Water Hose Fires Etc.

It has been several months since I have flown due to my wifeís deteriorating health. Many of you know that Sheila has been battling heart failure for the past 16 years and 2003 has been incredibly hard on her. We left Sun n Fun several days early due to her condition worsening. On May the 26th her health deteriorated further and she was hospitalized, and on June 6, 2003 was placed on the heart transplant list at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO. By June 7th miraculously there was a heart available for transplant and Sheila was a perfect match.

She was transplanted on the 7th of June and then had numerous complications that necessitated a 2 month hospital stay. We are now home and she is undergoing physical therapy while I help out with the domestic duties. As I have not flown in a couple of months, I am anxious to get back to instructing, and by the time this article is read, I most likely will be doing just that once again, depending on my wifeís recovery rate.

I have had several students express interest in bringing their helicopters here to our facility in Missouri and that works out quite well.

With all of the talk of secondary shaft failures lately, I was reflecting back on some of the memorable flights that we have experienced in the early years of my Rotorway flying. In those days there was not a secondary problem that we were aware of, I had never heard of a 30mm shaft secondary breaking, though we had other challenges of our own.

One particularly memorable flight comes to mind that took place in the early Ď90ís. The Sierra Rotorcraft Club decided to do a fly out of a group of Rotorway helicopters from the Nut Tree Airport in Central California to Marysville airport in Northern California. As I recall it was about a one hour flight. There were four ships going on this adventure.

Steven flew his new Exec 90 over from his helipad in the Napa Valley, it was the newest ship in the club. Bill flew his black Exec in from the Napa airport. Dan flew ďTAZZĒ, his immaculate Exec, up from Livermore, and Sheila and I flew our Exec from our helipad 6 miles north of the Nut Tree airport. At that time Billís helicopter was not equipped for night flight. Dan and I had outfitted our ships with all sorts of lighting, multiple strobes, position lights, and I even had retractable landing lights that lowered from the bottom of the tub with a flick of a switch on the cyclic. We were planning on being home well before dark so lighting was not really a concern.

We departed as a group after topping off our fuel tanks at the Nut Tree airport and flew in a line formation up the Sacramento Valley towards Marysville. Around 15 miles from our destination Billís helicopter developed a coolant leak in one of his radiator hoses. We radioed him to inform him that he was on fire as there was a large cloud of white smoke billowing out of the engine compartment. Bill did an immediate set down in a field and the rest of us landed and helped him extinguish the fire. After the fire was put out we found that one of the water hoses, which were all fairly old, had split and was spraying anti-freeze onto the exhaust pipe. Fortunately there was no other damage as a result of the fire. The hose was removed and Bill doubled up with one of the other pilots (remember to change the ballast weight in such a situation) and we arrived at Marysville in a flight of 3 Rotorway helicopters.

The photo above is of Bill flying his Rotorway 152.

One of our party secured a ride for Bill to an auto parts store where a new hose and antifreeze were purchased. They then flew out and repaired Billís ship and flew back to the air show where they joined our display with all Rotorways present in the home built section. We had a great time there and at the close of the air show we fueled up and headed back for the Nut Tree.

The flight back started well until around half way home I again saw a huge plume of white smoke pouring from Billís helicopter. I called him on the radio and informed him that he was once again on fire. He set it down in a large freshly plowed bean field and we all followed. This time it took what was left of the fire extinguishers that we had to put out the fire. There was no real damage other than the foam from the extinguishers that we had to clean up. Upon inspection we found that another hose had ruptured spilling antifreeze onto the hot exhaust. While the other pilots were making repairs, Sheila and I flew to a farm house about ½ mile from where Bill had landed.

The farm workers that lived in the house were quite thrilled to see the little helicopters land in their field and gave us several jugs of water to replenish Billís coolant supply. It took over an hour to make the repairs that were needed and to re-prime his coolant system. By the time we were again airborne the sun had set and the cars on the roads below had their headlights on. Dan and I had clearance lights, Steve had a white strobe, and Bills black helicopter had no lights at all. The decision was made that we would fly a wide diamond formation with Bill at the back. We did this because we were concerned that we could loose visual on his black helicopter as it got darker, but he would be easily be able to see the rest of us. We were able to make it to my home heliport where we landed just after 0-dark 30.

This flight should have been uneventful but Bill had not replaced his outdated coolant hoses. The outcome could have been far worse had Bill not been flying with a group of other helicopters that could both spot the fire smoke and warn him, and to also help extinguish the fires and repair the ships. In retrospect it would have been safer for us to camp out in the field that night instead of lying with Billís unlit ship after sundown, but we were young and less experienced then. Today I would never consider flying along with an unlighted helicopter after sundown as it is impossible to see at night.

The photo below was taken as Dan and Bill refuel the next day to fly home. Steve's ship is hidden behind my Exec 152 in the foreground.

We learn from our experiences and from those of others. I have always made sure that all rubber items are replaced according to calendar time and not just service hours as a failure of one of these items can cause major problems.

After we secured the helicopters Sheila whipped up a great meal and we sat around reminiscing about the day. Everyone camped out at our home that night and after a good breakfast and refueling the following morning, each departed for their respective helipads. We each learned a lesson from that flight. Bill ended up replacing all of his hoses and belts once he arrived home. To this day, Steve, Dan, and I continue to enjoy flying Rotorway helicopters. Bill perished in a crash of his ship in 1996 as Steve, Dan, I and over 20 others witnessed the tragedy.

The moral of this story is: never neglect to plan for the unexpected, as much as possible, and insure that all maintenance has been completed prior to every flight. Had Billís hoses been replaced prior to this flight, we would not have had the emergencies nor would we have been in a position to arrive after sundown. My helicopter and Danís were both set up and approved for night flight, Billís was not.

Fly safe and enjoy the wonderful gift of being a helicopter pilot flying your own ship on new adventures. I am looking forward to once again hopping into a Rotorway helicopter and defying gravity in a way that only helicopter pilots can. Now that my wife has the heart of a 20 year old, I am excited and ready to do the refurbishing of my helicopter and get it airborne once again.

Until next time,

Orv Neisingh