Petroleum Helicopters

     After I graduated from Teterboro School of Aeronautics with a nice new Federal Airframe & Power Plant maintenance license (A&P), I migrated to Australia believe it or not.  Cost me $1,700 round trip in the end.  I had to have a pilot's position waiting for me and I thought I did.  All my paperwork was in place and off I went on about a 20 hr flight to Sydney.  When I got there no one from the company was waiting, so I gave them a call.   I was told that no jobs were available and they hung up.  I went to customs and told them the story and they told me that it had happened to others.  It was their way of getting back at the Americans for wooing their women when they came over on R&R from Viet Nam.  The customs people did tell me though that there were other jobs available in the area.  One was flying for the mining companies in New Guinea, but they were having a war with the natives over that so I might not want that one.  The other was sling loading deer out of the mountains of New Zealand.  I Found out later that sling loading deer was the highest paying helicopter flying job in the world at the time.  I didn't know any better and passed it up.
     I got on a plane for Seattle then headed for Evergreen Helicopters.  When I got there, the secretaries in the office told me that most everybody was in the field for 6 or more straight months.  I didn't like that either so I headed for the Gulf where Petroleum Helicopters took me on as a pilot/mechanic.  After a 3 week stint with the night maintenance crews, I was sent off shore where I stayed for the 7 days straight of the 7-7 schedule that I would now be permanently on.
     This picture is of the platform that I stayed on that was called, "Grand Isle 47-AQ".  It was 22 miles out in the gulf in about 60 feet of water.   The Grand Isle part was the name of that section of the oil fields.  The 47 stood for the exact quadrant in that section and the AQ stood for "area quarters".  The top section was the sleeping area and the bottom section held the kitchen, dining room, TV room, and washing machines.  There was a house boy that did the laundry and all the other little details that had to be done.  I slept in a 4 man room with bunk beds.
       The day began just before dawn with breakfast and then pitch pull at dawn.  This field had 13 other platforms that all had between 1 and 30 working well heads on them.  I was told that each well head brought in $150.00 profit a second.  All the well heads were tied together and the oil and gas was sent to 47-AQ via an underwater pipe.  The production half of 47-AQ collected all the oil and gas and started early filtration (getting the salt water out).  After initial processing, it was pumped to shore and the refinery via another underwater pipe.
    The choppers saved so much time over the boats that they literally paid for themselves.  A 4 minute flight for me could easily take the crew boat 30 minutes.  And in bad weather, with rough seas, a crew boat ride is no fun at all.  So I flew folks from platform to platform checking gauges, doing preventive maintenance, and complying with their various check lists.  Each platform had an air-conditioned computer room that I usually could take a nap in if I had to wait on my people.  If I wasn't in there for a nap I was at the bottom of the platform fishing.
     Because the job was considered a high time job, I had a pilot under me that did most of the flying.  He flew from dawn to 10 and from 4 to shutdown.  I elected to fly from 10 to 4 with a short swap out for lunch.  This way I could get an early supper and be ready to start my inspections as soon as the ship shut down for the day.  If something took most of the night to do, then I could sleep in with no problem.
     Most aircraft are under the 100 hr maintenance program.  When the Hobbs meter said you had flown 100 hrs, the ship was grounded and an extensive inspection begun.  A small helicopter usually takes 3 maintenance hours for every flight hour.  The gulf ships are maintained under a "continuos maintenance program" which was the same inspection, just stretched out over a month's time.  The other pilot/mechanic was supposed to do half and I did half.  It didn't work out that way because I was not very happy with his work.  As a result, I did his half as well but just didn't sign it off.  I would work on the ship from supper to 10:30 -11:00.  It would take me 3 days to do both halves of the inspection, which meant I had 4 days to fish.  Unless I felt the day was exceptional for fishing, I would knock off the inspection as soon as I could.  Bad weather also affected my schedule.
