Yet another helicopter video.
Join me for a wild ride across the Sonoran desert between Wickenburg, AZ and north Phoenix, AZ. Shot on January 20, 2011 during a Flying M Air repositioning flight. Enjoy.
Yet another helicopter video.
Join me for a wild ride across the Sonoran desert between Wickenburg, AZ and north Phoenix, AZ. Shot on January 20, 2011 during a Flying M Air repositioning flight. Enjoy.
I was all over the place.
I thought I’d take a moment to blog about some of the flying I did this past year. LogTen Pro, the software I blogged about yesterday, makes keeping track of my flying activities a lot easier to summarize.
I flew a total of 207.3 hours in 2010 with exactly 300 takeoffs and landings. Nine takeoffs were at night while 13 landings were at night — this inequality occurs, in part, because of long flights that begin just before dawn or just before dusk. But I only flew 5.1 hours at night.
My flights are spread out over the entire year, with February, March, September, and October my busiest months. LogTen Pro created this graph for me so I could visualize it.
I broke my flight time down into different types that I want to track:
I landed at 52 different places in Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. 16 of these landing zones were off-airport, although two of them were official helipads registered with the FAA. These numbers do not include about a dozen off-airport landing zones I used during one mine survey job in March; it just wasn’t worth logging them all. This Google Earth map shows where they were, using data from LogTen Pro. (Seriously: isn’t this cool?)
I only flew one aircraft: my R44 Raven II.
A look at my logbook reveals a wide variety of flight types:
Video flights at the Best in the Desert (BITD) Parker 425 race. Last year was my third year at the race. It’s my favorite annual gig and I’m only sorry that it’s just one day a year. I flew three videographers last year, chasing race trucks through the desert. (The aerial shots in the video here were made from my helicopter.) Of course, the last videographer let his seatbelt hang out the door, causing damage that cost $2K to repair. I won’t let that happen again.
I’ve been averaging 200 hours a year — except for the year I flew at the Grand Canyon, which was considerably higher — since I began flying. I have the huge chore ahead of me of entering all that flight time into LogTen Pro. I figure I’ll do a few months a week. I’ll likely finish up over the summer when I’m back in Washington waiting for it to rain.
When I’m done, I’m sure I’ll show off my stats here.
A mini software review for pilots.
At the end of 2010, nudged by the availability of a coupon code for 30% (I think) off, I purchased the Mac and iPad versions of LogTen Pro. This program, published by Coradine Aviation Systems, is designed primarily for airline pilots to log their flight time, trips, duty time, expenses, and other data. It can then generate any number of reports, including FAA-approved logbook pages and duty sheets. Of course, pilots with Macs don’t only live in the US, so LogTen Pro supports multiple countries and the reports needed to satisfy their own FAA-equivalent organizations.
Although, on the surface, LogTen Pro seems like overkill for logging pilot hours, its true power lies in the fact that you don’t need to log everything it lets you. For example, LogTen Pro enables you to log flight date, aircraft N-number, duty time in, hobbs out, time out, from airport, to airport, time in, hobbs in, and duty time out. That’s the kind of information an airline pilot might need or want to log. But, in reality, how many people really track that much information about their flights? LogTen Pro is perfectly satisfied just taking the flight date, N-number, from airport, to airport, and total time flown. And of course, you can log day vs. night time, VFR vs. IFR time, etc.
In other words, you can log as little or as much information as you like.
Of course, the iPad version (shown here with a screen shot of all my 2010 activity) syncs with the Mac version, so I can log time on the go and sync it all up when I get back to my office. Or I can pull old log entries out of my paper logbook and enter them in my Mac and then sync it all to my iPad.
While LogTen Pro is a bit weak on logging helicopter flight time — for example, it supports the Rotorcraft category but did not include a Helicopter class (although, for some reason, it did have gyroplane; go figure) — it is highly customizable. I simply used one of the undefined Class fields to create a Helicopter class in my copy of the software. Although this is calculated properly in the logbook reports as is, I can also create custom log book pages that eliminate columns I don’t need and expand on ones I’m interested in tracking, such as High DA/Mountain (another custom field I created) or Turbine helicopter.
I could go on for thousands of words about this software — there’s a lot to it. But it would be better to let you view the Guided Tour and just try the software for yourself. If you’re a pilot with a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, download the demo version of the software and see what you think. If you’re geeky and love stats like I do, I think you’ll be sold.
Something I’d prefer not to repeat any time soon.
