It was a dream shot to get a call from New York to begin work as a ground-school instructor for a new flight academy, especially in a flagging economy where joblessness prevailed, and the competition for jobs at my school had been fierce. After a phone screening, my commercial flight landed at JFK and shortly thereafter, I was ushered into a dusty classroom of neatly-dressed student pilots.
Clueless as to the climate of the class, I stood in front of the group and waited several minutes before I spoke, eyeing their uniforms, taking in various details, and observing their demeanor. A thin history of the academy had been provided; three instructors had already come and gone, so there was some kind of problem – I just didn't know what. Before I opened my mouth to speak, a huge black kid named Jose whistled a naughty cat-call from the last row as his Puerto Rican pal snickered.
With that, I abruptly turned my back to the class, erased everything on the board and wrote in gigantic letters:
With the authority of a drill sergeant, I lectured them on attitude; that I didn't care where they came from, what they had done, or if they were black, white, red or Indian Chief, East Side, West Side, Your Side or My Side, now they better start looking forward, and walk a cut above all the rest, and check the “hood” at the door, it was no accident we had all found each other and I was here to teach them how to fly helicopters.
To drive my point home, I bellowed, “If you are here and you think this is a joke, you can stand and pack your gear right now, because I am not going to waste my time on anyone that doesn't take this 1,000% seriously.” I stopped to put down my pencil.
“Now, who wants to leave?”
In a heartbeat, the groups' formerly irreverent smirks morphed into ashen expressions. My own eyes carefully traveled from face to face for any takers. A few were shrinking down in their seats, fearful of who might get picked to be thrown out. Good. The owners, Larry and Roy, sat in the back of the classroom and shifted nervously. With a poker face, I indulged myself in a silent giggle. My ploy had worked. I had their attention.
I taught them instruments.
Fifty minutes later, I called my first break and at the water cooler I was hired on the spot, handed keys to the hangar and classroom and life, as I knew it, would never be the same. I had finally entered the world of the professional pilot. I would be the envy of all my pilot buddies. Everyone wanted to fly in New York!
The following day I had my first flight test which was to fly the standard tour route around Manhattan, among New York Aviators, known as, “The Hudson River Tour”. We departed Linden Airport, cleared through Newark airspace, and entered the Hudson River corridor, with reporting points at Ground Zero (the Twin Towers Memorial), the Battleship Intrepid with the Space Shuttle parked on board, over Central Park, a steep figure 8 turn to circle the top of the Empire State Building and an opposing steep figure 8 turn to circle just over Times Square, then south on the Hudson past the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel, The Wall Street Clock where we would then descend to circle the Statue of Liberty at 500' AGL. The Statue of Liberty stands at sea level. The open ocean is visible directly east, just beyond Coney Island and the New York Aquarium. (And YES, I was really scared the first time I circled the top of the Empire State Building!)
It soon became apparent that Perseus was a troubled operation. Two days after my hire date, I was asked to fly from Linden Airport (LDJ) to Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN). The resigning Chief Pilot had a Roly-poly belly the size of a beach ball and reeked of a sports bars and stale beer. Friction surfaced immediately when I asked that the left door to my R22 be installed, citing the Safety Notice regarding “left door on for solo pilot.” He gave me a scathing look, retrieved the door, walking back towards me with his square shoulders weaving back and forth and moving as slow as molasses in January.
Eric's clumsy dithering had almost made me late and I had to hustle south 2 digits shy of my Vne doing 90 knots to get there in time. Just before I busted Class D airspace at TTN, the knob broke loose from the radio, and if the left door had not been on, it would have flown right out the window, grounding my aircraft in Princeton and forcing me to reschedule my insurance check ride.
Now the loose knob was swirling out of reach in its own vortex of air on the left seat plastic foot protector. The five mile border for TTN came closer on my GPS, I reached down to the transponder and entered 7600 to let the tower know I was coming in without radio communications.
The fancy lobby of Princeton's boutique terminal was exclusively designed to cater to the local millionaires. As I entered, first thing the receptionist told me was that I needed to call the tower. I raised the headset to the red bat phone and explained to the controller that my radio knob had come off and asked if they had seen me squawking 7600 on my transponder. They said yes, all was well, and asked if I had someone to help me fix it.
My examiner was standing, listening to my conversation with the aircraft controller. I was a brand-new pilot from New York flying to an unfamiliar airport having my first call of duty to declare an in-flight emergency, and he was laughing. After the tower cleared me, he went out and fixed my radio. The subsequent insurance check ride went well and ended with my execution of a zero-speed auto.
After three weeks on the job I was offered a promotion to “Chief Pilot, Helicopter Division” which I respectfully refused, noting suspicious entries in the aircraft logbooks and noting sincere discord among the many part-time pilots. There were many complaints of slow pay. The aircraft were in dangerously poor shape, the hangar was full of junk, with stuff like a soiled barbecue grill, a disemboweled motorcycle on blocks, and an ATV with a dead battery. Dirt and junk was everywhere.
The resigning Chief pilot, “Eric”, was happy to break rules and even screwed around with the electrical connections within the alternator warning light when it flickered and failed. Eric had no mechanic's certificate. This alone put myself and others at the risk of experiencing a full-blown electrical emergency with a failed warning light.
I also saw Eric paying for drinks with 100-dollar bills after some Middle-Eastern guys put cash down on their accounts. Not only was this guy a sloth, it was apparent he was also a thief.
On July 4th, Eric picked up some customers from a Manhattan helipad and took them straight to the Hamptons, a Part 135 operation when we were only approved for Part 61 and Part 91. When he got back, I confronted him.
