One thing that we came to an
agreement very early on was that I had the “final” say concerning that
helicopter. As far as I was concerned, I was the most important person
in that ship and if I felt it was not ready to fly then that was that.
There was room to bend a little but for the most part I had my way.
By this time I had flown around the mines enough that I now knew what was
going on and could adjust quickly to most situations.
The Railroad was having a problem scheduling trains and the coal was maxing out the coal piles, which in turn meant a work stoppage. Mr. Harbert had managed to get both the President and Vice President of the railroad to the mines for an aerial look see. The President sat in the front seat with the Vice President right behind him and Mr. Harbert right behind me. We were to over fly the 4 local jobs before heading up to the northern jobs to see a train being loaded and to catch lunch.
It was a beautiful day and not bumpy at all. We had flown around the first 3 local jobs and heading to the 4th when I noticed that the Vice President was not saying much. I looked over at him and he was getting kind of white. I asked him a question and only got a grunt out of him. He was getting airsick and trying to fight it because of who he was with. I had to make a corporate decision right then and there and told Mr. Harbert that I was going to set down at our Straight Creek job because I did not feel right about the helicopter. Mr. Harbert asked if it could wait until we reached the northern job and I said “no, something was just not right with the ship and I wanted to check it out”.
I made an exceptionally smooth approach into the Straight Creek pad and all got out and went into the office while I let the engine cool down. The Vice President made it down OK but was obviously happy to get his feet back on the ground. He hadn't gotten sick and did not embarrass himself in front of the others. If he had gotten sick that would have ended the flight right then and there anyway. I was making a small effort at opening the cowlings in case they were glancing out the window. Mr. Harbert then came out and asked me what was wrong. I told him there was nothing wrong with the ship but that I had noticed that the Vice President was just about to get sick and to save face, I elected to put a pause in the flight plans. Mr. Harbert said the Vice President had mentioned something about being on the ground for a while then said that was fine and went in.
I then went in and told Mr. Harbert and the other gentlemen that we had somehow picked up a paper bag on the main blade and that was what was making the sound I had picked up. He took it from there and told the men that another train was to be at that very site, after lunch, and that they would wait on it. He was going to release the ship for another flight and that they would, more than likely, take a vehicle back to the airport. Mr. Harbert was a sharp man and went with the flow on that one. Nobody got sick or embarrassed themselves, the objective of the flight was met, and they did not leave afraid of helicopters. Sometimes one just has to take things into their own hands when they know something the others do not.
There was another occasion that I had to terminate a flight that sticks out in my memory. I had just returned from a 100 hr inspection at a new facility that I was told to go to instead of Vertiflite. Nelliebelle’s seats were full and we began the flight north with Mr. Harbert in the front seat and Don Cook in one of the back seats. I thought I heard something that was very low in pitch that just didn't sound right to me. I asked Mr. Harbert if he heard it as well and he said “no”. I then asked the others in the back seat if they heard anything and all said “no” except for Mr. Cook. He said he thought he heard something different but was not sure. That was enough for me so I turned back to our Mountain Drive office where we had just taken off from. Mr. Harbert gave me a little static about it but did not try to pull rank on me.
After the gentlemen got off I moved Nelliebelle over to the hanger and friction the controls down so I could give her a walk around while she was still running. When I got back to the tail rotor area I heard a big buzz and immediately shut her down. When I took off the trail rotor drive shaft cowling I found that one of the Thomas Couplings (U-joints) had not been torque down properly and had come apart. One nut had already come off which flung the little bolt out allowing the coupling to swing out and spin out-of-round, which was making that noise I heard. The other little bolt held it all together and it's nut was one turn away from coming off itself. We were just minutes away from a major tail rotor failure. The mechanic apparently tightened the nuts only hand tight and forgot to torque them down to specks. I inspected the disk of the coupling and they were OK but I replaced both bolts and nuts and was off again in less than 30 minutes. I later explained what had happened with the ship and that I had given the entire tail rotor system a good going over. Mr. Cook understood the severity of the situation but I do not believe the others did. At the end of the day I stayed until dark thirty making sure I didn't have any other surprises waiting on me.
