Something provoked the memory, but I opened up Excel to check the old flight log and realized that it was five years ago today that one of the more interesting flights took place.
“ 18Jan12… 554… 1.5 D / .5 N / 3.5 NVG… Paradrops/Slings (shut down with 100lbs of fuel)”
I am glad I got in the habit of writing things down while the experiences were relatively fresh in my mind. After getting home the night of that flight, I sat down and wrote:
“…These are only snippets of information, but the meaning tends to be a bit of a cause for reflection over a shot of Connemara and a smoke in the chilly frost of 3am. Both were the result of the flight tonight. We landed with 100 pounds of fuel in the tanks. Not a little bit in the sense of regular automobiles. You run out of gas – you coast to the shoulder. In a helicopter over wooded terrain on a moonless night – a different beast entirely. 100 pounds of JP-8 roughly equates to 14.7 gallons. Sobering when you consider the fact that the aircraft takes 359 gallons, and for this particular situation we were burning 810 pounds of fuel per hour. 12 minutes of flight. Even more worrying when it has been witnessed that engines sometimes stopped working due to fuel starvation at 400 pounds indicated.
In an alternate universe, I’m not sitting here typing. I’m still out where we had to autorotate into the trees…forward airspeed was bled off to allow for a vertical descent into the thinnest trees we could find off of our flight path… crew dazed, and possibly injured… waiting for the rescue crews to arrive to cart us off to medical care and the inevitable inquisition. This alternate universe seems to come frighteningly close to the one in which I reside more than I care to admit…
But I’m here. Sitting in a flannel shirt.
How does this relate to the message? Simple.
I have left my mark. I have trained people to make the best decisions they can with the worst information available. I have trained people to teach others to do the same… not only by the standards that are enforced by the Army, but by my standards. Lateral thinking. Situational awareness. Big picture appreciation. Correlation over rote memorization. Intuitive reasoning. I can look forward to fulfilling the promise to have toast and listen to ‘there I was…’ stories from former students upon their return from harm’s way…
…But at the cost of my back… my knees… my social life… and much more.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Patients I have helped attend to are out there now living as normal of a life as they can. Fellow crewmembers are returning with tales of boredom punctuated by panic, fear, and anger. People are being taught the way I taught their instructors. Am I special for it? Nope. Do I feel that special accolades or praise be given for my actions? Not at all. In fact, I detest any fuss being made over anything I have done – simply because it is my job, and I feel that if you are going to do any task, do it as best as you can because that is whatever legacy you leave behind.”
I miss flying… even nights like that one, where one of the other crew chiefs was muttering about how that had to happen on his last flight at Benning, the IP was about to be the first female I ever punched for the jokes during refuel, and I still wonder about my own contributions to the… odd… situation we found ourselves in. It seems counter intuitive – to long for that which annoyed the ever-lovin’ crap out of you when you were awash in a sea of pressure and irritation… but what it comes down to is that there are few other ways to participate in such experiences and work with like-minded folks who are equally determined to make it to the point where they can sit back and laugh at the silly/stupid/idiotic things we did.
Yeah, I miss it… but I miss the people more. Even when some of them were trying to kill the rest of us.