There's no doubt the French know how
to enjoy life.
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.
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 landing and all the
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
Julian from Melbourne"
to an appreciative audience (the
forever smiling Froggy cook with the
G.J loved flying the mighty
Hillers and did a great job
seemingly not missing the bustling city life as he was
continuously singing and humming the
song for what seemed like 28 hrs a day - we couldn't turn
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
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 my helicopter when I was about 40 ft
above the trees, rather - it was the
dark shadow I saw on the ground
below us while flying a 250 meter grid survey.
We knew that a uranium deposit
was out there somewhere in the rough and
beautiful North Queensland bushland.
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 high escarpments and
deep/steep 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.
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
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 engine 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 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
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
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 when I 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
Two: I immediately looked back
to see what was causing the shadow
Three I had about 1000 feet of
altitude to play with as we flew
over the steep escarpment cliff.
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 pitch lever all the rest of the way down and
shut the engine 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 - it was an old trick I
learnt years before.
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.
persistent bird followed us all the
way to the deck (ground level) 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