Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jetcopters Part 7

The situation at Jetcopters would never be the same.  While having been promoted to Chief Pilot, I should have been excited about the increased salary and new responsibilities, but I wasn't.  I think I shared Jim's pain and we spent our lunch hours together on many days trying to figure out how we could deal with the future.  Both of us wanted very much to leave Jetcopters, but only under the best of conditions.  Then tragedy struck Jetcopters.  During the filming of one of the weekly episodes of the TV series Airwolf.  One of our less conservative pilots, got in to a steep banked flight attitude near the ground and crashed the Bell Huey helicopter he was flying.  He was injured with several broken bones, but sadly, his passenger, a Hollywood stunt man by the name of Reed Rondel was killed.  The reason I can remember this mans name, I shared a dressing room with him on a previous shoot of the same TV series a couple weeks earlier.  Because I was the newly assigned Chief Pilot and due to the fact that the pilot involved was dealing with serious injuries, I had the task of answering to the FAA and NTSB regarding all the facts leading up to the accident.  Even though I was not on the call list for that particular shoot, I still was involved in the paper work that always follows these type of events.  This was just the beginning of things to come regarding the companies future.

One night while at home, I received a phone call from Jim Deeth.  He had just resigned from Jetcopters and was going with a company in Burbank, CA by the name of Cine Exec.  Basically the same type of operation, but Jim would be heading up the company as he should, and directing the everyday operations.  I was happy for Jim, but still I was stuck at Jetcopters.  Then as luck would have it, I found out about a position at one of my old employers, Helitac, which was the company downtown in Los Angeles.  This got me closer to home and out of the mess at Jetcopters.  So not long after Jim's call, I called him to report that I too had resigned from Jetcopters.  Isn't it strange how one individual could cause so much trouble and for no good reason.

Several months later. . . . .  The pilot involved in the Airwolf accident, had fully recovered from his injuries and was back on flying status.
He was flying a helicopter for a filming job in the Grand Canyon, and again, crashed, which resulted in the cameraman breaking his back.
The helicopter was totaled and fortunately, the pilot surrendered his pilot's license to the FAA and he would never fly again.  Again, I mention the word, "conservative", it can make a big difference in the outcome of a days work, flying helicopters. . . . . .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jetcopters Part 6

I stayed on with Jetcopters for almost two years.  It was a great place to work and the opportunities were abundant.  We had a great group of pilots and Peter McKerrnan the owner was always opening new doors for the company.  As time went on, this was all about to change.
Just when you think things could get no better, the worst happens.  Meanwhile I was filling in some of the blanks in my career goals.  The FAA office in Long Beach designated me to be able to give flight test for every combination of helicopter pilots licenses available.  This included Airline Transport Pilot, Instrument Instructor and all other ratings.
Helicopter and actors from TV series Riptide  click to enlarge

I was enjoying the rewards of movie and television residuals from the several that I participated in.  This included, Rip Tide, Airwolf.  Also a movie called Starman and a John Carpenter movie called, They Live.
Bell 222 used in TV series Airwolf  click to enlarge

I enjoyed working with the Hollywood bunch, but often things were asked of pilots that just went across the grain of what my core principals were.  I admit, that I have been in some sticky situations, but I never started out knowingly with that intent.  A few times I would have a difference of opinion with a movie director or aerial coordinator, and eventually I was labeled as being too conservative.  In my eyes, I would consider this to be a compliment.  I just could not take it upon myself to abuse an expensive helicopter or potentially endanger someones life for the sake of creating something sensational for a few seconds on the big screen.  You can't imagine how exciting it is to go to the very first screening of a movie.  Usually at one of the bigger Hollywood theaters and then seeing the completed film.  At the end, when they are showing the credits, you look for your name among the list of pilots that worked on that movie.  This was good, but not for me.  I got into a career in flying helicopters and I found out soon, that their were more important things to consider over the forty some years from the time I started out back in Kansas City, MO with Jerry Getz.  I would prefer to be remembered as a good pilot that was dependable and a record of achievement.

As time went on, I continued to be involved in other interesting flights on almost a daily basis.  I was sent out to pickup a passenger early one morning at the Los Angeles county substation heliport in Malibu, CA.  I arrived early and shut down to wait for him to arrive.  Shortly after, a car pulled up and a man got out and walked towards the helicopter.  It was Robert Redford who was directing a movie that was being filmed in Frasier Park which is just south of Bakersfield, CA.  I was on this assignment for five days and each day I would meet with him in the morning and then at the end of the day, fly back to Malibu.  We had some interesting conversations and I was a big fan of his movies, The Sting and The Natural.  Later on I was sent to Malibu to land on the beach near a big house located nearby.  Two passengers came out and it was Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards her husband.
He was tired and grouchy and sat in the back, and she turned to him and said, I want to sit in front with the pilot.  Wow, here I am sitting next to the lady that sang in the movie, The Sound of Music.  Just small talk on our way to San Diego for the day, but still these were the types of flights I did almost every week.

Now here comes that bad part.  One evening while I was home, I received a phone call from Peter McKernnan who then asked, if I was interested in being the Chief Pilot for Jetcopters.  This position was presently being held by Jim Deeth, who also was the Director of Operations.  With a company that was growing as rapidly as Jetcopters, I could see that one person doing both of these company assignments, it could be very overwhelming.  I was a good friend of Jim's and at the time I thought this was being offered to me with his blessing.  As it turned out, Jim was being demoted from both positions and was offered to stay on as a line pilot.  Also he would take a big cut in pay, not to consider how demoralizing it must of been.  Had I known this in the beginning, I would have declined the offer, but it was done and I was stuck with trying to deal with this as tactfully as possible.  We had several part time pilots and a few that were from the Los Angeles county fire department.  One pilot in particular, became very greedy and sat out to see these changes made in the companies staff.
I know that Jim Deeth at times was very strict with how things were done and maybe he didn't always use his best communication skills.
But on the other hand, he was fair and honest and the success of the company was founded on his ideas in the early going.

This story has a good ending, but it took some time and I'll continue with the turn of events in the next post.........

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jetcopters Part 5

During the 1984 Olympics, which was held in Los Angeles, CA, Jetcopters had helicopters assigned to every domestic and international news and sports television networks.  We had the only downtown heliport, which was located within walking distance of the Coliseum.  I personally worked on the heliport approval for several weeks and in the beginning, it did not look to hopeful that the FAA would give us permission to use the site.
In the end, we got the nod to make our takeoff's and landings in the temporary heliport, which was a parking lot.

