What I’m Seeing on Twitter

•April 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I spend far too much time on Twitter. Do you know why? Because I often find interesting tweets to read and links to follow.

Here’s an example. I found this tweet on Twitter today. It really made me stop and think about things.

What do you think? Do you find it interesting? Do you use Twitter to take a break and just think about things?



•March 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment
My Big Fat Horse

Cherokee Has Moved Away.

Sample Post

•March 12, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is a sample post to show Janet how it works.

Here’s a photo:


Taking off at Robson's.

Photos from Our Flight to San Diego

•December 2, 2008 • 2 Comments

The view from above.

In November, Mike and I took the helicopter to the San Diego area for business. The flights to and from San Diego were over some of the most interesting — and boring — desert terrain out there.

Our route to San Diego from Wickenburg (E25) took us southwest, skirting around the restricted area north of Yuma, where we landed for fuel. (Fuel there was $1.20/gallon cheaper than at my home base.) Then almost due west along I-8, over the Glamis Dunes and Imperial Valley, which lies below sea level. Finally, a climb over some mountains and a descent down to Gillespie Field (SEE).

On the return flight, we took a different route. We flew east along I-8, then northeast to the northern tip of the Salton Sea to Chiriaco Summit and then along I-10 to Blythe, where we refueled. (The fat guy is gone.) From there, we overflew Quartzsite before making a bee-line for Wickenburg.

You can see the approximate routes below; click the map for a larger view with readable labels.

Route of Flights

Mike’s got his 100 hours of flight time in helicopters, so he’s legal (per my insurance company) to fly passengers. So he did most of the flying. I had my door off for the Yuma to El Cajon part of the flight and took photos — mostly over the Glamis dunes. It was nice to be a passenger for a change — to be able to use my camera without left-handed contortions. I also had the POV.1 video going for part of the flight, although the sound crapped out part of the way.

Anyway, here are a few of the photos I took on the flight. You can find more of my aerial photos — as well as larger versions of these — in my photo gallery.

Glamis Sand DunesGlamis Sand Dunes

Formally known as the Algodones Dunes or the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, the Glamis Dunes is a huge series of sand dunes west of the Colorado River, northwest of Yuma, AZ in California. The dune field stretches 45 miles north to south and 6 miles east to West. This photo shows only a portion of the dunes, looking north from the I-8 area. The dunes are extremely popular for off-road vehicles; this photo was taken on a relatively quiet Friday morning.

Sand DunesSand Dunes

Here’s a closeup shot of the Algodones Dunes from the air. This shot was taken from about 500 feet above the ground, over I-8, just west of the Arizona-California border.

Desert FreewayDesert Freeway

The folks back east probably have no concept of the long distances of nothingness on a freeway that cuts through the desert. This shot of two tractor trailer trucks passing each other in the barren wasteland of the Imperial valley’s southern extremities might give them an idea.

Desert MountainsDesert Mountains

The mountains just seem to go on forever in this aerial shot of mountains in southwest Arizona, not far from Quartzsite. Lake afternoon light casts long shadows.

CAP CanalCAP Canal

The Central Arizona Project (CAP) snakes its way through the Arizona desert, bringing water from the Colorado River and its lakes to Phoenix and its suburbs. This shot was taken just north of Hope, AZ on our return flight to Wickenburg.

Forepaugh RanchForepaugh Ranch

This ranch is nestled at the base of two hills in Forepaugh, AZ, out of sight from the main road (Route 60) only a mile or so away. It reminds me of an earlier day of ranching, when remote ranches were self-sufficient homes on the range.

Cheaper Charts from NACO

•November 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I find a less expensive source for aeronautical charts.

For the past few years, I’ve been using iPilot.com as a source for my aeronautical charts. I subscribe to the charts I want, providing a credit card number up front. When the new chart is available, it’s automatically shipped to me and my card is charged for the amount due. The service is very good and very reliable. I always get the new charts before the old charts expire. The prices are slightly discounted and, for regular charts, shipping is free.

Shipping is not free, however, for the Airport/Facilities Directory (A/FD) — that green book with information about airports. Although I seldom refer to this book, I’m required by the FAA to have a current one covering my area of flight on board my aircraft for every Part 135 flight — which is pretty much every flight I do. The books cost $4.45 each. Shipping, however, is another $4.80. That brings the total to $9.35.

