I feel like an expectant father.
Those of you who have been following these blogs closely (I’m impressed but somewhat concerned about you) know that back at the end of June 2004 — on my birthday, to be exact — I placed an order for a brand new Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter.
The great thing about ordering a helicopter from the factory is that it’ll be exactly what you want when it arrives. You get your choice of everything: exterior color (red), interior (beige leather), type of windows (bubble observation), instruments (vertical compass, artificial horizon w/slip-skid indicator, digital clock), avionics (Garmin 420 GPS, Garmin 330 Mode S Transponder), cockpit cover (yes), fire extinguisher (yes), Bose headsets (yes) — well, you get the idea. Heck, you can even pick your own N-number (N630ML). You load it up the way you want it and the helicopter sales guy does some fancy calculations to tell you that it’ll only cost a small fortune (rather than a large one). You sign on the dotted line, give them a check for $25K, and you wait.
You see, Robinson is the top-selling helicopter manufacturer in the world. Robinson, in fact, makes more helicopters than all the other helicopter manufacturers combined. It has a factory in Torrance, CA that was recently almost doubled in size just to handle the volume. But despite this increase in capacity, there is still a five to seven month wait for a helicopter from the moment it is ordered to the moment it is ready for delivery at the factory.
A few weeks after placing my order, I was given an estimated delivery date of mid-December. At first, I thought that was great. Then, as December got closer and I realized that some property I needed to sell probably wouldn’t sell in time, I went into panic mode. Where would the money come from? I had already arranged for a loan, but I didn’t want to borrow any more than I absolutely had to. I hate being in debt. My goal was to keep my monthly loan payments about the same as they were for the R22.
I sold the R22 in October and delivered it to its new owner on November 1. I got almost as much as I wanted for it. I took the offer because I didn’t want to be stressed out worrying about selling it. It’s a good thing I sold it when I did. The other day, I got a letter in the mail from Robinson stating that all main rotor blades of a certain series (the series installed on Three-Niner-Lima) were being recalled. The blades had to be replaced by June 30, 2005. The cost of this recall: approximately $25K. Ouch. I feel really bad for the new owner; the one reason he hesitated to buy the helicopter was because there was only five years left on the blades. Now there’s only six months. But although I’m sure he’ll be very unhappy about the situation with his new helicopter, I also think he can afford an expense like that more than I can. Heck, he paid cash for the darn thing. Didn’t even need a loan!
The bad part about selling Three-Niner-Lima is that I haven’t flown since November 1. But I cover that frustration in another blog entry.
About two weeks ago, I was given a revised delivery date of January 7. (Robinson is closed for a week for the Christmas holiday.) But last Tuesday, Tristan called to tell me he saw my helicopter flying at the factory. A few frantic calls later got me the information that there was a lot of test flying and inspecting to do and that the January 7 date was still the safe date. Lots of apologies from my helicopter sales guy. But apologies don’t fly.
Still, I had high hopes of being able to pick it up before the factory closed for the holiday. All I had to do was get the insurance and money in place.
So that’s how I spent the last five business days. Wiring money to the insurance company, giving them an insurance effective date that would satisfy the lender. Signing loan papers and FedExing them to the lender. Wiring my own money, scraped together after jumping a few financial hurdles, to the helicopter dealer. Faxing ferry qualification forms to Robinson and my helicopter dealer. Getting and receiving phone calls. Trying to understand how things would flow. Trying to coordinate, like an orchestra conductor, the actions of people all over the country — and beyond.
Today is the day. It’s Wednesday, the day before the last day the factory is open before the Christmas holiday. Today’s the day I could get the phone call that says: Your helicopter is ready. Can you come pick it up tomorrow?
I’m ready to go get it. I’ll hitch a ride down to Sky Harbor with Mike and we’ll hop on a Southwest flight to LAX. Robinson will send a helicopter to LAX to pick us up and take us to the factory. Then we’ll look things over, sign some papers, and take off. Two and a half hours later, we’ll be in Wickenburg. With luck, we’ll get home in time for dinner.
That’s my fantasy, anyway. Reality may differ. For example, the phone might not ring today. Or the weather tomorrow might be so bad that visibility makes it impossible to fly away from the factory. Or we might not be able to hop on a flight to LAX at all. (We do have plan B, which calls for some friends of ours to fly us to Torrance in their Mooney.)
Meanwhile, I can’t think of anything else. Work is impossible. I’m mentally pacing, rubbing my hands together, looking at a clock. Like a soon-to-be father in a waiting room. (Yes, I know fathers wait in the delivery room these days, but I don’t think Robinson would let me camp out on the ramp near the factory door.)
And it doesn’t feel at all like Christmas.
What will happen? Stay tuned to this blog and see.