1984 Olympics opening ceremony 

I was assigned to an ABC television sports network out of New York for the seven day event. The Los Angeles and Orange county airspace was highly restricted and you could hardly fly anywhere in the city without being over one of the Olympic events. The Los Angeles police helicopter unit developed a special coding system, with an encryption guide that we used everyday for making entry into these areas.

This was the year that the Russians boycotted the Olympics for security reasons.  Before the Olympic events began, I made a special flight with a presidential team, which consisted of several  military generals and admirals to review all of the event venues to evaluate security.  We also had on board the helicopter an FBI agent to narrate all the security for each area.   In the end, the Russians, still did not come to Los Angeles.  I think in the beginning, it was thought,  there would be several terrorist actions, but nothing happened.  I was scheduled to fly at least 21 hours minimum during the entire time of the Olympics, in the end, I flew about 10 hours.

 I was scheduled to fly three passengers from the Van Nuys, CA airport to a location on the high desert called, Willow Springs raceway.  This was  30 miles north of Palmdale, CA  My passengers were Danny Sullivan, winner of the 1985 Indy 500, in his famous spin to win the race in the final laps, singers, Christopher Cross and John Denver.
Danny Sullivan had arranged for them to try out a couple of exotic Lamborghini Countouch sports cars for the day.

Danny Sullivan, kneeling, John Denver, seated, Christopher Cross, background
click to enlarge

I have always been a big fan of auto racing and also I enjoyed the music of John Denver.
I really had a nice day watching these neat cars race around the road course and enjoyed visiting with John Denver.

This was one of the perks of working for Jetcopters.  They seemed to have a lock on flying all the celebrities from both Hollywood and the entertainment world.

More Jetcopters on the next post. . . . . . . .

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jetcopters-NASA Part 4

While I was still working at Jetcopters, I got a call from one of the Los Angeles Federal Aviation Administration office's, requesting that I do some experimental test flights for NASA.  No, I wasn't selected to be an astronaut for a flight to the moon.  Although I must admit, if asked, I would sure do it.  The following week, I reported to the NASA Ames Research Center, which was located at Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA.  This was an old U.S. Navy blimp base.  During the early part of WWII, they hangered airships that were used for defense observation along the Pacific coast of the United States.  One of the interesting things about this facility, is that the blimp hanger still remains.  Back in the 1930's they used this building to hangar the Navy airships Macon and Akron. 

U.S. Airship Macon Moffett Field  click to enlarge

 The Blimp hangar is now being used by NASA  click to enlarge

The purpose of these experimental flights was to evaluate a new technique for making instrument approaches in helicopters.  Just a short history lesson regarding instrument flight in helicopters.
Years ago, when instrument flight was first developed.  The rules and procedures pretty much pertained to airplanes only.  This was mainly because most helicopters then and still today, are not equipped for instrument flight.  Also when these conditions (IMC) instrument meteorological conditions, existed, helicopters could usually operate in special (VFR) visual flight rules and operated in non controlled airspace and also with permission from the controlling agencies, they could enter controlled airspace, again this would be with special flight conditions.  As time went on, more and more helicopters are now able to operate in these weather conditions and also make instrument approaches for landing at airports around the country.

That's me on the far right along with two other NASA pilots click to enlarge

Typically, when an aircraft gets into the airport environment and is going to make an instrument approach for landing,  The approach begins at a designated point and descends along a very shallow flight path to the airport.  Usually at an approach angle of about 4 to 5 degrees.  This enables the aircraft to descend at a very low rate.  At the point where the approach ends, the pilots should be able to see the runway landing system and make his landing visually.  This would be called the decision height.  Usually around 200 feet above the ground, lower in some cases.  If the pilot does not see the runway or approach lights, he aborts the landing and goes around for another attempt.

Here I am at the controls of a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, these were used in the Vietnam war click to enlarge

Our test flights were to evaluate instrument approaches utilizing a much steeper flight path, up to 12 to 15 degrees on the approach. This would produce a higher rate of descent. Also to see if the pilot could react quick enough as t0 not  sag through the decision height before hitting the ground on an attempted go around.  I spent a week at NASA doing these flights.  I have no idea of why this concept was being tested or if it every was used.  Maybe in a military application, but I doubt it would every be used for civilian use.  Another adventure in the career of a helicopter pilot.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some explanations to the previous post

Several of my friends are following this blog, and from time to time I may get a call from one of them, asking a question or for an explanation of some of the events that may have occurred during my career as a helicopter pilot.  Recently I received a call from one of my best friends, Ron Green who lives in Kansas City, MO regarding the flight described in the previous post.  He brought up some good points and ones that I should have considered at the time.  Which I did later, but sometimes later is too late?

click to enlarge

Over the years, their has been a tradition in the aircraft cockpit amongst pilot's about the pilot in command. He is in charge of the flight and all decisions regarding the flights operation will be made by the PIC.  Kind of like the captain of a ship.  On this particular flight the FBI had chartered the aircraft and requested to use their own pilot to act as PIC. I was requested to go on this flight to act as an observer to comply with the companies requirements.  Because of the nature of the flight and the fact that it involved the presidents security, I choose not to ask  too many questions or to interfere with the operation of this flight.  Jetcopters was a fast growing company and was pursuing the business of many government agencies.  We were doing flights for the DEA, CIA,FBI and the IRS.  For that reason I did not want to add anything negative that might reflect on future business.

Ron's questions , and I might add,  very good ones, is why didn't the FBI pilot do more prior planning on his part before starting out on a flight with marginal flight conditions.  Why did he elect to take two additional passengers that did not have a purpose during this flight?

I really don't know and could only guess.  It may be that on prior flights he had not encountered any difficulties and that he assumed that this flight would be pretty much the same.

Out of professional courtesy to the FBI pilot involved I have omitted his name.  Like myself, I know he will never forget this flight and the mention of his name, serves no useful purpose.

I would also not give myself credit for saving five lives and a million dollar helicopter.  I should have offered some more helpful suggestions prior to the flight and maybe taken control of the helicopter while it was still in it's performance envelope.  I do take credit for having made  poor decisions on my part.

Most helicopter flight activity is done in a sea level environment or at much lower levels above sea level.  The margin for error when flying a helicopter, my old flight instructor Jerry Getz used to say, is ZERO.  But when the conditions are not extreme such as the 9500 feet of altitude we were operating at,  some errors or conditions of flight can be recovered before disaster strikes.  Sometimes a situation is allowed to go to the limit, then a more experienced pilot  could take over the flight controls and recover the aircraft to a normal flight condition.  This has happened to me many times in my days as a flight instructor.  So I learned from this flight experience and the outcome was uneventful.  Ron, thank you for asking.  Back to Jetcopters in the next post.........................

