Helicopter Rides at Old Congress Days

A great event for all.

It was a good day for all involved. Nice weather, calm winds, and a great little small-town event out in the desert.

Old Congress Days was sponsored by the Congress Senior Citizen’s Association. It was a revival of the old Old Congress Days event they used to have in Congress, AZ, annually. If you’re not familiar with Congress, it’s a small, unincorporated town on route 89 about 15 miles north of Wickenburg. If you drive from Wickenburg to Prescott, you’ll go right through it just before climbing the Weaver Mountains.

Congress was a mining community and the old Congress Mine is still being worked a little. But that’s not the big business in town. There are a few shops, including a restaurant, a market, and a dollar store, and a brand new gas station is coming soon. The Trading Post is a fixture on Route 89 and a number of other businesses have sprung up on both sides of the road just south of there. There’s also a great K-8 school (which invited me to do a helicopter demonstration a few years ago) and a relatively new post office. Homes range from single- and double-wide manufactured homes on lots up to 10 acres to stick-built homes in a brand new subdivision.

When I heard about the Congress Days event, I called one of the organizers, Jane Summers, and asked if I could participate by offering helicopter rides. She remembered me doing rides at Yarnell Days (another 9 miles up the road) a year and a half ago. We discussed arrangements and the local volunteer fire department very kindly allowed me to use their truly wonderful helipad. The helipad is used to airlift local emergencies down to Phoenix; no helicopter is based there, but one can get there within 25 minutes when needed. I had to be prepared to land elsewhere if the medevac helicopter was inbound. No problem. I’d already landed on the opposite side of the tracks a few times for visits to the Trading Post and was prepared to land in the lot behind the dollar store if I had to give them more space.

We arrived at about 9:30 AM on the day of the event. Across the street was the swap meet that was part of the event. I shut down and Mike and I took out the few supplies we’d brought along: a folding table, tickets, Helicopter Rides banners, a flag with a collapsable pole (we’d had two but the other pole broke at the Mohave County Fail last month). We put up the banners and set up the table, then went for a walk to check out the swap meet and watch the parade.

We ran into our friend Jeannie along the parade route and watched the parade with her niece and her niece’s 9 month old son. The boy looked cute in his cowboy hat. The parade had a few classic cars and lots of miniature animals: horses, burros, and mules. I don’t think think I’ve ever seen so many minis in one place. They were mostly pulling carts. The people in the carts looked very large, even though they really weren’t.

When the fire trucks came, marking the end of the parade, we walked back with them to the landing zone. Our ground crew, Darlene and Dave, arrived and introduced themselves. Darlene had answered an ad I put on wickenburg-az.com for ground crew. She and her husband turned out to be among the best helpers we’ve ever had. Darlene is a great salesperson and Dave understood the importance of safety and did a great job helping Mike load.

Flying M Air at Old Congress DaysLet me take a moment to describe this landing zone, since it’s the best one I ever had for an event. First of all, it’s a helipad. That means it’s laid out and designed specifically for helicopter traffic. It’s 60 x 60 feet and concrete. It’s surrounded by gravel, so there’s no dust. That’s surrounded by a 3-foot high chain link fence that has only two gates — both on the same side. The fence made crowd control very easy — no one gets through the fence unescorted. Beyond that is a parking lot that was blocked off, the firehouse (a one-story metal building with a wind sock on top), and a lot soon to be occupied by a longtime Wickenburg business that is moving from Wickenburg to Congress. Behind the helipad are some palo verde and mesquite trees — perhaps 10 feet tall and beyond them is the railroad tracks for the Santa Fe railroad. No wires near enough to matter. My approach was over some empty land east of the railroad tracks, then over the tracks and onto the pad. My departure was over the tracks and up some more empty land, then over the tracks again to start the tour. On the one time a train was moving through, I made a slow approach and landed behind the last car after it had passed. Everything — including its location — was perfect for the event.

The loading started almost immediately. We’d decided to go with $20 rides around Congress. We figured that the low price would make it affordable to everyone. Congress is not a big place so the ride took 5 to 7 minutes. And from 10:40 AM to 1:10 PM, I flew nonstop, with two or three passengers on each flight. Darlene sold the tickets (and took photos) and the people lined up along the outside of the fence. (It reminded me of my Papillon days, when the passengers for my next flight were often right on the other side of the fence when I landed, waiting to be loaded.) Every time I landed, the line seemed as long — if not longer — than it had when I took off. Mike kept telling me to make the rides shorter and I tried, but I wanted everyone to get the same experience. No one complained about the wait, which got up to 30 minutes at one point. Everyone was happy and friendly and genuinely excited to have a chance to fly over town. And I guess the price was right for them.

As for me, well, I love giving rides at events like these. It lets me introduce people to helicopter flight — after all, this was a first helicopter flight for more than half the people. I gave the kids helicopter toys with the Flying M Air logo on it. I even gave out a few to dad, since the toys are almost as popular with them as they are with the kids.

When the crowd thinned out, I gave Darlene and Dave the “deluxe” ride and Darlene took some more photos. A few more passengers waited while we were gone. I took them up while Mike paid Darlene and Dave for their time and they went on their way. We did a few more rides, then packed up and headed home. We landed at Wickenburg at 2:00 PM.

It was a great day for me and for Flying M Air. We figure we flew about 55 people that day. Many thanks to Jean and Virgil for making the day possible. I look forward to coming back next year!

What do you think?