It occurs to me that I haven't really done much talking about helicopters in this blog, even when I was flying one down in Honduras. I hate making things too technical, for fear of alienating people who might not happen to be helicopter pilots, so I've shied away from talking about flying other than in general or abstract terms.
But now I'm back in Pensacola, ostensibly going to work for a guy who is in the process of buying a helicopter. His business is such that a helicopter just makes perfect sense; he has locations spread out across the southeastern United States. Right now, driving to and from each location takes the better part of a day. (Plus, all that driving is fatiguing.) If he had a helicopter he could do two or three locations in one day. He's been considering the purchase of a helicopter for some time, and he's finally decided to take the leap.
I met with him initially to discuss his needs versus his wants. He gave me his parameters, and I started looking for appropriate aircraft. For the majority of his flights, a five-seat Bell 206B JetRanger would be fine.
(Above) Here I am, offshore in the Gulf of Mexico flying one of Petroleum Helicopters Inc.'s well-traveled 206B. Must have been 1989 or '90. Relatively light and dependable as the sunrise, I logged many pleasant hours in this ship. Oil company roustabouts can be a...well...beefy bunch, and ol' Zero-One-Pop always hauled the load. Never let us down. A fine aircraft.
(It is strange how we'll look back fondly on some aircraft we've flown and hardly remember others. But I sure do like B-models. I have an alternative email address of BH206B3@juno.com, which I've had for a long time. I use it when I sign up for things that I know I'm going to receive junk mail from.)
New Boss also wants the ability to carry two couples (four adults) and for that we're going to need the next size up: The seven seat Bell 206L-3 LongRanger.
The "L-model" as we call it has an additional two rear-facing seats just behind the pilot. You can see the extra window between the front and back doors where these seats are (above the "7" in the registration number). The LongRanger also has considerably more power than the JetRanger, and a much smoother ride due to a different method of mounting the main transmission to the airframe. It's faster, too.
In the shot above I am just starting a take-off from PHI's Venice Base heliport in a LongRanger. Probably '93 or '94. And yes, you are correct if you observe that my nose-down attitude is a little pronounced. I didn't think it looked that bad from the outside. I admit, I was showing off for the camera a little. I've grown out of such shenanagins now (yeah, riiiight).
During this time Seven-Oh-Two was just one of many 206L's I flew for PHI. In fact, in the 13 years I was with the company, I flew so many different individual aircraft that I lost count. Funny though - even now I'll see helicopters and when I look at their registration number I'll go, "Hey, I flew that one." Not only is aviation a tiny industry, but PHI goes through a bunch of helicopters and is constantly replacing aircraft.
Right now the market for LongRangers is, as they say, "tight." Meaning that there aren't any good ones out there. It will probably take us four months or so to find the right one. But we can be patient. We may have to "settle" for a 5-seater in the interim until a decent 7-seater comes along. There are other helicopters from other manufacturers in this market segment, of course. New Boss is just partial to Bell, and I can't say I blame him since I am too.