Doors-Off Flying

Things to keep in mind.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared in AOPA’s Hover Power blog. If you’re a helicopter pilot, you owe it to yourself to check in there regularly to read great articles written by experienced helicopter pilots.

Summer is on its way and, in most parts of the northern hemisphere, that means warm weather will soon be upon us. Not every pilot is fortunate enough to fly a helicopter with air conditioning. When I lived and flew in Arizona, it was common for me to take all of the doors off my R44 in May and leave them off until September. It was that hot every single day. (And no, I don’t miss it one bit.)

Of course, pilots don’t need warm weather as a reason to take the doors off. Sometimes the mission you’re flying requires it. Aerial photography is a great example — there aren’t too many photographers who would be willing to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to fly with you and be forced to shoot photos through highly reflective, possibly scratched Plexiglas.

Door Off
For this memorable video flight, the videographer sat behind me with his door off.

When you remove the doors from a helicopter, you add an element of risk to the flight. Fortunately, the risk can be controlled if you fully understand it and do what’s necessary to reduce or eliminate it. That’s what I want to touch upon in this post.

Loose objects

The most obvious risk is from loose objects blowing around the cockpit or, worse yet, exiting the aircraft. This is a real danger, especially if an object hits the tail rotor or someone/something on the ground.

Want some examples of how dangerous this can be?

  • NTSB WPR14CA363
    “While in cruise flight an unsecured jacket departed the helicopter through an open window. The tail rotor drive shaft sheared as a result of the jacket’s contact with the tail rotors. The pilot subsequently initiated a forced landing to an orchard where during landing, the main rotors struck and separated the tailboom.”
  • NTSB WPR13CA071
    “Prior to the flight, the doors were removed in order to make it easier for the passengers to board and exit the helicopter…. After the two passengers were transported to a work site location, the right rear passenger exited the helicopter and placed the headset on the hook located behind the front seats. After departing the site, about 3 to 5 minutes later while en route at an elevation of about 1,000 feet above ground level, the pilot felt something strike the helicopter. After landing and upon inspecting the helicopter, the pilot discovered that the right rear headset was missing and that the leading edge of the tail rotor had been damaged.”
  • NTSB LAX03TA150
    “While in cruise flight, the back door on the helicopter opened, and a flight jacket that had been unsecured in the back seat departed the helicopter and became entangled in the tail rotor assembly. The tail rotor assembly subsequently separated from the tail boom, and the pilot was unable to maintain control of the helicopter.”
  • NTSB FTW86LA047
    “The pilot failed to assure the cabin door was properly closed before flight, or the cabin door just popped open during flight, allowing an unsecured life vest to blow out the door and into the tail rotor blades. This resulted in the entire tail rotor assembly departing the helicopter.”

(As some of these examples show, you don’t need to have the doors removed to have an unsecured item depart the helicopter and get into the tail rotor.)

Robinson Helicopter warns about this in Safety Notice SN-30, “Loose Objects Can be Fatal.” It recommends that pilots firmly latch all doors and even goes so far to recommend that pilot never fly with a left door removed. (Remember, the tail rotor is on the left side in a Robinson and many other helicopter models.)

I know that my engine starting check list includes an item to assure that loose items are secure. Yours should, too. While this is always important, it’s vital for doors-off flight.

Be sure you warn passengers of the danger of an item exiting the aircraft. Even something as small as a lens cap or lens hood can do significant damage to the tail rotor in flight.

Never Exceed Speed

You might not realize this, but your helicopter’s never exceed speed might be reduced with the doors off. On a Robinson R44, for example, Vne is reduced to 100 knots with the doors off, even if other conditions such as altitude and temperature would allow a faster speed.

My understanding from the Robinson Factory Safety Course is that this reduction of Vne is for structural reasons. (If someone knows better, please correct me in the comments.) There’s more buffeting wind inside the cabin with one or more doors off than with all doors on.

Check the Pilot Operating Handbook for the aircraft you fly the next time you remove doors to make sure you don’t operate beyond doors-off Vne.

Securing Passengers

This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re going to remove doors, your passengers had better be secured in their seats with either seat belts or harnesses.

Because some of my aerial photography or video clients like a greater range of movement in their seats than seat belts allow, I have a mountain climbing harness with a suitable strap for securing it to the aircraft frame. I make this available to clients as an option if they don’t have their own. Under no circumstances do I allow my passengers to fly without being secured, especially when their doors are off.

Keep in mind that while a photographer might use a harness to secure himself in the aircraft, you must make sure he knows how to release the harness from the aircraft in the event of an emergency — just as your preflight briefing must tell passengers how to release their seat belts.

Dangling Seat Belts

Of course, it was my generous offering of a harness to a photographer that resulted in more than $2,000 of damage to my aircraft when he used the harness but failed to secure the seat belt at his seat. The seat belt buckle dangled outside the aircraft for the duration of our 90-minute video flight chasing racing trucks over desert terrain. On landing, the passenger side fuel tank and area just outside the door frame had at least 50 dings and paint chips in it. How he didn’t hear it repeatedly striking the aircraft near his head is something I’ll never figure out.

Of course, it was my fault for not catching this prior to starting up and taking off. Expensive lesson learned.

Conclusion

While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking the doors off a helicopter prior to flight, it does give the pilot more responsibilities to assure that everything is secure and all passengers are properly briefed.

Or isn’t that something we’re already supposed to be doing?

Pay the Pilot

Yes, I still get requests like this.

Way back in 2009, I blogged about a video of Harlan Ellison ranting against people who expect professionals to write for free. It’s time to revisit that topic for two reasons.

I Can’t Use No Stinkin’ Badges

First, a Facebook friend pointed out that Idiot’s Guides, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is looking for authors and editors for books and articles. Compensation? “Badges” and exposure. Apparently some writers have mortgages and utility bills that accept that for payment. (Sadly, mine don’t.)

That set off the usual discussion about new writers needing to break into the field and obtain “published clips” countered by my argument that if enough writers are willing to write for free, all the clips in the world aren’t going to help a writer get past the freebie stage because there simply won’t be any paying work for him/her. Publishers don’t seem to care much about quality these days — read most online publications to see for yourself — they just want words that Google well. That’s why there are so many content mills.

I am hugely opposed to writing for free for any publication that makes money from my work. If a publication values your work, it should pay you for it. Period. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be writing for it.

