The Governor Needs a Helicopter

It could save her time and save the taxpayers money.

I got in to Wickenburg Airport yesterday afternoon sometime after 4:00 PM and set down near the pumps. When the blades stopped spinning and I finally got out with my passengers, I noticed a couple of men in suit jackets waiting in the parking area.

Gus came out of the terminal. “See those guys with the suits?” he asked me. “They’re with the FAA and they want to talk to you.”

As usual, Gus’s delivery was deadpan so I couldn’t help but believe him. I looked at the men. They seemed to be looking back at me. “About what?” I asked. I was near the end of my Part 135 certification process and the last thing I wanted was trouble with the FAA. On a Saturday, no less.

“It must be about you running out of fuel in the desert,” he said.

Technically, I hadn’t run out of fuel. I still had 1/8 tank. But I’d gotten a Low Fuel light four miles short of Wickenburg and had made a precautionary landing on a dirt road in the desert about two miles from pavement. I’d been stranded with Mike and two friends for about 30 minutes when my friend Ray delivered 10.7 gallons of 100LL and took off in his Hughes 500D to continue roaming the desert or chasing cows or doing whatever it is that he does when he’s burning JetA.

“There’s nothing wrong with making a precautionary landing,” I said defensively.

Gus laughed. “They’re not for you,” he said. “They’re for the governor. She’s flying in to Wickenburg.”

As he spoke, a few more suits showed up. The parking lot was nearly full. I remembered a trip to local radio station KBSZ-AM the day before. Rebecca from Robson’s had been there and she was all excited that the governor was going to pay them a visit. I never got a chance to ask why the governor was going to travel out to a mining museum/tourist attraction tucked into the mountains north of Aguila.

“This late?” I asked.

“Yeah. She’s due to arrive any minute now. She’s going out to Robson’s and then to something at the museum. She’s leaving here at 7:10.”

I looked at my watch. It was nearly 4:30 PM. Robson’s was at least 35 minutes away by car. “She’s going all the way out to Robson’s and back and then to the museum in less than three hours? What’s she coming in?”

“A King Air.”

A King Air is a big twin. “From Phoenix?” I asked with some disbelief.

“I think so.”

“That’s a bit of overkill, don’t you think?”

He pretty much agreed with me.

“So she’s going to fly in a King Air from Phoenix to Wickenburg, then hop in a car and drive all the way out to Robson’s?”

“I believe that’s the plan.”

“I should take her to Robson’s in my helicopter,” I said. “It’s a ten minute flight from here and I can land right by Robson’s gate. It’ll save her two long car rides. Suggest it to them, will you?”

He said he would. I parked the helicopter, wasted another half hour around the airport, and went to Safeway to do some grocery shopping. As we went into the store, the governor’s King Air flew overhead on its way to the airport. It was nearly 5:00 PM. That meant the governor would tackle the two half-hour car rides, Robson’s visit, and museum visit in just over two hours. Not likely. I had a sneaking suspicion that Rebecca would not see the governor that evening.

Of course, if the governor had a helicopter, it could save her plenty of time and save the taxpayers lots of money. The helicopter would have to be one like mine — not a fancy turbine job — because it’s relatively inexpensive to operate (compared to King Airs and Turbine helicopters), comfortable, and reliable.

Here’s how it could work. Any time the governor had to travel to a destination within 100 miles of her office, she could arrange for transportation by helicopter. The helicopter could pick her and two companions up at any designated landing zone — even a parking lot near her office in Phoenix — thus saving her the amount of time it takes to travel from her office to Sky Harbor, Deer Valley, Scottsdale, or wherever she normally departs from. No delays waiting for air traffic control, either. Then the helicopter could take her right to her destination and land in an appropriate landing zone there. No need to land at a suitable airport that might be 10 or 20 or 30 miles away from the final destination. More time saved. The helicopter cruises at 130 MPH, which isn’t as fast as a King Air, but much faster than a car. It could get to destinations within 100 miles in less than an hour. And while she was in flight, she’d be within 1000 feet of the ground, so she could actually see what she was flying over. Maybe it would give her a good look at the urban sprawl the Phoenix area suffers from or a glimpse of off-the-grid life out in the desert.

Now some people might say that the governor’s arrival and departure by helicopter might be too showy and a good example of how government spends taxpayer money. But I will argue that this mode of transportation, especially for distances under 100 miles, is far more cost effective than a King Air. And I think everyone would agree that the governor’s time would be much better spent en route to her destination than sitting in traffic and dealing with airport delays.

As for me? I’m no fool. I’ll take the helicopter where I’m going whenever I can. And it isn’t because I don’t have a King Air.

What do you think?