It was 9:30am as Eric parked the R44 and drove up to our pilot shop in the golf cart. He was still drunk and hung over from the night before and he had just transported two international visitors. I watched him swerve and nearly crash on the wet pavement right in front of me, bellowing out, “Whoa!!!!” as he hit the brakes and screeched the tires on the wet pavement.
I asked Eric to come to my office and I chewed his ass the minute I got him alone, loudly noting his blood-shot eyes, ruddy cheeks, two-day beard growth, smelly clothes and beer-soaked breath. The guy was a total disgrace to the aviation world. I told him point blank he was not fit to be a pilot and it was a good thing he had another job lined up, as he had no future with this operation – and he needed to get his motorcycle and tools out of the hangar and mail his key to Larry. He muttered under his breath, walked out after giving me a murderous look and slammed my door so hard it almost came off the hinges.
We used an R44 for wedding proposal tours but this ship was not equipped with floats. Aviators in and around Manhattan have no clear zone to do a full down without landing on top of cars or people. The only clear area is the Hudson river, but usually that is its own traffic jam of boats and barges. Without floats, the freezing seas in the winter cause human death in two minutes from cold shock. A mid-winter ditch in the Hudson would surely kill our trusting passengers, but Larry said that floats were too expensive.
Despite the cash infusion from my flight academy, maintenance concerns continued to remain unaddressed. The R44 we used for tours was exceeding the acceptable burn rate, using 1 – 2 quarts of oil per hour. Larry, one of our tour pilots, departed with a European senior to take photos over Manhattan at dusk. I handed him two extra quarts of oil as he left. When Larry failed to return after one hour, I got worried and stayed late to wait for him. Larry entered my office at 10 p.m., his handsome black face ghostly pale. He had to do an emergency landing downtown when the oil light came on, and I heard him telling other staff, “if Satori had not given me that extra quart of oil, I would never have made it back here.”
Larry had a long history of hiring crooked partners promising to salvage his business. The newest buffoon, “Roy” was a two-time Emmy winner and former news pilot who had been on scene to report the 9/11 tragedy. Roy had become too fat to fly and had resigned piloting to become an Amway distributor. I privately joked that if someone shoved an air hose up Roy's ass, it would inflate his belly well enough to fashion him into his own carnival clown-like float-form quite fit to be a first prize contestant in the upcoming Thanksgiving Day parade - and that I would pay good money to see him lodged between “Hello Kitty” and “The Pillsbury Doughboy” as the cartoon balloons drifted down Park Avenue. He had a face and head the size of a competition bowling ball and his crazy laugh and appearance would shame the characters of Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Roy was as underhanded and slippery as Larry, and when we began badgering him for help with our aircraft, he was busy making a fancy show in front of other customers, stating loudly, “you will never see me mix finance and safety in one sentence.” My jaw almost dropped when I heard him say this. He had just been out on the ramp where I showed him the oil-soaked engine bay of our tour helicopter.
The office equipment and copier did not work. Sometimes the telephone or Internet was inop because Larry did not pay the bill. There were shouting matches at the staff meetings, shouting matches between the pilots when aircraft were brought back late, and shouting matches when the aircraft were left in the hangar for an after-hours flight and no one had thought ahead of time to gas them up while the pumps were open.
Madness was the rule of the day at Perseus, and I was particularly irritated to get a phone call at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning to hear Larry barking at me as to why I had not yet arrived at the airport. “Someone” had forgotten to let me know that we had booked an entire bus load of elementary kids for helicopter rides that day. This happened on the only morning I was supposed to have off in an entire month and I had planned the luxury of sitting down to have breakfast, but Larry ruined that – and the further surprise was that all the kids were heavily medicated children from a special needs school and suffered from ADHD.
I had 18 kids to give rides to in my R22, which took me three hours, and one of Larry' henchmen thought he had to give me hand and arm signals akin to the ground crew of a 747 as I took off and landed from the north ramp while flying an abbreviated pattern around Linden airport. The same guy was also a pilot, and when I finally landed after an exhausting three hours of flight time with no break, another pilot reached inside my helicopter and starting shutting off switches before my own rotors stopped turning. He was in a hurry to take off and was bullying me to hurry up and depart the cockpit. After that, this same guy went to the tail rotor to manipulate the control bell crank, forcing the pedals to shove my feet back and forth before I could even get my seat belt off. I walked away. These kinds of antagonisms occurred on a daily basis, but I was determined to maintain a cool head and do all I could to get my kids through training.
A cold and long-standing mafioso war was ongoing between Larry and the airport manager, “Pete”, a crooked sort who had managed to wrangle himself a permanent job by way of a city contract signed to “provide management services to Linden airport”, except he was the sole service person, and it was only through Pete that “services” were provided, and evidence was apparent that the arrangement was entirely contrived as showcased by the many photographs posted proudly in Pete's airport office. He had photos of himself with every New York City mayor for the last 25 years, in addition to various other public figures and celebrities. In short, Pete was an employee, period, who had artfully contrived a job for himself lasting 20 years, regardless of whether or not he did a good job, absent any supervisor or review board, virtually devoid of repercussions from safety violations.