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jetcopters Part 3

November 10, 1983.  Jetcopters did a lot of charter flights for most of the law enforcement agencies in the State of California and also the U.S. government.  Jim Deeth our Chief Pilot called me into his office one morning to go over the flight details for a flight I was to do with the FBI.  The FBI had their own helicopters and pilots, but elected to use our helicopter for a special flight on this day.  The company allowed the FBI to use our aircraft, but also required that one of our pilots be on board  the flight.  I did not know the FBI pilot for this flight, but assumed that if the company trusted him, I could too, but with a watchful eye. Normally when I was not the pilot of the aircraft, but an observer, I did not give or offer advice to the pilot. I did not touch or operate any of the controls including the radios.  Even though I might have done things differently, I think one should respect the pilot in command.  Whenever I was acting as the pilot in command and I had another pilot sitting in the seat next to me, this is what I would expect.  If needed, I would ask for help.  I did watch for other aircraft during the flight and if the pilot asked for my assistance, I would do as asked.   We departed the Van Nuys airport and flew to the Banning,CA airport.  This airport was located between two large mountain ranges. San Gorgonio mountains to the north and San Jacintos mountains to the south.  The purpose of the flight was to take several hundred pounds of special electronic equipment to a location known as Snow Peak. It seems that President Reagan was going to be in Palm Springs, CA and this equipment was to be used for the presidents security.   Snow Peak was near 9000 feet above sea level.  This is not a normal environment to operate a helicopter.  Typically the higher you go, the performance of the helicopter is greatly reduced.  For this reason, I took it upon myself to do some mental calculations to determine that we could land safely at that altitude.  Oddly enough, the FBI pilot did not?

So it was necessary to determine the weight of the helicopter, which includes fuel, cargo,  pilot and passengers. Also it is necessary to know the approximate temperature at the altitude for the proposed landing site.  These preflight calculations will give you the expected performance of the helicopter at altitude.  The main concern would be to know you could make an approach and then be able to hover the helicopter in ground effect safely.  Supposedly this pilot was very experienced and had been to this location before.  I am still being casually watchful, but also did not want to give any unwanted advice to the FBI pilot.   After all it was their flight to do, and I was just an observer.  We met three FBI technicians at the airport and proceeded to load the equipment on to the helicopter.  In the beginning the planned load for this flight, would consist of the FBI pilot, myself, one FBI technician and the electronic cargo. This would be our takeoff configuration.  At the last minute, the FBI pilot elected to take the other two FBI people.  Again, he is the pilot in command, so I will keep my opinions to myself. We sure didn't need the extra weight at that altitude.  We departed the Banning airport and climbed to an altitude of 9500 feet.  As we began our approach for landing, I am looking at the side of a mountain, but I do not see a place for us to land.  We continued the approach and I'm still looking. I am beginning to feel very uneasy and I can see the  pilot is not looking too sure of himself.  We continue closer to the mountain terrain and I notice that we are exceeding  the engine torque limits, the turbine outlet temperature is at the red line and we are losing rotor RPM.  This is all happening at once and I haven't got a clue of what his intentions are.   We were drifting into the side of the mountain and had lost directional control of the aircraft, which in turn was causing the aircraft to rotate to the right.  Also the aircraft was settling to the ground at the same time.  Now I am certain we are going to crash. At that same moment, the FBI pilot turned to me and casually said, "you got it".  Which means he was relinquishing control of the aircraft to me.  I had no idea of what was below the helicopter or if the ground was suitable for landing.  I had no other choice but to land the helicopter the best I could,  knowing we would probably roll down the side of the mountain.  This helicopter was not going to remain in the air much longer, considering the flight conditions we had.  I lowered the collective control, which controls the vertical movement of the helicopter in a hover.  I could not make any choices now and I had to go with what we had.  Luck was on my side, the helicopter settled to the ground and remained upright on slightly unlevel ground.  Needless to say, I am really angry with having been put into this situation.  After we off loaded the cargo and the three FBI passengers in the rear of the aircraft, the helicopter would be much lighter and our takeoff would not be a problem.  I told the two extra people that got on the aircraft at the last minute. they could get out now.  They replied, that they just came along for the ride and would be returning with us to the Banning airport.  I would guess that the two of them would have weighed together around 350-400 pounds. The ordeal we had just gone through, would have been much different without them on the aircraft .  At this point, I had used up all my patience and told the FBI pilot, that I would fly the aircraft for the remainder of the flight.  When I got back to Jetcopters, I walked into Jim Deeth's office and closed the door.  I then expressed my displeasure with having been put in that situation.  I also told him I would quit Jetcopters, if ever I was asked to babysit any more of the government's pilots. As I am writing this post today and also looking through my pilot's log book.  I noticed that I made this comment in the remarks section for this flight. THIS ONE ALMOST ATE MY LUNCH!  More on Jetcopters in the next post. . . . . . .

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jetcopters Part 2

Working weekends really helped with the commuting problem, but as a rule the flight activity was pretty slow.  On occasion I did get called in on my days off and so there was some disadvantage to having days off during the week.  Once I got to the airport, I really didn't mind.  I don't think I ever got tired of flying and if I was scheduled to do a flight, I had no problem working the extra days and flight hours.  We had one big long building that had nothing but Jetranger and Longranger helicopters hangared there.  When you rolled the hangar doors open, it looked like a rainbow of helicopters.  All brand new aircraft and always equipped with the latest and best equipment.  Jetcopters was very involved in both the movie and television business.  So many of the pilots were getting a chance to fly for these companies. 

Jim Deeth was involved with  John Carpenter making a movie called Starman.  He was the Aerial Coordinator and one part of the movie was going to involve several helicopters and pilots. Vietnam era Huey's, Jetrangers and Longrangers.  One scene was a large formation of helicopters making a low level flight over the desert.  This was shot near Winslow, AZ.  Also several shots would be taken at the Meteor crater in the same location.  Several of Jetcopters helicopters and pilots were being used and Jim had contracted several other operators from around the country to be used in the film.  A few days before this was to take place, we flew into the Winslow, AZ airport where the movie crews prepared the helicopters to look like Army aircraft.  They masked off the windows of the helicopter and then sprayed on a rubberized peel paint in Army colors.  Then added decals for the insignias and markings to make them look like military aircraft.  When the shoot was finished, they  put the helicopters on a wash rack and  sprayed the peel paint off with a high pressure water hose.  If for any reason there was any damage to the paint, the movie company would repaint the aircraft.  The technology was pretty advanced for this application and repainting the helicopters was not done very often.