If you have a differing opinion and feel a need to voice it here in comments, be my guest. Just (1) stay civil if you want your comment to actually appear and (2) don’t expect to change my mind. You might want to watch that Harlan Ellison video first.

Promoting My Company on Your “Social Medias” Doesn’t Pay for Fuel (or Maintenance or Insurance)

Last night, I got the following email message, submitted using a form on the Flying M Air website; I’ve obviously redacted identifying information:

Phone:

Source: A Search Engine

Message:
Hello,
my name is ***** and I’m a landscape photographer. I am in Page now and I was looking for joining a flight over Lake Powell/Alstrom Point tomorrow 05/27 or in the next days if not available. I would like to know if you would be interested in a collaboration. I would promote your company through my social medias and I will give you the rights to use some of the images I will take for your promotional purposes (such as website and social medias). Also I’m traveling with my partner, the travel blogger behind *****.com and she would also promote you through her social medias + mention you on her blog. Kindly let me know if you are interested in my proposal. If you want to check out my work please follow this link: www.*****.com

Best regards,
*****

I need to point out that this person didn’t think it was appropriate to include his phone number in the field conveniently provided for it. So if I decided that I wanted to take him flying the next day at a location 736 NM from my base of operations, the only way I had to contact him was by email or to go to his website and attempt to find a phone number.

Alstrom Point
The view from above Alstrom Point at Lake Powell. This is just one of at least a dozen good photos I have from this area.

And yes, Lake Powell is over 700 nautical miles from my base of operations. The same contact page he used to send me an email clearly displays my mailing address in Washington state. The entire site provides information about the tours and other services I offer in the Wenatchee area of Washington. So I’m not quite sure why he thought it was remotely possible for me to fly him the next day at a place 700 miles away.

I did a Twitter and Google search for this person. I could not identify his Twitter account and he did not appear on the first page of search results for Google. This pretty much confirms my suspicion that his “social medias” wouldn’t have any value at all.

My first instinct was to simply delete the email. And I did. But then I thought about how well it would work as an example for this discussion in my blog. So I pulled it out of the trash and started writing this.

Then I thought about responding to it. And I wrote a response:

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Apparently you missed the part on our Contact page — coincidentally the same page where you found the form to email us — where we provided our mailing address in Washington state. Lake Powell is 739 nautical miles from our base, so the possibility of us flying there today to take advantage of your generous collaboration offer is pretty much nil.

If you’re serious about flying with us at Lake Powell, you might be interested in this offer for next spring:
http://www.flyingmair.com/news/lake-powell-photo-flights-april-2017/

You might also benefit from reading and understanding the information here:
http://www.flyingmair.com/aerial-photography/rates-fees/

A “collaboration” has to be mutually beneficial. I don’t need aerial photos of Lake Powell — I have hundreds of them, some of which appear on the Flying M Air site. Some of the photos in my collection were given to me by photographers who also paid me for their flights. I can’t imagine how more photos or promotion on your “social medias” would help me buy fuel, pay for maintenance, or cover my $15,000/year insurance bill.

And by the way, which ***** are you on Twitter? I couldn’t find you. And a Google search for your name didn’t bring up any landscape photographer on the first page of results. Seems to me that you need to fix your “social medias” before you offer them up as compensation for services rendered.

Enjoy your trip to Lake Powell.

Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

I haven’t sent it yet. Should I?


May 25, 2916, 9 AM Update:

Prompted by Brian Dunning’s comment below, I’ve recomposed my response. What do you think of this?

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Unfortunately, we’re not available at Lake Powell today or the 27th or any other time this week. We are planning a trip there in April. You can learn more about opportunities to fly with us there then on this page of our website:
http://www.flyingmair.com/news/lake-powell-photo-flights-april-2017/

You might also benefit from checking out the additional information here:
http://www.flyingmair.com/aerial-photography/rates-fees/

But your timing is perfect! I have a photography job here near our Washington base that needs to be done this weekend and I think we might be able to collaborate on that. I’ll need about a dozen 20 megapixel photos of the Rock Island Dam shot with a 10mm fisheye lens from a boat near where the water is released from the dam. I’m sure you have or can get the equipment needed for creating such photos. I would sell your photos to my client and mention your name to him; maybe he’ll hire you in the future! I’d also show them off on my social medias to help promote your work. And a friend of mine who has a photography blog might mention your name, too.

Kindly let me know if you’re interested in my proposal.

Best regards,
Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

The Wild Horses of the Yakama Nation

Thousands of acres, hundreds of horses.

Yesterday, I flew my helicopter back to the Wenatchee, WA area from some maintenance done in Hillsboro, OR. In a perfect world, the weather would be clear and the air calm and I could fly a direct route that would take about 90-100 minutes. But as we all know, the world is not perfect and, once again, I had to take a longer route, this time to skirt around the edge of some very nasty rain showers that stretched west/east from Mt. Saint Helens to route 97 and north/south from Mt. Rainier to the Columbia River.

A direct route, which I’ve done twice back in 2012 (see video), takes me between Mt. Saint Helens and Mount Adams. Yesterday’s route had me following the Columbia River from Vista House east of Troutdale to just past Hood River. From there, I headed northeast, right on the edge of the rain, keeping a sharp eye out for lightning that would indicate thunderstorm activity. Although I didn’t see any flashes, radar in Foreflight and my RadarUS app clearly showed some very dense cells off my left shoulder all the way and the rain was intense. The air I flew in was remarkably calm, though, and I only flew through rain as I followed the route of Route 97 northeast of Goldendale, where it goes through a pass. From there, I cut away from the road, aiming for Sunnyside. I modified my route to go around the south-east corner of the restricted area northeast of Yakima and fly home along the Columbia River from Mattawa.

Hillsboro to Wenatchee Route
Here’s a rough sketch of my route, drawn in Skyvector. The red box is a TFR for firefighting; oddly, the rainstorms were centered right over that box.

It was over the Yakama Nation (not a typo), between Route 97 and Route 12 that I saw the wild horses. I knew they were out there, of course. You can often see herds from Route 97 between Toppenish and Goldendale. But east of the road is where most of the horses seem to live.

The land forms there remind me of the Hopi Mesas in Arizona, long, flat, finger-like mesas stretching to the southwest, where the land drops off in a steep slope. The horse herds are dotted mostly along the mesa tops, although I did see a few herds in between. I flew over them, perhaps 300 feet up, and was close enough to clearly see the coloring of the horses I few near. Most herds seem to include a youngster or two who took off, running back to mama, when he/she heard me coming.

