November 23rd, 2014
Total Hours: 104.1
I apologize if this week’s post reiterates too much of last week’s material. But that’s the way I wrote it and I don’t have the time to go for something different now! After last weekend’s intro to long line training I continued to practice my skills throughout the week. We had sessions every day of the week through Thursday. It meant early mornings and lots of standing around in the sunshine. But it also meant a few hours in the R44 and a glimpse into what I hope will be my future.
External load, or long line, work is a mainstay of helicopter operations. Utility work in particular involves a lot of external loads. In Antarctica the long line work is as simple as moving packages of cargo from one camp to another. The pieces are too big and cumbersome to load inside the helicopters and it is much more efficient to simply sling them from one location to another. Other types of external load work include building towers, pulling high-tension electrical cables, water buckets for fire-fighting, and even human external loads.
In the beginning of our training we learned about the different classes of external loads and the FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) that govern companies who want to do this type of work. I’m sure that any company hiring a new pilot for external load work will have copious amounts of their own training, but the more knowledge we have going in the better prepared we’ll be. I found it interesting learning the guidelines that govern the work and it helped me to envision a future where I will be working within them.
As for the training itself, it was about the way I expected. As I wrote last week we started by simply lifting an old truck tire in the air and trying to hover with it. I can’t say I was too surprised by how hard it was. In fact I was more surprised at how well I did initially! But that didn’t last. The second day felt a lot harder and I felt the first tinges of frustration. On Monday our group got bigger and we didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t do any flying. This added a little to my frustration, but I tried to make the most of it by working on the ground.
The groundwork is part of our training for two reasons. First, we learn about what it takes to be on that end of a long line, and second it gives the pilot a chance to move loads from one place to another or even switch loads. In the practice area where we did the training we designated a few different stations and as we got better the challenge was to move the tire from one spot to another. We made targets on the ground, some of them not much bigger than the tire itself. It was hard and it gave me new appreciation for all the pilots I’ve watched doing long line operations. They seem so smooth, but I suppose that comes with time.
As I progressed throughout the week I noticed a lot of improvement in my classmates and myself. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to incorporate a scan into the work. Just like all other types of flying things get hard when we fixate too much on one point. For the long line work we hang partially out the door while we fly, not the most comfortable position, but it allows a view of the load. The trick seemed to be moving the focal point from the load, to the skid, to the ground crew, and occasionally inside to the instruments. The biggest mistake I made was looking at the load for too long. Even an extra second of focus on the load, especially when it is swinging, is enough to upset the hover.
Another thing I learned about was translating tendency. I had already studied it and was very familiar with the theory, but this was the first time I really experienced it. Translating tendency is the way the helicopter drifts in the direction of tail rotor thrust. Because the R44 is a slightly bigger machine it needs a more powerful tail rotor and that means more translating tendency. In addition when we are hovering at 150’ we are using a lot of power. A lot of power means a lot of anti-torque from the tail rotor. All this adds up to a lot of drift! I could actually feel the helicopter move to the right each time I pulled in more power. I always find it especially rewarding when I can experience first hand the principles I have learned about.
By the final day of flying I was feeling very good about my new skills. They are fledgling skills, don’t get me wrong, but I now have a solid idea of what long lining is all about and it has affirmed my desire to pursue this type of work in the industry. There will be more chances for external load work in the coming months and I look forward to building at least a few more hours. My goal is to get in the neighborhood of ten hours total and with a little luck one day I’ll be teaching some of the classes myself. I know there will be many differences when it comes to working external loads out in the “real” world, but I believe this training will prove to be a valuable experience.