Police Helicopter Pilot

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Filtering by Tag: long line

Outlaw Country Music Singers, Marijuana & Helicopters

Net full of marijuana being hauled away by helicopter. Tony Webber photo.I have often said that there is nothing better than a great Country & Western song, and there is nothing worse than a bad Country & Western song.  Whether you are a big fan of county music or not, Jamey Johnson's first single off of his THAT LONESOME SONG album, "In Color" is powerful and pure enough to send chills up ones spine. 

With his biker beard and the occasional mention of marijuana in a song or two, he can certainly give the impression of a hell raising outlaw musician.  But then anyone who can write and perform a song such as "In Color", a tribute to Grandfathers, War Vets, and even Marriage, can't be all bad.  In fact on GAC's Jamey Johnson bio page the performer is described as having the "looks of a hellraiser but the heart of a poet."  It is true that Jamey Johnson's first performances were in small country churches along side his father.  And while he may have had a deep woods upbringing, he is a formally trained musician. 

If you are still not sure who Jamey Johnson is, then perhaps you might recognize the CMA and ACM 2007 Song of The Year that he co-wrote, "Give it Away" recorded by George Straight.  But that is not the first or the last song Jamey has written or co-written for country musicians.  You can add Trace Adkins' "Ladies Love Country Boys" to that list. 

So San Diego's Viejas Casino Dreamcatcher Lounge seemed like the perfect close up venue to see Jamey Johnson perfom "In Color".  Sure there were plenty of biker beards on display in the audience, but in all honesty I had been in worse crowds at the grocery store.  Even when the first lyric about smoking pot in the church parking lot flows from the stage, the context is about how "the high cost of living is nothing like the cost of living high."  Not particularly glorifying the use of marijuana.  Oh, and seeing Jamey Johnson perfom In Color-live, lived up to all of it's expectations. 

Finally, when Jamey began singing a song about growing weed out behind the house, cheers of approval rose from the audience.  What did I do?  I just smiled, because the following morning I would be earning time and a half while "slinging dope" in our local mountains: Doing my part to help those suffering from the Cost of Living High! 


Deputy D. Weldon flying by vertical reference while performing marijuana long line operations. Photo by T. Webber. 

Helicopter Featured in PHP Photo Gallery Involved in Fatal Crash

N61735 MD500 (Hughes 369D) helicopter involved in fatal crash in Pa.

In April of this year I posted this photo taken by Deputy Rocky Laws, in the policehelicopterpilot.com photo gallery.  It was a beautiful MD500 often seen flying in and out of Gillespie Field (our home base) in El Cajon Ca.  I was sure that this photo captured by Rocky would be appreciated by any helicopter enthusiast, and since we fly MD's also, it was more than worthy of being included in the gallery.

I was sad to learn that this helicopter was involved in a fatal crash last week, (July 22nd) in Wharton Township Pa., while reportedly performing "long line" operations in support of natural gas survey work. 

Early reports by the news media indicated that the line and basket underneath the helicopter may have become entangled in trees, and the pilot attempted to make an emergency or crash landing.  However, a quick look at the crash photos tells a different story.

First, a line becoming entangled in the trees is not necessarily an emergency for an experienced and properly trained long line pilot, which I have no doubt this pilot was.  A helicopter pilot performing long line operations in and around trees or other obstacles will be leaning out the door far enough to keep an constant eye on the line and load.  That is why it is also referred to as "vertical reference flying" because the pilot is often looking straight down at the ground and his load, and flying the helicopter by visual reference to the ground below him instead of out in front of him or her.  

This type of flying is generally slow, with an emphasis on precision.  If a line becomes entangled the pilot simply works to get the line untangled, or "pickles" (releases) the load.  These hooks on the belly of the helicopter generally have an electronic release button, with a back up manual release handle both mounted right on the cyclic.  Pilots are also trained to test both release methods prior to any long line work. 

The greater danger in performing long line work is that you are often working outside of the height velocity curve that is publised in the operating manual for every helicopter.  This is also sometimes called "dead mans curve." 

In the event of an engine out the helicopter absolutely must have an acceptable combination of  altitude and airspeed in order to enter autorotation.  The right combination of altitude and airspeed will keep the  air rushing up through those rotor blades (collective must be immediately lowered) and keep them turning at a sufficient rpm and with enough energy to cushion the landing.  This technique works every time when performed properly and when operating inside the published height velocity diagram, (500' and 60 knots is an example of a good altitude and airspeed combination for most helicopters, while 200' and 20 knots or a hover at 200' is an example of a height and velocity where most helicopters would be incapable of performing a successful autorotation.)

However, long line operations by their nature require pilots to operate outside of the height velocity diagram.  If you are using a 100' line and you are in a precision hover picking up or placing a load then you are operating outside of the height velocity diagram.  This is perfectly legal, and helicopter pilots accept this risk when performing long line operations as well as certain other helicopter maneuvers. 

While I am not a trained helicopter accident investigator certain logical conclusions can be drawn simply by examining the photos published in the news stories of this crash.  All 5 blades on this helicopter are completely intact and do not appear to have any damage normally associated with blades which are spinning at flight rpm, and involved in a crash.  One would expect to see splintered blades, deeply gouged dirt and much more significant damage to the cabin fuselage if the crash occurred with the engine and rotorblades spinning at the proper rpm.  Instead you see blades that are intact but drooped and touching the ground on all sides of the aircraft, much more indicative of a very hard impact with low rotor rpm. 

Rather than getting his line caught in the trees as reported by a number of news outlets, this helicopter more likely experienced engine problems or an engine out while flying outside of the height velocity curve.  Even the best helicopter pilots in the world may not have been able to recover and survive such an occurance. 

This is tragic and sad event for helicopter aviation and PHP.com sends it's condolences to the pilot's family and friends. 

According to the FAA the helicopter was a Hughes 369D manufactured in 2002 and owned by Utility Helicopters Inc at 1948 Joe Crosson Dr in El Cajon Ca., (Gillespie Field). 

The helicopter was likely leased or contracted out to Geokinetics of Oregon for the survey work being conducted.