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?

26 April 2011

Helicopters and Easter Eggs?

What is it about dropping stuff from a helicopter that fascinates people so? A while back a friend talked me into talking my boss into using our helicopter for a “golf ball drop.” We flew to a nearby golf course where a local radio celebrity got in the back seat and dumped a couple of buckets of numbered golf balls out onto a putting green. I don’t remember the details of the associated contest. All I remember is being at an uncomfortably high hover for a while, and being glad when it was all over.

Crowds. Cameras. Complacency. Individually those three things are pilot-killers, more so when you have all three combined.

This year, that same friend gave me the contact info of a guy from a local church that wanted to do an “egg drop” on the day before Easter. Same deal: Helicopter flies over; drops a bunch of plastic Easter eggs, most with candy but some with prizes inside; kids frantically collect the eggs. The boss and I are not crazy about such things. The exposure and risk are quite high, and I’m always paranoid that something will go horribly wrong which will result in me getting my picture in the newspaper and not in a good way. Like in the Obituaries. So I handed the request off to my friend Chris, who owns a couple of helicopters. He eagerly agreed. Turned out that the church had so many eggs to drop that they needed both of his ships. (Wisely, he did not ask me to fly one.)

Then my friend Mike mentioned that he also would be doing not one but two Easter egg drops on Saturday: One here in Pensacola and one in Mobile, Alabama.

“Better you guys than me,” I thought to myself and maybe even said aloud.

The churches gave away some pretty cool prizes this year, too! Things like a big screen TV, a trip to Disney World and an Xbox Kinect.

Mike’s first drop was held on the campus of the University of West Florida, which happens to be right by the house. I fired up the Sportster and rode to the school. At precisely 10:20, Mikey flew over, did a couple of not-so-low passes to fire the kids up, and then proceeded to scatter 1,000 or so Easter eggs in a roped-off part of the field.

Above, here's a pic of Mike in an immaculately restored Bell 47D-1 done up in a U.S. Army paint scheme. He and his passenger are dropping eggs over a field at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. The event was put on by the Potential Church. This picture appeared on the front page of Easter Sunday's Pensacola News Journal.

As soon as they were done dropping eggs at UWF, I hopped on the bike and beat feet across I-10 over to Battleship Park in Mobile (home of the USS Alabama), about 60 miles to the west. The event was sponsored by the Bay Community Church of Daphne, Alabama. The drop there was scheduled for a little past noon, so I thought I had plenty of time. Foolish boy!

A much-larger crowd showed up than they anticipated. The parking lots were full, forcing late-ish arrivals like me to park in the median and on the shoulders of the road. It was like Woodstock! (Ehh, maybe Eggstock?) I swung around and also parked between two cars on the shoulder of the highway which I don't like to do. As I was securing the bike, what did I see but Mikey in the Bell 47 coming in to land in a big grass area not too far from where I was. Stroke of luck!

Staged there were literally dozens of big, black garbage bags FULL of Easter eggs. The Bay Community Church really went all out. Prior to the drop from the helicopter, volunteers began scattering (seeding) the huge lawn with colored eggs, but they left a good dozen bags for Mike to drop one at a time. At the appropriate time, he lifted off, making low pass after low pass over the field as his friend Scotty let the contents of the bag rain down. Back and forth he flew from the staging area. The flights lasted about a minute or so. Each time they’d come in, as they touched down Scotty would hand the empty trash bag to the waiting ground-support volunteer who would exchange it for a full bag of eggs, then they'd go again. Total ground time: About 8.5 seconds.

Sometimes it’s neat to stand on the ground and watch someone else fly. I’m way past the point where I look at a helicopter and longingly go, “Gee, I wish it was me doing that.” I’ll tell you one thing about Mikey though: For a guy who only has a little upwards of 1,500 hours (still a relative newbie in our business), he's a pretty good pilot. It was fun watching him “work.”

Above, Mike and Scotty are at Battleship Park in Mobile, Alabama. They are getting ready to lift off and start dropping eggs. If you click on and open the above picture so it displays bigger, you'll see the humongous plastic garbage bag full of Easter eggs that they had to carry. They had about eleven more waiting that were just like that.

Again, click on the picture above. See those two trucks with the trailers behind them? Those trailers were FULL of big bags of eggs. You can see that the field has already been "seeded" with eggs as Mikey hovers at Battleship Park in Mobile.

Here's my friend Chris in his gorgeous, Franklin-powered Bell 47G, doing his egg drop at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Milton, Florida.

And here is Chris's friend Andy flying Chris's beautiful Bell 47D-1 at the same church.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the good work of the three churches that put on these Easter egg drops. It's hard for me to reconcile what a chocolate rabbit that lays chicken eggs has to do with Christ's resurrection. But no matter. So what if it doesn't make any sense? You shouldn't over-think these things. The churches got their word out, did something nice for their respective communities, and can't we all just appreciate that?

So it was a nice Saturday with a LOT of Bell 47 flying! It's great to see so many of these classic machines still flying. I am an unabashed lover of the 47; it's the ship I got my ratings in so many years ago. (Colloquially we call them "pilot's licenses" but technically they're not really licenses. But that's a subject for another blogpost.)

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