Return to Buckeye, Season 4

Our fourth trip to Buckeye.

The fine folks at Buckeye Municipal Airport in Buckeye, AZ host the Buckeye Air Fair every year. In past years, the event was held in April, but this year, they decided to move it up to February. They held it this past Saturday.

As the purveyor of helicopter rides at the event, I was happy about the change for a number of reasons:

  • From a performance perspective, I’d get much better aircraft performance on a 65°F day than a 90°F day. It isn’t easy taking off gracefully in a helicopter near max gross weight on 90°F day in a crosswind, even if the airport is only at 1,000 feet MSL.
  • I was less likely to get dehydrated and feel overworked on a cooler day. I normally feel completely drained at the end of the event.
  • I was more likely to be in the area in February than April, since I hoped to get a summer job in Alaska. Those jobs start in April.

There was some confusion at first as to whether we’d be part of the event. My contact wanted us to come, she said that people really looked forward to seeing us there. We were one of the main draws of the event. But another organization had offered to do helicopter rides for free and I certainly couldn’t beat that. When the other organization backed down (smart move on their part), my contact asked if we were still available. We were. I did all the paper work for a business license and vendor contract and we were good to go for the February 16 event.

The big part of this story is our flight from Wickenburg to Buckeye, which was delayed due to (of all things) fog. So we arrived late — after 10 AM. The crowd of potential customers began forming before my blades had stopped. I placed a fuel order and went to hit the Port-o-San while Mike and his assistant set up the landing zone.

Our assistant for the day was Brad, my former flight instructor from Silver State Helicopters. Brad, like more than 800 other people, found himself suddenly unemployed earlier this month when Silver State slammed its doors shut, subsequently declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy. He’d come to Wickenburg to fly with Mike since then and was available to make some money working for us at the Buckeye event. He’s got his resume out there; if anyone needs a helicopter pilot, I hope they’ll consider him.

My View of BuckeyeBy the time I got back from the can, I there were three helicopter loads waiting to fly. I started right up and let Mike and Brad load my first group of passengers. Here’s what it looked like from my seat; I took this photo with my Treo.

Thus started six hours of almost nonstop flying. In fact, the only time I shut down was when I needed fuel, lunch, and a second toilet break.

By 2 PM, the other vendors — did I mention those? — were packing up. By 3 PM, they were gone. Still, I had a line of passengers waiting to fly.

At 4:15 PM, I did my last ride: a mom and her 3-year-old daughter.

We calculated that we flew more than 70 people that day. More than half were on their very first helicopter ride. About a third were kids aged under 12.

We fueled up one last time, settled our fuel bill, and took off for our return flight to Wickenburg. Our fourth gig at Buckeye had been another great, but tiring, day.

2 thoughts on “Return to Buckeye, Season 4

  1. 35 (or so) first timers isn’t even a record for me. The first time I flew rides at the Mohave County Fair, I flew about 150 people over 3 days. At least half of them had to be first timers.

    Keeping track of the number of people I’ve flown would be an interesting challenge. It must be well over ten thousand by now. When I flew at the Grand Canyon in 2004, I flew an average of 60 people a day. (I came very close to flying 100 in a single day once, but didn’t quite make it.) Figure 15 days a month for five months: 4,500 people. At least 25% of them were first timers.

    I like giving first timers a good, positive experience. Most people have no understanding of how helicopters fly and they think it’s very dangerous. I like to show them that it isn’t a big deal and it is a lot of fun.

What do you think?