A Visit to the Helibase

Nothing like starting the day with some heavy metal.

When my friend Tristan posted a Facebook update mentioning that he was working fires out of a helibase in Leavenworth, it was all I needed to plan a play day up in the mountains. I told him I’d come at 7:30, before he started work, for a brief visit. Then I picked out a hiking destination nearby, texted a few friends, and made a hiking date.

Alyse and I pulled into the field at 7:30 sharp on Sunday morning. I saw Tristan’s helicopter, a bright yellow Croman Sikorsky S-61, parked in the field with some other very heavy metal. There were no cars near it.

Malcolm & Friends
Malcolm and friends at the Leavenworth, WA helibase.

I drove up to the base trailer and got out, leaving the Jeep’s engine running.

“I’m looking for Tristan,” I told a woman there, including his last name in my comment. “He flies the yellow one.”

“Oh, yeah, Tristan. He’s not here yet.”

A man nearby took interest. “You can’t be on my deck,” he said.

I assumed he meant flight deck. He was being kind but firm. “I’m a helicopter pilot,” I said. “I just want to say hello to my friend Tristan. I haven’t seen him in two years.”

“I really can’t have you on my deck when it’s active,” he said, softening a bit. “You can drive over there and wait for him, but you need to be out when we start flying.”

I thanked him and we headed over, down a path in the grass field with a Do Not Enter sign prominently displayed. I parked by a portable toilet and we got out, leaving Penny behind in the Jeep. I texted Tristan. A moment later, he called me to tell me he was one minute out.

S-61 Outfitted for Firefighting
The Sikorsky S-61 my friend Tristan is flying on a firefighting job in Washington. Note the tandem tanker truck his company uses to haul around jet fuel.

He drove up as I was taking my camera out of my day pack. We shared a big hug, I introduced him to Alyse, and he introduced me to the helicopter’s captain, Sean. We chatted for a few minutes about my old Ducati 900 SS CR, which he’d bought from me in the spring of 2013 at a smoking good price. He’d stripped it down and sold off lots of the parts, in the process of turning it into a real cafe racer.

He gave us a tour of the helicopter that included a walk inside, which had been stripped bare to keep the ship light. It smelled of oil and grease and JetA. The cockpit instrumentation was remarkably simple. There were N-numbers scribbled on a Plexiglas window on Tristan’s side with a dry erase marker.

We climbed down and walked around the side. Tristan told us how it flew — more squirrelly than an R22, he said — and mentioned a few interesting flight and maintenance characteristics. Sean went for the morning briefing and told Tristan he could stay behind. The rest of the crew started working on the preflight, pulling off the blade tie-downs and adding hydraulic fluid to a port near the rotor hub. Tristan showed us the two buckets they use — not at the same time, of course — and described how they dip in a small creek near the fire.

S-61
Here’s another view of Tristan’s ship. Note the Bambi bucket on the ground in front of it.

We talked about his job as the second in command and the things he’s responsible for doing. We talked about what it’s like to fly fires in his position. We talked about the work hours and the challenges and the parts that make it easy and hard. Tristan had lots to say. Like me, he always does.

Note to Non-Pilots:

A fire helibase can be a very dangerous place to visit — which is why nonessential personnel are normally not allowed on “the deck.” The base commander very kindly allowed me a short visit with my friend, but don’t expect him to do the same for you.

Fortunately, this helibase has a nice observer area where you can come visit and watch the helicopters come and go. If you come, obey all signage and the instructions of base personnel and remain within the civilian area.

After about 20 minutes, I figured I’d taken up enough of his time. Besides, the sun was climbing ever higher into the hazy, smoke-filled sky and I was anxious to get down into the Icicle River Gorge where the air would be cleaner and the only sound would be water rushing over rocks. So we said our goodbyes, shared another big hug, and left.

Later, after the hike, we drove past the helibase again. Although the Sky-Crane and Army Chinook were there, Tristan’s ride wasn’t. I didn’t stop.