If you follow me on Twitter or read this blog regularly, you know that I spent last weekend in Las Vegas doing a multi-day charter flight for two women from Prescott. The job was to fly them by helicopter to Vegas, where they’d spend two nights as part of a family get-together, and then take them home on Sunday afternoon. It was just the kind of gig a pilot looks forward to: an all expense paid weekend in Las Vegas. As an added bonus: the weather would be perfect.
I picked them up at Prescott Airport (PRC) on Friday afternoon. My passengers were great people, although they seem to have packed enough luggage for two weeks instead of two days. (Honestly, how many changes of clothes does a person need in less than 48 hours?) I took off from Prescott at about 3:15 PM and made a beeline for the Hoover Dam 140 nautical miles away. My goal was to be on the ground in Las Vegas before dark.
We were about 60 NM short of the dam, not far from Hackberry, AZ on old Route 66, when the Aux Fuel warning light illuminated. I remember thinking to myself: Oh no, not again. I checked the circuit breaker for the pump and sure enough, it had popped out. I pushed it back in. It popped right back out. So there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with an auxiliary fuel pump failure.
As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, the auxiliary fuel pump is a redundant piece of equipment on a Robinson R44 helicopter. Although it’s required for operation on launch — in other words, I can’t legally take off if it isn’t working — it doesn’t do anything in flight except wait around for the engine-driven fuel pump to fail. Fortunately, that fuel pump is apparently much better designed and built because it doesn’t seem to fail at all. This particular auxiliary fuel pump was the third one that had failed on my helicopter since it was new 5 years (about 1100 hours) before.
As a pilot, I had a decision to make. I could:
Land there in the middle of nowhere where it would be extremely difficult to get help. Not only would this ruin my passengers’ weekend by delaying them at least 5 hours, but it would be extremely costly for me to get them (and me) transportation anywhere else. This was something I considered for only a moment. The helicopter was running fine and the emergency procedure says land as soon as practical. Hackberry, AZ was not a practical place to land.
I chose the last option.
Again, everything was running smoothly so I wasn’t really worried. Just a little more alert than usual, listening hard for an engine hiccup that might indicate a fuel flow problem.
As we flew, the back of my mind worked on the problem I now had to deal with: getting the pump replaced before 1 PM on Sunday. It was actually a two-part problem:
Understand that if I didn’t get it fixed by midday Sunday, I’d have to:
That would cost more than a repair — and I’d still need the repair.
The answer came to me not long after crossing over the Hoover Dam and its new bridge. My Seattle mechanic had made a “hangar call” in Phoenix for another one of his customers in October. Maybe he’d come to Vegas. And since he had a bunch of R44s, if he didn’t have the pump on a shelf, he could pull one out of a helicopter temporarily as a loaner. It seemed like a good bet. After all, who would turn down a free trip to Vegas?
My route took us up the west shore of Lake Mead to Lake Las Vegas, then west into the sinking sun toward the Stratosphere. We crossed over the Strip as tourists in the tower beside us took photos of us, then headed south along I-15 on the west side of the Strip. I turned base leg between Luxor’s pyramid and Excalibur’s medieval castle, then came in for landing on the Atlantic Aviation ramp on the northwest corner of McCarren Airport (LAS).
While my passengers visited the ladies room in the FBO, I was on the phone with Rich, my mechanic. Within 10 minutes, we had a solution. He’d fly to Vegas that weekend and replace the pump.
While this seems like a happy ending, it would also be an expensive one. I’d have to cover Rich’s round trip airfare to Vegas — with tickets bought at the last minute — and pay a weekend labor rate about three times his normal rate that would also apply to the four hours of travel time. And the pump would cost another $1,600. Plus, in order to facilitate transportation for Rich and any needs he might have, I rented a car at the FBO for $85/day. My free trip to Vegas had suddenly become very expensive.
My reservations were at the Rio, an off-the-strip hotel that markets itself as having all suites. I wanted to be comfortable for my stay, so I’d looked into it. Vegas is hurting in this economy and deals are everywhere. I got an upgraded “Strip-view suite” for $80/night.
They put me on the 23rd floor of the tower. I looked out the window, expecting to see the Strip. I didn’t. I called the desk. After speaking with three different people, they agreed that my room was not Strip-view. Since I’d paid for Strip view, they moved me to a room on the 26th floor. They’d send a bellman up with my new keys.