Every 56 days.

It’s a tough nut to swallow. After all, it’s a book I rarely refer to which rarely changes. Yet I’m required to buy it every 56 days. It’s an operating cost — one of the smaller costs that make owning and operating a helicopter charter business so costly. And yes, that might not seem like much, but when you have 20-40 of these stupid little expenses, they really add up.

FAA LogoI’ve ordered charts from NACO — that’s the National Aeronautical Charting Office of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the past. Although they sell charts at list price, they don’t charge for shipping. They also don’t charge for shipping non-chart items like the A/FD or similarly bulky Terminal Procedures Publications (TPPs).

But, as I discovered today, they do discount items when you buy subscriptions. A subscription for an A/FD is 7 editions — basically a full year. A subscription for a Sectional chart is 4 editions — basically two full years.

So, for example, I can subscribe to 7 editions of the Southwest A/FD for a total of $27.02. That’s $3.86 each. Shipping is included. So I save about $5.49 per 56-day cycle. Or $38.43/year.

There is a downside to this. Two of them, really:

  • You must pay for an entire subscription up front. There are no refunds. So rather than pay each time an item is shipped, it’s all paid for in advance.
  • You must renew the subscription manually when it expires. NACO will send you a reminder via e-mail 30 days in advance so you don’t forget, but it is slightly less convenient.

Today I switched my A/FD subscription from iPilot.com to NACO’s online ordering service. I’m keeping my charts with iPilot.com, at least for now. I’ll wait and see how well NACO handles the subscription before I make any more changes. I wouldn’t be saving that much money on a chart subscription and I rather like the convenience of iPilot’s system.

One more thing I should mention…you can download pages from the A/FD or TPP publications for free on an as-needed basis. Although this would not satisfy my requirements for the A/FD, it’s certainly handy for folks needing airport diagrams and instrument approaches. Most of us don’t need them all, right?

If you haven’t checked out the NACO site, I recommend doing so. There’s a lot of information there. Sure, it’s not a pretty site, but you know it’s accurate because it is the source.

The Wayside Inn is Open

•October 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Stop in for a hamburger in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve written about the Wayside Inn before in this blog. In my post, creatively titled “The Wayside Inn,” I go into a lot of detail about the place and a visit there by helicopter back in 2003. You might find that piece interesting reading if you enjoy long, rambling stories about my helicopter travels. (Some people do.)

The short version is that the Wayside Inn is a small trailer park with a restaurant in the desert about 5 miles south of Alamo Lake. It’s accessible from Wickenburg and the rest of the world by two routes: the 40+ mile long dirt road that starts near Date Creek off Highway 93 or the combination of paved and dirt roads starting in Wendon (on Highway 60) and stretching to Alamo Lake. There’s another road from the north and I have no idea where it starts, but I do know that when the lake is full, the road is under water.

You can get an idea of its remoteness by this Google satellite image, which also includes Wickenburg. The red X is the Wayside:

The Wayside Inn on a Satellite Image

The Wayside Inn has been a destination for pilots for quite a while. It has a landing strip, but the strip has been left to get overgrown with bushes and weeds and is not maintained. So instead, pilots just land on the dirt road in front of the place. I’ll admit that there aren’t many pilots who do this. It’s mostly the folks who fly taildraggers and aren’t afraid of landing on something that isn’t a real runway. And helicopter pilots, of course.

About a year ago, the Wayside Inn burned down. I didn’t know the details, but had noticed that the building was missing when I flew from Wickenburg to Las Vegas last November. The building was simply gone.

But a few weeks ago, I saw a flyer up in Ed’s hangar. Ed is the local aircraft mechanic and he does some of my engine work, including oil changes. The flyer announced that the Wayside had reopened. I put it back on my mental list of places to go for a quick bite to eat in the middle of nowhere.

On Sunday, October 19, I had an opportunity to check the place out. I was taking a video guy and a journalist along on my Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure. Another video guy would be meeting us in Sedona. We had a few hours to kill before we were due to arrive at Sedona Airport. I figured that a stop a the Wayside would kill some time without taking us too far from our course.

So I flew us out there. The journalist took this photo as I made my approach to landing. I set down on the big triangular area at the crossroads, across the main road from the trailer park.

Landing at the Wayside Inn

The old building had been replaced with a double-wide manufactured building. Inside, the layout was much the same as the old building had been: bar, tables, pool tables, and a limited amount of groceries and fishing supplies for sale. All of the Polaroids of fishermen and their fish were gone. The drop ceiling panels were decorated with good-luck dollar bills signed by patrons. Before we left, we added one to the collection.

The video guy, Fred, interviewed the owner of the place. Turns out, he’d bought the place right before the fire had burned it to the ground. After the interview, he made us breakfast. When it was time to leave, he rode his ATV out to the helicopter with us while his dog rode on the back and asked my journalist friend why she hadn’t eaten her bacon. (She’s a recovering vegetarian.)

We’d stopped in for just about an hour. The meal was good, the price was reasonable. The atmosphere was pure Arizona “remote.”

If you’re ever out by Alamo Lake and want to stop for a bite to eat, I hope you’ll look for the Wayside Inn. If you stop in, tell them that Maria in the Red Helicopter sent you.

Related Posts:

The Deadman’s Curve

•April 27, 2008 • 1 Comment

Why helicopter pilots balk when asked to hover at 50 feet.

Last year, I joined a listserve group of professional aerial photographers. These folks, who are based all over the world, have been working at their profession for years. I’m a relative newcomer to the aerial photography scene and arrive as a pilot — not a photographer. (I want to take photos, but it’s tough when my right hand is stuck holding the cyclic during flight.)

I introduced myself and an engaging conversation about flying helicopters ensued. As you can imagine, many of the photographers had worked with helicopters. One of them was even on board during a crash!

One of the photographers in the group told a story about photo flights he’d taken with helicopter flight school instructors. He included this comment:

I was shooting a lot of sailboat races at the time, so where I wanted it turned out to be in a hover at 20 to 50 feet above the water which made some of the instructors nervous. I told them to get over it.

A lot of pilots won’t work in what’s commonly referred to by helicopter pilots as the “deadman’s curve.” All helicopter pilots should know what this is, but here’s a brief explanation for those of you who aren’t familiar with helicopter flight.

The “Deadman’s Curve”

Height-Velocity Diagram for R44 HelicopterThe Height-Velocity diagram in the pilot operating handbook (POH) shows the combinations of airspeed and altitude at which an experienced pilot (or test pilot) should be able to make a safe autorotation in the event of an engine failure.

The diagram shown here is for a Robinson R44 helicopter, but they’re all very similar. The idea is to stay out of the shaded area. Generally speaking, you want either altitude or airspeed — or (preferably) both. Hovering at 20 to 50 feet puts you in the “deadman’s curve” — it’s a combination or airspeed (0 knots) and altitude (20 to 50 feet) at which a safe autorotation is not possible. So if the engine quits, you’re dead.

The height velocity diagram also clearly shows the recommended take-off profile. When a pilot does a “by the book” take-off, this is what he’s doing: picking up into a hover less than 10 feet off the ground and accelerating through 45 knots. Then pitch up slightly and climb out at 60 knots. (You can get an idea of this in my “Shadow Takeoff” video.) Doing a “straight up” take-off like you see in the movies or on television puts the helicopter smack dab in the middle of the deadman’s curve until he’s moving faster than 50 knots or has climbed several hundred feet.

Wondering how the chart is created? With test pilots and helicopters. If you take the Robinson Factory Safety Course, you’ll see videos of the flights they used to build the chart — including one flight that demonstrated what happens when you attempt an autorotation while inside the deadman’s curve.

My Experience with the Deadman’s Curve

I get some photo gigs because I’m willing to operate in certain areas of the deadman’s curve to meet my client’s needs. I’m a single pilot operator so I’m responsible for myself. Other organizations are responsible for their pilots and tell their pilots not to do anything that could be “unsafe.” This is often the situation at flight schools that do photo flights for extra revenue. Those pilots are usually the school’s CFIs, sometimes with only a few hundred hours of flight time. The school makes a rule — no operations under 300 feet — and all the pilots are required to comply.