When I say there were herds of wild horses, I’m not talking about two or three herds. There were at least that many herds on each of the mesas I flew over. Each herd had 5 to 20 horses in it and I must have seen at least 20 herds. That’s hundreds of horses.

Wild Horses
I had my GoPro “nosecam” going while I flew. Here’s one of the shots captured along the way. The video clips show how some herds ignored me while others took off running at the sound of my approach. And no, unlike other pilots — a famous Phoenix area news pilot comes to mind — I don’t chase the horses with my helicopter.

Now some folks who see the horses along the road seem to think that they’re not wild. They confuse a new fence likely erected to keep open range cattle off the roadway with a fence to keep the horses on someone’s property. But having flown over the area, I can assure you that these horses are not fenced in. I flew for miles, covering thousands of acres of land, and didn’t see any homes or ranch buildings, no feeding stations, few two-track roads, and no additional fencing. These horses don’t belong to any one person. They’re wild.

Like the wild horses on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona. Or those along the Verde and Salt Rivers not far from Phoenix. Or the ones along the Gila River, west of Chandler, AZ. And in who knows how many other places?

Seeing things like this is one of the perks of being a helicopter pilot able to fly in some of this country’s remote areas. I’d love to do tours to show off the wild horse of the Yakama Nation. Unfortunately, like so much of the incredible scenery I get to fly over on long cross-country flights, it’s just too far away to be affordable to the typical Wenatchee sightseer.

My Helicopter’s Annual Migration from California

I take a few days off and fly from California to Washington solo.

Last week, I flew my helicopter home from a frost contract in California. I took the opportunity to treat myself to two nights in a bed and breakfast I’d been wanting to stay in for some time. Then I made the solo trip home, taking a coastal route for part of the way. I thought I’d share some information about why I go to California every winter and the highlights of this particular trip.

My Annual Frost Migration

In 2013, I got my first contract as a frost control pilot in California’s north Central Valley. That year, my helicopter was still living in the winter in Arizona and, as I flew it westward with my dog, I realized with a bit of sadness that it would likely never be back in Arizona. When that contract ended, I flew it north to Washington for cherry season. I left my home in Arizona in May 2013 and bought the land for my new home in Washington before the ink on my divorce papers was dry in July 2013.

The helicopter spent that winter in a hangar in Wenatchee. In February, I flew it south again for my second season on frost. That contract required me to stay in the area, so I migrated down in the mobile mansion and stayed there for two months. I came back in April.

My helicopter moved to its new home on my property in Malaga in May 2014, at the start of cherry drying season. By October, it was tucked away inside my building, which I designed primarily to house it, the mobile mansion, and my collection of vehicles. When I got busy with construction on my place in December and needed to shift the RV into the helicopter’s parking space, I moved it back out and into a hangar at Wenatchee Airport. (Thanks, Tyson!) Then, in February, it was back to California for my third frost season. Like my first frost contract in 2013, I didn’t have to live there with it — I wanted to stay home to continue construction and enjoy the spring blooming season. But in late April, it was time to bring it home again.

A lot of folks ask me why I fly the helicopter to and from these agricultural contracts instead of putting it on a trailer. There are three reasons:

  • I don’t have a trailer that would accommodate the helicopter and I don’t want to buy one. A trailer that can support the helicopter and its blades/tailcone properly would cost about $30,000. I could fly a lot of hours for that amount of money. And I’d still have to cover the cost of the drive, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much.
  • I don’t know about you, but the thought of driving down the highway with a $350K investment towed behind me is pretty scary. All it takes is one asshole cutting me off to turn that shiny red machine into a heap of junk on the side of the road. Simply stated: I think flying is safer for it.
  • I like to fly. ‘Nuff said.

I factor in the cost of transporting the helicopter when I decide whether a contract is worth my while. I don’t take contracts that would put me in the red if I didn’t actually fly on contract. That would be dumb.

But with that said, I do often take either passengers for hire or pilots wanting to build time with me on those long repositioning flights. I’ve been doing this since 2008, when I started migrating between Arizona and Washington for cherry season. I cut various deals with various people, depending on what the market will bear. Sometimes passengers or pilots just pay for gas. Other times, they pay a rate that covers all my costs. Most of the time, I collect something in between. This helps make the contract a tiny bit more profitable, often while giving a new pilot a chance to build some flight time in an R44 and gain some valuable cross-country flight experience.

I know I flew solo from Arizona to California that first season (2013) and I’m pretty sure I flew solo from California back to Washington. But in 2014, I had pilots do the flying with me as a passenger on both flights. And on the way down in 2015, another pilot flew while I just sat in my seat, trying not to be bored.

I decided that for the return flight, I’d be be pilot and I’d treat myself to a flight up the coast.

After all, I really do like to fly.

Potential Passengers

I asked a bunch of people who I like if they’d like to join me on that return flight. I got a bunch of interesting responses.

Four people could not go because of work they simply couldn’t get out of. I’d planned my trip for mid-week, so that really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

One person, who is also a helicopter pilot, wanted to go but had to work. I think he would have gotten out of work if I’d let him share the flying duties with me. But I made it clear up front that I would be doing most of the flying. In fact, I didn’t even want the dual controls in because I didn’t want that counterweight. (I would have put them in for him.) Without the bonus of stick time, it wasn’t worth taking time off from work.

One person couldn’t come because his wife’s mom is seriously ill and they expect her to pass away soon. We agreed that it would be better if he didn’t come. (She hasn’t died yet, but she’s close.) And yes, I did tell him he could bring his wife.

One person couldn’t come because he didn’t want to spend $300 on a one-way plane ticket to Sacramento. He had that money earmarked for other things. “Next time,” he said. I’m not sure if he realizes that there probably won’t be a next time.

And there were the usual collection of pilots wanting to build time. When I told the ones who contacted me that I’d be doing the flying, they all passed on the opportunity to come along as a passenger.

So as Penny and I boarded the flight to Sacramento on Tuesday morning, we knew it would be just the two of us in the helicopter on the way home. I’d fly and drink up all the sights along the way. Penny would do what she always does on the helicopter: sleep.

