What’s Louder? My Helicopter or Car?

I finally take the decibel meter for two rides to find out.

Radio Shack Decibel MeterI don’t know why I own a decibel meter. I just do.

I might have bought it years ago when I tried to stop developers from putting the Hermosa Ranch subdivision at the end of Wickenburg Airport’s runway. (I won that battle even though I lost.) Or I could have gotten it before that. I’m sure it had something to do with aviation because I bought it as a piece of Flying M Air equipment.

In any case, I have one — a Radio Shack model — and recently found it among the electronic junk in my old office. I was very surprised to see that the battery still worked.

Penny w/Ear Plugs
Penny in the passenger seat of the helicopter. These cotton “earplugs” stayed in about 3-1/2 minutes on this flight.

I wanted to see how loud my helicopter was in cruise flight with the doors on. You see, Penny the Tiny Dog often flies with me as a passenger and I simply can’t get any kind of ear protection to stay in place over her ears. I’m worried about hearing damage over the long term. I figured it might be a good idea to see just how loud the helicopter was.

And the answer? The cabin of my 2005 Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter is right around 100 decibels at cruise flight — 110 knots — with all doors on.

That didn’t seem like very much to me.

That got me wondering…how loud was my 2003 Honda S2000 with the top down cruising at about 65 miles per hour? A recent ride with the meter and a friend gave me the answer. Would you believe it’s just about the same? We got readings of 95 to 100 decibels when we kept the meter out of the wind.

No wonder I’m starting to get symptoms of tinitus. Sheesh. Nothing I drive is quiet.

How to Lower Gas Prices

Use less fuel.

Arm and a LegYesterday, during the brief time I was in the Jeep running errands in town, I caught part of an NPR interview with someone about the current fuel price situation. His take was that the fuel companies are gouging us — they’re obviously charging far more than it costs them to produce and deliver fuel.

My response to that: What the hell do you expect them to do?

Addicted to Oil

As one of my least favorite presidents so accurately quipped years ago, “Americans are addicted to oil.” (That may have been one of the few truthful things he uttered during his eight years reign.)

I agree. We are addicted to oil.

Look at it this way: the oil companies are drug dealers. They hook us on their product by making it relatively affordable — the U.S. still pays far less for gas than Europe and most of the rest of the world. The car companies help the process by selling us vehicles that are impractical for most people but have lots of “style” or “status” — which insecure people apparently need. Cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles further encourage us with their urban sprawl and insufficient mass transit, forcing us to drive to work from our dream homes in distant subdivisions.

So we settle in, like junkies, burning our daily fix of fuel. We drive everywhere in vehicles that are far bigger and more costly to operate than we need: trucks and SUVs instead of more fuel efficient sedans. We live in the ‘burbs and commute, alone in our cars, to our workplaces, which are sometimes thirty miles away or more. We’re too lazy to walk anywhere — we’ll often drive across the street from one shopping center to another.

When we’re good and hooked, the prices start coming up.

Bravo, oil companies! You sure know how to work that bottom line!

Hypocritical Whiners

In Wickenburg, I’ve been listening to people whining about fuel prices for the past ten years. They never seem to shut the hell up about it.

It’s the same complaint: local filling stations are gouging them on fuel prices. Wickenburg pays at least 10¢ more per gallon than they do in Phoenix. Funny thing is that these complaints are coming from the same people who think nothing of doing their grocery shopping down in Surprise, 35 miles away. So not only are they driving far more than they need to, but they’re likely buying their fuel where it’s cheaper anyway.

Still, they think our government should somehow intervene and cap fuel prices.

That’s the kicker. The same people who are complaining about fuel prices are the ones who voted in Republican congressmen and senators who are pro big business. The ones that are right behind tax breaks and other incentives for the oil companies. And they’re the same people who are saying we need smaller government and less regulation.

Guess what, folks? You can’t have it both ways.

We Have Empowered Them

I can’t complain about the fuel companies gouging us — which I agree that they probably are. Why can’t I complain? Because I recognize the right of a business to maximize its profit any way it legally can. If that means charging as much as the market will bear, so be it.

You see, there’s this little economic theory called Supply and Demand. As long as there’s demand for a product the provider of that product can charge as much as it wants — or as much as it can get away with. There comes a point, however, when the amount they charge is just too much and demand falls off. As supplies increase, prices go down.

This is basic economic theory.

So as long as we keep buying fuel, they’ll keep selling it to us at the highest prices they can squeeze out of us.

And I can’t fault them for that. We’ve made it possible for them to gouge us.

You Are the Solution

But we also have the power to make it stop.

Instead of complaining about it and carrying on like usual, do something about it. Want some ideas? Try these:

