Work: Feast or Famine

An empty summer packs up quickly.

Less than a week ago, on the morning of Friday, February 8, I was looking at a pretty empty summer season. I had one book contract lined up — an annual revision I usually work in in June and July — and no idea where or even if I’d be flying for someone else during the April through September timeframe I’d set aside for Alaska.

Two other books had been dangled in front of me on and off for the past two months. If I got them, they’d keep me busy from now until the summer time. But it didn’t look as if I’d get them.

And while I was hoping to spend the entire summer flying for someone else in Alaska, the recent demise of Silver State Helicopters dumped all of their CFIs (certified flight instructors) on the job market. If any of them had 1,000 hours (or said they had 1,000 hours), they’d be lined up for the few entry level jobs at the Grand Canyon, Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. My experience level is a bit higher than entry level for those jobs, so employers would have to pay me more. Why pay for steak when hamburger will do? Despite four resumes out there in the land of the midnight sun, my phone remained silent. So it didn’t look as if I’d be going to Alaska after all.

And that was the state of things last Friday morning.

A Telephone Call Changes the Scene

I did have one other resume out in the wild: I’d sent it about a month before to an Illinois-based Part 135 operator. They were looking for a full time pilot to help them with a special contract and then do odd flying jobs as needed in the midwest. (And yes, I’m being purposely vague. Last week’s fiasco has put me into high caution mode.) I exchanged a few e-mails with the owner, who said that a contract pilot — which is what I’d prefer — might work out better for him. He told me to call him. I did, but never seemed to get him on the phone. I waited for him to call. He didn’t. I sent him an e-mail, asking if the job had been filled; if it had, I’d stop bothering him. He wrote back to say the job wasn’t filled, he was definitely interested in me, but he was swamped with work. He’d call. He didn’t. All this happened during the course of a month.

On Friday, I decided to call again. I wanted to either cross off this opportunity or bring it into the realm of possibility. I got the owner on the phone. We hit it off right away. I got the feeling he’d spoken to a few other people about the job and they weren’t interested in some of the more unusual aspects. (Again, I’m being vague on purpose; I don’t want anyone to screw this up for me.) I also got the feeling he was being inundated with resumes from Silver State casualties of Chapter 7 — guys who have earned their 1,000 hours in a simulator or as an active passenger during dual instruction flights. He wanted someone with experience flying passengers for hire, which I’ve been doing since 2001. We joked around a little. He told me that mid-month, he would fly me up to his base for a face-to-face meeting and a chance for me to see their equipment. I assume a flight would also be part of the interview process.

I hung up the phone feeling good. This opportunity had gone from a long shot to a 75% or more chance of getting the job. And without going into details, I can assure you that the job will be very interesting, with plenty to blog about — if I’m allowed to.

Two More Calls, Three More Books?

Product ImageMy phone rang on Monday morning. It was one of my editors. He’s been swamped since the holidays and has just dug out of the pile of work on his desk. He pulled one of the dangling books out of the air and slapped it on the negotiation table. We talked terms, we agreed. (My co-author on the book agreed yesterday.) I’m looking for a contract in the mail any day now. Time frame? Well, the book is already listed on, so I guess I’d better get to work on it soon.

He also dangled that other book around some more, but no decision was made. We didn’t even talk terms. So although I can’t count on it yet, it’s definitely still in the picture.

Yesterday, I got another call from another editor I work with regularly. She flat-out offered me a book deal with terms that would be tough to turn down. So I said yes. The contract should come within the next week or so. Timeframe: late summer. Sorry; no details will be forthcoming anytime soon.

What’s good about all this is that I have enough writing work lined up to support me through the summer, when Flying M Air continues to incur expenses but does not incur much (if any) revenue.

Another Call with another Flying Possibility

Between the two editor calls, I got a call from a California-based Part 135 helicopter operator. They’d seen my helicopter forum post that had a subject line like “Single Pilot Part 135 Operator with Helicopter Available for Summer Months.” This guy is interested in expanding his business to offer a major city’s commuters with helicopter transportation into that city from the suburbs. (Yes, I’m being vague again; jeez, I hate this.) Rather than invest in a lot of equipment and train pilots, he thinks we might work together with me and my helicopter subcontracted by his organization to provide the flights. If things work out, he’ll expand; if they don’t, no serious money lost.

While this is very interesting to me, I’m worried that there won’t be enough revenue in it to support me and my aircraft. After all, I’d have to relocate for the entire summer and the city in question ain’t exactly cheap to live in. But it is a really nice city, one I wouldn’t mind living in at all. I told him about my other opportunity and how I wanted to pursue that first. He said that if that job didn’t work out and I was still available, I should call him in a month or so to talk about flying for him.

I’m calling that “Summer Job Plan C.”

Plan D, I should mention, is cherry drying in Washington State, which, as usual, is always dangling out there but never quite attainable.


My helicopter calendar has a few — but not many — things on it. I’ll be doing rides at the Buckeye Air Fair again on Saturday. I picked up a Sky Harbor Charter for March with some folks who already told me they want another day trip when they come to Wickenburg. And I have a Wickenburg area tour prebooked through a tour company for March 1.

The Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure simply is not selling. It could be my limited marketing budget. But I can’t see paying $10-$15K for a magazine advertisement if it’ll take the sale of more than 10 excursions just to pay for the ad. (The trip really is a smoking deal and I don’t make much money on it.)

But I do have some possibilities on desert racing aerial photography gigs lined up for March and April. We’ll see how that goes. The ferry cost is hard for most of those companies to swallow. I’d do a lot better with race photography gigs if I’d relocate to Lake Havasu or Bullhead City. (And believe me, I’m thinking about it.)

Today, I’m finishing up an article I started on Monday for FileMaker Advisor magazine. Then I’m going to work on my outline for my half of our WordPress book revision. If I finish that before the end of the day, I’ll finish up my series of articles about using Viddler with WordPress. And maybe — just maybe — I’ll record another video blog entry.

But only if I can do something with my hair.

What do you think?