The “School” Way
We all learned a lot about mountain flying on good ole’ Peavine Mountain near Stead AFB. Peavine was about 8100 feet MSL and there 8 or 9 ‘designated’ spots for us to land on from 6000 to 8000 feet. In the summer with warmer temperatures, the density altitude on the top on Peavine could reach 11,000 feet. This would put the H-19 at its maximum power requirements and then some. In the summer afternoons we would limit our fuel loads so we could even land, let alone takeoff for the high landing sites.
This is the story of one of our new Instructor Pilot trainees, an older experienced Major returning reluctantly from other flying assignments. He was very nice guy, an accomplished pilot but not convinced that our training methods were totally sound. So up to Peavine we go. I had flown with Major Merle on several flights, mostly pattern work and instructing procedures. So now we go for the real stuff.
As I said he was somewhat reluctant to do it “the school way” so he didn’t put much stock in adhering to all the stupid steps we did. The winds were fairly light, maybe 10 mph and we didn’t have wind sock on the spots at that time. But if you paid any attention to your ‘drift’ you could pick the wind fairly easy. Major Merle made a half hearted high and low recon and the power check over the spot at 15 knots airspeed and 25 feet and his ground speed should have given him a clue. Fortunately, I think it was spot 6, the LZ was fairly large and smooth over the top so I waited to see what would happen. Merle started his approach and in typical pilot fashion set it up so he could see his landing spot all the way down. Well, this don’t work too well if you don’t make it to the spot with enough power reserve.
Sure enough, about 50 feet out the RPM started drooping with collective pitch ‘around his ear’ as we staggered and fell to the ground well short of the desired spot but managed to roll up to the top. He looked over at me like “what the F@#$, Over?” as he was noticeable shaken. He then said, “Man, I sure screwed that up, didn’t I?” To which I replied, “Yes sir, you sure did”. We sat on the pad a few minutes while he tried to analyze what had happened. He said ‘well, I got a little low and slow I guess”. I still hadn’t said anything to critique his approach. He hadn’t quite grasped it yet so I told him to pick it up to a hover. He did this and everything seemed OK although it took full power. So I said “turn 180 degrees”. As he turned 180 degrees, the helicopter rose and power required was reduced. I said, “Where is the wind?” He suddenly realized that he had made a beautiful approach, DOWNWIND. We then proceeded to do several passes from different angles on other spots to check out the wind. During debriefing he said, “Well, I think some of your stuff is baloney but I am at least willing to listen now and give it a try”.
He later became the Chief of Standardization.