Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

25 April 2008

Helicopters And Their Unique Capabilities

N206TH sitting at our jobsite in Gulfport, Mississippi

As I've written before, I love it when helicopters get used in the way for which they are designed. It frustrates me when people don't do this...when they instead use helicopters to go from airport to airport. Use an airplane! Helicopters are meant to land off-airport, at places where airplanes cannot go. Over the past couple of days I have been doing just that. It's pretty neat.

Yesterday morning, I had to run down to the airport (ugh) in Destin, Florida to pick up Mrs. Boss and take her home to the main house in Brewton, Alabama. Destin is a densely populated vacation town, and the only place to land is at the aeropuerto. Oh, it's a nice enough little strip, with unfailingly friendly and helpful people, but there just so many...airplanes...there. I usually try to avoid airplanes and the places they congregate. Anyway, after dropping her off, I picked up the Boss and we flew up to his timberland/"hunting camp" property near Selma, Alabama where he had some business to conduct.

(I remember the first time I flew up there. It was a couple of years ago. I was in the private helicopter of a pilot friend who owns a house on my Boss's property. Before landing at the camp, we stopped in to see Billy Johnson, a guy who buys and sells timber. His office is on a two-lane highway and he has this big field right behind it. So we just set down there, shut down and visited with "Mr. Billy" for a spell.)

Once the Boss was done around midday, we flew up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he owns a mobile home dealership. I dropped him off at the "store" (as they call it) and then repositioned over to the airport for fuel and overnight parking.

This morning, I flew back to the store and picked up the Boss around 11:30. The original plan was to drop him back off at the hunting camp where he's spending the night, but instead he asked if I'd land at a Chevrolet car dealership in the tiny town of Camden. The hunting camp is not used when it's not hunting season, and there is no food there at this time of the year. So the Boss needed groceries. I've landed at this particular Chevy dealer before. They've got a huge grass patch in the front - more than enough room to comfortably land the helicopter. Great guys, too. We borrowed a truck and then headed out for lunch and the local Piggly Wiggly. Mission accomplished, we loaded up again and headed for the camp. The Boss will be driving back down tomorrow, so I split for home, empty. Fighting a headwind, I climbed to 2,000 feet, turned up the XM Radio and kicked back for the long ride home.

Where I come from - the New York City area - the unannounced landing of a helicopter was usually a media event. People always thought that "something was wrong"...that something had to be wrong. The helicopter would always attract a crowd, and usually the local police. It could quickly become a circus. Although we helicopter pilots can generally land anywhere as long as we have enough room and landowner's permission, that's not enough. We still cannot endanger anyone or anything on the ground. So in densely-populated parts of the country you didn't just "drop in" on people, even if they know you're coming, especially if there was no crowd-control arranged. It's just too big of a risk.

But down here, the rural land is so flat and open and sparsely populated that you can really land anywhere safely. As long as you're not stupid and try to put down in the middle of a town, you can land and the occasional vehicle traffic hardly slows as it goes by. Helicopters and airplanes (usually cropdusters) are common sights for these people, and the presence of an aircraft does not always signal an emergency-in-progress. The difference is striking, and a little hard to get used to. Sometimes I'll find myself thinking, "I can't believe we can just land out here and nobody cares...nobody comes...there are no news photographers...and no police."

I get a big kick out of it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bob! My name is Rodolfo and I've read many of your posts the last couple weeks and this is my first comment. You have a very interesting job. I'd love to learn to fly helicopters someday. Maybe do what you do but somewhere in Southeast Asia. But I got way too many interests right now. After A&P school I'm thinking about getting my bachelor's degree while at the same time learning my technician trade. But the lure of flying always seem to creep up on me. Obviously seeking out blogs like yours won't help get rid of the "itch" so I'm basically screwed. Anyway hope you keep up with the blogging. Maybe it's time for me to start one for myself.

Redlefty said...

Never really thought of the "land almost anywhere" nature of the helicopters!

Bob Barbanes said...

Rodolfo, consider yourself lucky. *You* have choices. It is tragic when I meet people who seem to have no choices or options...have no idea what they want to do with their lives. And there seems to be so many of them. It's sad. As for flying, nobody says you have to do it for a living. I wish I could just to it as a hobby and fly when I wanted to instead of being at the beck and call of the Boss. Not that I'm complaining - I *do* have a great job. And that is the point: Do something you love and everything else will eventually fall into place.

And Michael, the "land anywhere" nature of helicopters is neat, but it has limitations. Sometimes the Boss will look down at an interesting site or place and say, "Can we land there?" As in, "now." And I say, "Sure! Just as soon as I contact the landowner and get permission." It doesn't always go over well, but dem's da roolz.

Anonymous said...

One of the local NYC news stations was doing a wacky segment once a week a few years ago which they called *Land on ME*. Certain groups/associations would request of the station a visit by the popular helicopter traffic reporter girl, at the time, to land on their hood. It didn't seem to last too long and I'm wondering if maybe they landed one time where they didn't get permission.


David said...

It's great to hear about you doing what you love to do.

First it was Guanaja and Ceiba. Now it's Selma and Camden. Ya gimme the willies sometimes!

Keep having fun.