The Golf Ball Drop

Good thing I don’t play golf.

Yesterday at about noon, I did another golf ball drop from my helicopter. It was my second ever. The first didn’t come off all that well.

The event was at a golf course about 3 miles off the approach end of Phoenix Sky Harbor runways 25 L/R. I’d called the tower the day before to tell them what I’d be up to and make sure it wouldn’t be a problem. (The ATC folks at Sky Harbor tower are great.) At the time of the event, planes were taking off on runway 8 (north side of the airport, farthest runway from where I was) and landing on runways 7 L/R. I was cleared to cross the extended centerline and then let the tower controller know when I was landing, doing the drop (low level), and ready to depart again. The whole time I was flying, I was listening to airliners departing from the runway; I was never told to switch to the south tower frequency.

Golf Course Location

Golf Ball Drop

Hovering over the drop zone.

I did much better at this drop than the last one. The conditions were good. The drop zone was on the driving range for a golf course in Tempe. Although there were some serious wires to the north, there were no obstructions near where I had to drop. That means I didn’t have to climb above any obstructions for the drop (which is what messed me up last time). Winds were light out of the east, so there was no pedal dancing — I was able to point the helicopter’s nose right toward the spectators for the entire flight.

Although I’d originally been told to expect 900-1100 golf balls, we only had about 400 on board. They all fit in a box. We cut three of the box’s four flaps off, leaving the drop guy, who was provided by the client, with a handle he could use to hold the box while dropping. (This was the drop guy’s first time in a helicopter. Too bad it was such a short and boring flight.)

This time, we dropped out of the door behind mine. This made it possible for me to see exactly where the balls were falling. (Duh.)

My instructions were to drop between a big red flag and a smaller red flag at the cup. The folks who ran the show expected the balls to roll down the hill from the big flag toward the cup.

Golf Ball Drop

Dropping golf balls over a driving range in Tempe.

I was in about a 150-foot hover over the drop zone. When it looked as if the balls weren’t going to roll, I hovered sideways, right over the cup. The shower of balls came much closer. I didn’t see any balls go in, but a bunch of them gathered around the cup. One sat right on its lip. There would be a winner but no in-the-cup winner.

Afterwards, I landed and exchanged the ball dropper guy for my ground crew helper, a Black Hawk pilot named Jonathan who’d come along for the ride. Jonathan took the in-flight photos you see here.

Next time, I’m sure I’ll make the hole.

What do you think?