Now I'm a non-smoker and since smoke tears me up in a heartbeat I did not allow smoking in my helicopter. When somebody did insist on smoking, I just waited a minute or two until my eyes teared up then I took off my sunglasses and started a face to face conversation with them about something. Seeing those tears rang the bell for most folks but it didn't for one of Harbert’s Vice Presidents.
While on a layover in Asheville, N.C., my motel was near a mall and I went over for a look see. Inside was a tobacco shop and in I went. I asked the clerk what was the worst smelling cigar he had in the place and he brought out a small package that held 2 Turkish roots that were called cigars. I bought them and went on my way.
Not long after that, the smoking VP got on again and started to light up. I said I might as well too and made an obvious effort to get one of those 2 cigars. The VP just looked on in amazement. I put one in my mouth and took out a hidden lighter and tried to light it. Apparently, only Turkish people can keep them lit because I tried my best to get that thing to put out the smoke but it wouldn't. I had to give up because I was starting to hyperventilate a little. The VP just laughed and said that if it meant that much to me he would compromise with me. From the next flight on he voluntarily went to the far left rear seat he dubbed, “The Smoking Section”. That kept my eyes clear for the most part but it still stunk up the ship.
On another occasion both Nelliebelle and Clairabelle went into 100 hr inspections at the same time and did so just as an important flight came up with a big coal buyer. We had to rent a ship from the Tri-Cites area but they would not let me fly it because I was not “qualified” in the eyes of the insurance company. It seems that only “instructor pilots” could fly their ships. I had never bothered to get that rating because I did not intend to do any instructing. So we had to accept the ship with their rental pilot as well.
When the ship arrived I was told to go up with the pilot and see if he was capable of going on such an important flight all by himself. I did and he couldn't. He had all of just over 300 hrs and had got all his ratings in a row. I took him up to the big flat area on the job and showed him a stone in the road and told him to land to it. He over flew it by 20 ft and that was in the wide open spaces. Besides that, he did not want to pull in full power for either cruise or takeoff. I asked him what his people were going to say when I adjusted the bill to show the difference in time between the flight being flown at normal power settings and the lower setting he insisted flying by? That got his attention.
I explained things to Mr. Harbert and he decided to bump one of the passengers (Mr. Cook) and go with 2 pilots for the flight (the ship had dual controls in it). I continued to fly from the left seat, which sure brought back memories of Viet Nam. From Mr. Harbert’s view, things went OK and the big coal buyer got to see and visit everything they had planned to. From the other pilot's view he had one heck of a learning experience that day. He had no idea how small an area the chopper could safely land in and he also had no idea just what the ship was capable of. Once the passengers were out of dust range I let him have a try in and out of some of the tigher landing spots. At the end of the day he asked me when he would be considered a “professional”? I told him, “he would be considered a “Professional” the day he no longer had to prove that he was a “Professional” any longer.” I always considered that my best “line”. I'm proud I thought that one up.
There was one time I was really put on a spot that I felt might hurt the company. Mr. Harbert was up with another big coal buyer and was showing him all the acreage we had under lease and believe me we had a lot. Since I flew the jobs every day I knew where all the lines were but Mr. Harbert hadn't been up in a while and was not as familiar with the new lines as I was. He started getting a little carried away and began claiming some of the adjacent jobs and property. When we set down for lunch, the buyer cornered me and asked if all that property was indeed ours. Speak about being put on a spot. Since he had enough smarts to ask the question I figured he know something was amiss. I then told him that I was familiar with all the property lines and that Mr. Harbert knew most of them himself. Mr. Harbert had indeed claimed some of the adjacent property as his but in doing so he also gave away as much as he took. I then went on to say that he had even failed to mention all the new “Pine Mt” property we had just purchased. I concluded by saying that Mr. Harbert was not one to try and pull something over on someone, he just was not current with all the recent updates. He smiled and said thanks and went on about his business. I never found out how things turned out. Honesty though is the best policy because you don't have to cover for yourself afterwards. I sure hope it help that time.