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Even fl ying a “typical” mission is not easy, especially when weather changes on a whim and ships are rolling, pitching, yawing, and heaving on four axes of direction. Flight crew skills must be experienced and honed, even more so since much of the fl ying is in the dark. “We’re fl ying off shore at night into a black hole,” says pilot Bruce Jones. Prior to joining Brim Aviation, he spent 31 years in the Coast Guard, and constantly calls on those years of experience. “Skill sets required for this job are primarily a lot of night and instrument fl ight time and experience. We fl y over the water at a low level often at night in very poor weather, as is typical for the Pacifi c Northwest. You have to be a really good instrument pilot; you have to be comfortable being at a low level and hovering near moving objects,” he says.

Jones describes how those “moving objects” on the water present unique challenges: “You’re trying to maintain position on an object that’s moving quite a bit. One challenge is fi guring out what’s the best heading to put the ship on to minimize roll while keeping in mind wind.” A stiff wind coming over the superstructure of the ship can create vortices going over the top that make it diffi cult for the pilot to maintain a steady hover.

Meanwhile the hoist operator is trying to anticipate when the helicopter might start moving around as he attempts to safely transport the boat pilot. Jones says, “They’re using their depth perception, looking straight down to fi gure out when the bar pilot’s feet are going to hit the deck, and there may only be 4 feet of clearance between the rail and the green hatch, and there may be some other obstacles on the deck. So, for the hoist operator it’s very challenging, and for the helicopter pilot it’s very challenging.”

Another one of those challenges is ship structures. Many ships have large cranes, towers, antennae, and other items. “If a ship’s rolling 10 or 12 degrees, then those cranes that are sticking 60 to 70 feet up in the air are coming towards the helicopter quickly,” says Jones. Furthermore, at night it’s more diffi cult for the pilots to judge the relative motion of, and the distance to, these structures. “If you’re hovering next to the ship at night and the ship rolls towards you, you’re not really sure whether the ship’s rolling toward you or you’re drifting toward the ship. We have to be very mindful of what’s actually happening out there by just quickly glancing back and forth from the instruments in the aircraft to the ship itself and being aware before we begin the maneuver what the ship’s actually doing,” says Jones.

Then there is dealing with waves, not only their motion but also their timing. “Waves come in series frequently, so the ship may take three heavy rolls and you just have to be patient and wait, knowing that it’s going to settle out, maybe for only 10 seconds,” says Jones. “But in that 10 seconds, you move in over the ship, drop the bar pilot, and get out before it starts rolling again.”

The job sounds quick, but the proud

personnel of Brim Aviation have had years of experience to execute those 10 seconds. Operating in one of the most dangerous and unpredictable environments on the globe has taught them that the only thing that doesn’t change … is the constant challenge to stay safe.

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