I Got It!

I finally pick up my new helicopter and fly it home.

It started to come together on Wednesday. And that’s a good thing, because there wasn’t a day to spare. A huge storm was moving into the LA area from the west and forecasters were promising heavy rains and high winds from Friday through Tuesday. If I didn’t get Zero-Mike-Lima out of Torrance before Thursday night, it would be stuck there for another week. And I’d miss yet another potentially lucrative flying gig.

Justin called my cell phone late Wednesday night to tell me Robinson had sent the bill of sale via FedEx to MBNA, the finance company. MBNA would not fund the loan without the original copy of this piece of paper. Unfortunately, my cell phone was turned off and I didn’t get his call until Thursday morning. By that time, I thought we’d missed the window of opportunity. Although Mike and I had planned to hitch a ride to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport with a friend early Thursday morning, there seemed no reason to bother. When I got Justin’s message, I began to get a glimmer of hope.

I called MBNA and told my lending guy that the bill of sale was on its way. He told me he didn’t get his mail until about 1 PM. He didn’t seem interested in hunting down the package earlier. It was obvious that he didn’t care much about the weather situation. But he said he’d be able to fund within two hours of receiving the package.

Time ticked by. Mike had gone to work. I checked Southwest Airline’s schedules. Since tickets are refundable, I bought two tickets for the 11 AM flight to LAX.

No word from anyone on the situation. I knew we had to leave LA no later than 4 PM to get out of the area before nightfall. Before long, it was too late to catch the 11 AM flight. The next flight was 12:30. I decided to make sure I was on it.

I called Robinson and left a message for Milly to tell her I was coming and to ask for transportation from LAX to the factory.

Mike’s car was already down in the Phoenix area. It would have been stupid for me to drive mine down, too. So I tried to get a taxi. Fat chance here in Wickenburg. The demand is so low that neither taxi company has enough drivers to handle last minute requests for an airport shuttle. So I called John and Lorna. They were in Wickenburg, but on their way to help a friend take down Christmas decorations. But John agreed to drive me down. I told him to meet me at Wickenburg Airport, where I’d leave my car.

At the airport, I talked to Chris, who keeps one of his planes in the hangar across from mine. I was looking for someone to drive Mike’s car back from Sky Harbor. Chris had business in Deer Valley and agreed to do it for us. He’d stop in Deer Valley on his way back. It was all falling into place nicely.

Veronica from Robinson called. She told me they’d send a helicopter to pick us up at LAX when we arrived. All I had to do was call when we got in and meet the helicopter at the Heliport at Terminal 4. She gave me the code to go up to the roof there and I wrote it down.

John showed up with his friend Jerry, right on time. The four of us went down to Sky Harbor. John left Chris and I at the curb in the departures area. It took a while, but we finally met up with Mike. Chris took the car and went.

We only had one small piece of luggage — an overnight bag — so getting to the gate should be quick, right? Well, because we had bought one-way tickets, we had to go through an extra security screening process. They went through our coats and overnight bag and my purse. They wanded us very thoroughly. Heck, the woman who wanded me even patted me down a bit where the rivets in my jeans had set off her wand.

A side note here. I have a few problems with the way security was handled that day. First of all, if terrorists know that people with one-way tickets get extra screening, they’ll just buy round trip tickets. They don’t care. They can charge it. If they’re planning a suicide terrorist thing, they’ll be dead when the bill comes anyway. Second, someone with a little skill can easily make a sharp, dangerous “knife”or other weapon out of plastic or some other material that doesn’t set off a metal detector and conceal it in their clothing where it would never be found. Third, the screening couldn’t be too good because there was a small Swiss Army Knife in my toiletries bag and they didn’t take it away from me or even find it. Sure, it only has a two-inch blade, but they take knitting needles away from people and a knife is far more dangerous. (And no, I didn’t know it was in there until that night, when I opened the bag. I thought I’d taken it out.)So we literally ran from security to the gate, arriving at 12:20, just ten minutes before the plane was supposed to depart. Unfortunately, the plane hadn’t arrived yet. (Hurry, hurry, wait. It seemed the theme for this helicopter delivery.) We had lunch at Pizza Hut Express. At 1 PM, we boarded the plane and it took off. It was a nice flight that followed I-10 most of the way. I saw the Salt and Gila Rivers flowing and I’m pretty sure I saw where the Hassayampa (which is also flowing right now) meets the Gila. I saw the truck stop we flew Three-Niner-Lima to for breakfast once and Quartzsite, with its seasonal urban sprawl. I saw the Salton Sea and, looking straight down, saw the roads in Joshua Tree National Park. I saw the runways at Palm Springs, San Bernadino, and El Monte. The sky was partly cloudy, with most clouds high up. Good weather for flying.

At the airport, I called Veronica and left her a voicemail message that we’d arrived. Then we made our way from Terminal One to Terminal Four. It was a long walk, but it was nice to stretch. At the Heliport, I called and left another voicemail message. We watched a Pasadena Police Helicopter land and depart. Then Veronica called back and told us it would be about twenty minutes.

A white R44 with pop-out floats approached from the south, crossed the two south runways, and made a nice approach to the Heliport. When its skids were firmly on the ground, Mike and I walked over and hopped in. We buckled up, put on headsets, and sat back for the ride to Torrance, which included a flight along the beach at about 150 feet above the waves and a 180 degree autorotation to the Robinson ramp.