Civilian helicopters used in the movie Starman click to enlarge

This was really going to be my first experience being directly involved in an actual movie.  We were a large group of pilots and we spent nearly a week doing this part of the movie.  It was fun being out on location, doing the wardrobe thing and watching the making of a movie first hand.  I had met John Carpenter earlier before working for Jetcopters, so I was comfortable with working with movie people.  Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen were the two principal actors and were both very friendly to work with.  Finally, this was going to enable me to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild.  I was now qualified and just needed to fill out the application forms and pay a membership fee.  This was one of the first things I did when we returned to Los Angeles a few weeks later.

At the end of the shoot at this location, Jim asked me to fly the camera helicopter a Bell BH-206L3 to the Scottsdale, AZ airport where it would receive a 50 hour maintenance inspection.  They could complete this inspection in one day and the next day, I ferried the helicopter to Nashville, TN.  I made one overnight stay in Dallas, TX before going on to Nashville the next day.  more on Jetcopters in the next post.........

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jetcopters Part 1

I spoke with Jim Deeth several times in the next few weeks and still I could not make a decision on going with Jetcopters.  The biggest obstacle in my mind was the 50 mile drive each way.  I was already driving 35 miles to downtown Los Angeles, but at least I was commuting at a time of the day when traffic was not as heavy.  Then at night when I left to go home around 1:00 am  early in the morning, traffic would be light.
Typical Los Angeles Freeway Traffic (405 between LA & Van Nuys) 
Driving 50 miles in Los Angeles traffic, could equate to two to three hours in some cases.
This would  have been for each work day, I could be on the freeway four to six hours a day. There were several ways to drive from my home in Cypress, CA to the Van Nuys, CA airport, but they were all within a few tenths of being 50 miles.  One day I decided to just pick a day during the week, and drive the freeway route I would most likely be taking each day, and see what the time to drive would be.  I must have picked an exceptional day, because I drove it in one hour.  This I could live with.  So I gave Deeth a call and we sat down and worked out a plan for me to come to work for them.  Jim Deeth is probably one of the best pilots I have ever worked with.  Also a very fair and honest person.  Jim had been a long time veteran pilot with the California Highway Patrol.  He left the CHP with lots of years of service and joined up with a man by the name of Peter McKernan.  A great partnership to say the least.  I  had first met Jim Deeth  in Long Beach, CA.  He had been giving flight instruction to Peter McKernan at the time.   They had come to me to ask if I could give McKernan an FAA flight test for his commercial license to fly helicopters.  Peter was the owner and president of Jetcopters, so I was well acquainted with the principals of the company now.  Earlier when I first met Jim Deeth, he brought another man in one day and asked if I would schedule him for an FAA fight test.  His name was John Carpenter a well know movie director in Hollywood.  Later on, I became better aquainted with Mr Carpenter, flying helicopters in a few of the movies he directed.  Jetcopters was a very aggressive fast growing helicopter operation.  We had a stable of new helicopters second to none.  They had a large maintenance staff and twelve pilots, some were flight instructors only and others were part time.  They were well established in every part of the helicopter business.  Peter Mckernan had an unlimited amount of resources to  purchase new helicopters and equipment.  Jetcopters was becoming the largest operation in the Western part of the United States.  They had a major television contract in Hawaii doing a show called Magnum P.I.   They had just purchased a new Bell 222 to be used in a television show called Airwolf.   Working at Jetcopters was like being on the dream team.  Peter McKernan provided the best employment package for pilots anywhere in Los Angeles.  He was  generous and very involved in the everyday operation of the company.  Jim Deeth was the Chief Pilot and Director of Operations.  These two people were creating a company that was known throughout the United States.  Things are going pretty good for me now and I am dealing with the daily commute without too much trouble. Although one morning it did take me nearly four hours to make the drive. Later on I asked to work the weekends.  I also bought a small motorhome and stayed at the Van Nuys airport three nights a week.  This reduced my days of driving to two days a week.  More on Jetcopters in the next post. . . . . . . .

Friday, September 17, 2010

Out on the street again

Throughout my career, I have been pretty lucky whenever I was unemployed or between jobs as they say.  This time it was totally unexpected.  In the past I have managed okay and I would again. In most cases, I have been able to see it coming, this time I didn't.  I had a few things going for me and some time to plan my next move.  Meanwhile, I was still going to the airport every day and taking care of the Oxy helicopter until it was sold.  I had a young man come in weekly to help me wash and wax the helicopter and we kept it looking like new.  Once a week I would roll in out to the flight line and crank it up and run it for a few minutes.  The company would not allow me fly it, so that was as much as I could do.  I didn't really have any experience in selling any type of aircraft, so I was not making a big effort to do so.  I was still receiving a salary,  I did  what I could.  A friend of mine, Mike Dresman, was walking through the hangar one day while I was doing some work on the helicopter.  In passing, he said hello, and I casually yelled back to him, "do you want to buy a helicopter".  We both laughed and that was the end of it.  In my past, I've sold three helicopters that ranged in  value of nearly a million dollars each.  About a week later, I received a call from Mike and we met to discuss the sale of the helicopter. The helicopter now had a new owner and I had finished my obligation.  Too bad, I didn't ask for a commission, it would have amounted to several thousand dollars.  As I said earlier, I was not a helicopter sales person, so the sale was more by accident, rather than to my credit.

Mike had several pilots working for his company part time, and one of the provisions of the sale, was that I was to conduct a ground school and a checkout for each pilot on his staff.  One thing led to another, and I was employed part time to work for Helitac.  The company was located in a part of Los Angeles, CA called Echo Park.  They had an entire upper floor of a bank building on Sunset Blvd. that also had a rooftop heliport.  The heliport could manage four helicopters and they were left on the roof overnight after the evenings work was finished.
Helitac Heliport, Echo Park, Los Angeles 

Echo Park was once one of the finer parts of Los Angeles, but now it was in the heart of a gangland center.  At night, looking down on the streets below the bank heliport, you could hear gun shots being fired sometimes.  Every takeoff from the heliport was over  water, any type of emergency landing would be directly in the lake at night.  Whenever my work was finished late at night, I made sure my doors were locked and I took the shortest route to the freeway.
Mike Dresman was the owner of Helitac.  Most of their work was courier work at night collecting bank checks and cash from several large banking institutions in the greater Los Angeles area.  After the banks closed for the day, a fleet of trucks would collect bank checks and in some cases cash. They would meet with the helicopter several times during the evening hours at the Fullerton, CA airport.  This was done five or six times at almost every other hour intervals. All of the bank transactions were packed in small boxes about the size of a shoe box.  We could load the helicopter to the ceiling and carry a considerable amount of weight.  Everything was striped out of the helicopter with the exception of the two front seats.
View inside of a Bell BH-206B Jet Ranger click to enlarge

The above picture was going to be my office for the time being.  Most of the flying would be at night with the exception of the first hour and then I would be making these flight throughout the evening.  When we made our pickups at Fullerton, we then dropped off the banks cargo at a clearing house in downtown Los Angeles they also had a rooftop heliport.  When all the collections had been completed, we then flew back to the clearing house heliport and transferred the processed bank paperwork to either Burbank or Los Angeles airport.  At these airports we would rendezvous with a Lear Jet aircraft that would fly the completed processed checks and cash to either New York or San Francisco.  It was my understanding that this would enable the banks to realize a considerable savings in unpaid interest.  Flying around Los Angeles at night was okay, but sometimes the weather could really make some flights very difficult.  This was the major part of our flight activity, but we also flew a television news helicopter for ABC network in LA.  I continued on with Helitac for several more months.  Eventually I talked Mike into giving me a full time position.  This would at least give me peace of mind for the time being.  I enjoyed the work, but the drive into downtown Los Angles everyday was not to my liking.  Most people in Los Angeles seem to live in one place and work in another.  So I guess I fit in with all the other people on the crowded freeways. Later on I met with Jim Deeth who was the Director of Operations for a company called Jetcopters, located in Van Nuys, CA.  They had asked me to come to work for them, but the 50 mile drive everyday caused me to have some second thoughts.  See what happens in the next post. . . . . . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Occidental Petroleum

When you live in a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles, it is not uncommon to see many large companies that have their own corporate helicopters.  Usually the pilots that flew these helicopters as viewed by some, had the better and more prestigious positions.
The companies that owned these helicopters, could well afford the very demanding cost of operation.  You worked for a single company and often flew the same people.  Flights were usually in and around the greater Los Angeles and Orange county areas. The pilots were very well compensated and your job security was certain.  I had always considered the position of a corporate pilot, to be one of my career goals.  I could go to work each day dressed in a three piece suit and have a well established work week schedule.  I considered myself very lucky to get this job and was anxious to get started.  One of the things I asked for when I was first being interviewed, was to go to the Bell Helicopter factory in Dallas, Texas and take the one week ground school and also a checkout with a  factory flight instructor.  I was off to Texas and a week later, I was starting out again on a new job.
Some things just fell into place.  It was decided that the helicopter would be hangared and maintained at Southland Helicopters at the Long Beach, CA airport.  Also a flight office was provided for me and I was then pretty much set.  Occidental Petroleum had a Research center located in Irvine, CA and this would be my primary contact with the company.  I had a secretary at the Occidental Research facility assigned to me and she would receive all the request from the company for the helicopter flight activity.  Most of my flights would be from Irvine to Westwood, CA to the heliport that was located on the roof of the corporate office.  I most often flew, board of directors, CEO's, presidents, Ph. D's and many military and political people.  On occasion I would fly Dr. Armand Hammer, the founder of the company.
Oxy's helicopter on a rooftop heliport in Los Angeles click to enlarge
Most of my flight activity would be in coastal regions and sometimes in the early mornings and late evenings, you could  expect fog along with low ceilings and visibilities.  I'm finding out very early now that these people are very time and task sensitive. I couldn't just go to work in the morning and call in to say, "it's to foggy this morning, we can't fly". No this would not work,  Many nights I would go to bed and worry about the weather conditions for the next day.  Often through the night I would call a Flight Service station and check current and forecasted weather, hoping that the conditions would remain the same and be okay.  On one particular flight, the weather conditions changed unexpectedly.  I went to the airport early, positioned the helicopter on the flight line after preflighting the aircraft.  I then went into my office to wait until it was time for me to depart to Irvine and pickup the president for the research center.  When I came in the building it was crystal clear outside and you could see the stars in the sky.  About an hour later I looked out the window of my office and the airport was totally engulfed in very dense fog.  I got on the phone and called the president, Mr. Martin Berger at his home, to tell him of the weather conditions.  Needless to say he was not happy and the next day I was called on the carpet to receive a royal ass chewing.  I'm finding out real soon that these people at the top level often expect the impossible and would lead you to believe that I could personally guarantee the weather would be perfect for every flight.  Even a prayer to god, would not always give you the desired results.  It was then decided that when their was a possibility of uncertain weather, the company provided me with a station wagon to drive these people when the conditions were forecasted not to be good.  Now I am the corporate pilot who more often than not, is the company chauffeur.  This created a timeline for a very early schedule sometimes.
A dream job come true, corporate helicopter pilot! click to enlarge
I am okay with this arrangement, but the person I am flying the most often, is also the most hated man in the company.  Martin Berger, president of Occidental Research Center.
He transferred there from New York and had that Eastern personality.  I would think he would have had a much different attitude, towards the person he trusted his life with everyday?. . . . .  Not Mr. Berger, in the five years I worked for Oxy, he never once shook my hand or ever thanked or complemented me.  Never any small talk or even discussions of families.  His one ace in the hole was his wife, she took up the slack and was always very nice and thanked me often.  So maybe this corporate deal is not so good?  I worked at Oxy for almost five years and then one day I was asked to meet with the company Personnel Manager.  I was advised that the helicopter was going to be sold and that I should give notice to the other pilot, he would be laid off in two weeks.  I was kept on for a while longer to finish up some loose ends and to take care of the helicopter until it was sold.  I am now back amongst the unemployed with no ideas for the future.  This came as a total surprise and I was okay for the time being as Occidental gave me a reasonable severance pay.  So where to next?, more in the next post. . . . . .

Monday, September 13, 2010

Southland Helicopters Part 2

My schedule for flight training was full everyday.  I could do two to three hours of flight instruction before lunch and about the same amount of flights in the afternoons.  The time to use VA educational benefits for many veterans was about to run out.  For some, the time had been extended. For others the VA had such poor records, that many people were taking advantage of this error on the governments part, and using the benefits again.  We had people from all walks of life coming in to apply for training in helicopters.  Most of the people had some aviation background and were active as pilots in some other line of work, many did not.  We had lawyers, chefs,doctors,contractors and every kind of trade background you could think of.  This sometimes made the training more difficult to get  people up to speed.  Even the highly experienced airline captains that came to us would often have problems learning to fly helicopters.  The airline crews were so regimented and set in their ways of doing things.  An airline captain is so use to having a crew consisting of a copilot and in some cases a flight engineer.  The aircraft  would have several radios, navigation instruments and many other aids.  In the small helicopters used for training, it would have a single radio and a wet magnetic compass.  The helicopters we used at that time in the late 70's, utilized the same airspace and followed the same rules a great deal of the time.. The helicopter pilot would be required to do everything on his own..  When making radio contact with the control towers, it was customary to make your initial transmission using the type of aircraft and aircraft N number.  I had one captain that could not break the habit of referring to us as United Flight so and so.  The tower folks would get a laugh out of this, and we would correct the mistake on our part.  Flight instructing can be very stressful, I did a lot of it in my time, but I also enjoyed the pleasure of sharing my knowledge with a new helicopter pilot.  Many people we trained would never use this rating, but they accomplished a skill they didn't have before, that was good enough for me.

One of the people I trained was a foreign pilot from Dubai.  At the completion of his training, he approached me with an ofter to come to his country and train pilots for United Arab Emirates.  At first I declined the offer and did not put much into our conversation.  Later he brought me a couple of books from the city of Dubai and described the type of housing I would have and schools that my daughter would be able to go to.  They were offering a very generous salary with many benefits.  The more I thought about, the better it sounded.  But there was one little hitch he failed to mention.  He then later told me, I would have to join their military Air Force and assume the rank of Captain.  The people I would have trained would not recognize someone that was not an officer in their military.  Ahhhhhh, I don't think so.

As time went on, I would also do other helicopter flights doing different types of work.  We did flights to offshore oil well platforms off the coast of California.  With the two Jet Rangers, we were doing more and more charter work.  We had several pilots, so I did not always get a choice of flights.  On one particular flight, I flew several members of Occidental Petroleum from their corporate offices in Westwood, CA to their research center in Laverne, CA.  This was just north of Pomona, CA. It was a short 30 minute flight and then several hours of standby before returning the same people back to the rooftop heliport at their corporate office.  This was the first time Occidental had used our company services.  I had hoped I had made a good impression. 

A short time later, I found out that Occidental Petroleum was considering the purchase of a corporate helicopter.  Since I had flown their president and CEO I thought I might have a good chance of getting hired to be their pilot.  Unfortunately, several people had already been interviewed for the position and I was not in the running.  Isn't that strange?  When you think you were going to be first, you find yourself in last place.  Occidental bought one of the very first Bell BH-206L helicopters.  One of the board of director's daughter was dating a helicopter pilot, and that ended any chances of me getting the job.  Not too long after that, I did get a very brief check out in their aircraft. Just in case, in the event they would need  a backup pilot. My checkout consisted of a couple times around the pattern and then I read the flight manual. One other pilot at Southland received training as well.  He was sent  to the Bell Helicopter factory in Dallas, Texas.  This aircraft was larger and different from the BH-206B III Jet Ranger.  It would carry seven passengers and had several different and new systems.

Then a strange series of events happened a few months later.  The pilot Occidental hired was fired!  I thought maybe I would have a second chance, no such luck.  They did approach the other pilot in our company and interviewed him for the position.  He turned the job down.  I think he priced himself out of the running.  Anyway, what they say is sometimes true, "The Third Time is the Charm"!  I was called about a week later, interviewed and accepted the job.  Great salary, lots of perks and a company that could afford the expensive cost of operating a helicopter.  So not giving up and waiting my turn paid off.  Next post........Occidental Petroleum........

Friday, September 10, 2010

Southland Helicopters Part 1

Southland Helicopters is located on the Long Beach, CA airport.  This is where I began the training for the Kansas City police department pilots a few years earlier.  So I have come full circle.   I am back in familiar territory.  It was only about a four mile drive from my home in Cypress, CA and a commute with no freeways involved.  If you live in California, this is a real plus.       

Southland Helicopters click to enlarge

My duties here would primarily be flight instructing.  Not my first choice of what I would rather be doing, but this is what brought me back to California and I would do the best I could.  Southland was doing a lot of helicopter pilot training for pilots with VA benefits and also for pilots from several foreign countries.  The FAA office in Santa Monica, CA allowed me to transfer my FAA pilot examiner designation to the Long Beach, CA office.
This would enable me to do more helicopter pilot flight test for a much larger area of Southern California.  Southland Helicopters was also doing charter flights under FAR Part 135(Flying passengers and cargo for hire).  I had hoped to be the chief pilot for that part of their operation, but internal politics nixed that idea.  Most of our training was being done in the Hughes 269B helicopters and the charter aircraft we used was a Hughes 500.  Later on we merged with a company that had two Bell BH-206 Jet Rangers.  So on occasion, I would be back flying my favorite helicopters again.  I was getting a little closer to getting my foot through the door to becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild.  Like anything else, their is always a catch 22 issue involved before you can get something accomplished.  First of all, the movie industry only recognizes a few pilots.  When a director for a movie has a need for a helicopter to be used in a movie, those people would always be called first.  You could not go to a director to get his endorsement to use you in a movie.  I was once used to transport several movie stars from the Universal hotel in Hollywood to a movie location several miles north of Los Angeles.  Each day I would try to get the attention of Howard Hawks who was directing the movie.  When I did ask, he just smiled and ignored my question.  Hollywood folks can be very different.  Some are personable and others are distant.  Each day I would return some of the people back to the hotel in Hollywood.  Several times I flew Leslie Nielson and we talked about families and everyday things.  Really a nice person and I enjoyed our conversations.  Gene Kelly was in this movie cast and was very friendly too. 

Later on, I was assigned to fly the camera ship for a television series called Love Boat.  This involved flying a highly experienced cameraman with a Tyler mount in the helicopter.  Normally when this was done, the pilot could expect to get an extra bonus because these flights often required additional skills with some risks.  The plan was to rendezvous with the cruise ship (Pacific Princess/Love Boat) as it left the San Pedro, CA port and follow the ship as it sailed north up the coast of California.  The flight was scheduled for evening just before sunset.  Then to continue until about an hour after sunset.  Often this would be called the magic hour. Even though the sun has set, their is still daylight for a while longer. I did not foresee any problems with the timeline and it should not take more than a couple hours to do the shoot.  As we followed the ship, the cameraman would direct me to fly in different areas to get the required shots.  When we were near the coast of Santa Monica, CA, it was decided we would land there to pickup more film for the cameraman.  This  delayed us, so while I was there, I refueled the helicopter.  We were not in radio contact with the cruise ship, and I was on my own to find the ships location. We departed Santa Monica and headed north out to sea.  In a short time I spotted the wake of the cruise ship and we joined up with the ship to continue are filming.  Our flight delay did cause me  concern because it was much later now and the available light was fading fast.  Still we had a few shots left to do.  One of the shots, was with all the ships lights turned on.