     I'll probably get in a little trouble here but I do not like pilot/mechanics.  It's a fine concept and well worth the price if you can find a good one but that's the problem, finding a good one.  It is my understanding that about 1 in every 100 pilots has his airframe & power plant maintenance rating (A&P) but I feel only about 1 in 10 is any good.  The reason being they use the knowledge to know what they could get away with instead of fixing it on the spot or getting it fixed.  I once had to swap out ships for a day and got a real dirty dog of a ship in return.  It was really sorry and, going into the logbook, I was amazed to find that it was maintained by the top pilot/mechanic in our PHI training class.  He could talk up a storm but sure didn't back it up with action.
    On another occasion we were required to inspect the tail boom attachment bolts when we went to the jet rangers.   They were extremely hard to get to, especially one of the top ones.  You had to snake yourself back into the tail boom which hurt your back because you were scooting on small thin riggers and then you had to contort yourself so that you could get both your light and a reflection mirror on each bolt.  Then, ignoring the cramps, you had to stretch your neck so that you could eyeball the mirror close enough to actually see a stress crack at those locations.   I wanted to see if anyone else was going through what I had to do to sign off that part of the inspection, so I taped one of my calling cards on the bolt head that was the hardest to get to.  I put a message on the back of the card that said I would give $10 to anyone who returned that card to me.  I never got it back.  As I said before, if you can get a good one, a pilot/mechanic is almost worth his weight in gold.  You will get a better perspective of why in the "Coal Fields" section of these stories.
    After the close of the day when the inspections were completed I usually would fish .  On occasion I would go upstairs and play Cajun poker (Boo-Ray) with the guys.  I made more than I lost and liked the game but would have made a lot more if the guys had honored their IOUs.
  Because I like to eat, I quickly made friends with the cook.  Though I do not remember his name I do remember that he was a pastry chef from New Orleans.  He worked the oil rigs because the pay was so much better.  His food was fine and all it took to keep it that way was to be told so by the guys once in a while.  Then it happened, and I found myself right in the middle of it, right where I did not want to be.
    Cookie was very conservative and would do his very best to use up the old stock before going into the new stock.  This was OK with everyone because we really didn't notice it except for one thing, the lunch sandwiches.  When I flew out the bag lunches to the guys, the guys would not eat the bread because it was so old and hard.  I was constantly being asked to tell Cookie about it because he was my friend but I didn't want to. I'm no fool; you just don't go to the only cook on the platform and try to tell him how to improve his cooking.  But alas the pressure from the guys outweighed the potential problem with Cookie so I had to do it.
    Just after lunch one day I brought the subject of food rotation up and tried to be as tactful as I could.  When I asked why the old bread couldn't be thrown down the food chute to the waiting fish below, and the new bread used for the sandwiches, Cookie put 2 and 2 together.  Boy! Did I catch it.  I sat there and took it for about 15 minutes and paid the price for the next 3 days at every meal.   The guys truly felt sorry for me because Cookie made it obvious that I was not his favorite person on the rig.
    Just as Christ arose after 3 days, on the 3rd day, so did Cookie but only a couple of feet.  It seems that someone, while I was flying, took all the old bread and put it down the food shoot to the waiting fish below.  Cookie was forced to use the new bread and word spread like wildfire among the platforms.  The guys were so impressed that they flooded him with calls of praise.  I didn't find out about it until I got on final for landing and saw the long line of floating bread streaming from the platform.  I didn't want to leave the chopper because I thought Cookie was going to throw me over the edge into the water below as well.  As it turned out he apologized for the way he acted and said he didn't realize what he was doing to the guys to save a couple of bucks for the catering company.  Things quickly returned to normal with the exception that Cookie really went out of his way to please the guys for evening meals for a couple of shifts.  I never found out who threw the bread out but I do believe it was the top field boss.  He was aware of the situation from the get-go but didn't wish to take on Cookie either, but apparently enough was enough.  Nobody fessed up to it.

     The End