Flight 23 – I made a mistake – Part 35

It was hot, winds were out of the west at 10knts and I was excited for my 2nd solo. I have 31 hours and this flight did not go as planned. I cut it real real short.

My first solo was 2 days ago. I thought it went well, no issues, the radio calls were ok and I flew the helicopter reasonably well. I could not wait to get back up into the air and make a bunch of right hand turns.

It started out just like every other flight. I worked my way though the pre-flight very carefully, Grant and I ran the pattern 3 times then I dropped him off at the Ideal Aviation ramp. He gave me the low down, called the tower to let them know I’d be up for my 2nd time then unplugged and walked off. I was nervous but felt good.

I picked up the G2 and made my call. The tower put me in the pattern and off I went. As soon as I made my first crosswind and cleared my right side my headset started acting up. Dammit.

What do I mean by acting up? This video should give you a good idea. Basically all the audio cuts out completely. I can’t hear myself or the tower. It’s just blank. No static. No mic, no nothing. In previous videos you can see me checking my headset or wiggling the wires but this time was way way worse and I was by myself in a busy pattern without Grant. Dammit.

So I had just made my crosswind turning downwind. As I looked to clear both sides the radio was completely out, I was checking the mic, talking to myself and there was… just… nothing. If you haven’t had an aviation headset on before it’s a little odd. You can hear yourself when you talk or exhale or chew gum loudly. Wind noise can be particularly annoying but you get over it. To talk to the tower you push a button on the cyclic.

Having both hands full at the time (cyclic and collective) I bumped the wires with my shoulder and it clicked back on. The tower was giving me the option on 30R. I only caught the last of it but repeated it back and concentrated on my approach.

I scanned my site picture trying not to move my head that much. I got down and immediately was on the move again. I should have landed. I should have hover taxi’d back to the ramp and called it a day but I thought that when I bumped the wires with my shoulder it “fixed itself”. It did not, as soon as I looked right on my upwind it clicked off again. DAMMIT. It came back on quicker this time but I spent the next 5 minutes checking the mic by blowing in it to make sure it was on.

The tower called for my 2nd option. I repeated back and started to figure out my plan. Keep in mind I have only been up for about 7 minutes…

Honestly, why don’t I just stay up and fly and not look to my right. I can do this. I’ve got nearly 32 hours, I’m a pro. Wait, what? That is the worst idea.

Oddly enough I immediately thought ADM, Aeronautical Decision Making. School, learning, process!! This goes back to the first ground school class almost 5 months ago. I didn’t step though each part of the process, I just remembered the “macho” analogy. “I can do it”. Nope nope nope nope. This is a terrible idea. I need to fix this right now in case I miss a call on the radio or the tower tells me there is traffic 2 feet from my right and I didn’t look right because I am dumb. I NEED TO FIX THIS NOW – NOT ON MY NEXT APPROACH. I let things go a few minutes too long in this fight, and in hindsight, too long period. I should of sent that headset back in the first time it happened a month ago.

BTW any of you that are thinking about becoming a pilot or you are currently a student, here are the steps for good decision-making:
1. Identifying personal attitudes hazardous to safe flight.
2. Learning behavior modification techniques.
3. Learning how to recognize and cope with stress.
4. Developing risk assessment skills.
5. Using all resources.
6. Evaluating the effectiveness of one’s ADM skills.

-I’m not saying I went through each piece in a timely manner but I made a good choice in a stressful environment as soon as humanly possible.

So back to the flight.

What are my options? I have the option on 30R. I can land, fiddle with the headset or try to fix it in the air. I don’t like pulling my hands off the collective yet. It feels like doing a wheelie on a dirtbike at 50mph and pulling your hand off the throttle. I know it’s fine to do that, I have to change frequencies on the radio / do stuff to the GPS all the time but it doesn’t make it feel any more right.

OK. Let’s figure it out. I glanced to the right and the headset clicked off again, yep, time to make an adjustment right now. I rolled on some friction, checked the connection between my headset and the helicopter. Nothing. Then tried to push in the connection between the actual headset ear piece and wire. I have a pair of new David Clarks that have a removable main cord. It was tight but as soon as I touched it there was static. That was the issue. I pushed it in as hard as I could and got my hands back on the collective. Ugh.

The approach was good and I thought I fixed my issue. I got on the move and started into my crosswind turning downwind. Nope, as soon as I looked hard to my right again the headset clicked off again. I had been in the air for a total of 12 minutes at this time but I’d had enough. I constantly checked to make sure my headset was still working by cursing for 3 minutes straight. Finally the tower called and gave me the option. I repeated back and could not get down fast enough.

I got down and hovered on the runway then called the tower. I said I had some “comms” problems and would like to hover taxi back to the Ideal ramp. Not exactly standard but the INCREDIBLY nice and helpful woman in the tower took pity on me. She told me to follow a diamond ahead of me and that’s exactly what I did.

I arrived back at the ramp after less than 20 minutes of flying. Grant walked out looking at me with concern or confusion, not sure which. I had him put on my headset and turn his head and he said, oh yeah, that shouldn’t happen. My 2nd solo was not as much fun as I thought it’d be.

I was not pleased. I emailed David Clark and they asked me to overnight the headset on their dime. I did that, they found and fixed the issue then overnighted me them back. They did good by me but man, not an awesome 2nd solo flight. I spoke to Grant and some of the other instructors about it. In the end it was a very small issue but it made me think about how fast things can go wrong.

From now on I’ll fly with one of the old spare headsets…