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Be honest. We have all done some things we are either ashamed of or feel embarrassed about. Whether it is the time we poured our drink down the front of our shirt at a party when someone asked us the time and we looked at our watch on the wrist of the hand holding our drink… or, the time we pushed and pushed on the door marked “Pull” or…well, you get the idea.
We’ve all been there sometime in our lives. In my own case, I can pretty much blame almost all my embarrassing moments on a lack of focus or vigilance. If you are reading this, congratulations, you have survived by not making the ultimate faux pas. As SEAT pilots, we must remain vigilant and focused while performing the missions as assigned.
One of the ways that I have to remind myself to stay focused is to remember the mistakes of others. The following stories are sometimes hilarious, and sometimes tragic, but all are for learning from others mistakes. They are all true and rest easy my friends, I will not name names and I promise to protect the innocent! You know who you are and anyway, you guys know way too many stories about me to open that Pandora’s Box of embarrassment!
So here we go:
SEAT pilot sitting in the pit on his third re-load of the day. The hose is attached and filling the hopper with more of “the red stuff” when the Tanker Base manager calls him on the radio to give him a “heads-up” that he will be diverted to another fire on his next trip. He reaches for the transmit switch on the stick to reply and suddenly the aircraft grows light on its wheels. He notices the loading crew scrambling away from the side of the aircraft…OOPs!…that’s gonna cost him a lot of ice cream bars for the tanker base staff!
He forgot to disarm his gate system when returning to the tanker base, hitting the trigger rather than the transmit switch. Focus! Another SEAT pilot is doing everything right while en route to the fire, which is still miles away. He decides to try to contact the aerial supervisor to request permission to enter the fire airspace.
Radios on the right frequencies, flying at the correct altitude and the aircraft is on the appropriate heading. Whoah! The aircraft suddenly pitches up as he hit what he assumed was the transmit switch. He has just released 750 gallons of retardant 12 miles short of the target and over a lake. OOPs!
A new nickname for the pilot and a costly clean-up of the lake. Focus! Then, there were two large air tanker pilots who had been stationed at a certain tanker base in the Rocky Mountain west. This base hired local young people to fill temporary positions at the base during the summer fire season and was well known for having attractive young ladies working as dispatchers.
They were always well trained and very good at their jobs. This also helped the tanker base manager find pilots whenever he needed them… they were always in the dispatch office keeping up on the local and national fire situation. Yeah, right!
Well, as luck would have it our two intrepid aviators were dispatched to another tanker base several states to the west. Upon departing the base, they decided to call dispatch and say their fond farewells to the ladies. What could possibly go wrong with that? After saying their good-byes and see ya soon, they neglected to make sure the transmit switch was in the off position.
Unfortunately, they were talking on a secure intercom system while going into great and somewhat graphic detail extolling the feminine attributes of the base dispatchers. OOPs! Inappropriate and embarrassing to say the least! Focus! There was the poor rookie helicopter pilot who, during a prescribed fire mission, found himself in the unenviable position of having a heli-torch stuck in the on position.
Rather than pulling the fuse to shut off the electricity to the mechanism that would turn off the heli-torch spewing liquid fire, he decide to return to the helibase. OOPs! Several miles of new fire line for the boys in yellow shirts to play with! Focus! Some mistakes are tragic. A SEAT pilot who forgot to arm his gate system prior to making a run on the target hit the trigger and nothing happened.
He immediately started looking inside the cockpit for the cause of the failure. At 60 feet above terrain and at 125 mph, that was not the time to divert your full attention on flying the airplane; a tragic OOPs! Focus! The business of fighting fire with aircraft is very unforgiving and can be dangerous at times.
All will agree that if we can learn from other’s mistakes we can make our industry a much safer place to work and a more effective and efficient means of protecting life, property and resources. Space being limited, I am unable to tell all the tales of embarrassment and chagrin that have occurred during my short time in this industry. But, if we ever meet up in some smoky dive bar, I will tell you about the time I was flying with a helicopter pilot who, against my astute council, had the double chili and jalapeño shredded pork burrito for lunch and an urgent nature’s call while out on a mission.
Or, the SEAT pilot who was caught singing and talking to himself while flying to a fire assignment, or the Air Tactical Group Supervisor who called in a bunch of large air tankers to extinguish a prescribed burn; well, you get the picture. Stay safe out there and let’s all learn from our mistakes so we can laugh about them afterwards. Bickham, Out!

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