Taking care of business…

…by helicopter.

A bunch of things are going on in my life right now and I chose yesterday to take care of related errands.

Some Facts about Aircraft Inspections

First, my helicopter is coming up on 500 hours of flight time. It’s about 2-1/2 years old and I fly about 200 hours a year, so this makes sense — I took delivery in January 2005.

Aircraft — all aircraft — are required to have certain periodic inspections to keep them airworthy in the eyes of the FAA. One inspection is called an “annual” because, as you might imagine, it’s done annually. Then there are others, depending on the type of aircraft and the amount of time on it.

Because I’m a commercial operator, I’m also required to get inspections every 100 hours. (Yes, they’re called “hundred hours.”) A hundred hour inspection is very much like an annual on my helicopter — the main difference is the signoff.

Of course, having a calendar-based inspection (annual) and a time-based inspection (hundred hour) could make things sticky at year-end. You seen, the goal of any operator with an eye on the bottom line is to maximize hours flow between each inspection. So say that my annual is due each January, by the end of the month. And say that I had a hundred hour done in June. Now say that between June and January, I only flew 80 hours. I’d still have to get an annual inspection — which is very much like a hundred hour inspection — in January, even if I still had 20 hours before the next hundred hour. I’d do the annual in January, and since that counts as a hundred hour, the clock would be reset. But I’d also miss out on 20 hours of flying between inspections.

So I’ve pretty much decided that until I fly considerably more than 200 hours a year, I’ll get annual inspections instead of hundred hours. It’ll cost me $100 to $200 more, but I won’t have to worry about calendar-based inspections quite as much.

This doesn’t mean I can skip other time-based inspections. My oil changes are still due at 50 hours (or three months, whichever comes first. 50 hours usually comes first, but I don’t wait that long. When the oil starts getting really black, I have it changed — usually at about 35-40 hours. I want my engine to last until overhaul and I do what I can to take good care of it.

This time around, I have some additional maintenance to get done for 500 hours of flight time. I can’t remember all of it, but I think my magnetos need some maintenance and I’m pretty sure the gearboxes need to be drained and refilled. The mechanic knows all this and will take care of it for me as part of the job.

Other Helicopter Stuff

I had two other little things to take care of for my helicopter.

A while back, my primary aviation radio decided that it was going to stop working reliably. I went to Flight Trails, an avionics shop at Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ. After a bunch of testing, they determined that it really was broken and set about repairing it. They loaned me a nearly identical radio to fill the hole in my panel where the bad radio usually sat.

Time passed. Lots of time. Four months. And the other day, Tim from Flight Trails called to tell me they’d found the problem and fixed it. I needed to fly down there so he could swap out the radio and test the repaired one.

The other little thing had to do with the reopening of the helipad on the roof of the Terminal 3 parking structure. Landing at this pad to pick up and discharge passengers would be a great convenience for my passengers. Normally, I land at the Cutter ramp on the south side of the airport and my passengers have to take a free shuttle bus to get to or from the terminal. This would save them a bus ride. And it would save me a few bucks, since Cutter sometimes charges a landing fee and a ramp fee when I come in.

A landing pad on top of a building isn’t the easiest place to land — especially when you have to cross an active runway at a Class Bravo airport to get to it. So I wanted to try flying in with someone else who had done it before I went in with passengers. That was on my to do list, too.

Finally, a Real Vacation

I’m also going on vacation. It’s a two-week trip to Alaska that Mike planned out for us. We leave very early tomorrow (Sunday) and return on June 17. I’m excited about the trip, mostly because I’m eager to visit a new place. And since I’m hoping to get a job in Alaska next summer, this will be a good opportunity to see what it’s like.

Of course, with vacation comes the doling out of responsibilities at home. Two weeks ago, we were in California for a week on a business/pleasure trip and, before we left, we had the task of distributing the members of our menagerie to caretakers. Alex the Bird (a parrot) to Sharon and Lee, Jack the Dog to Ed and Judy, Jake and Cherokee (horses) to Polly’s horse boarding business.

This time we got lucky. Mike’s brother, Paul, was thinking of a vacation away from New York. He volunteered to house-and-animal sit for us in return for airfare. What a deal!

The big job for this trip will be packing. Fifteen days and fourteen nights is a long time to be away from home. And Alaska isn’t the kind of place you can get away with a few pairs of shorts, some t-shirts, and a bathing suit. We have to pack and the clothes we pack will be bulky. With only one shot at a laundromat five days into the trip, we’ll need at least two big suitcases.

A Camera Worthy of Alaska’s Scenery

We also need our “equipment.” Cameras, video camera, laptop, GPS — all kinds of electronic gadgetry that we can’t seem to live without. The good part of this is that about half the time, we’ll be staying on a cruise ship, so lugging it all around won’t be a huge hardship.

And in thinking about where we were going, I realized that our little point-and-shoot digital cameras just weren’t going to cut it. I’ve been seriously into photography at least twice in my life, with considerable investments in quality camera equipment. But it was all film cameras. I packed them into their camera bag at the back of the closet at least three years ago. Now, with their zoom lenses and high-quality optics, they were looking better than our point-and-shoots for capturing the kind of scenery I expected to see in Alaska.

The trouble was, I didn’t feel like dealing with film. Who really does these days?

Wouldn’t it be nice, I mused, to buy a digital SLR that would work with the three auto-focus Nikon lenses I already had? Mike and I began researching. And Mike discovered the Nikon D80. He checked it out in person at Tempe Camera, which is near where he works in the Phoenix area, and came back with a thumbs up. The camera’s only problem: the price. It cost more than my two camera bodies combined — and they’re Nikons, too.

So we put off the purchase decision until Thursday evening, when it was too late to even consider mail order. And that’s when we realized that Nikon dealers didn’t normally stock this camera. I gave MIke a list of authorized dealers and asked him to track one down. I’d pay for it.

A Final Test of the Treo

If you read this blog regularly, you may recall my recent purchase of a Palm Treo to replace my 3-1/2 year old cell phone. I bought it primarily to so I could get Internet access on our off-the-grid camping shed at Howard Mesa.

But by Thursday evening, I hadn’t tested it up there yet. And if I planned to return it to exchange it for something else, I’d have to do so by June 17; the same day we were coming back from Alaska. That means I’d have to bring all the boxes and related junk with me in case I decided to return it. That just didn’t make sense.

What did make sense was going up to Howard Mesa and testing it before the trip so I could make my decision before we left.

My Friday

So that brings us to Friday morning and my list of chores for the day:

  1. Test the Treo with my PowerBook at Howard Mesa. I’d obviously have to fly up; it’s a 2-1/2 hour drive each way and I simply didn’t have 5+ hours to waste before my trip.
  2. Stop by Universal Helicopters in Scottsdale for a quick flight with a CFI for landing at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 3 helispot.
  3. Stop by Flight Trails at Falcon Field to have my radio swapped out, tested, and paid for.
  4. Bring the helicopter in to Silver State Helicopters at Williams-Gateway airport for its 500-hour/Annual inspection.
  5. Buy the Alaska-worthy camera.

And did I mention that Mike had to pick up his brother at the airport?

What do you think?