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Pipe to Shiraz

Pipe to Shiraz 01/12/74

Last month I chatted about pilots and how meaningful their log books are. One of the benefits of a manually completed log book over a computerised version is that every flight is recorded with the date and as much detail as the owner wants to add, including a photograph if he or she feels like it.

Iranian Helicopters Aviation Company, which was owned by some of the Shah’s family members in partnership with our company, had a base in the Zagross mountains. One of the wells serviced by that operation was at an altitude of almost 12,000ft (3650m). It was claimed to be the highest oil well in the world, with the bottom being above sea level. Our base was at an altitude of about 8,000ft (2430m).

Because of the detailed entry in my log book, I can say that it was on the 1st of December 1974 that I and an engineer had to take two ten metre lengths of casing (pipe) weighing 2,500 pounds from our Zagross base down to Shiraz.

We used a Bell 212 helicopter (think a Viet Nam Huey, but with two engines). The passenger configuration of this machine is for two rows of seats facing forward and aft for nine people, and behind them on either side of the main transmission housing two outward facing seats on each side.

In order to get the pipes in, the main seats were removed or folded up and the sliding doors on each side were slid back. The pipes were loaded with a forklift and some serious muscle power. The casing projected out beyond the rotor area on both sides of the machine. We lashed the pipes together and tied them down at the rear of the cabin. Then the doors were slid forward until they contacted the pipes and secured (see the photo which was taken over the foothills). This left about four feet of open space unprotected from the outside.

You’ll note this took place in winter, and Iran is freezing in winter. Snow covered the high mountains and the ground at the base. One of the Iranian staff wanted to go to Shiraz and asked for a lift. I said he could come, but it would be a cold couple of hours. He shrugged. We put him in one of the outward facing seats protected from the wind by the partially closed door.

I wore a double-layer down duvet and the engineer had on something warm as well. I turned the cabin heating to full, but that only heated our feet.

I was nervous of this flight, because of the possibility that the pipe projecting so far out to the side of the machine could develop lift, like an aeroplane’s wing. I had read how a French Allouette helicopter had crashed for exactly that reason. Consequently, I accelerated very slowly in case some undesirable aerodynamic forces crept up on us. But all was well and we were able to fly at the maximum doors open speed (about 80kts at that altitude) all the way to Shiraz.

It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky and not much wind, but with a serious nip in the air: probably –10 degrees C, I don’t remember.

We landed at the main airport in Shiraz to let our passenger off as we were to carry on to our final destination, an oil well in the desert. With door released and slid back, the passenger could get out – except that he didn’t. He couldn’t move. The poor chap was frozen solid and we had to lift him out. He couldn’t straighten his knees they were so cold. He “stood” in a sitting position for a few minutes supported by someone until he thawed in the sun. He was otherwise well and all of us, including him and the Iranian airport staff, saw the funny side.

These days we’d be called insensitive.



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