I waited 30 minutes for the bellman. When I got to my new room, I found that it was on the same side of the hotel. But because the hotel was curved, it had a partial view of the Strip. That’s the best they were willing to do.
As far as the “suite” part of the room’s description goes, the folks at the Rio obviously have a different idea of what a suite is. To me, a suite is either two rooms or one room with a divider between living and sleeping areas. Embassy Suites has suites. What I had at the Rio was a big room with a bed, sofa, desk, and TV that faced neither the bed nor the sofa. It was not, by any stretch of my imagination, a suite.
There was nothing very appealing about the room at all. It was rather run down, although the bed was comfortable and there were plenty of pillows. The business part of the bathroom — shower and toilet — was small, although the outer area was quite large. The climate control system clanked every time it kicked on, so I left it turned off at night so I could sleep.
I won’t be staying at the Rio again and I don’t recommend it to anyone.
My advice to anyone who wants a nice room in Las Vegas: stay in a hotel less than 5 years old — there are plenty to choose from — on the Strip.
I was meeting friends who were in Vegas for National Finals Rodeo (NFR), which was finishing up on Saturday. I’d invited them to join me for dinner. To compromise on our food choices, I picked the Rio’s buffet, which I’d heard was very good.
As usual with Las Vegas and so many American things, quantity seems more valued than quality. Yes, the buffet had over 300 items to choose from. But none of them were outstanding. In fact, unless you like to stuff yourself with mediocre food — which I don’t — it was a huge disappointment.
But they did have a good bread pudding for desert, and my friends seemed happy enough. Still, I won’t be eating there again.
I slept remarkably well. Although the room was right next to the elevators and vending area, it was quiet. There was a bit of noise when my next door neighbors came in — the room had a connecting door — but they got quiet pretty quickly. And, thankfully, I didn’t have to listen to them having sex.
I did wake for the day at 4 AM, but that was to be expected. I was on Arizona time, and I usually wake around 5 AM there. I got a blog post written and posted using Bluetooth tethering on my BlackBerry to access the Internet, then showered and started my day.
I am not a gambler. I don’t see the point. To me, the people parked on stools in front of slot machines like zombies are missing out on the finer points of life. The people at gaming tables are at least getting some social interaction — but at what cost?
Las Vegas is one of the freakishly weird places on earth and there’s nothing more interesting to me than to explore it on foot.
So after visiting my friends at the Cowboy Christmas market they were participating in at the Hilton’s convention center, I headed over to the Las Vegas Fashion Mall on the Strip. I got a great parking spot under the mall and went up on a mission: Buy a Verizon MiFi.
You see, back when I bought my iPad, I made a conscious decision to go with the WiFi only version. I was already paying for Internet three ways and couldn’t see adding a fourth. Besides — silly me — I thought Apple might enable Bluetooth tethering, like I could use with my MacBook Pro and Verizon BlackBerry Storm.
Two things happened:
I started traveling with my iPad only. Without my MacBook Pro, I couldn’t set up an Airport Network to share my Internet connection with my iPad. If WiFi wasn’t available, I couldn’t use Internet features on my iPad. And I was certainly not going to spend $9 to $99 a day to access the Internet at a hotel without free WiFi. (I’m addicted, but not that badly.)
I’m due for a new phone after December 23. I’d already decided to buy an Android phone — probably the Motorola Droid 2 — so it would work with Square. I’d done extensive price calculations to see which would be better: using the phone as a hotspot (it has that capability) or getting a MiFi. The cost was about equal, but having the MiFi would give me greater flexibility in that I’d get more bandwidth for less money and the additional bandwidth cost was cheaper. Plus, as I later learned, I’d be able to continue using the Internet while I was on the phone.
Verizon has a special deal on the MiFi 2200 right now. The device is free with a 2 year plan. I decided to go for it and that’s why I went to the mall.
I found a Verizon kiosk, picked the brains of the very knowledgable and friendly but not pushy sales guy, and signed up. I walked out with a MiFi, stowed it in the car, and went out the mall’s main entrance on foot to explore that area of the strip.
I crossed over to Wynn, where I had lunch in Red 8, a Chinese restaurant. I’ve been really hungry for good Chinese food lately — there isn’t any in Arizona — and had a bunch of it in Las Vegas.
From there, I walked down the strip past the new (to me) Palazzo and into the Venetian’s indoor shopping mall. The Venetian was built in the tail end of the wacky phase that demanded rides in every hotel and, because of this, it has an indoor “canal” with gondola rides. I bought a very unsatisfactory tiramisu in a “bakery” and wandered back out onto the strip.
I got about as far as Harrah’s when I started feeling hot and tired and figured it was time to head back. So I crossed the street and walked along the strip past the Mirage and Treasure Island. They were doing work on the sidewalk there and they detoured all traffic into the casino (how convenient), but I found the walkway over the road to the mall. I wandered up to the Apple Store to see what kind of iPad cases they have — I’m actually looking for a purse-like case — and then wandered out empty-handed. Three hours after I’d started my walk, I was back in my rental car, exhausted.
During my walk, I’d decided to cheer myself up from my helicopter maintenance woes by going to a show. I’d heard a lot about Chris Angel as the big up-and-coming magician. He had a show at the Luxor that was somehow connected to Circue du Soleil. I called and, as a party of one, got a third-row seat to see the 7:00 PM show.
So after taking a nap and configuring my new MiFi, I headed out to the Luxor to pick up my tickets and grab a bite to eat before the show. I wound up in the Burger Bar, which is on the overpass between Luxor and Mandalay Bay. I’ve eaten there before. It’s basically a pricey burger joint, but it’s easy and there’s aways a seat at the bar.
I wound up sitting beside a woman in her early 30s who was also alone. Only moments after I arrived, she struck up a conversation. Within minutes, we were chatting like old friends. She was from a small border town in Canada and was on exactly the same page as I was regarding politics and the role of religion in society. She was an outdoorsy person who was out of place in the zaniness of Las Vegas, but was determined to explore it. She’d read about the Burger Bar in a tour book and had asked her friends to join her there for dinner. But they’d rather shop so she’d hopped on a bus from Planet Hollywood (up the strip) and had made the trek alone.
It’s always interesting to me to see how people from other countries similar to the United States think of us. At one point, we were discussing the tax situation in the United States and she said, “I can’t believe you people want tax cuts when you have such a huge deficit and you don’t even have universal healthcare yet.”
I consider that meal a high point of my weekend. It wasn’t the food — I had the sliders and they were pretty good but nothing special — it was the conversation. It’s always great to meet someone who has the same basic ideas you have. Just when I think I must be nuts because of what everyone else is thinking and doing, I meet someone who thinks the same way I do. It confirms that I’m not nuts after all.
I’ll start by saying this: Do not waste your money on this show.
Chris Angel has built a show to stroke his ego and feed his narcissism. A big video screen shows photos and videos of Chris in action throughout his life at various points in the show. (Apparently, I’d come to watch TV.) His comedic sidekicks shared immature bathroom joke humor that served primarily to get cheap laughs and stretch out the show’s length to 90 minutes.
Every once in a while, Chris would do a magic trick. Most tricks were some version of the transposition illusion, where Chris and an assistant or sidekick exchange places using a teleportation illusion. I think he did at least five of these and, after the third one, I felt like saying, Okay, I get it. You can switch places with someone. Let’s move on.
He also escaped from a straight jacket while hanging upside down — a trick my cousin was doing when he was in his teens.
He apparently swallowed razor blades and string and pulled the string out with the razor blades tied to it. Teller of Penn and Teller does the same trick with sewing needles and is a lot more entertaining as he does it.
He put on a big, bulky stage coat and then proceeded to produce birds. (Gee, where did they come from?)
He cut an assistant in half in a relatively gory version of the usual trick.
He defied gravity, but in each instance, it was pretty easy to see an assistant releasing the invisible wires attached to his back. In fact, I’m not even sure if we were supposed to be impressed by that; it was pretty transparent.
There were other tricks, too, but not enough to fill 90 minutes — hence the chatty fill and stupid jokes. Every break in the action seemed to be an opportunity for Chris Angel to brag about himself or promote his TV show or products for sale in the gift shop. It was probably this aspect of the show that turned me off so much. I think that if he’d had a more likable personality and wasn’t so damn full of himself, I could be more forgiving of his performance. But to brag about how great you are and then deliver such a mediocre performance was unforgivable.
When the show ended, it did so abruptly, leaving the audience wondering if it was really over.
I cannot believe how much money I spent on this show and how absolutely ripped off I felt when it was done. I would have better spent the same amount of money feeding into slot machines. At least I would have seen something different at every spin.
Oddly enough, my passengers saw the next show that night — the 1,000th performance. They were equally disappointed. I’m really surprised that this show was so well attended. In my opinion, it sucked.
Despite the fact that two doctors have told me that there’s nothing seriously wrong with my stomach, I was up in the middle of the night with severe acid reflux and nausea. I had no medicine — not even Tums or Rolaids — to take. I prepared the bathroom for the expected second act where I’d lose those tasty sliders and fries, then went back to bed. Propping myself up on all the pillows so I was nearly sitting up really helped. I was even able to get back to sleep without losing my dinner.
From now on, I travel with Tums.
My mechanic, Rich, arrived at LAS on time at 8:20 AM on Sunday with a remarkably small duffle bag. I picked him up at the main terminal and drove him over to the Atlantic Aviation terminal. The drove us out to the far reaches of the ramp, where they’d had me parked. Rich got right to work. Within minutes, the side panel was off and he was pulling the old pump. Once the new pump was in, we ran it to check for leaks. Then I ran up the helicopter while he slid underneath to make sure everything was okay.
By 9:30 AM, we were walking back to the terminal. He decided to try to catch an earlier flight back, so I drove him around to the main terminal and let him off. Mission accomplished.
I’ll get the bill in the mail.
I had 3 hours to kill before departure time. I decided to kill it at Mandalay Bay, which has a bunch of really great restaurants. It was too early for lunch, so I figured I’d pick up a smoothie, which would help keep my stomach settled. All I’d had to eat that day was a cup of green tea and half a toasted bagel with cream cheese.
There was a yogurt place on the north side of the casino that had make-your-own smoothies. You’d fill up a cup with your choice of frozen yogurt flavors and some fresh fruit, then hand it off to the girl behind the counter. She’d toss it in a blender with some 2% milk.
It wasn’t until after my mix was in the blender that I was told it would cost $8.54. Ouch. Well, at least it was tasty.
I went for Chinese food for lunch again. This time, I had congee, which is a Chinese rice gruel. It sounds gross and most American folks probably would think it is. But I like it.
Back in the 1980s, when I worked for the City of New York, my partner was Chinese, originally from Hong Kong. On payday, after picking up our checks at the our office in the Municipal Building, we’d head over to Chinatown for lunch. She’d take me to the restaurants where the Chinese people ate. I’d be the only Caucasian in the place. She’d order in Chinese and I’d eat whatever she ordered for me. I think that at first she was trying to see what I’d eat. She soon learned that I’d eat anything. Congee at Big Wong was one of our favorites; she’d order it with tripe sometimes or with little meatballs made of god-knows-what.
At the Noodle Shop in Mandalay Bay, I had congee with abalone and chicken. I’d never had abalone before and I figured it was worth a try. It was good, but not worth the extra money. I would have been just as happy with pork. But at least I know what abalone is like now.
I got back to the helicopter at 12:30 PM and preflighted it. I settled my bill at the Atlantic desk for fuel, parking, and “security” fee. I then went into the pilot lounge to wait for my passengers. They had WiFi there and I spent some time Tweeting and Facebooking. My passengers showed up right on time at 1:30 PM and we got a lift out to the helicopter.
On departure, I asked to fly up the Strip but was told I couldn’t. I have a feeling security concerns have made that off-limits to pilots now. (I was able to do it about two years ago for my husband and his mom.) Instead, I was allowed to fly up the west side of I-15 as two tour helicopters came down the east side. Disappointing, mostly because I couldn’t give my passengers the Strip tour I’d hoped to — and I couldn’t get the incredible pictures I’d expected to get from the helicopter’s nose cam.
After retracing my route back to Hoover Dam, we followed the Colorado River south, past Lake Mohave, Laughlin, and Topock Gorge. At the north end of Havasu City, I turned east and beelined it for Bagdad. We flew over the mine and could see Granite Mountain just northwest of Prescott in the distance. We set down at the FBO in Prescott at 4:45 PM local time. My passengers thanked me as I walked them into the FBO. We talked about other flights. Then they left.
After fueling up and visiting the ladies room, I climbed back on board and headed back to Phoenix. I landed about 15 minutes after sunset, exhausted and glad to be back.
I’m in no hurry to go back to Las Vegas.
An illustrated journal for Friday, December 10, 2010.
On December 10, 2010, I took two passengers on a flight from Prescott, AZ to Las Vegas, NV in my 2005 Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter. This is a journal of that day’s events.
Awake, thinking about the asshole doctor I visited yesterday. I’m angry — too angry to get back to sleep. I decide to blog my anger and frustration.
