One minute and thirteen seconds

“Do you understand the implications of what happened to you on Thursday?” I was asked again by one of the engineers, almost a week after it happened. “Yes, yes I do” I replied. “The incident has been running through my mind as much as it has yours…”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I should mention anything about this (for a couple reasons). Initially I didn’t think it was the biggest event. When shit happens, you just deal with it and move on. I also didn’t want to create the wrong impression of helicopter training and deter interest, but mostly I wanted to allow the incident to run through my mind until it was tired, and out of breath. I was going to keep chasing it until I was at peace with how I managed the situation, I needed to scroll through the “what could I have done differently to avoid this?” questions, and in truth, there’s a part of my ego that wanted to have a career clean slate of not having had an “incident” or occurrence. Nobody wants to be the “unlucky one” even though this was completely out of my control…or was it?
Intuition. From the get go I was uncomfortable in that machine, in fact, there were a few of us that were. There was an immediate distrust (please excuse me as I begin to personify this helicopter) She was a “foreigner” to us, understandably, when you don’t know the aircrafts history you are a little suspicious at first until you learn her ways and eventually welcome her to the fleet. This one, not. Every flight prior to this I’d find, mention and attempt to amend a snag. The pre-flights were always more thorough, intensive, and attentive. The flight path and method always defensive. A little extra height than usual, and I a little less forgiving when the student deviated from the ideal flight path to the GFA, (outside of what I felt would be a manageable glide distance to a safe LZ) There was just something. Something she was about to tell us…
On the day she found her voice, prior to the scheduled training flight I mentioned to the student that we were just going to take the machine for a test flight to make sure all is in order after we had the engineers tend to the snags we made the day before. So, we flew two circuits. The clutch light flicker issue seemed to have been solved, and for additional peace of mind, I decided to do two autorotation entries to make sure she handled it, and that the RRPM was set within the prescribed limits.
“If the engine does quit on me, I at least want to have something to work with” I thought. As if I knew…
So anyway, I felt better about the RRPM and so the student and I signed ourselves out and proceeded to carry on with our scheduled lesson. Exercise 9, lift off and touch down. Which, every lesson before this one I had taught at the GFA, about a 15-20min ferry distance from base. This day however, I said, let’s go to Virginia (an airport 5mins away) and practice on the grass, west of the runway. It’s near by and it will be easier to get assistance if we need it (as opposed to the rural located, uncontrolled GFA) I thought.
So we went to Virginia and practiced lift off and touch down. He was a lot tenser on the controls than usual, and he was struggling more than he had the day before, visibly and vocally frustrated. Not himself. As if he knew…
So we spent a little bit longer than usual on the exercise until he got it right, and felt more confident in his performance and ability. He kept on asking if we can stay a little longer, and I obliged, once, twice until finally (after checking the stop watch I kept running on my phone…) I said “lets call it a day and head back, you’ve done well” After approximately one hour and six minutes, we were cleared for lift from Virginia to head back to base. One hour and seven minutes, transitioned to forward flight. One hour and eight minutes on the climb. One hour and nine minutes, right hand turn, climbing to 800ft. One hour and ten minutes left downwind for Greystones. One hour and eleven minutes, I took the controls to demonstrate the transition from forward flight to the hover (an exercise to follow) one hour and 12 minutes on final approach. One hour and thirteen minutes. The engine failed.
To me, it felt like we were about 5 ft, The engineers that witnessed it said it was about 8ft. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, we were just about in the hover when it happened, which means the rate of descent had practically settled, and when I asked her for that final bit of power to keep her steady, she decided to quit.
There’s a quote I’ve been meaning to use, that incidentally I heard at an instructors course I had attended a couple months earlier “When under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training” and in this case, I’m grateful that I’ve had good training and that the fall was gentle. Lower collective. Right pedal. Raise collective just before ground contact to cushion the landing. (Engine failure in hover)
I’m also grateful that I’ve had the privilege to log a good couple of hours teaching emergencies, to enhance the instincts, and expose myself to the “what if”. This is why I wholeheartedly endorse an instructors rating. You’re just far more current on the procedures, and the reactions tend to be a little more fiber optic than copper wire.
BUT. This is not about that, it’s not even about why the engine failed (which I will get to…) this is about one hour and thirteen minutes…
One hour and thirteen minutes. Had we left fractionally later, we would have been in trouble. Big trouble. We would’ve had to deal with an engine failure over an unforgiving approach path or a built up area. Had we left earlier, fractionally, we wouldn’t have known about the problem, and the failure, which was imminent would have happened to the next unsuspecting student/instructor. (Something I struggle to think about…) At One hour and thirteen minutes I heard the voice of intuition say confidently “I told you so”
Now, let me be the first to tell you that you have many days where you don’t FEEL like flying. (I know right? How can you not?) But, sometimes you just not in the space for it, as simple as that. In the commercial world however, you have to push through not feeling like it because it’s what you do. (Although they’re fewer and far between than, dare I say, the “average” job) so, you learn to push through, to get in the chopper regardless of whether you feel like it or not and to just get things done. Intuition however is NOT a feeling, it is a knowing. This is different. This is not you psyching yourself out and refusing to get in the chopper based on what you fear might happen, (because if that were the case we’d probably never fly) This is you RESPONDING to what you know can happen. This is you trusting yourself. This is you taking heed of the hunches and adjusting your plan accordingly. This is you putting yourself in control by allowing yourself to be guided by your intuition. I think this is where the cessation of unrealistic fear happens. When you begin to trust yourself, and back your intuition by adjusting your plans or acting on the hunches you feel somewhat in control, guided and protected by…yourself? I think it’s important to understand that the onus is on you. This is not me saying let go of your fate, and leave it in <insert your belief here’s> hands and he’ll/she’ll take care of it. This is me saying, you need to listen to yourself so you can look out for yourself. I see so many people being detached from their inner voice because they don’t feel empowered enough to be for themselves. They delegate their life and the responsibility of it to someone or something else. They have this crippling fear of being wrong, or even worse, for looking stupid. So they stand in the corner and wait for someone or something to say something first. Fuck that. If you don’t feel right about something, you owe it to yourself to say something. More than once. Find your inner voice. And learn to listen to it, learn to speak up!
Everything happens for a reason. Everything happens at the precise moment that it was meant to happen, no matter how undesirable the “happening”, when it happens, you switch on and pay attention. Forget the “why me’s” and ask “why now”
Instead. In this example, it’s quite simple. If it didn’t happen “now” at one hour and thirteen minutes, we would never had known that the problem existed and a solution would never have been sought. This is life. This is exactly how life plays out. It plays out in seconds. A couple extra here or there and things could have been totally different. In this example, it’s so easy to appreciate the time line of events, and for that reason I’m grateful. In my “peripheral” life however, the “engine cut” timing is not always so beautifully, and obviously defined without the assistance of hindsight. But. There is a lesson in this, and that is to always be grateful when “shit happens”. As difficult as it is, be grateful for it, because had it not happened, you would never be given the opportunity to solve the problem. The real problem. Because it’s going to continue to happen, and you’ll keep snagging the “machine” and woefully drag it through the sky until the real problem is solved, or ignored consistently until you run out of opportunities, and succumb to the problem. You’ve just got to trust the timing of your life, and find peace in knowing that things happen for you, and not to you.
The mechanics. The fuel tanks in the Robinson R22’s are gravity fed, that means there is no fancy fuel pump ensuring that the fuel is fed at a constant pressure. It relies purely on gravity (Gravity, you know, that thing we rebel against on a daily basis?) Anyway, fuel tanks need to breathe. In order to breathe, they need to be vented out to the atmosphere or have some tangible means to access it. In the R22, the breather pipes run out the top of the tank, in the direction of the mast, concealed within the mast cowling. Allowing the tank to breath as fuel warms up (expands) and cools (contracts), compensating for the corresponding increase, and decrease of air pressure as the volume fluctuates. This pressure equalization allows gravity to do it’s thing. The main tank, wasn’t doing its thing. It’s breather was blocked. Meaning we were running off the remnants of the Auxiliary tank, (which coincidentally was lower than the gauge was indicating) and when the remnants ran dry, the vacuum created in the main tank (as a result of its inability to breathe) created a suck that out sucked the fuels worth in weight (Gravity), and starved the main fuel feed. I guess the lesson in this, outside of the literal, outside of the mechanical, the engineering, piloting, intuition, timing, “shit happen adapting” is that, like fuel tanks we need to breathe! We need some means of venting to compensate for the pressure fluctuations in life, and I guess, in some way writing this has been mine…

