Aircraft—November…5…0…8…Juliet…Papa…10 miles to the north…inbound for landing… 2..1…Big Sandy…
Unicom—Winds calm…no other reported traffic…
From lemons to lemonade
Having a restaurant on site at Big Sandy is beneficial to air traffic. When pilots buy new aircraft, especially different than what they have been flying, they need additional training. Insurance requires it and it’s practical for safety reasons, too. I think they choose Big Sandy because, they can train for a while, have lunch on site and train some more, while returning home. Lauren can sell them food at the Cloud 9 and sometimes I get to sell them fuel.
There is a new trend in aviation for small jets, they are called V L J’s, that’s an acronym for very light jets. They usually have 6 seats; a pilot and 5 passengers. There are 3 or 4 different manufacturers of these jets, Cirrus, Honda and Eclipse being the first to get certified to fly.
The very first V L J that I ever had land here at Big Sandy was the Eclipse Jet. The man that owned it was from Connecticut and he and his instructor chose us because they could get about two hours of flying, get aquainted with the instruments, practice a few take-offs and landing and then debrief about what they learned over lunch. While they walked across the parking lot for lunch, I topped them off with jet fuel.
When they finished their lunch and came back to the airport to pay for their fuel they complimented me on our beautiful airport. Actually, that happens a lot and I never get tired of it either. We do have an airport to be proud of. “This is a very pretty airport, I like the homey feel of it with the fireplace and all the pictures you have hanging on the wall.” he said.
My response was, “If you don’t mind I would like to put a picture of you and your jet on the wall. That’s the first V L J to land here and I think your picture will make a interesting addition to the wall.”
“Sure you can but before we take the picture, I must ask, where did you get your Blackhawk helicopter model you have on your fireplace mantel?”
“I do a lot of business with the Kentucky National Guard and last year they invited me to their end of the year party and they presented me with this nice model. I think it’s about as realistic as it gets if you look at it closely. This model has even the smallest details of the Blackhawk. Do you know much about the Blackhawk?”
I noticed all the time I was telling the gentleman about the Blackhawk he was fumbling through his billfold looking for something. When I finished talking he handed me two cards. “Yes, I know something about the Blackhawk, one card is for you and the next time one of your National Guard pilots lands here, you give him one of my cards, too,” he said.
Turns out the guy sure did know a little about Blackhawk helicopters, the man that had just bought the new Eclipse jet was also the CEO of Sikorsky helicopters, that makes the Blackhawk. The Blackhawk is made in….you guessed it….Connecticut.
We both had a pretty good laugh and then like a grandfather telling about their grandchildren, he started telling me about the Blackhawk. I don’t remember how many he said the military had bought off Sikorsky but I could tell it was a major part of their company. “Have you ever heard about how we convinced the army brass to buy the Blackhawk?” he asked.
“No, I’ve never heard the story.”
“When we designed and build the Blackhawk, we build three. When a new helicopter is designed, the engineers think they know the capabilities but you never really know until you flight test them. We had all the tests done and we thought we knew all the flight numbers for the Blackhawk and had met all the requirements the army brass had asked for. The demonstration review was scheduled in Fort Rucker, AL. All the army brass and Sikorsky engineers and I were there to sell the new utility helicopter to the army. We were showing how quickly we could land and deploy soldiers, how smoothly we could hover and rappel soldiers and how much payload we could pick up and relocate. Then we had a serious mechanical problem and we crash landed the Blackhawk in a grove of pine trees only 300 yards from the reviewing stands.”
“To say the least the army brass and our engineers were shocked, pieces of pine trees were flying all over the place and we ran over to the Blackhawk to make sure the test pilots and crew were alright. Everyone walked out of the helicopter and we determined there was only superficial damage to the fuselage but the main rotor blades were totally destroyed and the tail rotors were damaged.”
“The engineers determined that the hydraulic hoses had burst and caused the loss of control of the helicopter. As the army generals stood by I told them to come back tomorrow evening and we would be flying this helicopter out of here.”
“We worked overnight repairing the rotors and replaced the hoses with higher rated hydraulic hoses. We hired a group of men to cut the pine trees in a circle around the Blackhawk and we did every test we could do to make sure the helicopter engines weren’t damaged. We were ready to fly by late afternoon.”
“The army brass came back not knowing what to expect but they knew it was the same helicopter that had landed there the day before. I told them that we build “one tough bird” and we didn’t intend to demonstrate it’s toughness but this is the perfect opportunity to show everyone.”
“The two test pilots started the engines and performed all the checks and flew the Blackhawk out of the pine grove and back over to the landing area all in less than 30 hours after the crash.”
“One of the generals turned to me and said, “Out of lemons you made lemonade” and they left. About 6 months later we were awarded the contract for the Blackhawk! Be sure to tell your pilot friends that story.”
We all walked back out to his new jet. My new friends posed for their picture for my wall. As he and his instructor flew the new Eclipse jet back to Connecticut, I thought, “I guess he did know a think or two about Blackhawks!”
Aircraft—November…5…0…8…Juliet…Papa…departing runway 3…to the north…
Unicom—Winds 060 at 7…have a safe trip home…
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager at Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties)