Shadow Takeoff

•April 22, 2008 • 1 Comment

A late afternoon takeoff from the helipad on the west end of Wickenburg Airport’s ramp. On board with me are three wranglers from the local guest ranch — each on their very first helicopter ride. But the shadow steals the show.


Aerial Photos from Our Las Vegas Flight

•April 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Better late than never.

Back in the beginning of March, while my mother-in-law was visiting us from New York, I flew the three of us from Wickenburg to Las Vegas by helicopter.

I chose my favorite route for that flight: straight to Lake Havasu City and up the Colorado River all the way to Lake Mead, then west to McCarran Airport. The flight went well, but strong headwinds turned what should have been a 1.8 hour flight into a 2.5 hour flight. (It also made the flight a bit rough in some places.) Mike, sitting in the back, had my old PowerShot camera. Here are a few of the photos he took along the way. I chose the ones where you can see details within the cockpit to put the scenes in perspective. It’s also kind of cool (at least to me) to see the instruments and gauges in the panel.

Here’s Lake Havasu City. That’s London Bridge below us — the real thing, brought over from England in the 1970s. I always start my upriver flights with an overflight of the bridge.

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21 Lawyers and a Mansion on a Mountainside

•April 6, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Two flying jobs in one day.

I spent most of yesterday flying — and that’s not an exaggeration. I was in the cockpit almost nonstop from 8 AM through 5 PM. During that time, the helicopter was on the ground waiting for less than two hours — and most of that time was for either fueling or waiting for passengers.

The Plan

I’d been booked to fly a series of 30-minute tours for a bunch of lawyers in Phoenix for a conference. The woman who made the arrangements started a dialog with me about it at least four months ago, and I admit I didn’t think the job would happen. But about a month and a half ago, she finalized. There would be 21 passengers — that meant 7 individual flights of 30 minutes each. Three and a half hours of flight time. That’s the kind of job you just don’t want to turn down. Best of all, I received payment by check a week before the flight. So I was booked for 12 noon out of Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix.

The day before that flight, I got a phone call from a local video producer. He needed a helicopter to fly a job on the same day. (Why does this always happen? Nothing major for a week or two and then two job possibilities at the same date and time?) I explained that I was only available before 11:30 AM or after 5 PM. He said he’d call back. When he did, he said the morning slot would work best, since the home he needed to video from the air faced east. After a few more phone conversations with him and his camera guy, I was booked for 8:45 AM out of Falcon Field airport in Mesa.

Continue reading ’21 Lawyers and a Mansion on a Mountainside’

What I Want in a Summer Job

•March 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Evaluating job opportunities.

Let’s face it: summer in the Phoenix area is brutal, as far as weather is concerned. Temperatures reaching triple digits every day from June through September. Humidity kicking in with the monsoonal rains in July and August. Everything slows down as half the population goes back to the midwest and northwest. Business — especially tourism-related business — dries up.

It’s idiotic to stay in the area if you don’t have to.

How I Spent My Last Four Summers

Back in 2004, I had a summer job as a pilot up at the Grand Canyon. It was a relatively convenient job for me, with a 7 on/7 off schedule that enabled me to go home every other week and work on whatever book projects were on my plate. The Grand Canyon area gets warm in the summer, but it’s nothing like the Phoenix area so it was a good escape from the heat. And the flying I did there was challenging, helping to improve my flying skills and knowledge. In other words, it was a good job experience.

I took the summer of 2005 off from flying. That was the summer I did my “midlife crisis road trip” — 16 days driving around the northwest, looking for a better place to live year-round or in the summer months.

In the spring of 2006, I made contact with another Robinson operator based in Washington State. He introduced me to the world of cherry drying, which looked like a good opportunity. Although he said he might have enough work for both of us, that didn’t pan out. So I stayed home that summer, doing a few flights here and there.

In the spring of 2007, my cherry drying friend was certain that he had work for both of us. With his guidance, I submitted a bid to a grower who showed a definite interest in both of us. In the end, he accepted a bid from a turbine helicopter pilot who promised him stick time in his aircraft. That’s a perk I wasn’t willing or able to throw into my bid package. By then, it was too late to find other work. So I stayed home for most of that summer, too.

Except in June.

Continue reading ‘What I Want in a Summer Job’

Landing at PHX Terminal 3 Helipad

•March 6, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well, I finally worked out the kinks in my POV.1 camera. This time, I mounted it to the outside of the helicopter on my door pointing forward, slightly right, and slightly down. I took this video while coming in for a landing on the Terminal 3 helipad at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport (PHX). The helipad is on top of the parking structure beside the tower, between the north and south runways. It was a quiet morning; not much traffic at all

Flight to Sky Harbor…at Night

•March 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

A pickup at the Terminal 3 helipad.

Last week, I had my first passenger pickup at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3 helipad. This was an unusual gig for several reasons:

  • I’d only flown into the Terminal 3 helipad once before, and that was with a flight instructor. I’d asked for the flight so I could learn the approach in case I ever had to do it. A full year went by before I had a call for a pickup there.
  • The Terminal 3 helipad is on top of Terminal 3 (hence the name), in an area that’s in the middle of the top level of a parking structure. To reach it, you have to cross one runway (from the north) or two runways (from the south) where commercial airliners are landing and taking off. (The airport diagram below shows its location beside the Control tower in the middle of this busy Class Bravo airport.)
  • This particular pickup was at 8 PM. Since it was February, that means it was night.

Sky Harbor Airport Diagram

So I was going to land at a helipad I’d landed on only once before, at the top of a 6-story building, in the middle of busy airport, at night.

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VFR on Top

•February 20, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Fog in Wickenburg makes for an interesting departure…or two.

On Saturday, I was scheduled to appear at the Buckeye Air Fair in Buckeye, AZ to give helicopter rides. This would be my fourth appearance at this great family event.

The weather on the days leading up to the event was overcast with scattered rain. While rain isn’t too common in the desert, it’s not unheard of. The weather forecast for Saturday was clear with temperatures around 65°F. That’s unseasonably cool, but I’d take it. Winds in Buckeye were forecast at 7 knots from the east shifting to 5 knots from the southwest. Nice.

Fog in Wickenburg?

What the weather forecast didn’t mention was fog. Fog is only slightly more common here than snow. While we can get snow about once every 3 to 5 years, we can get fog once or twice a year. This year’s first encounter with fog was Saturday morning.

Continue reading ‘VFR on Top’