Makes me glad I never had kids.
The title of this post says most of what I want to report, so I won’t stretch this one out longer than it needs to be.
About two weeks ago, I booked a Phoenix Tour with a woman. The flight, which lasts 50 to 60 minutes, circles the Phoenix area and includes incredible views of north Phoenix, Peoria, Lake Pleasant, Glendale, downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Deer Valley. The tour was for her grandson, who was celebrating his eighth birthday. I wasn’t available on the day she wanted to book, so she booked for the following Saturday, a week after the boy’s birthday. Cost of the flight: $495 plus tax for up to 3 people.
I met the family at 11 AM sharp yesterday. It was Grandma (who booked and paid for the flight), Grandpa, Mom, and The Kid. Everyone looked happy and excited. Mom reported that The Kid was so excited that he’d run into the car, still carrying the TV remote.
I walked them all out to the ramp where the helicopter was waiting. I’d just repositioned it there from its hangar. Three small airplanes were parked nearby. They were surrounded by kids. Apparently, some lucky Boy Scouts were getting airplane rides.
We reached the helicopter but The Kid stopped eight feet short. “I don’t think I want to go,” he said softly.
Over the next ten minutes, that small statement ballooned into yelling and screaming tantrum that even included knee shaking (think cartoons, possibly Sponge Bob). I struggled to complete a safety briefing, wondering why I was bothering. Surely this wasn’t going to happen. But Mom and Grandpa climbed in, leaving Grandma to reason with The Kid. A Sheriff Department helicopter landed on the pad next to ours and I hustled them to the other side of my helicopter for added safety. The other helicopter hot-fueled while Mom climbed out and managed to convince The Kid to board.
I did not want the child beside me. Normally, an eight-year-old is fine up front — hell, I had my first helicopter ride at age 8! — but this kid was a complete unknown. What if he grabbed the controls or opened his door? I wanted no part of that. So he sat in back beside his mother. Grandpa sat up front beside me.
I reached back and locked The Kid’s door.
The Sheriff Department helicopter lifted into a hover, then took off. The kid screamed. “DON’T TILT! I DON’T WANT TO TILT!”
I assured him I wouldn’t tilt, wondering how I was going to make turns without banking.
I started the engine. The Kid started yelling again. He didn’t want to go. He wanted to get out. I left Mom to reason with him. I listened to the ATIS and tower as I warmed up. I chatted with Grandpa, trying hard to ignore the monster sitting behind him.
The Kid refused to put on his headset. I was kind of glad about that. I wouldn’t have to hear him.
I called the tower and got a clearance. I picked up into a hover. The Kid started screaming that he wanted to go down.
“Is he okay?” I asked. I repeated that question four times. Mom and Grandpa ignored me. So I took off.
I wanted to depart to the north, across the runways. My instructions had been to depart to the south, turn to the left (The Kid’s side), and cross the runway midfield at 2000 feet. Normally, I’d make the 500 foot climb in a tight climbing turn. Because of The Kid’s tilt restriction, that was not an option. Instead, I swung way wide in a gradual climbing turn. The kid was still screaming, but I had managed to tune him out. I leveled out over the terminal and crossed the runway at exactly 2000 feet MSL, heading north.
We were a half mile north of the airport when The Kid’s tantrum switch apparently turned to the OFF position. Unfortunately, his screaming switch was apparently non-functioning, because he kept yelling at the top of his lungs. “LOOK! A TRUCK! LOOK! WATER!”
At least he wasn’t afraid anymore.
I headed out toward Lake Pleasant. New River and a bunch of streams were flowing. After a few minutes, The Kid put on his headset and I now had his screaming piped directly into my ears, courtesy of the voice-activated intercom. “LOOK! A COW! LOOK! A STREAM!”
I had two options. I could flick the pilot isolation switch and rudely ignore him and my other two passengers or I could turn down the intercom volume. I elected to turn down the volume. Sadly, I could still hear him.
We circled over the New Waddell Dam and headed south toward Glendale Stadium. I chatted with Grandpa. Somewhere along the way The Kid removed his headset again. Whew!
Things had pretty much settled down and it looked as if the tour would finish fine. I actually forgot about my troublesome passenger, who was still pointing out things he saw on the ground to Mom. But then I made a fatal error. I turned to the left.
My normal tour route takes me past Glendale’s University of Arizona Stadium (where the Cardinals play) along the Loop 101 and turns to the left at I-10 south of there. I normally bank at least 15 degrees to make the turn. Since I thought the kid was okay, I did the turn as I usually did.
And he started screaming again.
I changed my route. Instead of making another left turn to go up Central Avenue — normally the highlight of the trip — I told Phoenix Tower I would transition east along McDowell. That removed two 90° turns from the tour without significantly changing the total time in flight. The kid calmed down a bit along this 5-10 minute stretch. But when I turned left at the Loop 101 to head toward Scottsdale, he started screaming all over again.
Fuck this, I thought to myself.
Instead of overflying Scottsdale Airport (as I usually do), I punched Deer Valley’s identifier into my GPS. I adjusted my course, told Scottsdale Tower I’d transition through the southwest edge of their airspace, and cut about 5 minutes out of the tour time.
By this time, the kid was out of control. Any movement whatsoever was enough to get him screaming. We flew right past his house — Mom and Grandpa both saw it — but The Kid was more interested in screaming his brains out than looking.
I came in for a landing at the helipad where we’d started 45 minutes before. Even when we were on the ground cooling down, The Kid was acting up. He insisted we were moving backwards.
I shut down, got the blades stopped, and walked them back to the terminal building. Grandpa handed me some folded up paper money as he shook my hand. “Thanks for your patience,” he said.
While I appreciated the $20 tip, it would take a lot more money — and a gag — for me to take that kid flying ever again.