I’d still like to fly some heavy metal someday. I’d like to see what it’s like to have all that helicopter behind me up in the air. And while I’m not sure I’d be a quick study learning to sling a bucket under a long line, I’m pretty sure I’d catch on and do a decent job. But I doubt that any of that is in my future. Instead, I’ll watch my pilot friends move through utility pilot careers and wonder what it’s really like to be in their shoes.

Or seat.

Good luck, Tristan! Fly safe!

A(nother) Full Day

Sometimes I can really pack it in.

Yesterday was one of those days when there’s simply no rest. Here’s a quick rundown.

A Natural Alarm Clock

I woke at 3:50 AM. It was the sound of three drops of rain hitting my RV roof that woke me. This was an unusual sound that I hadn’t heard in weeks and it took a moment for my sleeping mind to register why it was important.

Rain.

I’m on contract to dry cherries.

I was wide awake in a flash, reaching for my iPad, summoning the radar. Yes, it was drizzling on me, but was it raining on my orchards 5 miles to the west?

Not yet, the radar told me. But there was rain in the area.

I lounged in bed for a while, reading, catching up on Facebook crap (which I’m convinced has become a sick addiction for me, since I get very little pleasure out of it), and checking my calendar for the day. I had three things scheduled: a meeting with my earth-moving guy about the ground work for my utility connections at 7:30 AM, a charter flight at 8:30 AM, and an invitation to help a friend pack Rainier cherries at 10:00 AM.

But the rain made things a lot less solid. Getting called to dry cherries took precedence over anything else I might have to do.

Earth-Moving Plans

Jeff Parks, the guy who had installed my septic system last year and did all the earth work in preparation for my building, arrived at 7:30 sharp. By then, it was drizzling again.

I outlined what I needed and he suggested ways to get the job done. That’s one of the things I like about Jeff — if you want to do something one way and he has a better way, not only will he suggest it, but he’ll explain why it’s better. He’ll also take the time to go over the pros and cons of the different materials that can be used.

In my situation, I need to run a water line from the city water source to my building and my shed, an electric conduit from my transformer box to my building and my shed, and a septic system line from the takeout near the building to the building. I also wanted to install a second takeout near the shed so I could create a complete RV hookup there for guests. I wasn’t in a hurry to get this done, but I did hope to have it finished by August month-end, which was fine for Jeff.

We decided that I’d buy the materials with a shopping list he provided. I already had much of the conduit and pipe I needed. He’d get back to me with a solid estimate.

The Charter

My charter client knew I was a cherry drying pilot and called while Jeff was there to make sure we were still on for the flight. I told her we were, then told her that I’d call her cell phone if I needed to cancel.

But I didn’t have to cancel. At 8:20, I said goodbye to Jeff, locked Penny in the RV, and hopped into the helicopter. Ten minutes later, I was shutting down at Pangborn Airport across the river, ready to greet my passengers.

My passengers were two fruit buyers from the midwest that my client was entertaining during a visit to the orchards. I’d done short tours for a handful of the client’s guests last year. This year there were only two of them and the client didn’t mind my one-hour minimum. I’d pick them up at Wenatchee Airport, take them on a scenic flight around the area, and drop them off at Quincy Airport where my client would be waiting.

My passengers were pleasant men who really seemed to enjoy the flight. They asked me to show them a new orchard being planted north of the airport on some old wheat fields — I didn’t even know it was up there! Then we headed down river, past the Rock Island dam. I pointed out the features now visible due to the low water levels. (The Wanapum Dam is still being repaired so the lake level is extremely low and closed to the public.) We saw Crescent Bar, the Gorge Amphitheater, Cave B Inn and Winery, and Sunland before turning and heading back over Frenchman’s Coulee, Quincy Lakes, and Quincy. One of the passengers obviously knew the area very well because he kept pointing out various orchards and packing/storage facilities around us. After 45 minutes, I landed at Quincy where their ride was waiting. The last 15 minutes of their hour would get me back to Wenatchee.

Packing Cherries

Of course, I didn’t go back to Wenatchee Airport — or home. Instead, I flew to the orchard where my friends Donn and Kathryn were using their cherry packing line for the very first time. The reason I flew instead of driving there was because there was still rain possible and it would have taken 30-40 minutes for me to drive home (or to the airport for that matter) if I were called out to fly. By flying there, the helicopter was only 5 minutes away so I’d be able to respond quickly if called.

