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Those next 90 seconds were going to be the longest seconds of my life, and I knew we were in serious peril. The rotor system on the Bell 222, a teetering rotor system, is not designed for aerobatics. Similar in design to a Bell Huey or Cobra, it is known to catastrophically fail when exposed to violent low-g environments. As the helicopter pitched straight up, I remember thinking that if I could somehow just keep it from going over backwards, we might survive. This thought happened as the helicopter pitched over upside down in an inside loop.


Captain Geoff Presson watched in horror as our out-of-control helicopter went through a series of loops, weird Immelmann turns, partial Split-S maneuvers, hammerhead- type stalls, and partial rolls. He watched us struggle for control and was convinced it would end in disaster. We then disappeared out of his sight...


I struggled to move the cyclic and regain control of the ship. The initial inside loop


resulted in a dive straight towards the ground. The Mississippi River was quickly filling the windshield view as I managed to arrest the dive and begin a climb, only a few hundred feet above the water. Looking right, I saw the tall downtown buildings pass by my side as the fight continued upwards.


The next 30 seconds gave me that exact view again and again. I was tiring very quickly and remember thinking, “If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with!” I then thought of my family and friends, and a vivid image suddenly was forefront in my mind. It was a dingy, flat barge anchored on that dark Mississippi River. A crane sat on that damn barge, and at the end of its cable the destroyed helicopter cabin emerged from the water with the lifeless bodies of Bill and me hanging from our belts. This imagined image reenergized me in a way I have trouble even expressing. A superhuman determination to live overwhelmed me again, and I became determined to never quit. “Fly it to the ground” is the phrase I


and every other aviator out there heard during training. My military flight instructor would allow me to get close to disaster, and then offer the correcting words or actions to save the aircraft. Again these words flooded my mind, and I fought the continuing battle.


Bill was watching me struggle from his seat and, with a similar will to survive, he tried to assist me in any way he could. He noticed that when I let go of the collective lever to use both hands on the cyclic, it would go uncommanded to the full-up position on its own. The aircraft would then flip upside down. I would recover from the upset, then use my left hand to reposition the collective again. My hands were bleeding from repeatedly trying to grab the collective and cyclic as they jumped around. The collective lever to my left controlled the collective pitch of both main rotor blades, as well as the engine governors to meet the power demands of the system. On this model helicopter, the two engine throttles protrude out at 90


86


Sept/Oct 2020


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