Concurrently, Pete was under investigation for negligent homicide when his personal JetRanger crashed into the East River, and as acting pilot, he drowned three of his overweight lady friends. The day had been hot and humid and Pete took off with full fuel, nearly overtorqued the engine, set back down, and, given a second chance, chose to pick back up again, thinking ETL would be sufficient for his successful takeoff on the day's joy ride. As it glided away from the concrete helipad, the helicopter sank just enough to catch its skids in the river water and it rolled over. Pete managed to free himself from the sinking ship and swim clear of the wreckage, but the women remained trapped. Passersby in business clothes began dives in turn into the murky, polluted filth of the river, each man grabbing and lamely attempting to hold the women's heads above water so they could get enough air to keep breathing, but it was no use; the helicopter starting rolling lower and lower in the mud and all three females drowned, their ghostly faces staring lifeless two feet below the surface as EMS arrived. Oddly, Pete was never prosecuted for murder.
For mysterious reasons unknown to the pilots at Perseus, Pete was putting the squeeze on Larry and making it hard for our shop to get av gas. Linden did not have the convenience of a roving gas truck, Pete imposed roving guidelines for gas storage within Linden's airport hangars, and the rules changed month to month, or week by week, and sometimes day to day and seemed as changeable as the weather, rotating as quickly as the varying humidity, the current wind direction, the pending diurnal pattern of the sun, or if the moon was in Venus. In other words, you piss Pete off and you don't get gas.
Perseus was not on the list of those operators approved for gas storage inside their hangar. Larry's permit application had disappeared over and over again. The pilots at Perseus had nowhere to get gas for early morning flights or night tours when the gas pumps were closed. The inability to store gas for night tours or early morning training flights posed a giant problem, especially for my R22.
The gas pumps were located one quarter mile from Larry' pilot shop and it was not fair to charge my customers money to start up, taxi to the fuel farm, shut down, gas up, and start up again before they even starting their training block. The helicopter should already be gassed up and ready when they get there. A method had existed to tow the helicopter with a blue jump rope attached under the belly of the helicopter with the opposing end of the rope tethered to the bumper of the golf cart. I would run behind and guide the tail, with one of my students driving the golf cart. I had to run back and forth this way several times a day to keep my kids from burning $80 per trip of their school money. This fiasco was nicknamed the “Gas Can Games”.
The crew of three, pricey New York news helicopters would play ping-pong in between missions to gather news stories while hovering over Manhattan, and they would laugh and wave when they saw me sprinting past their hangar en route to the fuel farm. One day as I was rounding the final stretch towards the pumps and as I was gaining speed in front of the massively impressive hangar of HeliNY, the jump rope dropped off right in front of their $13 million Sikorsky just as it was being towed from the hangar. The metal clamp clanged to the ground as I saw my golf cart continue to drive away. The Sikorsky had to stop for me as I crawled beneath the belly of my R22 to reattach the golf cart in front of pilots, passengers, mechanics and crew; some looked bemused, others wore a look of concern and even pity. Later that day I was “talked to” about this snafu wherein I had caused a two minute delay while the crew was en route to pick up a dignitary for executive transport to a Boston airport.
Shortly after this incident, I was surprised to hear the lead pilot of HeliNY had “summoned” me, and when I appeared in his office he conducted a brief interview and quickly arranged for me to fly a ferry flight in a new Bell 407. Afterwards, I was informally assured of a spot with HeliNY as soon as I hit my 1,000 hours. I only had three hundred more hours to go; at the pace I was working, I would get there just before Christmas. It was a dream come true. I really liked the Bell.
Madness continued to rule the day and half of the male pilots who worked and flew with me made sure I knew they thought I did not belong. My pilot account was repeatedly debited “by accident”, when a certain customer would fly the R44, and with a billing rate of $500 per hour it didn't take much to reduce my pathetic pilot account to zero. This guy even debited my account right before my first pay day, when I was sadly overdue to go out and buy food. Larry would always make the corrections when I brought the debits to his attention, but he was too much of a weenie to counsel the offender.
Another customer would make sure and book my R22 for photo flights directly before my training blocks and purposely come back late which would delay my students. He did this over and over again. Again, Larry would refuse to speaks to these guys to enforce the rules of common courtesy. When I talked to pilots myself, they would act like they had no idea what I was talking about. Another time one of them even managed to manipulate my flight schedule; I enlisted my Chinese friend to hack the computer at night to alter the program so that no one but Larry could touch my schedule.
To exercise a queer sort of dysfunctional solidarity with the departing Chief Pilot, Eric, my helicopter was sometimes sabotaged by a mechanic who would sneak up and tighten the oil cap with a wrench before I would head out for my preflights, making it impossible to undo and check my own oil before departures. I had to get a set of channel locks to unscrew the cap because it was tightened on so hard. I actually caught this guy doing it and yelled at him, “hey!” as he ran away laughing.
The worst tormentor by far was Carl, an Arab guy with a mysterious past and a reputation as a bad pilot. He never filed a flight plan, filled the R44 with full fuel without checking his passengers' weight and never checked the weather before heading out. The frequent fog banks with cloudy fingers masked hills and wires around the Hudson, the mist could quickly cover a rise when minutes earlier school children could be seen playing on the same knoll. He was hard-headed and argumentative. I became physically nauseated when on our first meeting, Carl tried to give me “eye sex” and I allowed him to see me rolling my eyes back at him to communicate, “as if”.
One day when Carl had been requisitioned to drive the golf cart for me, Carl decided to be particularly mean and hit the brakes just as we approached the hangar so the jump rope would fall off and he could speed away. I had just finished my return run from the fuel farm in 100-degree heat and was covered in sweat. I then had to pull my fully-fueled, 1,000-pound helicopter up a backwards incline alone to get it into the hangar.
