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How to Behave Around a Helicopter

I’m going to get semi-serious in this letter. This is mainly because there’s only so much that can happen to a person in his or her life, and I’m running out of memories which I’m willing to share. The message is serious because it could save your life and semi, because it’s said with black humour.

For those who feel a trigger warning is necessary for dark humour: one comment – grow up.

A minority of people are going to travel by helicopter. Nevertheless, your chance could pop up anywhere at any time: you could win a raffle, you could be invited on board by your billionaire friend down the road, you might want to learn to fly one, your job might require you to take a helicopter (offshore oil rig, geological survey, etc.), you might have to be rescued off a mountain in terrible weather while your suffering from hypothermia (in which case you won’t have to worry about all these precautions – someone else will).

I have a theory that people become over excited around helicopters, and I believe it’s because the beat of the rotors agitates something in the brain which causes a lack of rational thought.

So, pay attention! Here are the rules which every regular helicopter passenger knows, but still gets briefed on prior to every flight.

1.  The first thing to learn is that the pilot is a god. Do what you’re told and all will be well. Disobey an instruction and his vengeance will be dire. There’s something rather pathetic in seeing a truncated human running around like a headless chicken in its first throes of death.
2.  Do approach a running helicopter at an angle of about 45 degrees to the nose. Use caution to the side, because you may pass out of sight of the pilot and he may not know you’re there. It is best not to approach a small helicopter from the front, because that is the point where the rotor blades are at their lowest and you could end up without a head.
3.  Never, ever walk around the back of a helicopter, because almost all helicopters have a tail rotor – like a propellor – which is rotating so fast you can’t see it. If you walk into that the helicopter will be grounded for major repairs. Oh, and you could expect to lose a significant part of your body.

Overriding advice here is not to approach out of sight of the pilot or crewman – see their eyes.

4.  Never, ever approach a running helicopter without permission from the pilot or crewman. They’ll get quite cross – see point 1.

5.  Don’t leave the helicopter without permission. Or they’ll get even crosser – see point 1.

Permission should be granted by either a thumbs up signal, or the red flashing anti-collision light being switched off, or both.

6.  Never approach a helicopter which is on a hillside or slope from the uphill direction. The pilot will keep the spinning rotors horizontal, so if you are uphill the clearance between the rotor and the ground is greatly reduced. If you wish to ignore this advice, you could end up like the headless horseman (minus horse).

7.  If approaching or leaving while the rotors are going slowly (which shouldn’t be allowed), crouch low, the blades may flex down below head height. The resulting headache will last for life.

8.  Don’t run, there’s no need, and you could trip and fall – health and safety, health and safety, health––

9.  Don’t crawl on your hands and knees, but do stoop for small helicopters. Yes, I have seen ridiculous individuals keep well below the rotor blades by crawling towards the machine, while I’ve been looking down on them from above. They looked sheepish, but were too scared to stand.

10.  Do carry long objects horizontal below waist level and not on the shoulder. If you carry them upright they might impact the rotor blades and damage the helicopter. The pilot will be very cross and both you and your object will be somewhat shorter than you wished.

11.  Do remove your hat. Hats are easily blown off and swept up into the rotor. This will necessitate a shut down, and you will be unpopular. If you lose your hat, do not chase after it.

12.  Don’t carry loose or light articles (papers, etc. not contained). They can easily be blown away, and your top secret list of spies in the Kremlin will be lost. Do not chase after anything that blows away, even if it’s top secret.

13.  Don’t touch anything on the outside or the inside of the helicopter. I’ve had people grasping the pitot tube (a short tube which projects forward and tells the pilot how fast he’s going). The pilot’s cure for this is is to switch on the anti-icing, which heats up the tube and burns your hand. I told you his vengeance is harsh.

14.  Keep your seatbelt snug. Not so tight as to be uncomfortable, but not loose. A loose safety belt in any vehicle is far less effective than intended. A loose seat belt will allow you to slip forward under it in the event of a collision.

15.  If, while waiting for the helicopter to land, you are blinded by dust, stop where you are, crouch down and wait for assistance. If you wander around with your eyes shut, you could once again damage the helicopter – and lose your head.

In spite of all this, there’s no need to be frightened of helicopters. After all, the guillotine is not dangerous unless you put your head on the block.

So there you have it: sound advice on how to be safe in the event Captain God invites you to travel with him.

Publishing news is that I’ve drafted the first seven chapters of the sequel to Thirty-Four. For draft, read rough wording and poor punctuation. Months of work ahead on that one. I’ll keep you posted.

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