Monday, July 24, 2006

The Best Laid Plans

"Vancouver Base, Chopper 9,,,,,,"
"Go ahead Chopper 9." The radio crackled back to me.
"Good morning, Just powering up. Like to hit Seymour headed to Galiano Island, please have feed and play record my output."
"Roger that, Seymour, NavTrac engaged and we are recording."
And with that my Vacation was over. Back into the sky and an interface fire to boot. Could it get any better? Damn I was pumped.

Actually my vacation ended 3 hours earlier when my cell rang at 06:40. It was Dave A, our Ops Super.
"Murman, need you to prepare to get into the sky over Galiano, can you get a hold of your pilot and make flight preps."

I called the flight office as I knew that the system would patch me to whoever was the pilot on call, it turned out to be Ronn.
"Ronn, they want us to get in the air over Galiano, they will want us to land and unless I call back, lets shoot for a 09:00 departure."

The mind movie back on the desk was the following: A camera on the ground had already been dispatched to the Island. He would be on a ferry shortly. He will shoot ground materials gather clips until you fly over with an as yet to be named reporter. But where's Kink? Oh he's covering the early anchor cut ins and won't be available until after 9. OK.
All good right?

Phone rings, head down town an pick up your gear first and now it looks like that reporter to be named later will be Kink. Please coordinate with him as to pick up. When I arrive at the office at 7:40 I take the opportunity to speak to the New Assignment Editor. It's his very first day in the chair. He's very stoked about this story. I let him know about the NOTAM and that landing at this point could be an issue. This presents two problems actually. How would Kink meet up with our ground camera and how would said ground camera get his material off the island.

(Kink saddling up for what would be a short flight to the harbour)

Our Sat truck is on other operations in the interior of the Province.
Quickly the logistics people hatch an alternative plan. This one would involve landing on a nearby island and taking a water taxi or hiring a boat over to Galiano. It sounded good, it could work.
With that, I headed to the airport to brief our pilot on the revised plan. Kink would be joining us later.
Ronn had been in touch with Coastal Fire Air services. All according to our protocols worked out with Provincial Forestry. All good.
In the past we have been able to notify the site commander and inturn the Fire Air Boss to get permission to enter the restricted area. Ultimately we would be granted a place in what is called the "stack". There really wasn't much of a stack on this occasion, but sometime the "stack" would be several thousand feet high depending on how many fixed wing water bombers were working the fire. The object of the "stack" is to keep an orderly attack of the fire with a number of aircraft entering the "stack" at lets say 2000 ft and corkscrewing in a counter clockwise manner down to make their "bombing" run on the fire line. All of this aerial ballet is controlled by a smaller aircraft called the "Bird Dog". In the past air bosses and "Bird Dogs" have allowed us into the very top of the "stack", plus 200 ft or so. This would allow attack aircraft to enter below us and continue their missions un hampered by our machine. It would allow us to get the shots we need and provide some views that are not seen from the ground. If more aircraft joined, then "Bird Dog" would have us climb to a higher altitude. Of course the "Bird Dogs" always insist that we get some good shot of them, not just those bomber guys.

Phone rings again. Plans have changed, because the solutions that the Logistics team have come up with are all within the NOTAM area. We are now on Plan C or D as we rotor up. I am kind losing count.

I listen in on the COM line as Ronn calls the tower. Kink is in his usual front seat punching in GPS coordinates.
"Vancouver Tower, Good Morning, this is Tango Hotel Uniform with Information Charlie,,,"
Just as Ronn relays our plans to the tower, Kink interrupts him with yet another change. The desk has just come up with another plan of attack. This would involve flying to the Harbour Helipad and dropping Kink off to catch a seaplane with a third camera. It looks like camera guy # one (Wade) may not be able to board the ferry as they are only going to load fire equipment.
Ronn lets the Tower know of our sudden change and we are given the Harbour departure route out of YVR.
When we land and drop off Kink. We decide to take on a full fuel load so Ronn and I can have a maximum time over the fire. We no sooner fill the machine and yet another curve ball. This time it's with the sea plane. They cannot get into the seaplane area because of the NOTAM over the fire area.
"OK" Kink says, "I guess I'm coming with you guys again."
"We just took on full fuel, we'll be too heavy"

( At the Harbour, taking on full fuel. The first of many landings at the Harbour )