The Cherry Packing Line
Packing cherries can be labor-intensive, too.

The packing line was set up in a new building near their house on the orchard. There was a huge walk-in refrigerator where cherries picked the previous day and that morning had been stored. Then a conveyor belt that would take cherries from an ice water bath past quality control people who’d pick out the bad ones. Finally, the cherries came out on the far end where they fell into plastic-lined boxes.

Cherries Dropping into Box
At the end of the line, the cherries dropped into a box.


I shot this little video to show how the cherries moved down the line.

The quality control people worked at a feverish pace, picking out cherries that weren’t “perfect.” They checked for things like size, color, splits, bird pecks, and mold/fungus. Even stems — if a cherry didn’t have a stem attached, it was rejected. (I ate a lot of those.) The line moved quickly; we probably packed at least 10 pounds per minute.

My job was to work with Kathryn to fill the boxes, make sure they weighed 16 pounds (15 pounds of cherries plus the weight of the box and excess water), close them up, and put them on a pallet. The trickiest part was pulling one box away while putting an empty one in its place. It required the two of us to work in harmony to prevent cherries coming off the line from falling on the floor. It took us a few tries, but we finally got it working perfectly. We joked that she was Lucy and I was Ethel.

Drying Cherries

It started to rain while I was there. Then the inevitable phone call from one of my two clients still on contract. Could I dry, please? Fortunately, my helicopter was parked right across the street from the orchard. I excused myself from Kathryn and Donn and walked down the hill to where I was parked. On the way, I ran into the orchard owner. I told him I’d been helping with the cherry packing in the new shed and expected rain so I’d flown over.

I was airborne when the second client called. I was now responsible for flying over about 90 acres of cherries — about my limit for the 2-1/2 hours allotted.

I called Mike, my backup pilot. Although he was off-contract, he was in the Quincy area and could, theoretically, fly up to help out. But he was having engine trouble with his motorhome and needed to sort that out. So I tackled it on my own.

I flew until I was low on fuel — remember, I’d burned an hour’s worth that morning — then refueled at the airport 5 minutes away and flew until I was done. I explain what cherry drying is all about in other blog posts; click the cherry drying tag to learn more.

Back to Packing

No Swimming
I don’t know…do you think swimming is allowed here? Sky looks nasty, huh?

Afterwards, I landed back near Donn and Kathryn’s house, but this time on a dam around a reservoir in the orchard. I walked down to the packing shed where they were all still working. Kathryn took one look at me and asked, “Are you hungry?”

“I was hoping you’d ask,” I replied.

She brought me into the house and let me loose on salad fixings everyone else had had a while earlier. I made myself lunch and ate it alone while she went back down to work. Then, after a quick trip to the loo, I went back out to help.

Other helpers had taken my previous job so I filled in where needed, giving people breaks as they needed them. In the end, I wound up right where I’d started with Kathryn beside me. That’s where we were when the last few cherries came down the line. We all cheered. They’d packed 420 15-pound boxes — over 3 tons of cherries.

We cleaned up immediately. Extra cherries were handed out. The packing line ladies left. I passed on the cherries, preferring to come back later in the week to pick my own from the same trees — pickers aren’t always thorough. I’d get some blueberries that day, too. Kathryn invited me to join them for dinner in town later on. She’d text me. I looked forward to it, but not nearly as much as I looked forward to taking it easy at home.

When I flew off, the refrigerated truck that would take the cherries to Seattle had just arrived.

A Short Rest

At home, Penny the Tiny Dog was happy to see me. She always is.

I took it easy for a while. I made some soup and watched a documentary about abandoned cities on Netflix.

Kathryn called to tell me they’d decided on Pybus Bystro at 6:30. I told her I’d come if the weather held.

A friend called and I spent a half hour chatting with him. Then I noticed the weather was changing again. One look at the radar and I cut the call short.

