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Originally written by TC 2008

143 (This story is located in Northern Queensland - somewhere!)2'2.77"E

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 "The Frogs, The Uranium - Part One"

 

There's no doubt the Frogs know how to enjoy life.

Imagine returning from a hard day of concentrated tropical flying - working with demanding geologists, some who couldn't converse in English - to a beautiful bush camp on a river bank engulfed in the aroma of French cuisine. Then a quick dive to revive into the Walsh river - the freshwater crocs weren't really a problem - before checking out the faithful old bullet proof Hiller 12E so I could feel confident that first push of the starter button at 0500 the next morning would startle and wake up the neighborhood of nesting birds with the noise of 305 horse power pouring out the un-muffled exhaust. After all this personal and machine preventive maintenance was done, it was time pull up a directors chair to start on the evening's appetizers - usually oysters (tinned) and French cheese with maybe a glass or three of something stronger and finer than H2O.

It was certainly a hard life and we knew that our lives were at risk as we were too far away from a doctor if we choked on the french snails or other cordon bleu exquisites washed down with  imported vino served up every evening in the dusky twilight.

It was at this camp that the famous Australian "Dust on my bubble, grease on my tail" ditty was penned and performed by fellow pilot "Gentleman Julian" to an appreciative audience (the forever smiling Froggy cook with the limp wrist).  G.J loved flying and did a great job seemingly not missing the bustling Melbourne city life as he was continuously singing and humming the song for what seemed like 28 hrs a day - we couldn't turn him off. I often wondered if he sang so happily when employed later by the ponderous CAA.

It was during the second year of exploration - 1982 - that a couple of incidents happened.

I don't think that the first one was really a big event - teaching the young Froggy geologist his first faltering words of English : "give me a B......y beer you fl........g ugly big B........" which he then used to dramatic effect on the barman at the Chillagoe hotel when we had to go to town for supplies - and it definitely wasn't the time that the field assistants nearly blew themselves up investigating some radioactive anomalies we found or even the nearly pants staining fright when the B52 bomber on a low level training flight flew very close over the top of me when I was about 40 ft above the trees, rather, it was the dark shadow I saw on the ground while flying the grid survey.

We knew that a uranium deposit was out there somewhere in the rough and beautiful North Queensland bushland. The geologists were like excited little Froggy ferrets, sniffing out all the clues, and the last effort was to use the Hiller to fly a very low level grid pattern survey over a 20 Sq mile block of escarpments and gullies while letting some special secret equipment containing potassium, thorium and (I think) uranium isotopes pick up any anomalies in the ground below and record them on a primitive computer. We had installed the computer on the middle seat where I normally flew the machine from and had installed the dual controls so I could fly the machine from the left seat. The geologist sat on the RH passenger seat to operate the computer.

GPS hadn't been invented then and I had to fly accurate grid lines 250 meters apart at 100 ft AGL (above ground level) - sometimes this was in the tree top zone- maintaining 20 Kts groundspeed while navigating with an old 100K scale map flapping in my cyclic hand due the rotor wash occasionally wafting through the empty door frames.

It was exacting work in the hot climate and I talked to myself constantly in my mind - "more power, less power, watch the engine revs, keep the nose straight, here comes a tree, where's my aiming point, stay on track, what's the engine cylinder temperature, how's the fuel pressure, how much fuel is left, where's the wind coming from, is the Frog going to be sick, if he does he can clean it up, what's for dinner tonight, whoops - that tree was close, hope the map doesn't go out the door, hope the engine stays going, the Froggy is looking green about the gills".

The escarpment was part of the range of hills which stretch down the 3000+ Kms on the East Coast. A beautiful rich red colour against the clear blue sky, it was romantically ancient, rough and crumbling.

A couple of the grid lines took us up one side, over the bare highest part of the escarpment with a sharp vertical drop over the 1000 ft cliff face down to the valley floor. It was important to keep the machine level (horizontal) at all times so that the three isotopes scanned as a triangle over the ground. We had one on each side of the machine at the back and one up front to get this effect.

It was about noon we flew the grid line over the highest part of the ground and, just as we went over the cliff, I reduced the engine power so that the helicopter was just sitting above autorotation and remaining flat and level as we quickly dropped what seemed like vertically to let the isotopes scan the base of the cliff. Looking down just then to check that we were remaining on track as detailed on the map, I saw the helicopter shadow strongly beneath us, highlighted by the overhead sun. I also saw another moving shadow following behind us.

At first I thought it was a fixed wing aeroplane passing over at altitude - until I saw the wings moving.

Three things worked in my favour. One: I was flying from the left hand seat; Two: I immediately looked back to see what was causing the shadow; Three I had about 1000 feet of altitude to play with.

What an un-nerving sight! The huge Wedge Tail Eagle had its talons out and was just about to take out my tail rotor. I had to get out of there - and in a hurry!

Whacking in some left tail rotor pedal - while mentioning something over the intercom to the Froggy in the RH seat like "Don't look now but we have company" - helped in the short term as the tail boom swung rapidly to the right and away from the bird's talons.

Next I dropped the collective all the rest of the way down and shut the throttle while pulling momentarily back on the cyclic to hold the rotor revs.

Then I immediately put in hard left and some Fwd cyclic and rolled into a 60 degree nose dive rotating what seemed vertically around the left hand skid tip while then having to pull hard on the collective to keep the rotor revs in the green.

The rate of descent went off the clock and a couple of quick glances confirmed my suspicions - the Froggy was turning greener and looked like he was going to let go his breakfast, his grip was about to break the door frame and we were leaving the Eagle behind.

That persistent bird followed us all the way to the deck and finally climbed up and away as we headed down a dry gully dodging the occasional stony outcrop while flying under the treeline.

We figured that there would be no Uranium ever found in that area while that magnificent Eagle maintained its vigilance on the escarpment.

   

A later time, looking for more Uranium with the Isotope equipment but no computer in another machine - 1982

                    

            Landed - on a Uranium deposit - 1982


True Story

TC ()

 

 

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tags: hiller Julian Helicopter eagle Australia Queensland Geologist Uranium

     
 
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