06 July 2012



It's imperative for an offshore pilot. I am not speaking about the means by which to maintain a bod worthy of being able to fit into the unearthly confines of a GQ magazine. As a hobbit who is faithful to breakfasts, second breakfasts, elevenses, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners, suppers, and anything salvageable in between, I abhor politically correct diets and unrealistic images to live up to with utmost hubris.

Knowing that we fly over great distances with no highway lay-bys or pitstops, taking risks with what we eat can be a cause of desparation and agony in flight should an untimely stirring in the bowels develop into a violent tummy tornado. I had considered this when I started offshore flying, as military flying itself does not offer much in the way of relief, though spotting a clearing in the foliage does look like a point of salvation in dire emergency. Indeed, the operating manuals both in military and civil flying advocate taking care of what we eat in order that be do not brew a storm in the belly, even so far as to dictate that in a multi-crew operation, the pilot and copilot should not consume the same food so that in case one person is incapacitated owing to indigestion or diorrhea, one pilot will remain well enough to command the aircraft.

I was on my operational line check a number of days ago when my training captain simulated an emergency whereby a passenger was experiencing a severe tummy ache. He asked me what I would do.

I said I would search under the GPS for the closest rig, radio heli base and the rig and declare my intentions to land to allow the necessary. He "okayed" my decision but I surmised that the emergency simulation was merely a preamble to his rendering of horror stories as he went on to describe in unminced words, how such occurences in the past had led to rather gross-tesque incidents in flight, making life in the air nasty for passengers and on ground, for the technical crew. He may have been conglamourating, successfully too judging by the images passing through my head of pilots stuck in the cockpit hatch with butts in the frigid air at 3 000 feet and 110 knots. I shuddered myself back to reality and asked him: can't these things be taken care of before flight?

How coincidental then, a few days after, that I was to discover that even when we are careful, we can still be humbled by militant tummy bugs. No, I didn't do any reverse perching through the cockpit hatch. I adhered to my own measures, watching the GPS countdown the distance to the destination rig, and was able to go below deck to the facilities while the passenger exchange was taking place under the supervision of the helideck crew and the observation of the captain. I know now that I should never be presumptuous or smug about my dietary habits in the obviation of in-flight motions.
The Waiting Storm In The West

Over the past five days of my work cycle, I had four days on the 7 am muster. The haze interfered with all of us in all walks of life, and almost all of those early mornings were a climb straight into a greyed-out sky, creating the illusion of motionlessness. Staring down into the sea, where after several seconds the eyes would discern the waves below, was the only means of breaking out of that illusion.

Then on the final day, just before I began my five-day leave cycle, came the kind of day that makes a pilot feel like, Damn!!! This job is really worth it.
I touch the clouds, I touch the rain

We went out in gloom as we had many days past. At 80 miles out, the weather began to clear as residual precipitation from the night before was rising to form low cumulostratus clouds, puffy yet not heaped, sucking up a portion of the haze by using their non-aquaeous particles as condensation nuclei over which to form these marshmallow puffs at three thousand feet. It was on the way back when we hit the storms. I stuck my palm out the hatch and quickly drew it back. At that speed, the tiny beads of rain felt like a million acupuncture needles.

Then we broke cloud. The greeting view ahead stirred even the captain from his dull submission to flight time slumber. He fumbled in his bag to fetch his i-pad to snap up the vista.
Umbra and Penumbra

We had rainbows.

They were brilliant, all seven colours in a ring around the heli's nose moving with us as we edged forward into the centre like it was an aiming circle suspended in the sky. I looked intently at it, in dual concentric bands with the subdued mother-band embracing the brilliant child inside her arms.
Flying through hoops

As the storm cloud passed behind us, the ring around us slowly faded and gave way to fair weather for the next fifteen miles. Another mild storm cloud lay ahead of us with its own rainbow enflamed upon its walls.
Remembering a promise

Seeing this elevates the mood, I find, infusing a sense of hope. I wonder if it is really because it stands for a promise that He will never wipe out mankind in a flood. Wait, we have had mass destruction by water after Noah. Ah yes, but those were instant, not the slow despairing watch of your end coming to take you at the point of a scythe. So the promise still stands, and therefore the validity of the rainbow remains. Perhaps this is what the connection is, that we can always look forward to better times when we have weathered the storm into passing on behinds us.

Or did I just conglamourate?