I've been off most of this week. Just no flying to be done, although the Boss promises that next week is going to be, as the kids say, "hella busy." (Or maybe they don't anymore, who knows?) As for the flying, I say bring it on, baby! It's not like I'm overworked here - not that I'm complaining, mind you.
The weather hasn't been all that great. But today was crystal clear and not too cold. Even the wind died down. I went up to the airport to hang out. I swept out the hangar and (re)organized our supplies and tools. Then I cleaned the ship, and took a good, close look at it just in case we need to fly early Monday morning. I was sorely tempted to pull it out of the hangar and do an "ops check flight"...not that it needed one, but you know...[ahem]...just to make sure.
We share our hangar with a guy who builds and teaches in gyroplanes. More commonly called a "gyrocopter," this aircraft is sort of like a helicopter in that it has a rotor overhead. But this rotor is not powered, it just "freewheels." The gyro also has an engine, similar to a fixed-wing airplane. It is the engine that propels the gyrocopter forward. As it does, air passing through the rotor causes it to rotate. It is a curiosity of physics that this air passing through a rotor not only causes it to spin, but that this spinning can create enough lift to raise the craft into the air. But that is exactly how a gyroplane works.
The technical term for the phenomenon is "autorotation." It is what allows my helicopter to make a safe landing if the engine should ever fail. In that event, my rotor will also freewheel. As the helicopter descends, air flowing upward through the rotor keeps it spinning at its normal operating rpm. I can perform all flight manuevers except one: I cannot go back up; I am committed to landing.
A gyroplane can be just as maneuverable as a helicopter, although the gyro lacks the ability to come to a complete dead-stop hover in the air like I can, heh-heh. However, gyros don't go very fast, and if the wind is strong, a gyroplane can come to a virtual standstill by facing right into it. Like a helicopter, if the gyro's engine fails, it simply descends to earth under complete control.
Anyway, there were a bunch of "gyro guys" hanging around. Two had built their own machines and were getting checked out. One, an older gentleman from Key West, Florida, had a lot of flight time in airplanes and was finding the gyro to be quite a challenge. One of his helper-buddies happened to be a helicopter pilot. As we talked, it coincidentally turned out that he had a bunch of time in the FH1100 helicopter back in the 1970s. I pointed out to him that not only was the current FH1100 factory located only about 15 miles away, but I also had quite a bit of time in that ship. Small world indeed!
So I hung around chatting with these guys, listening to their interesting stories, letting them do the talking. I've been involved in aviation for a long time, and it's neat to talk with people who've been in it a *lot* longer than me.
Then my phone rang, as usual. But it wasn't the Boss, it was a mechanic friend I've known for a long time.
"What are you doing on Monday?" he asked. "I've got a ship that needs a maintenance test flight, and..."
I told him that I might have to fly on Monday, but asked if it was possible to do the flights today? He said it would, so I hopped in the Jeep and headed over, breaking most speed limits in the process.
The ship in question was a very nice Bell 206B. Some maintenance had been done to it and the ship was freshly painted. It was about the same as our own 206B - maybe a little more plush, and a lot heavier - like, 250 pounds heavier! In helicopters, lightness is next to Godliness. 250 pounds is either one huge passenger or a whole bunch of jet fuel. With just my mechanic friend and me onboard and 90 gallons of gas, we were only slightly under the maximum allowable weight. We could've taken a box of Kleenex along. Maybe two.
I'm not exactly crazy about the paint job, but the owner picked it, so...
After a very thorough preflight inspection and run-up, my friend and I took it up for a quick "around the patch" flight. I brought her back in and set down. Satisfied that all was well, we went up again, this time on a longer flight to check the various items that needed checking. With one minor exception, everything was in good working order. The ship flew very, very nicely!
I have to admit a certain bias for Bell 206B JetRangers. I love 'em. And I especially love 'em when they're as nicely outfitted and set-up as this one. I've flown...oh, thirty or so different Bell 206's in my career. Some were nice, some were...um...not. Like any piece of machinery, a helicopter can get ragged as it ages and lose its luster. Some of the JetRangers I flew in the Gulf of Mexico were the aerial equivalent of pickup trucks. They were serviceable and safe, just not very pretty. This November Thirty-Six Mike Kilo is going to make its owner one very pleased man when he picks it up.
So all in all, a great day! I got to hang around an airport (and be slightly productive), talk to some interesting pilots, watch some gyros and airplanes (Navy T-34's) fly, then got to go flying myself. For someone who's wanted to be a pilot ever since he could remember, days don't get much better than this. And it is days like these that remind me of the boy I used to be, hanging around airports and dreaming about the day I'd grow up to be...well, me.