I went outside and topped off the helicopter’s fuel tanks with 100LL from the tank on my truck.

I texted Kathryn and told her I wouldn’t be joining them after all.

More Cherry Drying

My other client called first this time. It was about 6 PM when I launched. The second call came while I was enroute.

Track
I hadn’t gotten very far when it started raining. Again.

The orchards are only 5 minutes away by air. I settled in over the trees of the big orchard and was at work for less than 15 minutes when I decided to track the flight with GPSTrack.

I was only 16 minutes into the logged part of the flight when it started to rain. Hard.

I flew over to a friend’s house and landed in his driveway, knowing he was out of town. I called my two clients and told them that I’d wait until it stopped or 7 PM, whichever came sooner. If I re-started after 7, I’d never finish before it got dark. Even then, it was iffy.

It was still raining at 6:55 PM when I started back up.

I speed-dried. I knew I’d never get it all done thoroughly, but I figured I could get most (or all) of it done if I was a bit less thorough. The result wasn’t as good, but was better than leaving 20 or 30 acres completely uncovered. Partial coverage was better than no coverage. Besides, rain was expected overnight and I was likely to be called out first thing in the morning.

Speed Drying
In speed drying, I go down every third aisle instead of every second. Sometimes I do every third one way and every second the other. Less coverage is better than no coverage. Keep in mind that this satellite image is three years old; the orchard configuration is a bit different these days.

I got through all of the big orchard and one of the two smaller orchard’s blocks. By then, it was getting dark. The sun had set around 8:45 PM and clouds on the western horizon made it darker than it would normally be. My landing zone at home wasn’t lighted and I really didn’t want to land in the dark. I also didn’t want to hover five feet over cherry trees in hilly terrain in semi-darkness with a windscreen full of raindrops. So I let the last orchard block go.

It was drizzling when I headed home.

Home

The helicopter was lit up like a Christmas light parade float on the flight home. Strobe light (required during flight), navigation lights (required after sunset), landing light, pulsing lights on my skid shoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if neighbors called me in as a UFO. But it felt good to get on the ground, especially since I knew I was done for the night.

I shut down, let Penny out for a run, and then went in. My friend Bob called while I was pouring a glass of wine. We chatted for a while and I invited him to join me Thursday evening to pick cherries and blueberries. It was after 10 PM when he reminded me that I’d probably be up early.

I finished my wine and went to bed, exhausted.

It had been a very full day.

They Call the Wind Maria

A blog post about pollinating corn with a helicopter.

The call came on Monday from someone who works with a very large agricultural manufacturer. Do I do corn pollination with my helicopter?

The only thing I knew about pollination by helicopter was the spreading of purchased pollen using a special piece of equipment installed in a helicopter. It was a two-person job — one to fly, one to measure out the pollen — and I didn’t have the equipment or experience. I’d actually looked into at the request of one of my cherry pilots this past winter, but when he didn’t seem interested in moving forward and I suspected I might need special certification for aerial application, I let it drop.

Besides, I didn’t realize helicopters were used for corn pollination. I thought helicopters just spread pollen over fruit orchards.

But this new potential client didn’t want me to apply pollen from the air. He wanted me to fly over the cornfields in such a way that the pollen would get blown about and do its fertilization thing.

The way he described it, it didn’t sound much different from the kind of flying I do when I dry cherries. Sure, I told him. I could do that.

The Field Guy

After sending the company a copy of my W-9 for billing purposes — big companies always want the paperwork first — I got a call from the field guy. We’ll call him Bill. Bill and I set up a meeting at the White Trail Produce farm stand in Quincy. It was a perfect place to meet, despite the fact it was an hour drive from my place in Malaga. White Trails makes the best peach shakes.

I was drinking a peach shake with Penny on her leash when Bill drove up. Although we’d never met, I easily guessed it was him — he had a plastic chemical tank on the back of his pickup. We sat down in the shade and talked about the work.