Prepping for the Return Flight

My flight down to Sacramento didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. I was supposed to get into Sacramento at 11 AM, but the 6 AM flight out of Wenatchee was cancelled due to a bird strike on the starboard engine the night before. The morning pilot had seen some of the damage during his preflight walk-around and a mechanic confirmed that the bird — likely an owl — had been ingested into the turboprop engine. That plane wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Through some miracle, I managed to get on the next flight out later that morning. Then an afternoon connection to Sacramento. I stepped off the plane there at around 4 PM and was driving away in a rental car by 4:30.

My whole day in the area was shot to hell. I managed to do some errands before heading out to Rumsey where I was booked at a bed and breakfast for the night. I’ll blog about that in another post.

Wednesday’s forecast called for strong winds from the north. That would cause two problems:

  • Strong, gusty winds make turbulence. I really hate long, bouncy flights, especially when I’m trying to take a scenic route.
  • Strong winds from the north when I’m flying north meant longer flight times and more fuel stops. If I cruise at 110 knots and there’s a 40 knot headwind, that means I’m only doing 70 knots. Hell, I could drive faster than that.

Penny in the Helicopter
Penny lounges in the back seat of the helicopter while I prepped it for the flight home.

So I decided to spend another night in the area and leave early the next morning. In the meantime, I went to the airport, preflighted, wiped down the windows, and prepped it for flight. I’d be taking off as early as possible the next morning.

Locally, the wind was maddeningly calm all day.

The Flight Home

Penny and I were back at the airport at 6:10 AM on Thursday morning. Although the sun hadn’t peeked up over the horizon yet, as far as I was concerned, it was daytime.

I put Penny in the front seat beside me with a cooler full of drinks and snacks in the footwell there, within reach. The back was packed with some luggage and the equipment I’d left with the helicopter over the previous two months: blade tie-downs, cockpit cover, spare fuel pump, and miscellaneous equipment. My GoPro was mounted on the nose with the WiFi turned on. My iPad and iPhone were mounted within reach; I’d use Foreflight on my iPad to navigate and listen to podcasts and music on my iPhone.

The helicopter started right up and I gave it plenty of time to warm up. Then I took off to the west along Cache Creek and opened my flight plan by tapping a button in Foreflight.

Although I didn’t often file a flight plan when flying solo, I’d forgotten to bring along my SPOT Messenger and I wanted some way of being found in the event of a mishap. My flight plan had me heading west along Cache Creek all the way to Clear Lake, then hitting the California Coast at Fort Bragg. But because it was so early and the California Coast is notorious for morning fog and I’d already passed some low clouds near Willits, I took a more northerly route.

Cache Creek at Dawn
Flying up Cache Creek just after dawn.

Clear Lake
The lower end of Clear Lake.

Willits, CA
Low clouds over Willits, CA.

Along the way, I played around with Periscope. This is a Twitter-owned video broadcast service that makes it possible for anyone to broadcast anything to the world in real time. My iPad was mounted in such a way that its camera looked right through the front of the helicopter’s bubble, so the picture wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, the rotor sound made it impossible to hear any narration from me, so although I saw viewers’ questions, I couldn’t answer them.

Faced with a choice of following a valley north or striking out across the hills to the coast and following that, I finally headed for the coast. I came down a little green canyon between Westport and DeHaven and banked to the right to start my flight up the coast. (I was broadcasting during this time, so my Periscope followers got to watch it live.)

California Coast
My first sight of the Pacific Ocean from the Helicopter since my trip to Lopez Island last August.

Flying Up the Coast
I flew up the coast at my usual altitude of 500 to 700 feet AGL.

I was surprised, at first, how smooth the flying was. I had been expecting some wind and, with it, turbulence. But just when I started enjoying the smooth air, the turbulence hit. With a vengeance. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the coast, I was bouncing all over my area of the sky.

I headed inland. For another 20 minutes, the bouncing continued. I tried higher elevations to avoid the effect of the wind over the hills — mechanical turbulence. This is the kind of turbulence that most often affects my flights, mostly because I fly so low to the ground. But climbing didn’t help. The only way out of it was going to be to fly somewhere where there was less wind.

Of course, while all this was going on, I was burning fuel at a higher rate than expected. That meant I wasn’t going to make my first fuel stop as far north as Crescent City. I used Foreflight to find a closer alternative. I could make Eureka or Arcata, both of which were on the coast. I checked weather there using the Aeroweather app and saw the wind was much calmer. By that time, the bouncing had stopped anyway and flight was smooth again. So I hooked up with the South Fork of the Eel River at Myers Flat, followed that down to the Eel River, and followed that down to Fortuna.

At the coast, a marine layer had moved in but was burning off quickly. I flew just below the clouds, north from Fortuna to Eureka, where I landed for fuel at Murray (EKA) and closed my flight plan. Their pumps are ancient and attendant-run, which didn’t bother me in the least. When I do long cross-country flights, I don’t mind paying more for someone else to do the pumping. I let Penny out and we went into the FBO for a bathroom break. They had a surprisingly large pilot shop there with lots of goodies. But I wasn’t in the mood to shop so I didn’t linger.

I chatted with the attendant about the weather. I really wanted to fly up the coast but I really didn’t want to do scud-running along the way. He thought it would clear up. I figured I’d head north along the coast as long as I could see, then strike out to the west. I whipped up and filed another flight plan, then added a quart of oil and fired up the helicopter. Minutes later, Penny and I were airborne again, heading north on the east side of Arcata Bay.

We stayed on the coast for quite a while. I turned on my helicopter’s nosecam as we flew up the coast past the Redwood National Forest and various other places. The views were amazing. There were sandy stretches of beaches, sheer cliffs, and rocky islands. I saw sea lions and sea birds. But I think it was the sheer number of waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean that really stood out for me. It was just the kind of trip I’d hoped for. It was only after I thought I’d shot at least a half hour of spectacular video that I reached down to shut off nosecam — and realized that it hadn’t been turned on. Duh-oh! I did manage to get some good shots and video later on, but not until after a fine mist started moving in.

Waterfall
There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a waterfall tumbling off rugged cliffs into the ocean.

The mist turned to rain around Gold Beach, OR and I decided to move inland in search of clearer weather. Unfortunately, there was no joy. I took an incoming call from a pilot friend based in California who’d just gotten some bad news about an engine overspeed on his R44. We chatted for a while as I flew between green hills and low clouds while a light rain pelted the cockpit bubble. Then the call dropped and I continued through the muck in silence.

Green Hills Near Umpqua
There was no way to keep the rain off the nosecam’s lens cover. This was the view as we headed northeast near Umpqua, OR.

I hooked up with I-5 near Yoncalla, OR. From that point, it was a bit of IFR — I follow roads — flying. It wasn’t that I had to follow the road — I could see fine. It’s just that there was no reason to fly further east because mountain obscuration made it impossible to cross the mountains anyway.

I stopped for fuel at Creswell. I’d stopped there before. I pumped my own fuel, used the restroom, and checked the oil. It was still raining lightly. One of the interesting things there is a vending machine that sells aviation oil. I didn’t need to use it — I learned long ago to always carry at least two spare quarts and actually had six on board for this flight — and I wish I’d taken a photo of it.

We were there less than 15 minutes. I continued north along I-5, now in Oregon’s “central valley.” I broadcast another Periscope video just past Eugene, then peeled away abeam Harrisburg to the northeast. Although I couldn’t see the mountains at all, I still had high hopes of crossing the Cascades at the foot of Mount Hood’s north side. After all, how big could this weather system be?

Apparently, it could be pretty big. I got within 40 miles of Mount Hood and still couldn’t see it. If anything, the clouds were lower and thicker. I heard some helicopter pilots chatting on one of the frequencies about low ceilings. One was doing training and the other was doing powerline survey work. They shared information about holes in the weather but since I didn’t know any of the places they talked about, none of it helped me.

Near Mt. Hood
My track took me pretty close to Mount Hood. I never saw it. My track is the teal dots in this map capture; the red dots represent geotagged photos.

So the scud running began. I wasn’t in the mood for it at all, so I didn’t put much effort into it. Instead of following valleys to the northeast that might have got me closer to my destination, I just headed north, hopping over hills and ducking under clouds along the way. I knew that eventually I’d reach the Columbia River, my old standby for crossing the Cascades. And sure enough, just when I thought the ceilings couldn’t get any lower, I found myself at the edge of a drop down to the water. There were clouds below me, but a big enough hole to dive right through. I descended at about 1500 feet per minute and leveled out about 400 feet over the river’s surface.

Columbia River
Leveled off over the Columbia River not far from Multnomah Falls.

My reward: an amazing view of Multnomah Falls, off to my right. (Sorry — no photos. My nosecam faces forward, not sideways.)

I followed the river northeast, flying in a sort of tunnel created by the walls of the gorge and the low clouds. I overflew the Bonneville Dam and Cascade Locks and the town of Hood River, which I really liked before it got so upscale. At Lyle, one of my least favorite places on earth, I turned to a more northward direction. That eventually put me over the Yakima Indian Reservation. I don’t know if it’s pretty. By this time — more than 7 hours of travel, including stops — I was tired and just wanted to be home. But the sky gods were going to make me work for it. They threw just enough headwind and turbulence in my way to make me ready for another fuel stop at Yakima.

The FBO’s fuel guy did all the work. I got something to drink and relaxed a while in a comfy chair while Penny looked around for dropped popcorn. We’ve spent entirely too much time at McCormick at Yakima.

Fueled up and feeling refreshed, we headed out again, continuing north. Although I could have gone direct to my home from Yakima, I had a small task to do along the way — I needed to check out a possible landing zone for an anniversary flight in June. The location was off I-90 across the river from Vantage.

That done, and feeling great to be back in very familiar territory, I dropped down and raced up the Columbia River, only 100 or 200 feet from the surface. Wanapum Reservoir was full again — it had been drained for dam repairs all last year — and it was great to do one of my favorite flights. I passed Sunland, where the folks who sold me my property live in the summer months, Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, and Crescent Bar. I saw a huge herd of elk down on West Bar before beginning my climb to clear the wires that crossed the river between the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee and Rock Island.

Then I was climbing up toward my home and my old landing zone was in sight. I set the helicopter down on the grass and let Penny out while I cooled down the engine and shut everything down.

Old Landing Zone
I shot this from my deck while having a very late lunch.

It was almost 3 PM.

I left the helicopter outside while I went in to make myself a good meal and relax. The wind kicked up and, for a while, I thought it would have to spend the night outside. But the wind died down after 6 and I got my ATV hooked up to the platform and repositioned it on my driveway’s landing zone. Then I started up the helicopter and moved it onto the platform. When the blades stopped spinning, I locked them in place and used the ATV to pull everything into the garage beside my RV.

RVs
Recreational vehicles? Must be. It’s an RV garage, after all.

Track Log
Here’s my track log for the entire flight. I was about 20-30 minutes into the flight when I remembered to turn it on, so it doesn’t accurately show my starting point.

According to my GPS tracklog, I’d traveled about 750 miles in 6-1/2 hours of moving time. It had been a great flight with lots of different flying conditions and things to see to keep it interesting. I’d enjoyed it, despite the moments of turbulence. It’s a shame that I had to do the flight alone. I’m sure every single person I invited would have loved it.

Next time? Maybe — if there is a next time.

About the Header Images

A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.

You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.

I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.

Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.

American Coot Family 1 & 2

American Coot Family

American Coot Family 2

I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Bark

Bark

Birch Bark 2

I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland

Barn Roof

Barn Wagon

Waterville Farmland

These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliff

I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.

BC Mountains Pano

BC Mountains Pano

This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BHCB

BHCB

This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.

Birch Leaves

Birch Leaves

I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.

Blue Heron & White Heron

Blue Heron

White Heron

I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake

This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.

Bryce and Bryce Dawn

Bryce

Bryce Dawn

These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek 1

Cache Creek 2

Cache Creek 3

Cache Creek 4

These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.

Cascades

Cascades

This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Cherry Drying Cockpit

Cherry Drying Cockpit

This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.

Close Up Wheat

Close Up Wheat

This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.

Combine

Combine

This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.

Corn

Corn

I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.

Cows in the Road

Cows in the Road

I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.

Cracked Mud

Cracked Mud

I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.

Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers

Crescent Bar View

Yellow Flowers

I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers

Desert Still Life

Desert Wildflowers

I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.

Fern

Fern

Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.

Float Plane

Float Plane

I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.

Glacial River Rocks

Glacial River Rocks

I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.

Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern

Gyro Cache Creek

Gyro Pattern

I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.

Helicopter

Heli Header

This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

High Tension

High Tension

This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.

Hopi House

Hopi House

Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.

Houses

Houses

Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.

Inspecting Bees

Inspecting Bees

I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.

International

International

This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.

Ladders, Side

Ladders Side

Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.

Lake McDonald Sunset

Lake McDonald Sunset

This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.

Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog

Main Coastal Town

Maine Fog

I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.

Mini-Stack

Mini-Stack

An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.

Mission Ridge Pano

Mission Ridge Pano

I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.

Monument Valley Wide

Monument Valley Wide

I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.

Moonset Sunrise

Moonset Sunrise

I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.

North to the Future

North to the Future

I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.

No Wake

No Wake

I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.

Orchard Still Life

Orchard Still Life

These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.

Peacock

Peacock

This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

Penny Kayak

Penny Kayak

This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.

Phoenix

Phoenix

Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.

Poppies and Chicory

Poppies and Chicory

Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.

Poppies Plus

Poppies Plus

This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.

Quail Mom

Quail Mom

A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.

Rafting

Rafting

Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.

Red Wing Blackbird

Red Wing BlackBird

Red Wing Blackbird 1

Red Wing Blackbird 2

I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Rocks Under Water

Rocks Under Water

I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.

Saguaro Boulders

Saguar Boulders Big

I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.

San Francisco

San Francisco

What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!

Sedona

Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.

Squilchuck View

Squilchuck View

The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.

Steam Train

Steam Train

This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.

Stucco Scroll

Stucco Scroll

I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.

Sunset

Sunset

I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.

Surprise Valley Drugs

Surprise Valley Drugs

I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.

Helicopter Tail

Tail Header

An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.

Tetons

Tetons

Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.

Turtle

Turtle

Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.

Two Hillers

Two Hillers

I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.

Wheat Irrigation

Wheat Irrigation

Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird 2

I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Flower

Yellow Flower

A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.

Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak

Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.

2014: A Look Back

Moving forward, looking ahead.

2014 is over. It was a good year for me. Not my best, but certainly one that finished on a very positive note. A year I can look back on and be proud of what I learned and accomplished, a year that marks the successful end of a long and bitter battle to keep what’s rightfully mine.

The Journal

Penny on the Porch
Penny the Tiny Dog lounges in the morning sun on the wrap-around porch of the house we spent the winter in.

I kept a journal for much of the year. I started it on January 1, 2014, when I was housesitting for a neighbor who was gone for the winter. He had a wonderful home and I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly three months in its comfort. Having the space to entertain friends helped me build stronger bonds with people I’ve met since relocating permanently here in Central Washington State in late May of 2013. And it was a hell of a lot warmer than my RV would have been.

This was the first time I kept a journal for any length of time. You might argue that this blog is a journal — and it is, to a certain extent. But while my blog posts cover a wide range of topics and often go into wordy detailed descriptions, my journal is brief. I wrote in it every morning throughout the spring, set it aside during the summer, and then opened it again in the fall. I wrote my last entry in the 2014 edition this morning and will start my 2015 book tomorrow.

Each entry is limited to one double-sided page, forcing me to keep things brief. I often refer to blog posts for more detail. My journal entries include a lot of thoughts and feelings that I don’t include in my very public blog. 2014 took up 1-1/3 blank books. Red ones — I really do like red. 2015’s first book will be black because that’s the color I found on sale.

The benefit of this and other journals I’ve kept in the past: I can go back and refer to them to see what was going on during a specific time in my life. This is especially important these days, when I’m trying so hard to discard painful memories from my wasband’s betrayal and the very bitter divorce that followed it. Writing things down gets them on paper and out of my head. Later, when I’m fully healed, I can go back and revisit them with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.

I’ll consult that journal as I write up this year in review.

Travel

I didn’t do much traveling in 2014, although I really enjoyed the few trips I took.

The big trip was to California’s Central Valley. For the second year in a row, I had a frost control contract with the helicopter. Unlike the 2013 contract the 2014 contract paid a much higher standby fee but required me to live in the area with the helicopter. So just as I’d moved the helicopter and my RV seasonally to Washington state for cherry drying when I lived in Arizona, in February 2014, I moved the helicopter and my RV to the Sacramento area of California for frost control.

Hamming it Up
Penny and I, hanging out at George’s hangar at the airport.

I made some new friends down there — it’s amazing how easy it is to make friends when you’re alone and don’t have to humor a companion who doesn’t seem interested in meeting anyone new. George, a fellow pilot, and Becky, who managed the airport where Penny and I lived, became part of my life for the two months I was there. George and I spent a lot of time flying both his gyroplane and my helicopter. We took my helicopter out to San Carlos Airport for a test flight in an Enstrom 480 and a visit to the Hiller Aviation Museum, where we got a great private tour.

Maria and George in the Cockpit
Here I am with George, sitting in the cockpit of a 747 on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Hot Air Balloon
The hot air balloon flight comped to me by the pilot was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to return the favor this spring when I go back.

Other things I did in California: during February, March, and April: hot air balloon flight over the Central Valley, wine tasting with visiting Washington friends in Napa Valley, several “joy flying” flights over Napa Valley and the Sutter Buttes, whale watching at Point Reyes, a visit to Muir Woods, kayaking with the members of the Sacramento Paddle Pushers group in the American River, paddling at Lake Solano, and a visit to the food truck extravaganza in downtown Woodland. I also got to see my friend Rod, who lives in Georgetown, and Shirley, who lives in Carmichael. I really like the area I stayed in and hope that this year’s contract lets me base the helicopter at the same airport.

Penny on the Kayak
Penny keeps watch in the kayak’s bow as we head back down the American River in Sacramento with new friends. Not sure why I didn’t blog about this trip; I have tons of photos to share.

I went to the Santa Barbara area of California three times in 2014 to record courses for Lynda.com. In February, I took Penny with me and recorded Up and Running with Twitter, a brand new version of my extremely popular Twitter course. I went back in May, without Penny, to record Word 2013 Power Shortcuts and Up & Running with Meetup. I returned yet again in October to record Word 2013: Creating Long Documents. The first time, I stayed at a hotel in Carpinteria that I didn’t particularly care for. But on the next two trips, I stayed at my preferred hotel on the harbor at Ventura in my “usual room” with harbor view and jacuzzi tub. I really enjoy my trips to Lynda. I work extra hard while I’m there so I finish early and get to enjoy a day at the beach.

Harbor View
The view from my usual room in Ventura isn’t too shabby.

I got to visit the San Juan Islands twice this year. The first time was for a week-long vacation at my friend Steve’s house on Lopez Island. I blogged extensively about that great trip. The second time was for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my friend Bob at Friday Harbor, which I also blogged about. I really like the islands but could never full-time live on that side of the Cascades: too much dreary weather. I was lucky at Lopez Island; the weather was very good all week.

