Friday, September 3, 2010

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...........................

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