Corn Tassel
Wikipedia image “Corntassel 7095″ by Spedona Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corntassel_7095.jpg

The problem was this: as the corn was growing, a heat wave had set in. For the past nearly 2 weeks, the daytime highs had been getting into the high 90s and low 100s. The corn had formed tassels at the top — that’s the male part of the plant that produces pollen — and each day the packets of pollen were opening, ready for the pollen to be dispersed by the wind.

Corn Silk
Wikipedia image “Cornsilk 7091″ by Original uploader was Pollinator at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Teratornis using CommonsHelper. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cornsilk_7091.jpg

Unfortunately, the extremely hot weather was killing the pollen within a few hours and the lack of wind was making it nearly impossible for the pollen to reach the corn silk — that’s the female part of the plant growing lower on the stalk — while it was still viable.

Bill’s corn fields needed wind — on demand.

That’s where I came in. They’d call me out to fly low over the corn fields at the time when the most pollen was being released by the tassels — likely between 8 AM and 10 AM. I’d fly back and forth, making sure all the plants got a good blowing. Once the pollen was flying around, gravity and mother nature would do the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

Bill gave me four maps, each of which had at least a dozen or two corn field locations plotted on it. Each had a different number. They were scattered throughout an area that was probably 50 square miles. He said that each field was on its own schedule, so they would never all be done at once. Instead, only a handful would need to be done on a day.

That worked fine for me. I have a one-hour minimum for flights at my charter rate and would be spending at least 30 minutes round trip for travel time, which they would cover. If I could do two or three fields on a flight, it would likely come out to 90 minutes, which looked good for my bottom line and gave them more bang for their buck. Win-win.

I was booked with a photo flight in Seattle at dawn on Wednesday morning, so my first available day was Thursday. Bill said he’d call Wednesday night with a plan.

The Flight

Bill called Wednesday evening. I pulled out the maps. He listed two fields in Quincy and one in George. He asked me to be at the first Quincy field at 9:30 AM. He’d be on the ground, watching what I did. If I needed to make an adjustment in speed, altitude, or distance between passes, he’d call and let me know. Because the second field in Quincy was so close, he’d probably watch that one, too.

We hung up and I looked up the fields on Google Maps, knowing that the plantings in the satellite view might not match what was actually on the ground. I found the cross streets and noted the shape of the fields. I highlighted the fields on my maps.

Corn Field 1
The first field was easy; all corn, no obstacles. I came in from the southeast and went back and forth to the north.

At 9:15 AM Thursday, I took off and headed to Quincy. After following Road 9 instead of Road 8 for about a mile past the field location, I doubled back and zeroed in on the first field. Bill’s truck was in the southwest corner. As I came in to make my first pass about 10 rows in, he got out of his truck to watch.

It took me a few minutes to get the hang of it; my brain wanted to dry cherries. But this was higher: about 15 feet rather than 5. It was also faster: 20-24 miles per hour rather than 5 to 10 miles per hour.

I looked back on my first few passes to see my coverage and realized that every 20 or so rows would be perfect — the corn was really blowing at least 20 feet on either side of the helicopter. (The corn rows were planted 22 inches apart.) I was probably on my third pass before I got the feel for where I should be and how fast I should be moving. I was on my fifth pass when I started making baby ag turns — not much more was needed at the speed I was operating.

Bill watched. I kept expecting my phone to ring, but it didn’t. When I got near the north end of the field, I realized I had an onlooker there, too.

Corn Field 2
The second field had wires just outside the field. I came in from the north over the wires, circled around, and went up and down the rows. This satellite image doesn’t show the field as it appeared during the flight, of course.

I got through the first field, which was the largest, in about 15 minutes. The second field was right across the road. The were wires on both ends of it, but they weren’t that close to the corn. I made my turns inside the field so there was no need to go anywhere near the wires. Bill repositioned to the north end of that field to watch. When I was nearly done, I realized he was on the phone. Again, I expected my phone to ring, but it remained quiet.

Corn Field 3
This is the last field, which was fully planted with corn. This image doesn’t show the irrigation pivot, but if you look closely enough, you should be able to see the wires on the west side.

