September 11th is a noteworthy date to be sure. For me, it is extra-poignant because 9/11/07 was the day we officially took delivery of “our” new helicopter. I was down in Sarasota, Florida picking it up from Phil Carey of Engage Aviation from whom we bought it. A year has gone by, so I thought I’d give you an update.
We’ve flown a total of 300 hours – not bad usage for an aircraft. We changed the FAA registration number, the equivalent of getting a vanity license plate for your car. We added some convenience items, like cup holders and extra interior lights given the amount of night flying we do. Other than that, it’s basically the same aircraft as when we bought it. The paint and interior have held up well. The boss loves it.
In the past year, we have had a couple of minor problems - little glitches, really - that were easily fixed by our friends at Heliworks in Pensacola. Nothing major broke, and we never had to cancel a flight due to unexpected maintenance. The helicopter waits patiently for me to come, jump in and mash the starter button. It’s always ready when I am.
There is an expression to the effect that a helicopter is nothing but a collection of parts flying in close formation with each other. To a large degree this is true. There are many parts on a helicopter that are either life-limited or are on a schedule whereby they must be overhauled at various intervals. These limits are not “smooth,” meaning that they do not all come due at the same time. So when you buy a helicopter you must study the records closely to see which components have how much time remaining. It's not as easy as you might think. There are plenty of opportunities for “gotchas.”
One helicopter the boss and I looked at was outwardly very nice. The price seemed reasonable. All of the components had good times-remaining…except…when I dug a little deeper, there were two turbine wheels in the engine that were due for replacement – at a cost of about $25,000 apiece! not including labor. The seller had cleverly disguised this fact in the spreadsheet. An unwary buyer might have missed it completely. Needless to say, we passed on that ship.
One odd thing about the aviation industry is that I had a hard time getting people who had aircraft for sale to call me back. My call would go straight through to voice mail (nobody answers their phone anymore) and I’d leave a message and would not get a response. Or I’d call the owner/operator and request specs on their ship (sometimes more than once!) and they’d never come. It seems as if people in aviation don’t know how to sell stuff.
And then there's Engage. When N218AL came on the market, we liked what we saw. It was freshly refurbished (new paint and interior bits) and seemed to have good component times remaining. I called Engage and talked to Phil Carey’s assistant. Phil immediately got back to me. That in itself was impressive; I'd been getting pretty frustrated up to that point. He then sent me all the specs on it, and invited me down to fly it. Of course I accepted! (Some sellers I contacted were either reluctant to let me fly their machine or said flat-out that it was not possible.)
The ship was as gorgeous in person as it was in the pictures. (In fact, it is so nicely refurbished that most people don’t believe it was manufactured in 1975. Even people who are familiar with Bell 206’s are surprised.) While I was there, Phil made an office available for as long as I needed for me to study all of the records, which he had, back to the date of manufacture. It took some time, but the records were solid – no unexplained gaps or “red flags” that would indicate something was amiss. I told my boss that if we bought the helicopter we could fly it for at least a year without having to do a single thing to it (other than routine inspections, of course). On my second visit, we came to terms on a price, and the deal was closed.
Throughout the process, Phil had been great. He included some “extras” with the helicopter that he really didn’t have to, like a portable air conditioner that sits in the back seat. It’s come in handy when it’s just the boss and me, as it usually is. He made sure…and I mean really bent over backwards…that we were completely satisfied with our purchase. And we are.
Phil Carey usually deals in large airplanes on an international basis. He is a pilot, and an unabashed “helicopter nut.” I wondered why he even messed with helicopters, since they return much less profit-per-sale than a Boeing 737, say. He told me he sells helicopters just so he can get to fly them, which I totally understand.
I’ll tell you one thing about Phil. Due to an error in entering component times into a spreadsheet, I mistakenly came to the conclusion that our tail rotor blades were running out of life and would need to be replaced much sooner than expected. I wondered how I did not catch this during my “pre-buy” inspection, but I assumed that I just hadn’t been as diligent as I should have. Hey, it happens…
By chance I was talking with Phil by phone on another matter, and mentioned that we would be replacing our tail rotor blades soon. “Oh?” he said, sounding puzzled and concerned. “I could have sworn that all the component times on that ship were good.” Without me saying anything more, Phil generously offered to split the cost of a new set of tail rotor blades with us. He certainly was under no obligation to do so.
Based on Phil’s memory and his insistence that something wasn’t right, I went back into the records and double-checked. Sure enough, it was my mistake. Thankfully, we didn’t have to take him up on his kind offer. But the fact that he made it in the first place even before he knew the truth says a lot about the man’s integrity. You want a good deal on an aircraft, a deal you can be comfortable with? Call Phil Carey at Engage Aviation.
Recently, I had to travel to south Florida on business. On the way home I’d be passing “close enough” to Sarasota, and thought I’d pay Phil a visit. “Come on up!” he said enthusiastically. “We can go out to eat. You’ll be staying at my house – no arguments.” We met up, went out and had a wonderful dinner (he paid), then spent the rest of the evening at his place drinking Czechoslovakian beer and talking airplanes until the wee hours. At least I think it was Czech beer – I may have had a little too much of it. Whatever, it was gooooood.
In the coming year, we'll have one relatively inexpensive component that will be due for overhaul in a couple of hundred hours. Then we’ll go a long time without anything else needing to be done. Ol’ N206TH has been a trouble-free bird, exactly as it was advertised. To say we’ve been happy with our ship and Engage Aviation is an understatement. It was a great deal and it’s been a great year.
All plugged-up with nowhere to go: N206TH as I delivered it to Heliworks at Pensacola Regional Airport this past weekend for its 300-Hour Inspection.