Blog entry done, published, proof-read, and corrected. I make a very large cup of half-caf coffee, add 3/4 teaspoon of sugar and about an ounce of 2% milk. I go back to my computer to catch up on Twitter and Facebook.
Mike (my husband) is awake, doing things in bathroom. Shower starts running. I turn to the computer to check weather for the day’s flights from Phoenix (DVT) to Prescott (PRC) and then on to Las Vegas (LAS) with two paying passengers for the weekend. But instead of checking the weather, i get distracted by e-mail and waste some time with that. I finish packing and hop into the shower when Mike is done.
Although I only drank half of my first cup of coffee, I brew another cup. Mike is having breakfast at the dining room table with his laptop. He has a big meeting in the afternoon and is likely preparing. I give Alex the Bird (my parrot) his breakfast of scrambled eggs. Our roommate, Matt, takes care of his breakfast things and leaves for the day.
I fix up my hair and face to the best of my limited abilities and stow a few final things in my weekend bag. I clean up Alex’s cage and give him fresh food and water for the day. Mike is still working on his computer when I fetch a few things from his truck to pack into the plastic trunk in the bedroom. He’ll bring the trunk back to our house in Wickenburg later in the day when he goes home for the weekend.
Ready to go, I wait for Mike, who is only half dressed and still working on his laptop. I pull out my iPad and check the weather for Las Vegas. Later, when I’m waiting for my passengers at Prescott, I’ll check official weather with Duats and file a flight plan, which is required for my Part 135 operation. I waste some more time playing with iChart, a pilot chart app. The previous evening, I’d downloaded sectionals and terminal area charts for Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and more.
Mike and I head out in Mike’s car. It’s a 25-minute drive in the HOV lane to Phoenix Deer Valley Airport where my helicopter is parked for the night. Mike drops me off and says goodbye.
After dropping off a tray of holiday cookies at the Atlantic Aviation desk and chatting with Tiffany, who is on duty there, I wheel my weekend bag out to the helicopter in the big south hangar. It’s in good company, surrounded by Pilatus airplanes, a handful of small jets, another R44 helicopter, a Cessna, and the prettiest DeHaviland Beaver on wheels that I ever did see.
I stow the bag on the seat behind mine and check my map pocket. Sure enough, my Las Vegas sectional chart is expired. I’ll need a new one, along with a Las Vegas TAC, to be legal for my Part 135 flight.
I settle down for breakfast at the airport restaurant, where I order an iced tea and a gyro omelet with cottage cheese instead of potatoes. Around me, pilots and students come and go. The omelet is a bit greasy but delicious.
I head into the pilot shop and buy Las Vegas sectional and terminal area charts to make me legal for my Part 135 flight to Las Vegas later in the day. Then I head back to the Atlantic FBO, say goodbye to Tiffany, and head out to the helicopter, which has been pulled out of the hangar for me. As I start my preflight, a fuel truck pulls up and tops off both fuel tanks.
I finish prepping the helicopter for the flight, stowing my weekend bag under the seat behind mine. My passengers’ luggage will go atop that seat, secured with the seatbelt and bungee cords. I set up my GoPro Hero camera and iPod. I stow a bunch of gear I don’t need in a locker back in the hangar. I make a quick stop in the ladies room there before returning to the helicopter.
After one last walk-around, I start the helicopter and begin warming up the engine. I turn on my SPOT personal tracker and enable the breadcrumb tracking feature. I listen to the ATIS; winds are calm. I tune the radio to the south tower frequency with the north tower frequency in standby. I complete the startup process, make my radio call to the tower, and on receiving my clearance, begin a steep climbing turn to the west and then south. I’ll climb in a 270 degree turn to 500 feet over the ground before crossing both runways and departing to the north.
I make a radio call on the practice area frequency as I fly over Anthem, a master-planned community north of Phoenix, and then leave the urban sprawl behind me. Ahead of me are rolling hills climbing into the high desert. I fly over the freeway toward Prescott, passing over a handful of scattered homes and dirt roads. Somewhere along the way, I realize that changing the battery in my Garmin 420 GPS has erased my custom settings; I make some display changes on the map page. I tune my main radio to the Prescott tower frequency and tune the radio on my GPS to the Prescott ATIS frequency.