The most disappointing event of the entire summer happened for me at this moment, as three of my pilot neighbors sat across the lot on couches and inside their own hangar. They had heard Carl scream at me and screech away on the golf cart, and subsequently watched as I battled to pull the helicopter into the hangar alone. Carl had accomplished something he wanted, though – he had applied the brakes at exactly the time when my helicopter would roll downhill and get its skids stuck in the metal grate. My pilot neighbors were grinning as I pulled and failed three separate times to dislodge it, but the helicopter did finally break free as I yanked and yanked with all my might, and when my helicopter had finally found its place inside the hangar, I hit the hangar button to close the door, my chest was heaving and for the fourth time that day I was sheathed in sweat. Not one of those men had gotten up off their seats to help me. Rather, it had been great sport for them to watch me struggle.
Alone and in the dark, I began Step 2 of The Gas Can Games, which was to use the hose siphon to move gas from my R22 to the R44 and I was soon due out for a photo flight over the Battleship Intrepid. It would be dark before I got back. There would be no time for dinner.
|Look closely to see the siphon around my neck!|
Carl was not done with me yet. As I silently poured my gas, outside on the ramp I could hear Carl yelling by cell phone at Larry about what a poor attitude I had. I smiled to think maybe Carl was just really jealous of my pressed and starched white pilot shirt.
Minutes later, however, my personal joke quickly evaporated as the inside door was kicked open, Carl entered the hangar and slammed the door full force behind him. It was now just him and me. His face was crazed and furious as he ordered me to stop what I was doing.
“Hey, you! “Miss Attitude”! I want to talk to you!” He was shouting at the top of his lungs.
I ignored him and continued to pour my gas. My flight was leaving in 30 minutes and still had to do my preflight. I didn't have time for this. Carl had nothing worthy to tell me. He was just being an ass.
Alarm bells began to ring inside my head as Carl came closer. His voice was loud and his manner was very aggressive. When he got inside three feet, I dropped the siphon, grabbed a screwdriver off the tool cabinet and squared off to face him in the dark, fully ready to drive the metal spear straight down into his neck if he tried to grab me. By the look in my eyes I am sure Carl could see I was not fucking around. He stopped where he was but continued his verbal assault.
Perhaps my proudest moment to date occurred next, as I employed an effective tactic to diffuse Carl's non-sensical tirade.
I plugged both of my ears shut with one index finger from each hand and began to sing:
“There was a farmer who had a dog
and BINGO was his name!
B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O! B-I-N-G-O!
. . .and Bingo was his name – OH!”
. . . and this activity so infuriated Carl I thought right then and there he would blow a gasket, as his face became very red and the veins in his neck started to pop out. I hit the button release and ducked beneath the hangar door to escape back outside into the sun.
After hours, I snooped around in the books and discovered my worst fears had been realized: my students' money had disappeared and their accounts had been raided. They had been hoodwinked and billed various monies for pilot shirts, books and supplies they never received. It was terrible for me to report to them their money was gone.
I began prepping my class to get ready to leave. They were fed up. One of them took a cell phone pic of Larry' license plate in anticipation that they were going to go “fuck him up.”
My husband Dan warned me to make sure I tell these guys there should be no violence, because if Larry or Roy ended up in the hospital in traction with his knees broken, it would look like I ordered the "hit".
My students were pissed and began to openly plot ways to go hurt the owners. I urgently encouraged Roy to “find money” and pay these guys back. They were not playing around.
One night during their break at ground school I caught my little darlings dialing Larry on speaker phone, and they ended the call when I talked to them again about not beating Larry up. They had been discussing again how to go find Larry and “Juan Carlos”, a two-time felon with a history of violence, had researched the home address of where Larry lived so they could go find him and push him around.
Repeatedly I told Roy that he and Larry needed to do something fast about the many wrongs which had been committed to my students, and Roy said, “they are just students, they are not in a position to make demands, and if they quit, we will just get more students”. I warned them I could only do so much to stop the violence and someone was definitely going to get beat up, leaving Larry or Roy dead or injured and one or more of my students in jail and not able get their pilot's license. Couldn't he see a mutual goal here?
But Roy just rocked back and forth on his chubby, weeble-wobble heels and laughed out loud just like a tricked-out rodeo clown. He really thought that all this was very funny.
That night during ground school I chose to teach regs and I specially prepared a movie-screen size list of every felony which would deny my students their pilot's license. Jointly, I watched their saucer-shaped eyes as they quietly looked down the list. (I was careful to list out separately all the separate definitions of murder that I could find):
|Murder in the First||Theft|
|Rape||Murder in the Second|
|Arson||Murder (Conspiracy to commit)|
|Burglary||Homicide (& any kind of killing)|
I emphasized that a felony assault on their record would prevent them from getting their license. It seemed to me this was new information for some of them, but I could tell I had their attention. How precious they were! I loved how they listened to everything I told them. It was very hard to preach peace in this situation, however, because I really wanted to hurt these lying assholes myself.
Among daily discussion of physical violence, God's quiet voice resounded that it was time to leave off the ice picks and baseball bats. This was a hard habit for me to break, being too familiar with the Mafiosa lifestyle myself and prone to carrying a razor in my shoe. It was time to walk in the peace of Christ. This was not a time to fight.
The stress for all involved intensified as we progressed through training. For each leap of progress my students made, Larry' nefarious bunglings hindered our path. I worried every day for our safety. My student, Elena, a Brazilian beauty queen and Manhattan night club dancer, told me her mother was calling from South America every day, frantically reporting her own dreams of seeing her daughter lying unconscious on the ground, and she would try over and over again try to shake her but Elena would not wake up. An entire church in the hillsides north of Rio had been assigned to pray for the safety of our class.