I finished up and headed to George. I found the field a lot easier than I expected to, but didn’t like what I saw. Not only did it have an operating irrigation pivot in it, which would force me to fly higher, over the pivot arm when I reached it, but there were what we call “Bonneville” power lines — the tall towers with multiple high-tension power lines between them. The power lines definitely crossed the field. To cover the corn, I’d have to fly under the wires very close to the tops of the plants. Suspecting that I might do more harm than good to the plants — and possibly to the helicopter — if I attempted to fly under the wires, I did only 2/3 of the field before heading out.

There was a house on the north side of the field and about five people had watched me work. I was only there about 5 minutes.

I called Bill and told him I’d finished, what part of the George field I’d missed, and why I hadn’t done it all. He seemed to understand. He also seemed very pleased. I wondered whether he could see the pollen dust on the plant silk. I hoped he’d have some kind of quick confirmation that our “wind on demand” scheme had worked.

I flew back and parked at home. I’d logged just 1.1 hours of flight time.

Repeat Performance?

Learn more.

Want to learn more about how corn pollination works? Read this.

And the title of this post isn’t something I dreamed up. It’s from this song, which was covered by Robert Goulet and others. And maybe — just maybe — it inspired Jim Hendrix to write this song.

Will I do this again? I hope so. It was kind of fun and a welcome break from cherry drying and passenger work.

But it all depends on the age of the corn and the weather. To need me, three things must happen at once:

  • The corn must be ready to pollinate.
  • It must be more than 85°F.
  • There can’t be much wind.

If all three of this conditions apply, my phone might ring with a request to fly in the morning.

I’ll be waiting for it. I need to practice my ag turns.

A $500 Hamburger

A friend takes me out for lunch…and I provide transportation.

I’m not blogging much about flying lately. That might be because I’m not doing much flying. Although cherry season rains kept me pretty busy the last week of June, dry weather leaves my helicopter idle. I don’t promote my charter or wine tour services during the summer because I’d hate to have to cancel a flight if the weather got iffy. Cherries always come first during cherry season.

But people do find me. I got a call on Saturday about doing a birthday flight on Sunday. They have a summer home at Crescent Bar and wanted to tour the river between the Gorge Amphitheater and Orondo. It was a nice day with no rain in the forecast, so I booked it for 11 AM.

Happy Passengers
I like happy passengers — and these folks were happy!

The passengers were lucky, although I don’t think they realized it. I have a 1-hour minimum for all of my charter flights and that’s what I charged them for. But I bet we were out for at least 15 minutes more. Not only did we tour the areas they wanted to see, but we happened to pass by the Appleyard just as one of the fire helicopters was descending to dip for the Skyline Drive fire. I maneuvered to stay out of his way, then turned so my passengers could watch him dip from the air. Cool.

Blustery's
Blustery’s. Drive-in or fly in. Whatever works.

Meanwhile, I figured that while I had the helicopter out and about, I might as well do a little pleasure flight. I’d called my friend Bob at about 10 AM and had asked him what he was doing for lunch. When he said he didn’t know, I told him I knew: he was buying me a burger at Blustery’s in Vantage and we’d go there by helicopter. He should meet me at the airport at 12:30 PM.

He arrived at 12:30 sharp, just as my passengers were driving off for the rest of their birthday activities. Because of the heat, I told him I wanted to take off my door and asked if he wanted his off, too. “Sure!” was his enthusiastic reply.

A short while later, we were taking off into the wind, then turning a right downwind to meet up with the river at Rock Island. Bob was loving the flight — he hadn’t been aboard a helicopter in years. We crossed over the power lines near the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee — the road to Palisades, as the locals refer to it — and dropped down lower over the river. The water was low because of the repairs in progress downriver at the Wanapum Dam. All of the river access had been closed between the Wanapum and Rock Island Dams and PUD security crews were patrolling by boat and jet ski. (Talk about a dream job: being paid to ride a jet ski up and down the Columbia River all day.) Of course, since we weren’t on the water surface or shore, it wasn’t closed to us. We got a good look at the land that’s usually under water, including formerly submerged roads, building foundations, and orchards.