The Love Boat (Pacific Princess) click to enlarge

I must admit this was a lovely sight, but as we continued filming, it was getting much darker outside as I circled the ship at the cameraman's request.  It was now two hours after sunset and it was totally black with no visible horizon.  We were several miles out to sea off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. When I turned the helicopter towards land, I could  just barely see a few lights of the city.  When I turned away from land, I could not see anything, not even the ship, because they had turned everything off with the exception of their navigation lights.  This situation makes it impossible to determine which way is up or down.  The helicopter did not have attitude flight instruments and I was beginning to suffer from the first stages of what is known as Spatial Disorientation. This is a condition where the pilot now is relying on what he senses and feels trying to determine the attitude of the aircraft.  This is really impossible. You may feel like you are in a banked or diving attitude, when actually you are in level flight. It's imperative that the pilot now rely solely on his flight instruments if the aircraft is so equipped and he is trained on how to intrepid them.  As I said earlier, this aircraft did not have these instruments.  Most basic helicopters of that time would not.  Unlike an airplane, helicopters are totally unstable.  If you release the flight controls, it will not sustain level flight.  Navy pilots often experienced  Spatial Disorientation  while attempting to land on an aircraft carrier at night.  Also this happened to John F. Kennedy Jr. when his plane crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.  Now I am pleading with the cameraman to finish up so  we could make our way back to the coast safely.  The cameraman is pretty much in charge of the flight as far as the filming part goes, but ultimately the bottom line is,  the pilot in command has the last word. Sometimes you can't always satisfy the demands of others when safety is an issue.  I agreed to continue for a while longer, then we would be out of there.  We headed back using the lights along the coastline for a visible reference to the horizon and then on to Long Beach, CA.  I will have more in the next post about my work at Southland.........................

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Season was almost over at the canyon

This was a good decision for me to come to the canyon.  I had been there for over three months and I was flying as many hours everyday as I possibly could.  It was rare that I would ever take a day off or even get out of the helicopter once I got started in the morning.  Maybe for a few minutes while the aircraft was being refueled, but my flight time in turbine powered helicopters was building very fast.
Some weeks I would fly between 45-55 hours.  The Jet Ranger helicopter was like a modern day horse.  I felt like the cowboy that rode a very spirited stallion. Fast and agile.  Even after the season for tours was over, I could stay on and do other things.  We did a lot of flights for different agencies and there would always be work year around.

I received a call one day from a Brian Roland of Southland Helicopters in Long Beach, CA.  They were doing a lot of flight training and he offered me a part time position.  My first thoughts were very tempting.  As much as I would like to stay in the canyon, I really would like to get back to California and live a more normal life.  I knew when I came to the canyon, it would only be until I could get work back in California.  So after much thought, I turned down the offer.  I was doing okay and I felt like if they wanted me bad enough, they could offer more.  A few weeks went by and another phone call from Southland Helicopters and a better offer.  This time it was much better and I accepted.  I turned in my notice the next day.  I really hated to leave, but this would put me back in an area where I would have more choices later on.  I stayed on for two more weeks, then loaded up the old Yellow Chevy and headed back to California.  As I was driving home, I was thinking about how it was going to be getting back into a more restricted environment.  The type of flying I would be doing at Southland Helicopters would be mostly flight training and some charter flights.  I knew I would miss the great flying in the canyon..................................

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Flying in the Grand Canyon

Flying in the Grand Canyon is very different than other parts of the world.  Typically the winds are very calm during the earlier part of the day.    As a rule we did most of our tour business from early in the morning until about 1500 hours (3:00PM) and then shut down for the day if the winds became too strong. .  On occasion in the afternoon a tour bus would arrive with a full load of tourist that wanted to take a flight over the canyon.  The turbulence could be very violent at times.  Not the most enjoyable time to see the canyon, but often these people had traveled from foreign countries and would probably not have another chance.  I would  always explain the conditions in the canyon and warn passengers that it might be a bumpy ride  I would never start a flight from the heliport if it was not safe. If we entered the canyon and the flight conditions had changed, or if anyone asked to be taken back, we would always cut the flight short and return to the heliport.  Sometimes conditions would change rapidly and you had no other choice but to do the best you could.  When this happened,  I know a few times,  I found myself gripping the flight controls very tight.

We would descend into the canyon a couple thousand feet below the rim and sometimes the winds would suck you down lower than you planned, and then it would turn you loose.  During the summer months, the temperature at the south rim would be much lower than at the base of the canyon near the Colorado river.  This would cause a strong updraft near the canyon walls. You could fly a fully loaded Jet Ranger over near the canyon walls and never add any additional power to climb out of the canyon.  The strong winds would just push you out of the canyon.  This really worked well when we were doing what was called river pull outs.  Several tour companies that did rafting trips down the

Rafting down the Colorado river click to enlarge

Colorado river contracted our helicopters to fly their people out of the canyon at the end of their rafting tour.  This would  be at a point at the west end of the canyon called Lava Falls.  In the past, people would either have to hike out or by horse back to get out of the canyon.  It was good business for us and we would fly several hours each time we went down to the falls..  Our company located a fuel truck on the north rim at a place called Tuweep.  The truck was left there until it needed to be brought back to our heliport to be refilled, then returned to Tuweep.  Their was a small dirt strip there where you could land airplanes.  We would pickup people at Lava Falls and then fly them up to the north rim.  They would then board an airplane and either return to Page, AZ or Las Vegas, NV.  The canyon was very narrow at the Lava Falls, so catching the updraft really made it easy to get to the top of the north side of the canyon.  For the same reason, it was equally hard to descend back down to the falls for the next pickup.
More river rafting click to enlarge
You can not imagine how quiet and peaceful it is on the river at the bottom of the canyon.
Some of these trips lasted for several days and they would camp on the river banks at night. I had been invited more than once to make one of the rafting trips down the river, but my objective was to get as much flying time as possible while I was at the canyon. So no time for rafting.

Red circle is landing area at Lava Falls.

