Above & Beyond: Milk Run
How a milk run from an aircraft carrier nearly killed me.
- By Chris McKenna
- Air & Space magazine, May 2007
(Page 4 of 4)
What did I have to lose? I tapped the right pedal and the helicopter yawed.
“Two feet, 84 percent.”
Running through ditching procedures in my mind, I suddenly noticed the waves gliding by faster than they had only seconds before. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we were accelerating.
I glanced at the airspeed indicator and my heart leaped: It was passing 40 knots. Then I felt that beautiful shudder every helicopter pilot knows as translational lift, the point where the aircraft is flying like an airplane more than hovering like a helicopter.
“Five feet, 90 percent.”
Then another jolt—the generators were back, bringing the stability system with them. I accelerated through normal climb speed. At 90 knots and with rotor speed back, I finally had the confidence to leave the ground cushion that had saved us. Climbing through 100 feet, and over a mile from the carrier, the voice of authority once more rang in my headphones. “Great to see you flying, Knightrider. We were all holding our breath up here.”
So, the air boss had a heart after all.
Turning for home, I passed the controls to Dave, took a deep breath, and noticed that my hands were shaking. I’d made a rookie mistake, and very nearly paid for it with four lives and a helicopter.
I later learned that milk weighs 8.7 pounds per gallon, a far cry from the 6.5 I had estimated. I had taken off from the carrier more than 2,100 pounds overweight, not counting the weight of pallets and packaging.
That was 20 years ago. Now I’m the old salt. Thousands of flight hours later, I still remember what I learned that day. Never allow external pressures to force a decision on any matter of safety. And never ignore the voice in my head that says something isn’t right. Frequently it is the only one making sense.
And when the guy at the supermarket asks me how I want to carry my milk, I always tell him to double-bag it.