in the rotor and starts it spinning and breaks the fall. Theoretically, you could land the helicopter that way, but it's not easy and not too smooth. For training, we restart the engine to make it easier for the student to land.”

“Well, that's nice to know,” I said. Muttering to myself: “You could've told me beforehand.”

And, yes, I went back up a few more times (and lived to tell about it) until the base went into shutdown as the strikes and demonstrations, bombings and fighting in the streets that defined the autumn and winter of 1978 accelerated to their climax.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

Out of Africa, one of my most favorite.

Geez...I almost was sick to my stomach when you told that story.

That photo of a young, black haired Joe, made me smile.

Noilly Prattle said...

:-) Yeah, nostalgia--makes me smile, too.