Rafting over Lava Falls

Jet Ranger landing near Lava Falls. click to enlarge

Lava Falls looks very calm, but when the rafts go over it, it's a different story.
An exciting ride to say the least. In the above picture you can see the black lava rock on the side of the canyon wall.  When we were doing the transfer of people from the falls area to the small strip at the top of the north rim, you were very busy.  With the fuel truck parked at the Tuweep airstrip, we could keep the fuel loads very light so that our climb to the top would not be a maximum effort.  You could not always count on the updrafts to help you out, so at times it would take longer to get to the top.  Usually I would work by myself.  This meant loading, unloading and refueling while I was there.  It was fun to visit with the people and answer all the questions regarding the news while they were away on the river.  More on flying in the canyon on the next post...........................................

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tusayan, Arizona

Tusayan is a small town, just outside of the Grand Canyon village.  This is where the heliport is located and also where all our trailers are nestled in amongst some very tall  pine trees.  Until Dan O'Connell came along, Grand Canyon helicopters had a pretty bad track record.  In the short time he had been there, he had assembled a very hard working group of people.  Several pilots, mechanics and people that ran the office and anything else that needed to be done.  No one really had a set job.  I always made an effort to be the first one to the heliport in the hopes of getting the first flight of the day  when people started coming in.  Usually the day started with preflighting one of the Jet Ranger helicopters and then rolling it out to the helipad. We could only carry a partial load of fuel due to the fact we were operating at a very high altitude.  this meant we would be refueling often during the course of the day.  Once the helicopter was started for the first flight of the day, it ran continuous throughout the day without shutting down.  We always refueled hot.  Sometimes I would start out in the morning and never get out of the helicopter for several hours.  As long as their was a line of people waiting we never stopped.  Once in a while, one of the mechanics would come out and lift an access panel to the engine compartment and check things over and make an inspection.  This is what I came for, I wanted to fly as many hours and as often as I could to build up my time in these helicopters.  When anyone wanted a day off, I always worked in their place.  I did not want to miss one opportunity to fly as much as I could.

Picture was taken at the Supi Indian Reservation click to enlarge

I had been at the canyon now for several weeks, my checkouts were completed and I was doing all the scenic tour flights the company offered. I was finally back in my element and I did not realize how much I had missed flying helicopters.  There was no television or radio stations and sometimes it could get pretty lonely at the canyon.  I was working with a really nice group of people and they were like family.  We often did many things together at the end of the day.  Sometimes a BBQ out on one of the canyon points where only the "locals" were allowed to go.  Maybe catch a great sunset at one of the better viewing points.  The Best Western hotel up the street had a nice bowling alley in the basement and some of us would go there and enjoy a few beers.

Even in early spring, sometimes we would get a dusting of snow at the canyon.

Mather Point, Grand Canyon click to enlarge

One of our more scenic tours was to see the Havasu Falls, which was located near  Supai home of the Havasupai  Indian village.  They allowed us to land in an open area on the reservation and then we could walk down to the falls.  This is probably one of the most beautiful sights in the canyon.

Havasu Falls click to enlarge

This was one of the few flights where we shut down for a while.  The falls looks like something created by Disneyland.  I always enjoyed these flights and it was an unusual place to see.

Relaxing at Havasu Falls click to enlarge

Some parts of working at the canyon were not all that bad.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon and I was seeing a lot of the same things our tourist were seeing for the first time.  I have another post of two of my work in the Grand Canyon............

Trading places 1975

Have you ever had a working condition where you worked for an individual and wondered, what would happen if your roles were reversed?  Well this happened to me and I must say it was an interesting experience.  Back in my early McCulloch days, Dan O'Connell worked for me.  When McCulloch  had their big layoff's, Dan went to Phoenix and trained for his commercial helicopter license. A few years later, he became the Director of Operations for Grand Canyon Helicopters.  Early in the year and while I was still unemployed, I gave Dan a call to see if he could use another pilot when the spring season started at the canyon.  Dan invited me to come to the canyon and take a look at their operation and we talked about me coming on board.  Previously, I had written about the flight experience I lacked in turbine powered helicopters.  Most of the time when hiring new pilots, the decision  will be based on certain minimum flight time requirements and ratings.  But very often, it's the insurance companies that will set the standards.  In this case, Grand Canyon Helicopters and their insurance company, required  pilots to have a minimum of 200 flight hours as pilot in command in helicopters with turbine engines. I met all the other requirements, but only had very few hours in turbines, but thousands of hours in other helicopters and airplanes.  Dan presented my resume to the insurance company along with the letter of completion for training in the Bell Jet Ranger at the factory.  Even though I had only received five hours of training at the factory, the insurance company waved the 200 hour requirement and said the factory training would be accepted. Now you can see why my decision to go to the factory for training at Bell Helicopters,  and how it carried a lot of weight.   Dan agreed to hire me and I would  be coming back in April to get started on the checkout for their flight operations.  Come April, I loaded up the old Yellow Chevy and headed for the canyon.  My daughter was now in school, so it was decided that my family would remain behind in California.  The housing that was provided for pilots was very minimal.  Small house trailers with very little amenities.  Usually the best trailers were given to the senior pilots.  Me being the new guy, meant I would be living in probably the worst trailer. Usually at the end of the season, the previous  people would just move out and leave  everything in a mess.  Often things did not work or were broken.  After work, my first few days at the canyon, was spent cleaning, fixing and freezing.  The little oil furnace in the trailer did not work.  The temperatures at the canyon this time of the year got down in the 20's.  Until the sun came up in the morning, it was very, very cold.  This is when I learned the value of a good sleeping bag.  In the mornings, I would go to the heliport early and stand in the sun to keep warm.  As time went on, my living conditions did improve.  I guess every now and then you have to rough it.  This was going to be a good job and I badly needed the experience in the turbine helicopters.  Grand Canyon Helicopters had three Bell Jet Rangers and I would soon be flying tours.  I did go through a very lengthy check out and Dan was very patient getting me acquainted with all the routes and local rules.  It was good to have a friend for a boss.  I think when he worked for me, I had treated him fairly, now I was  getting the benefits of our early relationship.  Most of our flights were several different scenic tours.  We also did work for the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Frequently we were called for medivac flights to the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon and the Supai indian village at the far West end of the canyon.  Often the case would be hikers that either were injured or unable to hike back out of the canyon.   Usually when this happened, we would fly the people back to our heliport located in Tusayan or to the hospital in Flagstaff, AZ.

The Grand Canyon click to enlarge

No place on earth can compare to the beauty of the Grand Canyon.  Seeing the canyon for the first time takes your breath away.  It is impossible to take a bad picture when pointing your camera in any direction.  Seeing the canyon from a helicopter is even more spectacular.  This is a typical view out of the front of the helicopter of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river below.  The advantage of seeing if from a helicopter is that you can descend into the canyon.  There will be several more post on my adventures while flying in the Grand Canyon...........................