I round the corner of some low mountains and Prescott Valley comes into view. I listen to the Prescott ATIS. Winds are calm, runways 21 in use. I hear several other helicopters in the area, all calling in to Prescott tower. I key my mike and make my radio call, requesting landing at Legend Aviation. I’m given a squawk code and told to make my approach to runway 30 and call 2 miles out.
I pass the first of two herds of antelope. The second comes only moments later.
I see the runway and line up. I’m 2-1/2 miles out when the tower asks where I am. I’m told to continue, then told to land and hold short on the numbers 30.
I come into a hover over the numbers 30 on runway 30. I’m told to switch to a ground frequency — something that very seldom happens — and I get sloppy with my 3-foot hover while using my left hand to tune in the frequency. I call in and get progressive taxi instructions to the Legend ramp. I land in a t-spot, glad that they use chains instead of ropes to tie down the planes. I shut down and send an OK signal from SPOT to Mike.
After placing a fuel order, I take the FBO’s crew car (a Toyota Camry) to the mall where I have an eye doctor’s appointment.
I return to the FBO and settle down in the pilot lounge. I copy the photos off my Hero camera to my laptop and put the camera on its charger. I use the Internet to check weather. I send a few photos from my flight to Twitter via Nambu client software — both Twitter and Facebook sites are blocked by the free wifi. I snack on some cookies from my purse. I use Duats to check the weather and file a flight plan, which is required by the FAA for my Part 135 flight. I have already completed my weight and balance calculations for the flight, which I am required to carry on board. I relax.
I take the Hero camera off the charger and mount it on the helicopter again. I make a cheat sheet of frequencies for the flight. I relax.
I pack up my laptop and power cords and stow my luggage under the seat again. I preflight the helicopter. I return to the FBO lounge to wait for my passengers.
My client calls the FBO for directions.
My clients arrive: two women with two very large — but not particularly heavy — wheelie bags. I immediately wonder whether the bags will fit in the helicopter. A few minutes later, I’m stuffing them onboard, atop the seat behind mine, while the two clients chatter nonstop about how cool the helicopter is and take pictures from every angle. The two bags barely fit. I strap the bigger one in with the seatbelt and use a bungee cord to secure the smaller one to it.
Safety briefing completed, passengers loaded onboard and belted in. After a final walk-around, I climb onboard and start the engine. My passengers have already donned their headsets and are talking to each other. I turn on the SPOT unit and enable tracking. I listen to the ATIS. I finish the startup process and keynote mike to talk to ground. I’m told to taxi and hold short of taxiway Delta, then switch to tower. Tower tells me to hold, so I maintain a three foot hover over the entrance to the ramp. For five minutes. We’re facing into the sun and it’s getting hot in the cabin. Tower finally tells me to depart along taxiway Delta (parallel to runway 21L) and maintain taxiway heading. Then switch to the other tower frequency. That controller finally clears me to turn on course. I turn right heading 295 degrees, which will take me directly to the Hoover Dam 160 miles away. Controller asks what altitude I want and I tell him 500 AGL.
Clear of Prescott airspace, I turn into the FSS frequency and activate my flight plan. Passengers are happily chatting away about the places we’re flying over. I answer questions when asked. Terrain is high desert hills with piñon and juniper pine. Some evidence of lava flows along basalt cliffs. We climb to 6,500 feet to clear small mountain ranges. There are no paved roads, no buildings, no vehicles. Only scattered cattle ponds and the occasional handful of cows.
We cross I-40 just east of the junction of state route 93, far to the east of we cross a few more mountains, then drop into a Valley inexplicably marked on the charts as Cottonwood Cliffs. (What cliffs?) We’re still heading roughly 295 degrees. There are scattered homes beneath us now.
We are just passing near Hackberry, AZ (northeast of Kingman) when the Aux Fuel warning light illuminates. The circuit breaker has popped. I attempt to reset the breaker but it pops again. I explain to my passengers what this means — am am very familiar with it, having replaced two fuel pumps in the five years I’ve owned the aircraft — the auxiliary fuel pump is a redundant system. It’s a problem that it has stopped working, but it does not require immediate landing. They’re not worried but I am. I have to figure out how to get the damn thing replaced before our return flight on Sunday afternoon. We are about 45 minutes from our destination.
We near the area where the tour pilots fly between Boulder Airport and Grand Canyon West, so I tune into their frequency to monitor communications. Lots of chatter using landmarks and reporting points I don’t know. The only comforting information is their altitudes: higher than mine. The desert flattens out with scattered communities. We overfly two paved roads.