Operating in the deadman’s curve requires that you have a lot of confidence in your engine and mechanic. The engine failure statistics on Robinson helicopters show that the engine — a Lycoming, after all — is very reliable. And I take meticulous care of my aircraft with two experienced mechanics to do the work. I’m confident in my aircraft. So I take the risk and I get the job.

But I do warn my passengers of the risks inherent in that type of flying. And If a maneuver puts me too close to obstacles or requires me to do something I think is beyond my skill level, I won’t do it. (I don’t have a death wish.)

Get Over It?

“Get over it,” is a pretty funny thing to say to a pilot when requesting (or demanding) that he perform a maneuver he’s not comfortable with or authorized to do.

The pilot who balked at hovering 50 feet off the ground was doing it for safety — his and his client’s. The photographer who told him to “get over it” was unfair to expect the pilot to operate where he was not comfortable. At the same time, the pilot should have clearly stated the limitations of the flight before accepting the job so the photographer wouldn’t expect the pilot to perform maneuvers beyond his normal operating scope.

Unfortunately, more than a few pilots will simply cave in under pressure to please the client. Sometimes this is can be a very bad thing that both the pilot and his client don’t live to regret.

A good pilot will evaluate the risks, make a decision, and stick to it. A pilot who is easily bullied by passengers (or management, for that matter) needs to look for a new career.

Misleading Statements in Popular Fiction

I actually wrote most of this post months ago and mothballed it to finish at a later date. But yesterday, I read something in a novel that made it clear how little the general public understands about helicopter operations.

In the story, the protagonists are passengers on a helicopter that’s running out of fuel. The lead protagonist tells the pilot to lose altitude. His reasoning:

Helicopters sometimes survived engine failures at a few hundred feet. They rarely survived at a few thousand.

The above statement is false. Reverse the facts and you get the correct statement, which I could word like this:

Helicopters rarely survived engine failures at a few hundred feet. They usually survived at a few thousand.

Why the difference? The H-V Diagram is a big part of it. Take a look. If a pilot is flying at 200-300 feet, he’ll have to be moving at at least 50 knots to stay out of the deadman’s curve. The H-V Diagram clearly shows that the higher you are and the faster you go, the farther you are from the deadman’s curve. Altitude and airspeed are two energy management components that can save a pilot’s life in the event of an engine failure.

If you’re operating outside the deadman’s curve, the thing that makes higher altitudes safer is time. If you’re cruising along at 500 feet AGL at 100 knots — a perfectly safe combination of altitude and airspeed, according to the H-V Diagram — you’re going to be on the ground a lot quicker than if you were doing the same speed at 1,500 feet AGL. That’s less time to correct any problems with your autorotation entry, pick a good landing zone, make a Mayday call, brief your passengers, etc. Now imagine cruising at the unlikely altitude of 3,000 feet AGL. In a good gliding helicopter, like my R44 or a Bell LongRanger, you have lots of time to set it up and do it right.

Clearly, higher is better.

There were some other errors in the book as far as the helicopter was concerned, but I’ll save them for another post. (It really does bug me when books, movies, and television send inaccurate messages about how helicopters fly.)

Why Not Get the Facts Straight?

Time passes. I don’t recall when I started writing this post, but I know I didn’t last long with the photographers in that group. They were very full of themselves and highly critical of newcomers. And some of them echoed the same uninformed ideas about the safety of helicopters that I hear everywhere else. Worst of all, they didn’t seem interested in learning the truth.

I wrote a post earlier this month titled “Why Forums Suck” that describes the atmosphere in this particular group. Maybe it’s me, but I simply don’t have patience for people who behave the way some of these guys (and women) did.

And, in case you’re wondering, I e-mailed the author of the book with the errors. I hope he didn’t think I was being rude. But I want him — and anyone else preparing material about helicopters — to get the facts straight before releasing it to the public. In his case, any helicopter pilot could have pointed out the problems I found and reported to him. A few minor changes to the manuscript would have made it accurate without impacting the story one darn bit.

I just wonder if other pilots who read the book were as irked about the errors as I am.

Probably not.