My own visions began at the same time. In my mind's eye, the Grim Reaper was my constant companion, a dark figure gliding wordlessly outside the left door of my cockpit as I put my students through their maneuvers over the swamp. In my nightly dreams, I could see my helicopter flag with a thud; I would take the controls, look for a place to land and try to save us, but I couldn't because the situation is impossible; we would crash plugged like a lawn dart deep into the mud, sea water and reeds, steam streaming from my little airship's body. My rider and I are both dead. I see my own spirit rise weightless above the wreckage so that I may I look down upon my own corpse and also the limp body of my student pilot. Sadness overwhelms me, mostly for the young aviator I was supposed to protect and failed.
It had been my habit to visit one of three chapels to pray before I drove to the airport each day. One place was a Catholic church, and whether it be morning, afternoon or night, without fail I would open the doors to see a funeral going on!
As I would enter the church wearing my pilot uniform, the bereaved present would look up and nod my way, wordlessly acknowledging I must be a family friend they have never met. I would sit in the pew with the family and friends of the deceased.
The casket with its flower topper sits in the center aisle. The priest swings his silver incense ball over the casket as all join in the responsive hymn and I start balling along with everyone else because I don't even know the stiff in the wood box, but I am crying for me! I cry for me because I know I am not supposed to die right now, but the unholy, black specter of Death is walking with me.
90 days passed and despite the chaos of behind the scenes arguments over missing student funds and aircraft maintenance issues, my class pulled together and continued to excel. My academy had zero attrition, 100% retention and near 100% attendance while the fixed-wing division of the academy had folded except for their last student who came from the airplane side to join my helicopter class. My student pilots were well into their emergency procedures, just short of throttle chops. All were between 20–30 hours of flight time and were ready to be signed off to solo. Block after block and day after day, my radio calls could be heard over Linden traffic freq., “LDJ traffic, 778MR high and final 27”, announcing over and over again our practice autos. We were almost there.
I felt pressed to fly as long as possible because Larry had already embezzled all the money from the student accounts and if they left at that point in time, they would have neither their money nor their flight time. It was my intention to get them through their private licenses and then we would all quit and leave together.
God gave me a beautiful dream to precede what would be a very hard day. I dreamed that I woke up and walked out into the backyard to see a fresh, deep white blanket of snow covering the ground, muffling the sounds of my quaint city block. Soft, sparkling snow fell from the sky like a billion tiny diamonds. I opened my arms and raised my head and hands towards Heaven, smiling with pure joy, allowing the snow flakes to impact my skin like so many icy kisses. The dream was so vivid the happiness of it carried me through the rest of the day.
The condition of my R22 was worsening, however, and it was clear that today would be my last last day when I had to take the cyclic stick from Jimmy, my most physically skilled student pilot, as it was shaking almost uncontrollably as we taxied past our news chopper friends to land in our usual parking place. I thanked God above I was able to set it down without incident. I knew right then it was the end of my academy.
I left my hangar key on the desk and resigned immediately. It was clear I was consigned to either die or fly in Perseus' death-trap fleet of helicopters. Flight training for my crew and my ground school abruptly stopped.
That night I e-mailed my students a copy of our aircraft's squawk list and told them what a privilege it had been to be their teacher, to go and find another academy and get finished – and not to fly at Perseus anymore, it was no longer safe.
It had not escaped my attention that behind my back Roy had been hiring new CFIs recruited to be my replacement, as it was obvious I would not play ball and he needed fresh meat to continue his flight academy ruse.
The next morning, my students' cell phones began to ring as Roy courted them to fly with another instructor. En masse, my students refused to fly with anyone but me and started to demand their money back. Both Larry and Roy began to hem and haw because they knew the money was not there.
Roy hatched an evil plan and upped the ante, calling the students back a second time, this time with a lethal enticement. He offered to add $5K to each student's account if they stayed and and trained at Perseus. I was horrified as one by one my students began to call me to report this, as they were all working people and $5K would fund at least three student pilots in finishing their private pilot's license.
Upon hearing the news of Roy's vile tactic, I jumped in my car and headed for FSDO at Teeterboro airport. I knew the deal. If I went to the FAA my name and reputation would be mud, but I could not live with the knowledge that the lives of my students was in absolute peril. This had to be done.
I was upset and emotional during my drive north, realizing my fledgling career could already be over. My best friend must have sense my angst, because my cell phone rang and I saw Connie's pretty face light up the dial. I pulled off the freeway at the first place that looked safe and open.
Connie asked where I was. “Are you parked in a safe place? What's going on? I had a feeling you were upset!”
I updated her and told her the game was on, I was en route to the FAA.
“Where are you now? Have you stopped the car?”
The car was parked and I had turned off the ignition. I didn't really know where I was except I had been heading north on 95 towards Teeterboro. I looked for a road sign. The parking lot was nearly empty. With horror, I recognized what I had done. Without realizing it, I had pulled over in front of a funeral home! Pretty, polished, marble tomb stones sat lined up row after row, their naked faces courting me like a blank canvas silently clamoring for the honor to bear my name.
I broke down and started to cry. Enough already! Enough! Nightmares, visions, ghostly visitors - I just couldn't take anymore of all the foreshadowings and creepiness. My personal life had transformed itself into a Howlific Friday Fright Night.
Connie's sweet voice spoke to me over the phone and I heard her repeat that everything was going to be alright, to just get myself safely to the FAA. I wiped away my tears, engaged the engine and gunned it.
"Well, boys, you may now officially consider me the shit that's about to hit the fan."
Fifteen minutes later, I pulled out my pilot's license and stood in front of the bulletproof glass at FSDO and my little canary voice began to sing:
“I have an emergency situation to report regarding a Manhattan tour operation. I need to speak to a supervisor immediately.”