We cross over the road to Temple Bar and pick up state route 93 as it snakes into the hills. The pair of two-lane roads looks freshly paved. At the turnoff to Willow Beach, I veer off the main road to the west. We catch a glimpse of the Colorado River as we head toward the dam.
We overfly the new bridge just downstream from the Hoover Dam and the the dam itself.
After making a radio call, tour pilots suggest we climb another 400 feet to avoid tour traffic; makes sense in rising terrain. Past the dam, we descend and fly up the west shore of Lake Mead toward Lake Las Vegas.
Listening to the Las Vegas ATIS, I learn that the helicopter frequency is in operation. I call the tower and request inbound heading to Stratosphere, then turn for landing at Atlantic ramp. I receive a squawk code and clearance to do as requested. Ahead of us, a thick blanket of white smog covers the Las Vegas skyline. The Stratosphere tower, rising 1,149 feet above the Strip, is barely visible in the haze.
We cross the strip just south of the Stratosphere. Tourists on top of the tower are snapping photos at us as we pass below them; I see their cameras flash. The sun is low on the horizon. I turn south along I-15 toward the airport. I’m cleared to land — at my own risk — at the Atlantic ramp. I turn “base leg” between Luxor’s pyramid and Excalibur’s medieval castle.
I land on the ramp between two jets. A tug with two linemen wave me to follow them so I life off and return back down the ramp to the usual exile parking reserved for helicopters. I shut down and send Mike an OK signal with SPOT.
We pull all the luggage out if the helicopter, I unmount the Hero camera, and I tie down the helicopter’s blades. I close my flight plan by phone. We let the two line guys drive us back to the FBO in a long golf car. Inside, my passengers use the ladies room while I arrange for overnight parking with the FBO desk. I tell them I’d likely be doing some repairs on the ramp. (This isn’t the first time I had mechanical problems in Las Vegas.) Then I call my Seattle mechanic and explain the fuel pump problem. He reminds me that the fuel pump, which was replaced less than a year ago, is still under warranty. I remind him that I have two passengers that I need to get back to Prescott, AZ on Sunday afternoon. He says he has a pump and agrees to fly it down to Las Vegas on Saturday or Sunday and will call me with details when he has them. I call Mike and leave a voicemail message. I call a friend I’m supposed to meet for dinner and she tells me she’ll meet me at her hotel after 5 PM.
4:20 PM PST
I realize that I’m in a different time zone and reset my watch. There’s a 40-minute wait for the hotel shuttle. I rent a car: a RAV 4 that will cost me $85/day — about the same as my hotel room. I figure that it will get my passengers to their hotel promptly and make it easier for me to transport my mechanic from the commercial aviation side of LAS to the general aviation side and back. I hope he’s done by Saturday afternoon so I can drop it off a day early and save some money.
4:32 PM PST
I drop my passengers and their luggage off at the Luxor Hotel, where they are staying. They tell me they’ll meet me at Atlantic Aviation at 1 PM on Sunday. The repair clock officially starts ticking.
4:47 PM PST
After many wrong turns on back roads, I find my way to the Rio, where I am staying. I leave the car with the valet and take my luggage inside. There’s a short line for registration. I check in, get my room key, and go to my room on the 23rd floor of the main tower. It’s the wrong kind of room. I call the desk and get reassigned to a room on the 26th floor. I wait 30 minutes for a bellman to bring the key, getting crankier every moment.
5:20 PM PST
I get into my hotel room, disappointed. The Rio’s idea of a “suite” does not match mine: it’s nothing more than a good-sized hotel room with a large dressing area. I unpack and set up my laptop. Internet access will cost $13.95 per day, so I use my cell phone to connect to the Internet to check mail. I begin looking at photos snapped by the Hero camera. Some of them are pretty good.
5:49 PM PST
My friend calls from downstairs. I leave to meet her and her husband. We wait on line for the “world famous” buffet for about 20 minutes, chatting about this and that. The buffet has over 300 items, but none of them are outstanding. I eat only a little more than I should.
7:14 PM PST
My friends come up to my room where I hand over a few things I’ve brought for them. They admire the view to the north that offers glimpses of the strip. We spend some more time socializing.
7:51 PM PST
My friend leave. I call Mike and update him on the helicopter problem. I check e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook. I upload several photos. I start writing up this blog post, using the notes I’ve been taking all day.
10:21 PM PST
Exhausted from a long day, I turn off the lights, leaving the curtains wide open, and go to sleep.