We went all the way down to the dam and made a wide arc past it. Bob wanted to know if the folks on the ground could get in touch with me. I explained that they couldn’t without looking up my N-number, which is large enough to see from the ground. But we didn’t pose a security risk. We were flying too far from the dam and our pattern was clearly that of a tourist. Bob knew about a friend of mine who’d gotten in trouble with the NSA when he did a photo shoot over a train yard. I explained how our flight was different. Now if we’d been loitering without calling ahead — well that would have been a big mistake.

We headed up the west side of the river. I circled my intended landing zone — a large paved parking area on the southwest side of Blustery’s — and made my approach from the east. I touched down as gently as I could on the rough pavement, noting the slight slope. Only one or two people seemed to notice a helicopter landing back there — it really doesn’t make all that much noise when it’s on the ground idling. I gave it an extra minute to cool down — it was running very hot — and killed the engine.

I shot a quick photo before we went inside.

At Blustery's in Vantage
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven past or flown over this LZ before I finally landed here. It was perfect!

I’m not sure if the girls at the counter inside knew we’d arrived by helicopter. They had a drive-in window that faced it so they must have seen it out there. But they played it cool.

I ordered a burger and a shake. Bob ordered a chicken sandwich. We took a table by the window and spent an hour just eating and talking.

It was about 2 PM when we finally climbed back on board. I wasn’t in any hurry to get back, so we took a scenic route up Frenchman’s Coulee, past Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, over Quincy Lakes, past the Coluckum Ridge Golf course where two pilot friends are staying, past Beaumont Cellars, and over Crescent Bar. When I shot out over the Babcock Ridge, I think I spooked Bob a bit; he asked, “Don’t you feel it in your gut when the ground just falls away like that?” I told him I’d done it so many times that it didn’t bother me anymore.

I took a shortcut over the wheat fields to Lower Moses Coulee, where Bob and I had gone motorcycling on Friday. The road was straighter and flatter than where I usually like to ride, but it was a good outing together — a great way to learn more about the kind of riding he likes to do. (I’m wondering if he’ll be able to keep up with me on the twisties and hope to make a ride up the Entiat with him soon. My last riding companion there lost me after the first mile.)

I cut up Douglas Canyon, following the creek instead of the road up to Waterville. Once up on the plateau, I poked around, exploring deserted homestead sites and abandoned farm equipment from the air. Then I steered us over Badger Mountain. The earth fell away again when I came over the cliffs just 4 miles north of Wenatchee Airport and we started a 1300 feet per minute descent, keeping a sharp lookout for gliders.

We’d flown a total of 1.6 hours.

I really needed a fun day out in the helicopter — anything other than hovering over cherries trees for hours on end — and Bob enjoyed it, too. He was still talking about it today when I stopped by his place to pick up some tools he had for me. I really enjoy flying with a companion — especially one who appreciates the novelty of a fly-in lunch and exploring a well-known path from the air.

As for Blustery’s — well, just as I offered “The Hamburger in the Middle of Nowhere” when I lived in Arizona, I’m thinking of offering “The $500 Hamburger” here in Washington. I’m willing to bet the folks at Bustery’s will appreciate me dropping in again.

Helicopter Commute

A video.

I had the Go Pro set up on my helicopter yesterday while cherry drying. It’s the same setup I used last week when I shared my “Orchard to Orchard” video.

The truth of the matter is, video shot while drying cherries is dull. After all, all I’m doing is hovering over trees so that’s pretty much all the camera sees: the tops of trees. Sometimes you can see a clump of cherries or a guy driving a tractor below me. But, for the most part, it’s pretty dull stuff.

Not so with the footage shot while going from orchard to orchard or, in the case of this video, from the airport back to my home under construction in Malaga. Although it’s a 30-40 minute drive — depending on traffic — it’s only about a 3 minute flight. Yesterday’s flight home after refueling was especially beautiful with dramatic clouds that reflected in the glassy surface of the Columbia River. This video covers the entire flight, from pick up to set down. It gives you an idea of where I live in relation to the city, river, and orchards nearby: remote, yet close.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can set down on my landing pad in front of my big RV garage door. At this point, it shouldn’t be too long a wait.