By Jack Schweibold
RENO RACE FLASHBACK:
One of the most serious aviation incidents of this century might not seem appropriately placed as lead story for our new Rotorcraft Blog but it was the issue that popped to the top of my mind when our PJA President, John Hall challenged me to chair this column. Just the previous year we had sponsored a hospitality booth a few feet from the site that witnessed the “Galloping Ghost” and nearly a dozen people meet their end. So, knowing many of our fellow participants in the race circuit and realizing that everyone in aviation sits close to catastrophe on a daily basis … Reno 2011 remains fresh in our company e-proms.
My first taste of Reno flying was during the tail end of our Helicopter Training in the Air Force, February 1958. We had just finished flying the Bell H13, Sikorsky H19B and Vertol H21 helicopters at Randolph Field, San Antonio TX. Our class was taken as the first for an experiment in High Altitude Helicopter Operations. The plan was to move us out of a maximum 3,000’ density altitude environment up to 14,000’ DA restricted area sites on the peaks surrounding Reno. Without turbines in those days, a half inch of manifold pressure meant an extra few hundred feet to an H19B. Always flying at maximum gross weight for the assigned landing demanded we take on a 50# sandbag for every 50# of fuel burned during the session. After two months of hanging onto the last engine and rotor RPM for almost every event, this once sloppy bunch of twenty-five new helicopter pilots left Reno confident we were mission ready for every assigned helicopter task or possessed the wisdom to say “No!” By the time just two of us Reno graduates left our first assignment, our “saves” far exceeded those lost at Reno that horrific day on September 16th, 2011.
We use many axioms in flying, one might be added: “While Reno has tragically taken, it has far out given” … and that’s not counting the thousands of aircrew members trained there to survive the brutal Korean and Vietcong concentration camps.