Rich island retreat = good; Obscenely rich = ?

Just back from Martha’s Vineyard.  If you’ve flown and driven the entire East Coast you realize how unspoiled the Cape and Nantucket/MV are.  No concrete high-rises, lots of woods, cheesy tourist strip malls mostly confined to the main roads and the occasional town.  Maybe it is the coldness of the water that has kept development from ruining this area.  That doesn’t mean that Martha’s Vineyard isn’t changing, however, and those who knew it when aren’t entirely happy.

1970s:  the Vineyard was a year-round working-class town of fishermen and boatyard workers supplemented by a summer season where rich New England WASPs spent weeks or months in small simple cottages near the shore.  The place was isolated, the only access being by ferry boat from Woods Hole on the Cape Cod mainland or in little propeller airplanes from various points.  It wasn’t practical to remain in the fast lane in New York or Washington, DC and also spend weekends on the Vineyard.  Crime was non-existent.

2000s:  The corporate jet has changed everything.  KMVY has a 5500′ runway and an instrument landing system.  That plus a Gulfstream puts most of the population of the East Coast within about a one-hour flight from Martha’s Vineyard.  And all on the shareholders’ dime!

Ease of access has made the Vineyard both more and less democratic.  It is less democratic in that you better show up with $2-5 million if you want to buy a house.  It is more democratic in that anyone can buy a house now if they have enough money; you don’t have to be a WASP.  For example, Harvey Weinstein, a Jewish movie producer, was able to purchase a house in a formerly exclusive area (people did not want to sell to a Jew but eventually the siren song of a suitcase full of 100-dollar bills was irresistable).

It is also become more democratic in that poor people have arrived in large numbers.  Why?  Rich people attract poor people.  A middle class person with a vacation house will tend to keep it up by himself.  He comes out for a couple of weekends in May to turn on the water, patch up any broken screens, and cut the lawn.  Then he tinkers a bit for the rest of the summer.  This isn’t practical if your vacation house is a 10,000 square foot mansion set in 4 acres of formal gardens.  You could hire the local working class folks to maintain your garden and clean and repair your house but that would get expensive, even for a rich person.  The solution is to import serfs from the Third World.  Martha’s Vineyard is filling up with foreign workers, mostly Brazilian, sleeping 5 to a room at night and preparing the estates of the rich for July and August.

The old-timers are worried.  Violent crime is on the rise.  The children of the serfs seem to be forming gangs.  It looks as though Martha’s Vineyard is on its way to becoming more like Rio de Janeiro:  fantastically rich in spots but also not very safe when you step out of your enclave.

More: (M.V. section is about halfway down)

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My first helicopter lesson

Due to a large number of fatal crashes during training, students are not allowed into a Robinson R22 2-seat helicopter, even with an instructor, until they’ve had some ground training.  If you believe that you have some special mission on this planet the grounnd training might cause you to terminate your.

Here’s what I learned about the hazards inherent in flying helicopters…

As with airplanes, the key to being safe in a helicopter is energy management.  In an airplane you have potential energy (altitude) and kinetic energy (forward speed) that can be traded off against each other to bring the airplane down gently in the event of an engine failure or ordinary landing.  The helicopter has three kinds of energy:  potential (altitude), kinetic (forward speed), and angular momentum (blade speed).

In an airplane you can make decisions about trading forms of energy very late in the day.  For example, if you pull the stick all the way back at 6000′ above the ground you will gradually slow down and eventually stall and perhaps enter a spin.  With many airplanes you could spin nearly all the way to the ground before applying forward stick and opposite rudder to get back to a normal flight condition.  All without an engine.

In a helicopter, by contrast, if the blades spin down more than 10-15% from their normal velocity, there is no way to convert potential or kinetic energy into spinning such that the helicopter will start to fly again.  If you don’t have an engine, therefore, your helicopter can very quickly become a rock.

In a turbine-powered helicopter like the Jet Rangers that are typically used for sightseeing the blades are heavy and the blades won’t slow down for several seconds after an engine failure.  The Robinson, however, is designed for super high efficiency and therefore everything is as light as possible.  After an engine failure you have no more than 1.2 seconds to take exactly the right actions or the helicopter cannot be recovered.

What if you do take all the right actions?  Suppose that you’re up at 4000′ and the engine quits.  You lower the collective pitch (lever on your left) immediately to flatten the blades and allow them to be driven by the wind through which the helicopter is now falling at 2000 feet-per-minute.  You adjust the cyclic (stick in front of you) for about 65 knots of forward speed.  You aim for a landing zone.  The good news is that you don’t need a very large one but the bad news is that the glide ratio is 2:1 instead of an airplane’s 10:1 and therefore you don’t have as large an area from which to choose.  As you get within about 50′ from the ground you pull back the cyclic to flare the helicopter and shed most of the forward speed.  Just as in an airplane this flare also arrests most of the vertical speed.  At the second to last moment you stop flaring and return the helicopter to being parallel to the ground.  Ideally at this point you are hovering 5′ or so above a soccer field and the blades are still spinning.  Finally you raise the collective as the helicopter falls, using the stored energy in the blades against the force of gravity.  You land gently on the skids.  (In practice the cyclic flare is more important than the “hovering autorotation” at the end; a lot of people walk away from helicopter engine failures if they get the cyclic flare right but can’t manage to pull the collective smoothly at the last moment.)

This all sounded good until we looked at the “deadman’s curve”.  The marketing literature for helicopters says “if the engine fails, you can autorotate down to a smooth landing.”  The owner’s manual, however, contains a little chart of flight conditions from which it is impossible to landing without at least bending the helicopter.  Unfortunately these conditions are the very ones in which nearly all helicopters seem to operate.  If you’re above 500′, for example, you’re pretty safe.  But TV station helicopters are often lower than that when filming.  Flying along at 65 knots is also good but if the camera needs the pilot to hover the helicopter slows to a crawl.

After a couple of hours of theory we went to the hangar and preflighted the helicopter.  The engine is flapping in the breeze on an R22 and therefore you can inspect a lot of linkages and lines that are hidden on most airplanes.  Most of the other critical mechanical components are open to the air or accessible via covers that you open during the inspection.

Four hours after the lesson started we were ready to fly…  but the ceiling was 900 overcast with visibility 4 miles in mist.  So we gave up and went home.

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