My final trip of the year was my annual Christmas trip to Winthrop for cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley. I haven’t blogged about that trip yet but I hope to find time to do so. The Winthrop/Mazama area is the largest cross-country ski area in the country, with hundreds of miles of groomed trails. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a great place to ski only 100 miles from my home.

Off to go Skiing
Penny and I went skiing over the Christmas holiday for the second year in a row.

Trips planned for 2015 include Arizona and California this spring. My autumn and winter travel schedules are still up in the air.

The Big Project

Backhoe
Jeff of Parkway Excavating rolled down my driveway on April 24 to begin prepping the building pad.

When I returned to Washington after frost season, I started the biggest project of my life: the construction of my new home. Earth work on my lot began in April and construction began soon afterward, continuing through the end of June. The building, which would house all of my possessions — including my helicopter, RV, Jeep, Honda car, and Ford truck, jet boat, motorcycle, and ATV — is a pole building I designed with the assistance of the good folks at Western Ranch Buildings in East Wenatchee. With a total of about 4,000 square feet, 1,200 of which is dedicated to living space, it features a four-car garage, an RV garage big enough for my helicopter and fifth wheel RV, a shop area, comfortable one-bedroom home, and a wrap around deck with windows to take in the amazing views of the Wenatchee Valley.

Roofing
They began roofing the building on June 10.

Electrician
Yes, this is me dressed up for electrical work: toolbelt, kneepads, and warm clothes. Heat is on but without insulation, the building still gets pretty chilly.

Because I was paying cash for the building and because I was interested in saving as much money as possible, I became not only the building’s designer but also the general contractor and electrician. (I was going to do the plumbing, too, but a local plumber offered me a deal that was too good to pass up.) Because my flying work is seasonal and my writing work is flexible, I had no real trouble getting the work done. I did pause in the autumn after getting the framing and roof insulation done, but decided in November to forego a lengthy trip to California and Arizona for the winter months and go full throttle to finish it up as quickly as possible.

What’s done? The building’s entire shell, including concrete floor is done. All doors and windows are installed. My vehicles, including my helicopter RV, are safely tucked inside for the winter. My shop and RV have all utility services. The living space is framed, the furnace and air handler for my HVAC system are installed and running, the ceiling has its first layer of insulation. The electrical system in the garage and living space are about 80% done.

What’s coming up? The plumber comes next week and, if all goes well with the wiring, I’ll get through the inspections needed to close up the walls by January 15. Then I’ll get the insulation and drywall done and the main space painted. The floors go in next. My appliances, custom kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, freestanding soaking tub, glass block shower walls, and many light sconces are on order and will begin arriving as soon as next week. Cabinets will be installed in mid February, appliances at February month-end, and countertops sometime before the middle of March. In the meantime, I’ll put down my deck and the rails around it. At this point, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be able to move into my new home by March month-end.

If you’ve never built your own home, you likely have no idea what a joy and trial it is. This is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted. It’s a real pleasure — despite the occasional difficulties — to be able to make my own decisions on every aspect of the project without having to wait for a risk adverse, indecisive, and, frankly, cheap partner to weigh in with his decisions. And I cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is to look around what I’m building and know that it came from my mind, my heart, and my hard work.

I’ll continue to blog about the project throughout the coming year.

Other Accomplishments, Activities, New Hobbies

I got the year off to a slow start, not really doing much of anything new. I guess the biggest deal in the spring was learning to fly a gyroplane and soloing in about 7 hours. George taught me in his little Magni M-16 Gyroplane and it was a blast.

Solo Flight
George snapped this photo of me as I taxied off the runway after my first solo flight.

In the spring, when I returned from California, I built a chicken coop and, with the help of some friends, built a secure chicken yard for my flock of six hens. They laid eggs — about three dozen a week! — starting in October and only just slowed down production for the winter. I also had the opportunity to help out at a chicken slaughter.

For the first time in at least 10 years I had a vegetable garden. I planted Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, melons, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, corn, and herbs. Most of my garden occupied pots and raised garden planters I made out of pallets.

I also kept up with my beekeeping activities. I caught a swarm again this year and assisted another beekeeper on a swarm capture. By the end of the season, I had seven hives and had harvested another 3 gallons of honey. I also began selling honey in boutique packaging at local wineries. And I took a mead-making course and put up my first gallon of mead.

Pendant
Here’s one of my upcycled pendants, created from clear and blue wine bottle glass.

At the end of the summer, I purchased a very small kiln and began doing warm glass projects that upcycled wine bottles into Christmas tree ornaments and jewelry. I began making some of these items available for sale online.

I also stayed pretty active locally during the year, going on multiple hikes, boat trips, paddling trips, and Jeep trips with friends. I took over a Meetup group I belonged to and met a bunch of great people on activities with the group.

Friends

I didn’t realize how many good friends I’d made in the area until I had my moving party on June 28. I sent out invitations in email and on paper and on Facebook and Twitter. The party would be two parts: a moving party that started at my hangar and a pot luck barbecue at my mostly completed home. I honestly didn’t expect more than maybe 20 people to show up with only handful for the move. If I got my furniture moved, I’d be thrilled — I could always fetch the boxes myself.

But the attendance — especially at the hangar — blew me away. At least two dozen people showed up there with pickup trucks. One even brought a large horse trailer. Within 2 hours everything in the hangar was loaded up and we were on our way across the river to Malaga. They unloaded even quicker — almost before I realized what was happening. Then they brought out their pot luck dishes and we partied. I think the final party attendance was close to 50.

My social life here in Washington is amazing. If I wanted to, I could do something with friends every day or evening. Wine tasting, boating and paddling, hiking, Jeeping, dinner, movies, parties — there’s no end to it. On some days, I have to choose between activities or squeeze multiple activities with different people into my day. I’ve never been so active with other people. I love it — especially since these are all great, friendly, generous people who like me for who I am.

And yes, I’m dating, too. But not much, and that’s by choice. I’m extremely picky about starting a relationship with a man. I’d rather live life alone than live it with the wrong man again.

Flying Work (and Play)

In addition to the very lucrative frost contract I had in California in early spring, I had my best cherry drying season ever. In 2014, during the “crunch period” of mid June to mid July, I had three other pilots working with me to cover the acreage I was under contract for. I think we did a remarkably good job providing service for my clients in the Quincy and Wenatchee areas. There wasn’t quite as much rain as there was in 2013, but with more acreage to cover — almost 350 acres at one point! — the standby pay made our dedication to staying in the area worthwhile.

