This item probably did not make the news outside Europe, especially in the United States because the story is about pilots and not a plane crash. And, who cares about a strike?
Lufthansa pilots are on strike for three days. Being the largest airline in Europe and one of the world’s biggest, you can imagine the turmoil caused by the cancellation of thousands of flights. The strike started at midnight last night, so planes and crews are scattered around the globe. Ticket holders in Germany receive free train tickets, international passengers are given free re-booking. A few flights are being operated by non-union pilots, but the number is insignificant.
People tend to side with striking workers in this country, but not in this case. The general tenor is against the pilots, because the majority feel that they make too much money. Germany is a country of jealous people. No one likes to see a neighbor earning more or even working longer hours. Pilots are one of the highest-paid groups, with senior captains making more than many CEO’s.
Number One Son, who joined the union, is enjoying a paid vacation in Berlin. Fortunately, the weather is fine, so he is visiting the zoo, beer gardens, and shopping arcades. He does not care how the strike ends up. Pilots tend to have a strong bargaining position, because the company cannot replace them...
A headline about drones made me think. What happened to bravery?
Once upon a time, brave men served in the military and fought face-to-face or radar-to-radar. Remember the film, Top Gun? These pilots were the type of warrior young boys and cowardly men admired.
Now, “pilots” sit in containers in Nevada or somewhere equally safe and, more or less, play video games. The problem is that real people die, and one cannot re-set to the beginning. Screams of the wounded or relatives of the dead are unheard and, perhaps, even the anguished faces go unseen. No one seems to care about the aftermath, only the “hit”.
American politicians are so afraid of losing the life of a single soldier in one of their useless (except for profiteers...to include politicians accepting “bribes”) wars, that they do not care about the people dying needlessly. The original target might or might not be legitimate (no trial is ever held), but what has come to be acceptable to US leaders--collateral damage: a euphemism for a murdered human being--is anything by legitimate. This latest form of “combat” is cowardly. Top Gun is now a sissy and no better than a playground bully...but far more deadly.
I wonder if these “pilots” receive flight pay and are awarded medals for “combat” bravery. The military thrives on decorations: just look at the colored thread and base metals plastered on the uniforms of high-ranking officers...even when no wars were/are being fought. And, I’m not talking about members of England’s royal family.
The only danger faced by this new bred of “warrior” is that of being stopped by the police after a boozy night in nearby Las Vegas. I doubt remorse--neither for drinking and driving nor for murdering innocent civilians in a far-off land--ever tarnished a day or night. The gallant cavalryman of days long gone has been replace by someone cavalier.
A friend sent the below article, which will not interest all visitors to this needless blog. But, it brought back memories and spawned some thought.
Helicopter Pilot Superiority - explained!
This has been a serious debate for quite some time with battle lines well drawn and the debate field hot, furious, and emotional. Obviously, the heat of the debate and the surety of the participants are directly proportional to the amount of liquid intelligence that has been consumed. Nevertheless, this humble observer will present the evidence that clearly proves helicopter pilots are, as a matter of fact, the most superior pilots in the aviation community.
First, let's talk about the numbers. Airplanes have a lot of numbers, V1, V2, VTOSS, MMO, the figures many civilian helicopter operations emulate. However, while helicopter pilots try to operate "by the numbers", the operating environment often precludes such a luxury. The 757 pilot is, "going to come over the fence at Vref+15k" or some other such number like that. Meanwhile, the helicopter lands on a rig, perhaps with a 30 knot head wind, a 15 knot crosswind, or maybe he has to land in a remote area with no wind... And he will LAND AT 0 KNOTS GROUNDSPEED! If you know anything about aerodynamics, I shouldn't have to say anything else - the safety of the numbers does not always grace the helicopter pilot therefore, they need special skill to compensate when the numbers are not even applicable. The rotorhead may be landing at 40 knots IAS or 0 knots... Airplane safety margins are all off!
Not convinced, let's talk operating environment. It would be nice to be able to land on a flat piece of paved real estate that was 200 feet wide and 8000 feet long, for every landing; but for helicopter pilots, that's the exception rather than the rule (We are even told to "avoid the flow" of the starch wingers lest we upset their "numbers.")
Helicopter pilots are called to land on small offshore platforms, smaller shipboard platforms (that can be bobbing and weaving like Mike Tyson), rooftops, forests, jungles, and next to highways at night to pick up the injured. This is a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operation that would make most airplane pilots cringe. This goes beyond those fixed wingers who call themselves "bush pilots." Helicopter pilots are the true Bush Pilots - they land and takeoff in the midst of the bushes!
To this, the helicopter pilot adds all the stuff the corporate or 121 operator does. They operate in dense airspace, fly instrument approaches, operate at busy airports, and fly in severe weather - often without the help of a four-axis autopilot with "autotrim." (In fact, the only autopilot may be control friction... And any objective dual-rated pilots will confess the helicopter is quite a bit more difficult to fly on the gauges!)
At this point I have to interject for the prima Donna part 91 operators in their Citation X's, Gulfstreams, and Falcon 50's. Yes Veronica, there are a lot of helicopters with color radar, multiple MFDs, EFIS, digital fuel controls, 4 axis autopilots, and all the other goodies, so don't go there! We can operate your fancy equipment as well!
I'm not done - what about workload? The helicopter pilot is normally the "company man" on the job. Therefore, they must not only be able to fly the aircraft, they have to be the local PR man with the customer, often solving the customer's problems so the aircraft is used the most efficiently. The helicopter pilot might have to arrange for his own fuel and even refuel his own aircraft. He checks the landing sites, trains people how to work around helicopters without getting injured, and makes sure the aircraft does not disturb Grandma Bessie's chickens!
But wait, like the Ginsu knife, "there's more!" The rotor-head does it all. He does all the pre-flight planning, submits the flight plan, prepares all the paperwork including the weight and balance, loads and briefs the passengers, loads cargo, and after landing takes care of the unloading and finally arranges for their own transportation and room. This is often interspersed by telephone calls to some company weenie that changes plans and expectations every hour.
Finally, the all-important question, "What about control touch?" I want to shut up all the hotshot fighter pilots. I've been in their aircraft and they have been in mine... I could fly theirs but they were all over the sky in mine! So then, Mr Starch Winger; when you see a Hughes 500 or Bell 206 pilot hold one skid on a 5000' knife edge ridge that is only two feet wide so passengers can step out onto the ridge, while the other skid is suspended in space... When you watch a Skycrane, Vertol, S61, 212, or 214B pilot place a hook, that's on a cable 200 feet below the aircraft, in the hand of a ground crewman... When you see a Lama, AStar, or Bell 206L land in a space in the trees that's scarcely bigger than the helicopter... and if you ever watch a BK 117, 105, or A109 pilot land in a vacant lot next to a busy freeway surrounded by power lines-at night... Well then, you'll have some idea who is the master manipulator of aviation equipment.
The bottom line is; if all you want is to get into the air, find a Cessna, Beech, F-16, or 757. However, if you want to truly fly, to be an artisan in aviation and develop a bird-like control touch; then, you want to be a helicopter pilot. After all, a rock would probably fly if you made it go 180 knots. Or, if you subscribe to the old Soviet theory of aerodynamics that states, if a big enough engine can be put on a brick, it'll fly.
The real question for our fixed-wing brethren should be, "How fast can you fly backwards?"
Number One Son flies one of the most-sophisticated airliners. He needed years of intensive training to master the art…of suffering hours of boredom being a "flight deck manager". I do not belittle his talent, ambition, or competence, but his main concern seems to be to impress frequent fliers in the back who, if paying attention, should be impressed by how gently he touches down several tons of metal on a long, well-paved, well-lit, well-maintained stretch of concrete.
I was a military helicopter pilot. I received nine months of training and was then sent to Vietnam to learn how to fly in combat. Most of those that survived became competent pilots. The Army must have hoped that I would live long enough to amortize the investment in training.
My kid wanted to become a pilot from his early teen years. I became a pilot out of self-interest, not because I ever dreamed of flying. I recall no such thoughts. I can remember the day that I became interested in becoming a pilot. The decision had nothing to do with the desire to soar above the clouds. I'm sure that I was aware of statistics citing the relative survival rates/chances of infantry officers compared with helicopter pilots involved in the Vietnam Follies, but that played no role in my decision.
One hot, summer day, I was trying to sleep in the shade of a pup tent deep in the heart of Texas, when a helicopter landed nearby and stirred up the dust. My unit was simulating patrols at night to test sensing devices destined to fail along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In my discomfort of trying to sleep on the hard ground, I glanced towards the pilots, comfortably seated in a glass enclosure anonymous behind mysterious helmets and glare shields, and realized that they must sleep in beds…even in war. When we returned to base, I learned what one must do to volunteer to become a target in order to avoid slogging through the jungle and sleeping in the mud.
I spent a year flying in the Central Highlands. Each day, I landed—several times—in good weather and bad on small bit of terrain on hilltops, buffeted by winds, an over-loaded UH-1 helicopter. Tolerances were so marginal, that one false move meant certain destruction of the aircraft and possible death and/or embarrassment. We did not enjoy the luxury of ten thousand foot runways. We were happy with 100 square feet of level ground, but were often forced to balance one skid on whatever would hold to allow passengers to jump out or the crew chief to dump supplies. And, that was the easy part, because on good days no one shot at us.
We might have experienced greater risks, but we had more fun…
Another strange thought today (unrelated to the previous post and, yes, I do have normal thoughts)...
Having recently discovered a health issue (isn’t that such a harmless, vague word?), I began to think about the human body. As I am writing a novel about a helicopter pilot, those machines are currently buzzing through my thoughts.
During the report nightly news report of February 16, 1971, on Vietnam (there was one every night on all three networks and, yes, children, there were only three), anchorman Harry Reasoner made the following statement (captured in a frame in my study/library):
“The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its nature wants to fly, and if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other and, if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance, the helicopter stops flying—immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter.
That is why being a helicopter pilot is do different from being an airplane pilot, and why, in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts, and helicopter pilots are brooders, introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened, it is about to.”
The thing is, the human body is not unlike a helicopter (which is the strange thought mentioned at the beginning: I knew you were wondering!). It has countless moving parts. And, all bits—moving and stationary—suffer from wear and tear, as well as an onslaught of innumerable outside influences. Periodic maintenance and careful use cannot prevent deterioration, decline, and ultimate demise. For some (helicopter or human), a catastrophic event results in an untimely and immediate end.
Although not always at the front of one’s mind, all humans—not only helicopter pilots—know that if something bad has not happened, it will someday...even to airplane pilots.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.