Your body.

The Navigator to your destiny, and the carrier of your soul. A realm through which you perceive, sense and interpret. The home to your instinct, intuition and touch. The origin of your “gut feel” from whom you begin to know that ‘feeling’ is as good as fact, and to trust those feelings we will (Even though our minds will contradict, compete and argue)
The epiphany that knowledge needs to be FELT and experienced physically to truly be known. The tangible self, the honest self, the pure self, the goose bumps and the butterflies. The Physical. Your physical. Your Body to your beautiful mind. Listen to and look after it.

Bare attention.

Two pairs of eyes, in the same scene see differently. The adept peels away the veil of habit that masks our senses and sees reality as it is in its unembellished raw imperfection. It disregards the minds will to censor the senses and unapologetically, presents and accepts perception how it truly is.

The other cannot refine attention to its bare state, but rather dresses it up to what they hope to see, a preferred palatable reality. An “easier on the eye” a comfortable state of cognition dampening the  inconvenience of dissonance…
The insecure will say that a life of bare attention is a life for cynics, where in fact it’s a life of the contrary. Seeing and accepting a pure unedited reality brings peace, freedom, clarity and ultimately RESOLUTION.
If you preferred to be “less cynical” and exchanged honesty for convenience. You’d be forced to beat your perception to submit to an ideal form before it became comfortable and useful to you, just as you’d aggressively “fluff” your down pillow into ideal shape before you’d go to sleep at night…
When you look up from your phone, ask yourself if what you see is what truly is, or have you been going through life “fluffing pillows” and forcing your reality to take the shape of an ideal, an expectation. If you look up and you’re still uncertain, id suggest you throw yourself into a situation that forces you to challenge your perception, or rather forces perception to challenge you. Flying does this.
It’s funny how being outside of your zone of comfort whilst simultaneously being presented by inconvenient truths at a rate faster than you can “fluff” them into submission reveals what always was, and always will be. The fact that You either can or You can’t, that You either will or You won’t.
I suppose sometimes the left seat is not purely to supervise and sign off lessons of the syllabus. But to wait patiently for the day your student (or yourself for that matter) finally runs out of convenient excuses, and runs into the most inconvenient one. Themselves. (Or yourself…) At this point we can finally crack open the proverbial champagne bottle and be welcomed to the REAL world where no shade of grey exists. It’s pure black and white here, imperfectly perfect and Beautiful!

Effortlessness.

The focus needs to be on effortless living. We need to be less in thrall to morality and instead we need to live true to our natures. We need to trust who we know ourselves to be and live spontaneously, unslaved and unperturbed by those who have chosen to live a life less free. Freedom is not acting on reasons we’ve chosen for ourselves, but rather in not having to choose at all. We respond to life as we MUST, and not how we think we should. There’s no agonizing contemplation between “right and wrong” or “good and evil” there’s no guilt, no regret, no fear. We just are, effortlessly. Morality does not make for better people, what it does however is enrich our vices. Don’t be deceived by those who preach a life of morality, they only do so because they distrust the default setting of their nature. Trust yourself. Be guided by the effortlessness of being who you truly are.

Observationist.

Sometimes you need to take a journey  deeper inside yourself to observe you simply being. Observe yourself doing the ordinary, the simple acts. But every now and again observe yourself through the extraordinary. Hold your own eyes, be entirely embedded in your conscious mind and observe every subtle movement from within. The movement of your hands, the expression on your face, the sensation of your smile that you’ve only ever experienced peripheral to this by mirror or digital replication. Feel the contraction of your cheeks, and the way it hugs your eyes closed. Feel the subtle change in view as the light bends past your saturate lens. Interpret the flickered shift in hue as you smile through tears of gratitude, content and pride welled within the corners of your eyes. Get to know your smile from within, get to know what moves your soul. Get to know what happiness feels like. Happiness that you’ve defined to be.

Observe yourself talking to the person sitting next to you, feel the flow of words off your lips, listen to how they resonate when they rise to the receiver. Do they resonate?
Getting to know yourself this way is the maturation of the connection you have to your central being. Understanding this, understanding YOU is what guides us eternally. The connection you have with yourself, is the connection felt by others. It’s not the connection you have with them that keeps them curious. The higher the degree of self connection, the higher their perception to your “vibe”. You have to KNOW if you want to be KNOWN.

Lost & found.

There’s a discernible difference between being well traveled and having been lost in numerous places. If you didn’t know who you were when you were there, then surely you can’t credit ever being there?

Well travelled are those who incessantly cross inner seas in introspection to find themselves rather than relying on crossing the borders of extrospection lusting in wander and hope that they will one day bump into who they ought to be.

Knowing who you are in spite of where or with whom you are is to be fully conscious in experience, whole in person and worthy of saying “I” have been there when you’re fortunate enough to transcend known territory. Then you can be considered well travelled.
Until then; be still to find yourself, and travel to strengthen what you’ve found…

The ‘I’ in witness.

And so…eventually you concede that just as the world is happening to you, so too are you happening to the world. You are not just the passive witness of events completely beyond your control, instead you have the control to create all that it is that you witness.