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THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE SURVEY PILOT

or

HOW DO YOU GO?

by Bruce Beale

 

It is said that the question most often asked of astronauts is: "How do you go?" This question probably also applies to survey pilots as related in the following anecdote from Bruce Beale who optimistically describes himself as an "exceedingly lucky fellow".

 



"I doubt that anyone would ever have complained about the Adastra social life - if they did, it would more likely have been a complaint of excesses rather than moderation. Most of the social life revolved around sampling the 'liquid amber' at many a watering hole Australia wide. The only down-side to this was the early morning, cold, high altitude, long duration flights - often 5 hours or more. It doesn't take too much imagination to visualise the effect all this had on the human body - particularly our ageing crewmen. The one in this story (flying Hudson AGX) shall remain nameless. Most of us carried some sort of small container with us - sufficient for our personal needs for the flight. The pilot in this story, a man of mature years and excellent breeding, used a container that was more commensurate with his stature and build. Do you remember those Nescafe' jars - not the regular or large size, but those huge ones that held about a gal? Well, that was the one and it resided on the floor of the cockpit and served the needs of its owner well. It also served as an ashtray, conveniently dousing the gentleman's cigarette butts of which there were many. Also, its size meant that he was spared the task of emptying it regularly, with several weeks often elapsing between such events. Are you getting the picture? The resulting concoction was decidedly unpleasant! Imagine my joy, when, after stepping back from my pre-flight cleaning of the APR Tracking Camera lens (forward end of the bomb bay), I looked up just in time to see a strangely coloured deluge, shower down from the cockpit window directly above. There was no avoiding it. I copped the lot! So why "an exceedingly lucky fellow"? Well, to my knowledge there is only one airfield in Australia that has a toilet facility (complete with fully functioning showers) immediately adjacent to the aircraft parking area, and we were at it - Tennant Creek! I made the 50m distance in very commendable time. To our friend's credit he was unable to look me in the eye for several weeks thereafter.

PS: I later flew for many years in Papua New Guinea doing survey work in an old PA-23 fitted with a Wild RC8 camera. A camera operator devised an excellent solution to this problem. It consisted of a short length of hose poked down through the rubber sealing around the camera and out into the airflow. The top end was fitted with a plastic funnel. The resulting suction was surprisingly large but with care (and not without a few injuries) we found this to be an excellent solution to the problem. Not so our avionics engineer who could not understand why the connections on the ADF antenna kept getting corroded!"

Bruce Beale
9th May 2003

 

If you wish to contribute your experiences, please contact Ron