Helicopter Rides at Quincy

I do helicopter rides at a Quincy, WA event — and stop for a milkshake on the way home.

The first call came a few months ago. Could I do helicopter rides at the Farmer-Consumer Awareness Day in Quincy, WA?

I don’t usually do rides at Quincy. Trouble is, there’s no landing zone downtown or near any event and the airport is in the middle of nowhere. Rides events rely, in part, on the excitement generated by seeing the helicopter come and go with happy passengers on board. Stick me out in the middle of nowhere and no one will see that.

I relayed this information to the caller, Krysta. I told her that it probably wouldn’t be worth my while.

She asked me how many people I needed to fly to make it worthwhile.

I pulled a reasonable number out of the air: 20. That’s 20 passengers at $40/person with no fewer than 2 people on board for each flight.

She said she’d try to presell tickets.

Then we hung up. I honestly didn’t expect to hear from her again.

She called about a month later. She’d pre-sold 20 seats. I put the event on my calendar. Later in the month, I drove down to Quincy to check out the landing zone she suggested: a parking lot near one of the schools south of town. It was the same distance from town as the airport was, but at least stuff might be going on nearby. And it was a lot more pleasant. I agreed.

A few days before the event, I arranged to have my friend’s daughter, Alix, work as my ground crew. Alix is a PhD candidate for entomology — a bug girl. She’d helped me on another event the previous year, so she knew the drill. I didn’t expect there to be much of a crowd and with most flights prepaid, she wouldn’t have to deal with too many money transactions. One experienced person would be enough.

I met her at Wenatchee Airport at 9:30 AM on Saturday morning and we flew down to Quincy. I circled the landing zone once and set down. They’d prepped the landing zone with cones and caution tape and I managed to knock over all the ones in front of me and a handful of the ones behind me. Oops.

I’d brought along a sign, a chair for Alix, and a few cones. That was it. There wasn’t much shade, but it was a relatively cool day that stayed in the mid 70s with a light breeze. Perfect flying weather.

I was an hour early on purpose. I was hoping to pick up a few early rides. I’d posted the event on Facebook and had even gotten a few calls. Sure enough, I did a number of “walk up” rides before the ones on Krysta’s list started showing up.

The flights left the landing zone and headed northeast toward downtown Quincy. After crossing route 28, I turned west, heading toward the river. I’d break out over the cliff at Crescent Bar, fly down river a tiny bit, and then turn back to the east. Then I’d approach the landing zone from the southwest and land. Each ride took about 8-10 minutes with great views of Quincy, the surrounding farmland — mostly orchards and row crops — and the Columbia River gorge at Crescent Bar.

Crescent Bar from the Air
Crescent Bar from the air.

Krysta had wanted to make sure the tour was a farm-related, so I often told passengers about what we were flying over, including the Extenday ground covers used to reflect light back up to the bottom of apples (for even coloring), apple pickers working in one of the orchards, and the types of crops beneath us. Everyone seemed pretty happy with their ride. And Alix did a great job as my ground crew person.

About half the rides had 2 people on board and the other half had 3. The way the rides are priced, I lose money with 1 passenger, make some money with 2 passengers, and make good money with 3 passengers. So I’m not complaining.

I Periscoped one ride and did a Facebook Live session with another. In case you’re unfamiliar with these, it makes it possible to do a live broadcast on the Internet. Viewers can comment and ask questions. Unfortunately, although I can read the questions, I can’t respond because I don’t have direct audio in. Viewers simply can’t hear me over the sound of the engine. But later feedback on Twitter and Facebook showed that the broadcasts were well-received even if there weren’t more than a few dozen viewers.

Helicopter Rides at Quincy
Alix took this photo of Krysta and her companions. I photobombed (just like I used to do when I flew at the Grand Canyon).

The only drawback was my fuel situation. I was hoping to get all the rides done without needing to refuel, but with just 2 or 3 flights left, I absolutely had to get gas. So a group of three got a chance to go back to the airport with me for refueling for the same price as a much shorter ride. I went to Wenatchee, which was 2 nautical miles farther than Ephrata, mostly because I knew I could do a quicker turn there. When I got back, Alix had three more flights waiting for me, including Krysta and two companions, who I comped to thank her for her work.

On every single flight, I flew over the White Trail Produce farm stand on the corner of Route 28 and White Trail Road. They sell local produce and the usual collection of farmstand stuff that tourists buy. But they also sell ice cream and make the best fresh fruit shakes. The whole time I was flying, I was thinking about a peach shake and wondering how I could get one on my way home. There wasn’t anyplace to land in the small parking lot, but I figured I could land on the dead end road nearby. But I certainly wouldn’t want to park there for more than a few minutes.

