Safety & Training
Comfort Food for Pilots
March 26, 2012 By Fred Jones
This summer, I was reflecting on the importance of “comfort food” in the life of a helicopter pilot.
This summer, I was reflecting on the importance of “comfort food” in the life of a helicopter pilot. Our world is unpredictable enough, so most pilots have learned to cling to those circumstances that they can control or at least find some predictability in.
We love the familiarity of routine – it creates the illusion that things will unfold exactly as we plan each day. I have often considered the circumstances that have provided me with some comfort over the years, and I would like to share a few of them with new pilots, and old ones like myself.
That Last Look
Wherever possible, I always insist on being the last person to enter the aircraft, and just prior to getting in, I do a complete walk around the aircraft. I can’t tell you how many times, I have discovered a belt hanging out or a door partially closed or a gas cap or a backpack sitting on the flight-step, even an open cowl or someone’s clipboard on the horizontal stabilizer! I insist that passengers never leave anything sitting on the helicopter, even for a minute.
Get Customers Working for You
In my preflight briefing, I always make it a point of reminding my passengers to alert me to anything unusual. “I can’t see everything from the front seat,” I like to tell them. “If you are getting out and see oil on the side of the aircraft, or notice a cowl open, or a small tree that appears to be uncomfortably close, calmly walk over and ask for a headset to tell me about it.” It’s just common sense in my mind.
Rely on Local Knowledge
Many of the areas we operate in are without decent forecast weather. Frequently, we rely on an area forecast that has questionable reliability. I always try to take some time with someone in the camp who has spent some time there (preferably a number of seasons) and who can give me some insight in to the local weather phenomena. If you can’t be a “local,” hang-out with one for a while anyway . . . it will invariably pay off.
Familiarity Breeds Content – Get a Proper Hand-off
Tell me, who knows the operator, the customer, the aircraft and the operational environment best? The pilot that you are relieving. I hate it when the pilot that I am relieving is going home on the aircraft that I arrived on . . . New aircraft, new customer, new fuel source and pump, alleged caché locations, new routine. Always insist on using all the time available to get a proper hand-off briefing, and make sure your own checklist of items is to be covered. And be sure to return the favour for the pilot arriving to relieve you.
Bring Your Comfort With You
Contract pilots are like gypsies. They move from company to company and they are constantly faced with new aircraft, equipment, customers, geography, local weather and missions. Most contractors that I know, and many full-time pilots, bring their own GPS, maps, tools, computer and basic equipment to ensure that they surround themselves with familiar elements to create a familiar environment.
Finding Comfort When You Return Home
Have you ever noticed that when you return from a tour of flying or business travel that your wife has an expectation that you will take over all the routine jobs that you missed while you were gone (naturally, including theirs and yours)? You should have to drive the kids to all their soccer games, and clean all the bathrooms, and need to do all the laundry, etc. I usually end that conversation by suggesting to my wife that I would be happy to take over all those responsibilities, just as long as we can also catch up on all the sex that she missed while I was gone, too.
It should be said, however, that I am always a little concerned that she is going to tell me that she didn’t miss it . . . it’s a lot like the old Rodney Dangerfield joke where he and his wife agreed to quit smoking except after sex. Six months later, he hadn’t had a single cigarette, but his wife was up to two-packs-a-day . . . Let’s try to perpetuate the illusion that we have some control, over that, anyway.