A Trip to Chandler, AZ for a New Attitude (Indicator)

I take a seasoned aerobatic pilot on a helicopter trip to Chandler and back.

My helicopter’s instrument panel includes an attitude indicator. That’s the gadget that tells you whether you’re flying straight and level or doing turns and climbs (or descents). My attitude indicator never worked right (how fitting!) in that it sometimes told me I was doing things I wasn’t doing. When it started telling me I was doing loops and rolls, I decided to get it fixed.

Ed Taylor pulled it out of my ship for me. He did some research and found a company that would fix it for a mere $1,195. Ouch. I made a few phone calls. A place in Mesa said they could fix it for me for about $900, but when I told them it was for a helicopter, they backed off. They said they didn’t have much luck with helicopter instruments and recommended that I buy a new one for about $1,400. I called the Chandler-based company they recommended and was told that the new one would be $1,700. Ouch ouch! But for $965, I could get an overhauled unit with the same one-year warranty as a new one. They had them in stock. I chatted with the woman for a while and she decided she liked me. She talked her boss down to $900. I gave her my credit card number before they could change their minds.

The day dragged on. A 2:30 meeting I had was finished in 10 minutes rather than an hour. At 3:00 PM, I was at the fuel pumps in Wickenburg with Three-Niner-Lima, doing a preflight for my trip to Chandler.

Nancy, one of our local pilots, stopped by. She’d just gone flying for the first time in several weeks and had put her plane away for the day. I didn’t know it, but she’d had a bicycle accident and that had kept her at home, nursing a nasty cut and bump on her head. Nancy flies a Decathalon, an aerobatic plane. In her words, the plane is “just as happy flying upside down as it is right side up.” So she flies it upside down a lot. And does loops and rolls. And hammerheads. The kinds of maneuvers that make some people sick. She does them a few times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes each outing, several miles north of the airport.

Nancy, who is also one of my favorite people, used to do aerobatics professionally. Now she just does it for fun. She’s 73 years old.

I asked Nancy what she was doing, and she told me she had nothing planned. I invited her to come with me on my trip to Chandler. She made a quick phone call, then hopped in. A while later, we were airborne, heading southeast. As we left, Gary, on duty at the airport, told me to remind Nancy that we couldn’t fly upside down.

I took my usual route to Chandler: southeast to Camelback mountain, east along the north side of Camelback, then south to Chandler. It avoids all other airspace, so the only airport you have to talk to is Chandler.

Nancy thoroughly enjoyed the flight. Years ago, her husband Bill owned a Hughes 269 helicopter. I’m not quite sure what that was, but Nancy tells me it sat three people. Probably a lot like a Schweitzer 300. They used to land it at their home in Scottsdale — we’re talking years ago — and later, at their home in Wickenburg. Oddly enough, their old home in Wickenburg now belongs to one of my neighbors, and I can clearly see the nice, flat area where Bill used to set down. She told me a story about how a friend of theirs once landed his helicopter at their home after they’d moved. “He realized pretty quick that we weren’t there anymore and took off,” she told me.

I got the impression that it had been a while since Nancy was in a helicopter. She said, “This is great,” about a dozen times. She remarked that in an airplane, you don’t see as much. That’s because in a plane, you’re not sitting in front of a window that’s bigger than you are.

We talked about the airport and the airport commission. Boring stuff that would put you to sleep if I detailed it here. Heck, it would put ME to sleep if I detailed it here.

I pointed out interesting landmarks along the way. Highways, malls, roads, mountains, airports. We could see right down the runway for Luke, just before we reached Arrowhead Mall. I remarked about the new construction. We listened to Scottsdale tower scold a pilot for flying the wrong direction. We searched for the Chandler High School, which was my landmark for approaching Chandler.

We came into Chandler and landed at the helipad near Quantum, then hover-taxied to the transient pad. I shut down. We walked to Varga, two buildings away from Quantum. Along the way, I saw Tristan’s helicopter, shoved up alongside the hangar, and ran into Paul Mansfield, my old mechanic. Paul greeted me warmly as ever. We talked about Tristan and how we wished we could slap him on the side of the head. Then we headed to Varga.

At Varga, we didn’t seem too welcome. But we eventually got the attention of the fat man behind the desk, who went into a back room to retrieve the attitude indicator. And here’s a funny thing. When I first talked to Ed about all this, I told him that I was thinking of replacing the attitude indicator with one that had a ball. The ball tells you if you’re in trim. My helicopter has trim strings that also do this, but they’re completely useless if its raining or dark. I thought it might be good to have a ball in the ship. Well guess what? The attitude indicator the fat man gave me had a ball.

We walked back to Quantum, stopping to chat with Paul again along the way. If it were up to Paul, we’d still be chatting with him. But we were anxious to get back before dark. It was already 5 PM and sunset was less than an hour away. The flight would take an hour. We pulled ourselves away and I took one last look at 45PG.

Meanwhile, Quantum’s R22s were flying in, like homing pigeons. One after another, they landed at the helipad and hover-taxied to parking spots. We started up as the last one glided past. I remembered all my radio calls, hover-taxied to the helipad when cleared, and took off to the west.

We went back along the south side of South Mountain, over the Gila River, over the northernmost part of the Estrella mountains, south of Goodyear, over Buckeye, and north along the Hassayampa. I wanted to show Nancy something different. She had a great time and I enjoyed her company. We set down at Wickenburg just before 6 PM.

Today, Ed installed my attitude indicator. I can’t wait to try out the ball.

What do you think?