Two FAA inspectors promptly appeared and gave me their full attention as I relayed my story of the $5K offered to coerce my students to stay and train at Perseus and that if they didn't do something fast someone was going to die. I showed them my squawk list. They were serious and concerned.
The inspectors asked sincerely if I was also worried for my physical safety. Had I received any death threats?
“Don't worry about me - I got all that covered,” I said. “Just take care of my kids.”
That evening I went to the hardware store to purchase a box cutter which I kept nuzzled beneath the centerline of my brassiere.
True to their word, the two inspectors appeared at Perseus early the next morning, and the hangar was, “ripped from one side to the other” as the mechanics at Heli Inc., stopped work to run their cell phone cameras, recording the grandest spectacle ever at Linden. Two of Larry's three helicopters were hauled off the ramp in front of everyone. The gossip mongers at Linden would wag their tongues for years over this incident. All of New York knows this story.
The final helicopter continued to fly tours over Central Park and around the Statue of Liberty and during a flight where a young man planned to propose to his future bride, the inside of the helicopter began to fill with smoke. The panicked pilot busted Class B airspace over Newark to set a direct course for the landing zone at Linden with a stream of smoke flying in his wake. The helicopter was barely able to set down before it caught flames with hardly any time to spare as the pilot and his passengers jumped out. This was the final nail in the coffin of the fly-by-night operation known as Perseus Helicopters as they declared bankruptcy soon thereafter and closed their doors forever.
My R22 was hauled to a Tennessee service center and her logbooks revealed that a rotor system overspeed had occurred directly prior to my arrival at Linden. The entire rotor system needed be replaced and rebuilt but Larry didn't have the money. After dark, Larry's shady friend Julio repacked the faulty rotor system with shims made for another aircraft, signed off on the maintenance logs, and Larry sent me up flying with seven new student pilots as part of a brand new flight academy. There was no way I could have had prior knowledge that the logbooks for my helicopter had been doctored. It is a miracle we all survived.
I had a crew of seven souls and a high duty to protect their safety during flight training. It is an awesome and humbling responsibility. As with most "young" instructor pilots starting out, I had invested over $100,000 to get my helicopter ratings and I was forced to make the necessary sacrifice of resigning my position in order to save life and limb. I would not have one of my students die after suffering horribly in a burn unit. I would not be the captain to tell some parent their child was dead because I had somehow failed at the helm of a faulty airship. I would not visit that horror on the happy Linden community, and if I had to take the chance I would never work again, then I considered it a necessary and acceptable sacrifice.
It was now Fall and my students were gone. I shirked to think about goings-on within St. Mary's as I drove to her doors, where I had made daily stops prior to quitting my job. This same church where, while having visions of death, dead bodies and the Grim Reaper flying outside my aircraft, there was always a funeral going on during my many random visits. I wonder out loud, “What will I see now? Will it be another funeral?”
It's mid-afternoon as I grab the brass handle to pry open the heavy mahogany doors and I see a happy surprise. This time its not a wake, but a Baptismal service, the ceremony which celebrates the beginning of life.
The might and power of God is present. The inner sanctum is alight with love and joy.
The young parents standing at the altar have fresh-faced good looks and a family four generations long nearly fill the massive sanctuary. The mother is ivory-skinned and big-breasted; the tall, young father's hawk-like face beams a profound sense of pride and protection down upon his infant son.
The child is perfect. Beams of sunlight slant long, multi-colored fingers through the altar's stained-glass window, making the baby's virgin garments glisten with a rainbow spectrum of wriggling lights; the infant's gown a loving, intricate aggregate of lace and crystalline beads.
Within my chest, my orphan's heart begins to pound, what I would give to share their name!
My mind wandered briefly as I wondered how could you measure the souls you might save by being a good teacher and a good pilot; the accidents you may prevent because you are diligent; it was a number no person could quantify. It was like trying to count the number of women who had prevented their own rape by wielding a hand gun to scare off their attacker. How do you count rapes that never occurred? How can you count accidents that never happen? In a moment, I reconciled the issue to myself by words I had earlier written in gratitude to Nikolai, the instructor who had abused me and flogged me and tortured me mercilessly in the cockpit and the one who had finally forced me to release my fear, sheering me like a diamond and driving me quite pointedly to air excellence.
I recalled the written words where I had penned deep gratitude for my former teacher's rabid devotion to my flight program:
Nikolai: Because of your teaching and tireless energy, you will never get a call to report one of your students has died, as numerous helicopter pilots will be flying the globe with your voice ringing in their ears, and because you taught them well, husbands will go home to wives, a mother will never lose her son and no baby boy will ever lose his father, those pilots you taught will continue to live because of you, making right choices, keeping passengers and aircraft safe. You are so special, you will never be forgotten, and above all, you are so very loved!
Back in the church I look again at the baby boy and think to myself, this is a life maybe one of us has saved; this young father has lived to create this precious child who will be adored by his family and cherished within his small world. A fresh generation has begun.
Sorrow enveloped my heart like a madman's vice as I lamely attempted to reconcile my dilemma, yes I had saved a life with my job resignation, at least one life, but it was nothing the public would ever recognize, there would be no medal, no newspaper article, no bonus paycheck, and because the thugs at Perseus were busy trying to destroy my name, I might never fly in New York again. My misery was evident.
Despite my sadness, I am thankful for the scene My Father above has prepared for me. I raise my hands and worship God anyway.
A rustle throughout the congregation snaps me out of my dream-state and into the present moment. The doors had just swung shut as I stood in the back of the Church, the noise causing the entire assembly to turn towards me, and I see that 100 pairs of eyes are now focused upon my face.
God's Believers stand en masse as from the pulpit, I hear the deacon issue a bold command:
They stand – and I enter in.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one's life
for one's friends.”
Please see the squawk list, attached separately, which I passed on to the pilot who remained in place after my resignation, but for your convenience I will note in an abbreviated fashion some of the problems:
Partly as a joke, husband Dan had made last year's Christmas gift a set of razor-sharp battle axes and a side-saddle for my shotgun. How I love this man!
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Thanks & May God richly bless you!
All our times have come
Here, but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
(We can be like they are)
Come on baby
(Don't fear the reaper)
Baby take my hand
(Don't fear the reaper)
We'll be able to fly
(Don't fear the reaper)
Baby I'm your man
La, la la, la la
La, la la, la la
Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity
(Romeo and Juliet)
40,000 men and women every day
(Like Romeo and Juliet)
40,000 men and women every day
Another 40,000 coming every day
(We can be like they are)
Come on baby|
(Don't fear the reaper)
Baby take my hand
(Don't fear the reaper)
We'll be able to fly
(Don't fear the reaper)
Baby I'm your man
La, la la, la la
La, la la, la la
Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew and then disappeared
The curtains flew and then he appeared
(Saying, "Don't be afraid")
Come on baby
(And she had no fear)
And she ran to him
(Then they started to fly)
They looked backward and said goodbye
(She had become like they are)
She had taken his hand
(She had become like they are)
Come on baby
(Don't fear the reaper)
- Songwriter: Donald Roeser
- Published by: B. O'CULT SONGS, INC.
Squawk List: 778MR (R22)
Prepared by Satori Wolstenholme, CFII
Alternator Light: Warning light, alternator, only intermittently lights upon pre-flight inspection. Due to this situation, the alternator warning light may fail to come on during flight and an electrical emergency may ensue without warning. Electrical failure: No low RPM warning system, no governor, no tachs, no landing lights, no nav lights, no radio, no GPS, no transponder. The problem with the alternator light being intermittent is that if your alternator fails you may have no warning of it unless you were staring at the ammeter. Remember you have approx. 1 hour or so of daytime electrical power just using the battery. So while the light is not all that critical it should be fixed either way so that you have some advance warning. If they don't I'd make the ammeter part of my scan more regularly.
If the ammeter needle is to the right it means the battery is being charged(You will see this after startup as you've drained some of the battery to start). If the needle is to the left then the battery is discharging (You will see this as you are cranking. You may also see this if you're using more power than your alternator can produce, although not likely since we have good alternators).
NOTE: Eric Ross, the former Chief Pilot of Pegasus acted like he was an IA and an A&P and made many "repairs" to both the R44 and the R22, in violation of Part 43 and the recommendations within the POH as to what a pilot can and can't touch with regards to maintenance. Eric messed around with the alternator light and the alternator light and electrical system is not on this list. Do not let this guy near your aircraft. Technically anyone can work on an aircraft so long as they are overseen and it's signed off by an A&P. This is how apprenticeships work. However, Eric was not supervised and messed around with too much stuff he should not have been touching all on his own.
Precautions: manual governor / fly monitoring engine RPM by hearing & sound only - practice imagining & hearing the "sound" of proper RPM (101% - 104%). Rotor stall occurs at 80% plus every 1000' DA. During summer months DA at LDJ typically 2500' with heat and high humidity. Anticipate stall at 84% or higher to practice special diligence. You are going to have way earlier indications of electrical power loss even without the alt. light. It's very unlikely that you wouldn't notice this and it got so bad that the tach's stopped working. If that were the case I'd turn off the master and you will likely see that the tachs will probably work again for a very short period of time(enough for you to land) because they are powered through the clutch and don't use that much power. I would land immediately with no tachs.
Remember to add "ammeter" to your scan (shows power loss; gage directly below alternator light). Needle left means battery power loss; needle right means alternator power loss. The only indication that you really have of an alt. failure is the alt. light. You will see a 'needle left' indication (ammeter) as well though if you're looking.
Actions: This situation will be a nightmare at night over Manhattan. Do not land near people or over traffic. Memorize where all the helipads are, head for one of those, or, if there is no other clear zone, head for the Hudson or East River so that you do not crash over buildings or near cars or people. Practice a succinct “Mayday” call, relaying the position of where you are going down for your emergency landing. However, If you have to make an emergency landing because of electrical failure you won't have enough power to run your radios for a mayday call. The radio is a very large consumer of power.
#2. Main rotors: Unnatural sound of metal on metal grinding noise during rotation of blades during pre-flight check and during power-down after shut off. Possible ratcheting; reported but not reviewed by mechanic. Queer and irregular hop in main rotor blades as well. Bearings are possibly compressed in the spindles and are seated into the metal which is what causes that "ratcheting". It will not get better on it's own and should not be flown. The main rotor blades have to be taken apart and inspected/repaired.
Precautions: Nag Mechanic Rich 1-XXX-XXXX to look at MR blades when next he shows up.
Actions: Be prepared to execute a precautionary landing at any and all times, as usual, memorize all safe and clear areas in and around LDJ. Remember, if you land in the swamp the wetlands do not support the aircraft, you will sink and the aircraft will get stuck in the mud and water.
UPDATE: After R22 / 778MR was repossessed, the Robinson Service Center in Tennessee communicated to Kirk McDaniel that in the spring of 2012, service records for 778MR indicated that Louis has been advised the entire swashplate assembly for this helicopter was in poor shape and needed to be replaced or rebuilt. Louis did not have the money for either and told the mechanic to just put it back together and send it back to Pegasus “as-is'. Louis them had “Julio”, one of the shady night-time mechanics, re-pack the swashplate with extra shims and sign it off so it could be put back in service. Julio also used incorrect shims for this model helicopter. This botched repair job was performed just prior to my hire date and immediately prior to the start of my flight academy. Louis was sending an entire class of new student pilots up over and over again for training in this airship.
# 3. Left knob radio falls off. The knob on the radio fell off on my first solo from LDJ to TTN en route to an insurance check ride, forcing me to squawk 7600 seconds before I busted Class D airspace. If I had not insisted the left door be put on (which should be on when a pilot goes solo) the knob would have flown out the window and I would not have been able to return from TTN to LDJ. Severe static on radio makes it hard to hear the position reports of other pilots. Recreational pilots at LDJ are terrible about talking on the proper channel, they fail to give correct position reports and fail often to provide position reports at all. I have had them cut me off, land in front of me and take off in front of me as well.
Precautions: Be gentle with the left radio knob. Ask Rich, the Mechanic, to fix it when next he shows up.
Actions: Squawk 7600 (lost comm) if you lose your ability to transmit. If you can't hear others, remember, they might still be able to hear you so keep talking and providing position reports. Ask owners for new radio.
#4.Severe cyclic stick shake: requires use of nearly full left pedal when wind hits tail from 240 degrees. Aircraft runs risk of rotation to the right if pedal fails to provide enough force to counteract torque of main rotors. Rapid rotation to the right will begin. Too much radial / axial play in tail rotor teeter bearings was reported but not attended to, which is what may have lead to this situation of pedals not providing sufficient tail rotor authority. I wouldn't fly with it like this. This should not be happening at all, period. I've buried the pedal before in very strong winds but it doesn't happen often and there was no cyclic shake. Something is wrong. Write these up in the squawks and then they have to address them.
Precautions: Be aware of wind direction and when wind might be light and variable and shifting, especially on the south ramp where all the fancy aircraft are. Be always ready and sharp on your hover autos.
Actions: Try to get the mechanic to do something about this.
#5.Gascolator drain leaks fuel: During preflight fuel check you may notice gascolator bowl may continue to leak fuel when fuel is tested, possibly spewing gasoline on hot exhaust during flight, possibly causing an inflight fire especially when we are hovering over the tall, dry grass in the practice area.
Precautions: Watch to make sure fuel drip stops after preflight check. Pinch off knob to make the leak stop and the gas stops pouring out before you take off. Pinching the tube usually works. Probably due to a dried up seal. Should be addressed.
#6.GPS loses "line". The GPS loses its line every time I set it, leave LDJ and head for the swamp. The line is gone by the time I turn around and we head back. I worry this could happen to a student going on solo.
Precautions: Watch and monitor your GPS.
Actions: Possible use of Foreflight GPS on your own IPAD strapped to a kneeboard, old-style Nav flight plan on your kneeboard, flight following if you are traveling cross country at 3000' AGL or above (although I don't recommend this around NY as you can get speared by too many fast-moving recreational airplanes). Remember, if your batteries fail on your IPAD you will have no NAV. Also, GPS units themselves are sometimes out of service and may not provide your signal.
#7.Sleeve for aircraft registration, front left side cockpit, is hanging on by one nail. If the left door is open this will flap noisily around in the wind and cause a distraction.
Precautions: Remember the Robinson Safety Notice citing open left door cockpit R22 is dangerous if any items, such as a kneeboard, should come lose and fly out and impact the tail rotor. An aircraft crash happened this way.
Actions: Use duct tape to hold it down until somebody does something about it.
#8.Pax foot well protector: (that semi-clear plastic floor mat) will flap UP when flying solo without left door and could possibly fly OUT the door.
Precautions: Do not fly with the left door off unless EVERYTHING inside the cockpit is secured down so it can't fly out the left door and into the tail rotor. There is a safety notice about a pilot who let their knee board fly out the left door when it was open and the helicopter crashed.
Actions: Clip down prior to flight or get it FIXED or just fly with the left door on.
Squawk List: 2323H (R44)
Oil burn, 1 - 2 quarts per flight hour. Tour Pilot Larry King forced to do emergency landing at 30th street helipad in Manhattan at night over water when red oil light came one. Oil was full 30 minutes prior to emergency landing.
Precautions: Be vigilant monitoring red oil warning light. Dictates landing immediately. Memorize locations of all Manhattan helipads. Do not land near cars or people. If there is no other recourse, the only clear zone would be a water ditching in the East River or the Hudson.
Actions: Don't forget to check oil before and after each flight . . . . pass it on the the next pilot how much oil has burned off during your flight.
Transponder: 24 month Inspection is overdue. Alon xxxxxxx, a new part-time hire who usually rents the R22 and who is not R44 proficient, was coerced under threat of termination to fly the R44 for a tour with the transponder expired when another pilot refused to do so. For a period of time the transponder has been reporting to the control tours the aircraft's altitude as 100 feet high, meaning the pilot must fly 100 feet low so the tower thinks and sees we are flying the “correct” (according to them) altitude. The tower is routing other traffic around us when we are flying 100 feet off from what they think we are, and we are flying lower and closer to obstacles, wires and other terrain features which makes matters mores dangerous. Also, our outgoing radio calls to other traffic need to be made at the correct altitude, because even though the tower wants us at 1000', for example, we have to advise other company traffic that we are really at 900 feet. This has been reported over and over to the owners and they have done nothing about it.