  • If you have a big fat SUV or truck or full size sedan, replace it with something more fuel efficient. There are lots of great options out there and, in some states, hybrid or electric vehicles also come with tax incentives.
  • If you need a big vehicle now and then to haul people or stuff, get a second, fuel-efficient vehicle for other driving. You might find that over time, you’ll save enough in fuel to pay for that vehicle. Or if two vehicles are completely out of the question, consider renting the big truck when you need it.
  • If you commute to work, carpool. Yes, I know this means sitting in a vehicle with other people while driving to and from work. But is that so bad? I carpooled to college for a semester during the first energy crisis and lived to tell about it. You can, too. Best of all, you can drive in the HOV lanes, which will get you there faster.
  • If you have an office job, telecommute. This might be a tough sell to your company, but why not try? Telecommuting not only saves you time and money, but it saves your employer money. How? Well, for starters, the more telecommuters they have on staff, the less office space they’ll need. Sure, you won’t get an office or cubicle with your name on it — you’ll likely have to use a shared space on the days you do come in — but think of going to work with your slippers on — and not having to fill your car with gas twice a week.
  • If you live too far from the office, move. Okay, so this isn’t easy to do, but you have to admit that it is possible. Right now is a great time to buy real estate, too — if you can afford it. Here’s a not-so-secret: Because there aren’t any good jobs in Wickenburg, where we’ve been living for 14 years, my husband works 55 miles away in Phoenix. We bought a cheap condo down there so he wouldn’t have to make the long drive every day. And guess what? He has a roommate who is in the same boat!
  • If you live too far from work, change jobs. Okay, so this isn’t too easy either, but again, it is possible. (Unless you live someplace with no jobs.)
  • If you often drive more than 10 miles to shop, shop online. I’m not talking about groceries here — I’m talking about the other things you might need to buy. The closest bookstore, tech store, and full-blown department store are 35 miles from my home. This might explain why Amazon.com gets so much of my business. And don’t try to say that they’re burning UPS/FedEx fuel. Those carriers are coming to Wickenburg anyway, so the incremental fuel cost is minimal.

These are just a few basic ideas. Surely you can think of more.

And before you start spouting excuses why you can’t do any of these things, why not do a little research to see if you can?

And instead of complaining about the problem, why not be part of the solution?

Remember, the reason they’re gouging us with fuel prices is because they can. We have empowered them. The solution is not government regulation. It’s consumer lifestyle change. When they start to see consumption go down, they’ll know our addiction is faltering. Their logical course of action is to drop prices to get the hook in a little deeper again.

It’s happened before; it’ll happen again. Why not give it a try and see?

I Love My 1987 Toyota MR-2

Book value: $250. Reliability: Near 100%.

This morning, I had to drive down to Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT) to pick up my helicopter for a charter out in Aguila, AZ. I have a 1987 Toyota MR-2 that I bought new in October 1986. That’s my airport car. It basically lives down in Deer Valley when I’ve got the helicopter out. The idea was to drive it down to Deer Valley, park it, do my flight, and then bring the helicopter back to its Wickenburg hangar so I could wash it before returning it to Deer Valley.

That was the idea, anyway.

This morning, the MR-2 roared to life, just like it aways does. But I had some trouble getting it out of first gear — I leave all my cars in gear when I park on our hilly driveway. I rolled back and got it half turned around. Then I attempted to shift into first or second to depart. The gearshift wouldn’t budge.

Understand this: the car is standard transmission. It was my first standard transmission car. I learned to drive stick on that car. A week after taking it home, I was driving back and forth to my job in downtown Manhattan from New Jersey, battling bridge and highway traffic. I got really good with a stick shift really fast.

And the car still has its original clutch.

It only has 133,000 miles on it. When I bought my Jeep in 1999, it became my secondary car. When I bought my Honda S2000 in 2003, it became my third car. I didn’t even need it for sporty drives anymore. That’s when it became my airport car.

R22 and Toyota at Howard Mesa

Here’s my old helicopter and Toyota MR-2 parked at Howard Mesa during the summer of 2004.

I don’t think I put more than 1,000 miles per year on it after that. It spent the summer of 2004 at Howard Mesa or Grand Canyon Airport when I flew helicopter tours for one of the operators at the Grand Canyon. It spent at least two years in Prescott as an airport car — my mechanic was based there for a while — and then another whole season in Scottsdale — I used to fly there quite often. When the Scottsdale cops called and threatened to tow it away, I drove it home. It spent a year or two in my hangar. Then I brought it down to Deer Valley to be my airport car there.

It didn’t mind neglect. It just about always started up when I turned the key. The only exception was once in Prescott, when the battery had finally died. Fortunately, I’d parked it pointing down a little hill. I released the break, popped the clutch in second gear and got it started. Drove it to Sears, put in a new battery, and went about my business.

Every year or so, I get the oil changed. I bought it new wiper blades and sun screens about a year ago.

Today, when the clutch wouldn’t engage, I wasn’t very surprised. Hell, it was the original clutch! More than 23 years old! What the hell did I expect?

Honda and Toyota

My Honda visits my Toyota at DVT.

I took my Honda down to Deer Valley. I locked it up. I wasn’t happy about leaving my best car overnight at Deer Valley. The Toyota was disposable. The Honda wasn’t.

As I flew west to my gig, I thought about the Toyota. I wondered if this was how it would all end. It didn’t seem right to put hundreds of dollars into a car with a Kelly Blue Book value of under $250.

I did my gig. It involved over 3 hours of flying north of Aguila. It ended with a flight to Wickenburg to photograph some property. I’d drop off my clients at either one of the spec homes they’d built or nearby private helipad that they led me to believe was part of their property. We were doing the photo flight when I heard some chatter on the radio. Wickenburg Airport was closed. Turns out, an F-16 trainer had crash-landed there earlier in the day. So I landed on the helipad. I didn’t have enough fuel to get back to Deer Valley and I couldn’t land at Wickenburg. I wound up leaving it there for the night. As I type this, the airport is still closed.

Back at home, Mike got the idea that maybe the Toyota’s clutch wasn’t broken. Maybe it just needed fluid.

We pulled the owner’s guide out of the glove box and looked it up. We found the reservoir. It was bone dry. (Oops!) We grabbed some of the recommended DOT 3 brake fluid out of the garage and filled the reservoir. I pumped the clutch pedal. A lot. I started the car, pushed down the clutch pedal, and smoothly shifted it into first gear.

It works.

So my Toyota continues to run smoothly with its 23-year-old clutch. Best of all, it seems very forgiving of my neglect.

How can I not love a car like that?