So as Alix and I loaded up the helicopter after the last flight, I asked her if she wanted a shake. Of course she did. I asked her if she’d mind jumping out to get it if I ordered ahead. She was game. So I called White Trail Produce and asked if I could land there to get shakes. To my surprise, they said yes. And they had fresh peaches. So I ordered two shakes and said we’d be there in five minutes.

Alex with Shake
Cropped from the Periscope video: Alix returning with the shakes.

I set up Periscope to record the flight. (I stream video from my iPad, which is mounted near my feet. When it is sent to Periscope.tv, the video is downgraded, so quality isn’t very good. I didn’t have any of my GoPros set up for these flights.) We took off and I beelined it to White Trail. I circled the area once and found a spot not far away from White Trail’s unplanted (this year) garden patch. A truck towing an outhouse drove down the road and I came in behind him. I sent up a ton of dust when I landed alongside the road, but I don’t think it reached the farm stand. Alix jumped out and ran in while I waited with the engine running. A few minutes later, she was back with both shakes. Once she was strapped in and I’d had a good long sip of my shake, I took off.

Alix with Shake
Alix with her shake on the way home.

She said the folks at White Trail were really excited to have me land. I’d love to do helicopter rides there once in a while. I guess I should look into landing zone options.

I treated Alix to one of my low-level rides over the Columbia on the way back, then climbed up before reaching the wires that stretch across the river at Lower Moses Coulee and headed into the airport. A while later, I was back home and the helicopter was tucked into its space.

It was only 3 PM.

It had been a good day with great flying weather and a bunch of really nice passengers. Not terribly busy, but certainly busy enough to make it worthwhile. I look forward to doing it again next year.

But the best part? That peach shake. Wow.

20 thoughts on “Helicopter Rides at Quincy

  1. The stop for the peach shake is the best!!!!! Sounds delicious.

    I’m glad this adventure turned out so well. Yay!!

    Your story gave me a big smile — what lighthearted fun. :-)

    • The peach shake there is to die for. If I lived in Quincy, I’d be 300 pounds because I’d be having one of those shakes every single day they were open.

      I wish I could do rides there. I need to talk to them about a landing zone for next year.

  2. While you and Alix were flying low over the Columbia river at 90 knots I was breaking my back lifting 300 lbs of potatoes from my allotment, 6,000 miles to the east.
    Can we swap jobs?
    Have a good one.

  3. Hey, Maria. Is it just me but when I tried the link from my email to your “garage shelves”, I got an error 502. I came here to scroll down to comments of “garage shelves” to tell you that, but when I hit comments I got an error 503. Is it me?

    • I’ve been having some weird blog issues lately. I’m not getting that problem, but I’ve had problems with error codes in the past. All I can suggest is that you wait a moment and try again. The problem usually goes away immediately. Sorry!

    • Thanks! What I think I liked most about it was how laid back it was. I do an event in June with at least one other helicopter and we’re flying nonstop all day. It’s exhausting and I feel bad for the folks who have to wait. And it’s usually hot, too! This event was a pleasure.

  4. Flying rides can be fun as long as things are set up correctly. I’ve done some that went great, and others that were a nightmare. By far the worst is when the event organizers don’t make sufficient arrangements for crowd control and you have ignorant would-be passengers walking up from any old direction. The LAST thing you want it someone walking into a spinning tail rotor, after all. Having a good proactive ground crew is key to any tourist operation, a fact that’s easy to overlook until you experience how badly these things run without one.

    And the peach shakes sound delicious, I’ll have to keep that in mind if I ever get down that way. :)

    • I’m pretty particular about my landing zones and crowd control. This event was very laid-back and although they were a few physical barriers, there were never enough people to make it difficult for my ground crew person to manage people coming and going. At my big June event, with at least two helicopters flying, we have very obvious physical barriers and don’t let anyone near the landing zone, which is also out on the taxiway, without being escorted.

    • One more thing about ground crews: The ability to turn passenger loads quickly is vital to make a decent profit at these events. I once worked with a guy who didn’t seem to understand that it was costing me money to sit idle on the ground with the blades spinning. It took 5 minutes or more for him to offload passengers and get the next group of passengers onboard. For some reason, he thought I always wanted three people on board and I later discovered that he was giving away the third seat for free. He also promised people that I would take them on a custom route to show them their home or place of business. Needless to say, I don’t work with him anymore.

    • Typical? Occasionally the locals get pissed because of the noise, but events like this only last one day so even if they complain, they get over it. The cops and the FAA have never gotten involved in any of my events so I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to when you say “typical.” Happy endings are always nice. It was a good event and I look forward to next year.

What do you think?