21 January, 2012

Profile 63 - UPDATE: "369" as flown by Robert Mason, 1st Cav


Here she is so far - "Chickenhawk" author Robert Mason's UH-1D as he flew in the "1st Cav" in Vietnam.

I had a great conversation with Bob the other day.  And the highlight wasn't about Vietnam. Instead, the most fascinating part of the conversation was Bob's explanation about how helicopters worked and it confirmed what I believed was true; Helicopter pilots have something 'extra' going on in their brains.   They have to - rotor-powered flight is that much more complicated than fixed-wing flight.

This 'extra' allows Helo pilots to dwell in the abstract just a little bit longer than the rest of us and therefore master this most challenging of processes.

In other words, helicopter pilots aren't just bright.  They're on it.

He clued me in on a phenomena called "Ground Resonance."  In a nutshell, the complicated mechanics of rotational movements from whirling blades to the ground underneath the skids can send waves of motion down to the ground and back up again.  Back and forth.  Back and forth...

Until the helicopter either leaves the ground or throws itself into little pieces.  And it can happen quickly - tremors, shudders and suddenly, the aircraft is ripping itself apart.  Thankfully, Ground Resonance is just a symptom with an easy cure - lift off the ground and cancel the waves.

But without knowledge, without fast understanding and without preparation, it's awful.

In thinking this strange quirk of physics through, it struck me that there's a parallel between Ground Resonance and how people adjust to stress.  The irony of Bob's book, "Chickenhawk" wasn't lost on me  either.  In essence, the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) that Bob experienced after his Vietnam service was the flesh & blood version of Ground Resonance.

It's easy to teach a do-this, do-that technique to overcome physics, but can you do that with the human mind trying to adjust to the decidedly inhuman act of warfare??

I want Bob to weigh in here...but until then, there are about ten more hours, a few more questions and "369" will be Back in the World.

Oh - here's a video on "Ground Resonance."