So Ronn and I fly off leaving poor Kink on the ground. We head to the fire. As soon as we lift off we can see it in the distance. Galiano Island is just across the Georgia Straight. The weather is clear and hot. The wind is picking up. As we approach I spot the Martin Mars Bomber making a run. I am rolling and recording as they are back at Vancouver Base.
( A frame grab of the Martin Mars as seen from several miles away as we cross the Straight)

We are unable to get the Air Boss so we climb above the NOTAM ceiling. In this particular case it was 3000 ft and Vancouver Terminal Control granted us 3500 ft.
I was able to get some good shots of the Mars doing it's thing. The Martin Mars Waterbomber is the largest water bomber on the planet. It was originally built during the second world war as an attack bomber for the pacific. The war ended before the Mars could be used in combat and of the 5 or 6 that were build, The BC government bought 3 and converted them into water bombers. They are magnificent to see in action.

( The Martin Mars Water Bomber banking into an attack run )

I never get tired of watching them do a run over the fire lines. I have seen them in action several times over the years and on 4 occasions I have shot them from Chopper 9.

We were over the fire for about 40 minutes or so. Then all of a sudden the radio crackled. "Chopper 9, control"
"Go ahead, control" I answered.
"Please return to the Harbour to pick up Kink, we have an LZ for you on the Island, Kink will brief you when you get to him."

Off we go now to land yet again at Vancouver Harbour. Ronn wants to top off the fuel when we land. When we arrive there is not one body, Kink, but two to pick up. I quickly run down the gangway to the pad to tell Ronn not to take on fuel as we now have an extra body to take with us.
"Are we able to take Kate?" I ask.
"But we won't be able to take on fuel and it will only give us about 30 minutes over the fire"

( Kate joins us seen here in a familar position, "working the phone")

Kink briefs Ronn on the new Plan, I'll call this PLAN 9 (from outerspace). We are all to head over to the Island, land at a resort on the North tip of the island. It is outside of the NOTAM and we have the permission of the landowner to land. All good.

We get there and now the wind has kicked up big time as we look for the LZ and when we find it the conditions have made it quite impossible to attempt a landing with such a heavy machine in such heat. You see the turbine engines have to work even harder to provide lift in the hot weather. With us already being near max gross and Ronn piloting our approach we are at max power, there was no need to become the second big story of the day involving the Transportation Safety Board.

( a frame grab of our intended landing site, conditions are not what we had hoped for)

Back at CTV Control they don't seem to quite understand the physics of flight and sometimes think we have a Magic Carpet with a Time Travel Option. Once the situation is explained to them we headed back to YVR. Some fun eh?

We still had a problem. Wade was on the Island with tape that he had been gathering. We needed to get that tape. With two less bodies on board, Ronn my intrepid pilot and I headed off to meet up with Wade on the Island at a 2nd LZ. This LZ had been used in the past and was OK for landing. But when we got there it was a different story. There was a pile of siding stacked pretty much in the middle of the area. Our down wash would make it a mess if we went in and landed. Not to mention potential damage to our machine. Just as we aborted our approach, up pulls Wade in his truck. We fly off now to the LZ we had attempted earlier with the four of us on board. The winds were kinda dodgy, but we got ourselves on the ground and I called Wade to let him know where we were.

(Tail Cam shot as we are about to touch down)

( Chopper 9 on the ground at a place called the "Stone Works' on Galiano Island )

He would take about 20 minutes to find us. In the meantime we find out that we were not at the resort that we thought, yet the land owner was delighted to see us. He and his grand children watched with excitement as we landed in the large grassy field behind their log home.
As I waited for Wade, I took the kids down to the Machine for a tour. The boys were all about 10 or 11 and I made sure each one of them got a good look up close of the helicopter. Ronn was talking to the Grandfather and we made sure that we handed out some swag to thank them for their hospitality. We were invited back to use the back field "Anytime you need it".
Wade arrived with the tape and we were off. I fed his tape on the trip back to YVR and made arrangements to pick Kink back up at the Harbour for 5 PM.

( Some of the fine work as shot by our Ground Camera, Wade as I am feeding back to Vancouver )

God I was exhausted and it was just after 4. We still had to fly and pick up Kink for the show and return to the Fire Line for the 6, would this day end?
The 6 went off with out a hitch and we returned home.
5.2 flight hours. Not bad for the first day back from vacation, I think I need another,,,

( a shot of the boys while waitng for Wade. They each enjoyed sitting in the pilot's seat)

1 comment:

Rad said...

It's never easy....