Zero-Mike-Lima was parked on the other end of the ramp. It looked beautiful. But we couldn’t take a closer look. Paperwork.

We were led through the factory and into the lobby. Then it was a bit more waiting time. I checked my voicemail and got a message from Justin, telling me that MBNA had sent the money. Then my cellphone’s battery died.

It turned out that although MBNA had sent the money, a wire transfer isn’t a quick as a fax. The money goes into the ether for a while before it ends up in the recipient’s bank account. Robinson had just gotten the money. Normally, they need at least 24 hours from the time they get the money to the time the have all the paperwork ready. They were doing all the paperwork while we waited.

We waited at least 30 minutes. I read the Wall Street Journal and looked at Mike’s watch. Mike reminded me that every minute we were delayed was 2 miles of distance we couldn’t cover.

Finally, Veronica appeared. She led us out to the delivery room where she loaded up my R44 bag with all the accessories that came with it: blade tie-downs, cabin cover, short-pilot cushion (not something I’ll need), and all the warranties and manuals. And the wheels. I signed a bunch of papers. Then she let us loose on the ramp. By this time, it was almost 4 PM local time.

N630ML at TorranceThe helicopter was beautiful. Incredibly clean and perfect. Really nice. Mike laughed and said, “It’ll never be this clean again.”A guy came out of the factory to check us out on the route. I got some frequency information from him and assured him that I knew the route and had flown it before. Then I did as much of a preflight as I could without a ladder. I checked the oil; it was so clean, I couldn’t see it on the dipstick. Mike took this photo of me. Then we climbed on board, and I started it up. A few minutes later, I was hovering away from the factory and talking to Torrance ATC.

The first leg of the flight — from Torrance through Fullerton — was crazed. I talked to Torrance, Long Beach, and Fullerton towers — all within fifteen minutes. The R44 is fast (we were cruising at about 110 knots) so those places came up quickly, one after another, bam-bam-bam. Then a bit of a break until we got to Riverside and March Air Force Base. Then a longer break until we got to Palm Springs. By that time, it was getting dark. The sun had gone down and it was time to think of a place to stop for the night. I wanted to stop at Bermuda Dunes (east of Palm Springs) because it was relatively close to a motel I’d stayed at once before. So that’s where we landed for the night.

I was on final and a plane was on base when a third aircraft called in. The second aircraft knew the third one and chatted a bit over the Unicom frequency. It turns out, the second plane was brand new, too, and the pilot was taking his first flight in it.

We got a rental car and a cheesy tourist map and made our way to the Fantasy Casino off of I-10. This is one of those Indian Casinos that have been popping up all over California and pissing off the Californians. It was a nice place, with a brand new high-rise hotel that sure beat the Holiday Inn Express I’d stayed at the previous time I’d overnighted in the area. We got a room on the 4th floor and Mike took me to dinner, complete with champagne, in the casino restaurant. Afterward, we fed singles into a few slot machines, got locked out of our room, got a new key, and went up to bed.

I slept badly. I think it was because the sheets were so new they were still rough. We may have been the first people to sleep in that room.

By 4 AM local time, we were both awake. The Weather Channel showed us that the storm would be on our heels and the sooner we departed, the better off we’d be. But it was still very dark out and the sun wasn’t scheduled to rise until 6:51 AM. We couldn’t wait. We checked out of the hotel and were back at the airport at 5:50 AM. It was already starting to rain.

I did the best preflight I could in the dark — the oil was the main thing that concerned me — and we climbed on board. Mike wiped down the windows on the inside while I started up and warmed up the engine. There was some confusion with the Aux Fuel Pump warning light and circuit breaker that I think may have had to do with us using so much power right after startup. The problem went away and we took off.

It was still dark. And raining. I wasn’t happy about this, especially when I realized that once past the Bermuda Dunes area, I would not be able to see the horizon. Was I about to perform my final stupid pilot trick? I almost turned back. But the lights of I-10 below us were easy to follow and showed good visibility far into the distance. And as we flew into the dark and our eyes adjusted to it, the faint outline of the horizon appeared. No problem.

It got lighter and lighter as I flew. Unfortunately, the rain kept falling. In fact, it rained on us all the way to Blythe, which we reached about an hour after departing Bermuda Dunes. The sun was up and after blinding us for a while, retreated into the clouds above the horizon. There was some ground fog at Blythe, probably because of the river. Then the rain stopped and we had nice weather the rest of the way to Wickenburg.

We got into Wickenburg about 9 AM local time. John and Lorna were there to meet us. They’d fed the horses and the dog the night before and that morning. Mike got out and fetched two more headsets out of the hangar. I gave John and Lorna a nice ride as far as Yarnell and back. Then I gave Chris a quick ride around town. Finally, I shut down.

Some of the airport bums came around to check out the helicopter while we assembled my new tow bar. Unfortunately, the tow bar wasn’t as sturdy as I’d like it to be. Although I used to to take the helicopter from the ramp to the hangar door, I didn’t trust it to back the helicopter in over the lip of the hangar door’s runner. I had a feeling it would snap. So I put my old tow bar on it and we used that. I think I may have to have a dolly built.

With the helicopter all tucked away in its hangar, I locked things up and came home. The rain should start here later this afternoon.

What do you think?