I take my R44 down to Chandler, AZ for its first overhaul.
It’s hard to believe that it was nearly 12 years ago that I took delivery of my second helicopter, the R44 I usually refer to as Zero-Mike-Lima. That January 2005 day ended a two-plus-month period where I was “helicopterless” — I’d sold my R22 (Three-Niner-Lima) in late October 2004 and was waiting rather impatiently for its bigger replacement to emerge from Robinson’s Torrance, CA factory.
I bought the four-place Robinson to grow my flying business by adding Part 135 charter services. It was a good thing I was still making good money as a writer because it took a long time for that business to take off (pun intended). It wasn’t until 2008 when I discovered a few good niche markets — wildlife survey and cherry drying — that the helicopter started making enough money to pay for itself. Until then, my writing work subsidized it. I’m so glad I stuck with it, though, despite the enormous costs. My writing career went into decline around 2010 and my flying career picked up the slack. This year, 2016, was my best year ever, even topping my best years as a writer.
Unfortunately, although Robinson helicopters have relatively low day-to-day operating costs, they do have a bit of a cost “time bomb” set to go off at 12 years or 2,200 hours of flight time. That’s when they need to go back to the factory or to an authorized service center for overhaul. The current price tag for this is about $240,000 (depending on core values). Ouch!
Smart owners who expect to keep the helicopter past overhaul will start saving up for this huge expense as soon as they can. I started saving when my flying business became profitable and had socked away more than half of what I needed by 2012. Some unexpected expenses unrelated to the helicopter put bit of a drain on those savings, but I managed to replenish everything I spent and more, leaving me in good financial shape for overhaul time. I’m pleased to say that I needed to borrow a lot less than I expected to and had no trouble securing the financing I needed at good terms.
Of course, it isn’t January and the helicopter doesn’t have 2,200 hours on it. Although I was primed to reach 2200 hours in the eleventh year — I flew almost exactly 200 hours per year from 2005 through 2012 — When I stopped ferrying it between Arizona and Washington state and left it idle during Washington’s dreary winter season, my annual flight hours dropped off considerably. That enabled me to stretch it out into the twelfth year.
Right now, as it sits waiting for overhaul, it has 2,068 hours on its Hobbs meter. I didn’t quite reach 2,200, but I came pretty darn close.
You’re probably wondering why, if I didn’t reach 2,200 hours, don’t I wait until January to bring it in for overhaul? The reason is simple. Overhaul could take as long as 3 months to complete — after all, they strip the helicopter down to its frame, rebuild the engine and transmission, and replace many important components. If I dropped it off in January, I wouldn’t get it back until the end of March. But I need it back sooner, in February, for my annual frost contract. (Another niche market I picked up in 2013.) And since I don’t usually fly much in the winter months anyway, it made no sense to wait and possibly lose out on the frost work — which also gives me an excuse to hang out in California for part of the winter.
I flew the helicopter down to Chandler last week. It was a two-day flight that I did with a friend. I’ll blog about it and share photos in another blog post.
So now I’m helicopterless, at least until the end of January.
There is a silver lining, however: there’s an extra 576 square feet of empty space in my garage. I’ve already begun filling it with boats and RVs that I’m storing for friends and others for the winter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how to turn assets into money without selling them.