I did some charter work during the season, including a winter video shoot for one client that included air-to-air footage of the historic Miss Veedol airplane and an interesting dawn shoot over the Wenatchee Symphony Orchestra playing at Ohme Gardens. The Miss Veedol footage was only part of the aerial footage shot from my helicopter that appeared in the first We Are Wenatchee video. I also did two amazing Seattle video shoots — at sunset and dawn the following day — as well as a video flight up the Duwamish Waterway and Green River to its source near the base of Mt. Rainier. It’s flights like these that make me so glad I became a helicopter pilot.

We are Wenatchee from Voortex Productions on Vimeo.

Although one of my big charter clients wound up opening its own flight department with a leased helicopter and full-time pilot, I still did a bunch of charter work for them, flying management team members to various orchards throughout Central Washington State — and even to Seattle. They’ll continue to use my services on an as-needed basis during the busy season, as long as it doesn’t conflict with my cherry drying work.

Other interesting flights include a handful of wine tasting flights, a flight to the Slate Peak communication facility, a pollination flight, and two Santa flights. And, of course, I can’t forget my flight to and from Lopez Island and the flight around the San Juan Islands I took with my friend Steve. Or those Napa Valley flights. Or the flight for a hamburger at Blustery’s Drive In in Vantage.

Landing Zone Closeup
There was still snow atop Slate Peak in May 2014.

Writing Work

Although writing accounts for only a small part of my income these days, I did do a significant amount of writing work. In addition to the four video courses I authored for Lynda.com (mentioned earlier), I also began writing articles for Lynda.com’s blog.

I also made a new writing contact. Beginning in January 2015, my articles about flying helicopters will begin appearing on AOPA’s Hover Power blog. You’ll find my bio on the About the Authors page there. I’m extremely pleased to be writing about helicopters for an audience beyond blog readers.

As for my blog, it’s readership has pretty much doubled over the past year. I now consistently get between 1,000 and 2,000 page hits each day with visitors from all over the world.

My divorce book, which I blogged about back in April 2013 — has it been that long? — is still being written. I can’t finish it until the divorce bullshit is finally over.

The Divorce Bullshit

A lot of people don’t realize that even though my divorce was finalized in July 2013, it wasn’t over. Not only did my wasband appeal the judge’s decision, but he refused to comply with court orders regarding refinancing our house, which he received in the settlement, and paying me what he owed me. So legal action dragged on throughout the end of 2013 and into much of 2014.

My poor wasband — and yes, I do pity him a lot more than I probably should — got a lot of bad advice from friends and family members. If he’d accepted my very generous original settlement offer — proposed back in November or December of 2012 — he could have saved well over $100K in legal fees and could have kept the house for about 1/5 of its market value, including most of the furniture and other items I would have left behind. And we both could have gotten on with our lives with a minimum of bad feelings. But he took that bad advice, which gave him the idea that he had some sort of legal claim over the business I’d begun building long before we were married and all the assets that went with it. Even when the judge decided he didn’t, more bad advice convinced him to appeal. The appeals court, which handed down its decision just before Thanksgiving, agreed entirely with the original judge. In other words, he lost the appeal.

The result: more than two years of our lives wasted, a life-long friendship shattered with a lot of bad feelings, and more money than I’d like to think about thrown away on legal fees. He could have gotten rid of me — and kept the paid-for house! — for $50K. Instead, it’ll wind up costing him over $200K (including legal fees) and he has to sell the house to pay me. That’s gotta hurt.

My only consolation is that his stupidity and greed cost him far more than it cost me. I’ll recover from the financial setback of the legal battle, mostly because I know how to live within my means and I have substantial retirement investments. My home will be fully paid for within a few years, leaving me as debt-free and financially secure as I was before this all started.

Of course, I’ll actually be far better off than before this started because I won’t be dragged down emotionally by a lying loser incapable of making decisions or taking measured risks to move forward in life.

Solstice
Here’s the note I burned on the yule log at a solstice party — I want to leave this burden behind forever.

And that’s what 2014 has shown me: the 29-year relationship with the man I loved was holding me back, preventing me from moving forward to achieve lifestyle goals and dreams. I thought I shared goals with the man I loved but in the end it was all a lie — he just pretended during those last few years to be on the same page with me to keep the status quo he so loved. He sucked away my self-esteem by blaming me for our dismal social life and making me feel unwelcome in the home he claimed to want to share with me. It wasn’t until he freed me that I regained the self-esteem he’d sucked out of me and I began to move forward with life again.

I’ve accomplished more in 2014 than I had since I married in 2006. I achieved more goals, I made more friends, I learned more things. I stopped waiting for a partner to run out of excuses to hold us back and I began living life again. And believe me, living life alone sure beats the hell out of living life chained to a sad sack old man.

I only wish I’d made the break sooner, before we were married, before he lost his mind and soul. It would have been nice to remain friends with someone I really cared about.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for the house to be sold by a court-appointed master so I can get paid and do my best to put this this nightmare behind me.

After I finish my divorce book.

Looking Forward

2015 promises to be a great year. I have my big construction project to finish up, more writing work ahead of me, and a healthy helicopter charter business to nurture and built. I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my life — good, reliable friends eager to get together for all kinds of fun and even help me make my dreams realities. I have hobbies and interests to keep me busy and plenty of free time to explore them. Best of all, I’m living in a magnificent place that’s full of beauty and life and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Tail Shot
Isn’t it beautiful here?

I’m alive and loving life again.

Happy New Year.

Wenatchee Sunset Flyby

More video from my GoPro nosecam.

I took the helicopter up to Tsillan Cellars on Lake Chelan with some friends for dinner yesterday afternoon. After an excellent steak (but sadly, no wine for me), I flew us back along the Columbia River. There was a nice sunset with lots of pink in the sky and the river was dead calm, reflecting the sky back at us as we flew along at about 500 feet above it.

Wenatchee at Sunset
The lights of Wenatchee at sunset. Screen grab from a GoPro video.

The lights were on in Wenatchee by the time we reached it. Rather than take a direct route from the Rocky Reach Dam to the airport, I did a downtown flyby. My GoPro Hero 3, mounted on the helicopter’s nose, captured the whole thing.

Got three minutes? Take a sunset flight tour of Wenatchee, WA: