The first one was up near Atlanta, Georgia. It was absolutely gorgeous. Recently refurbished, it looked like it just rolled off the assembly line…a brand-new 1955 model helicopter. The owner had it on some contracts and it was actually flying and making money for him. Bottom line: He wasn’t looking to sell.
I knew the second one was not going to be as good. It lives down in south-central Florida at a small airport. It’s been sitting outside for nearly ten years, and hadn’t flown in a long, long time, since a hurricane damaged it in 2004. I’d seen an old, post-hurricane picture of it and it looked rough back then. Helicopters do not improve with age, especially if they’ve been sitting outside in a harsh environment, as this one had. The skin of the S-55 is magnesium, not aluminum as is more conventional. Magnesium does not stand up well to salt air.
I knew the ship was bad, but was sad to see that it was worse than I'd anticipated – beyond economical repair. It wasn’t even worth the money it would take Dave to have me haul it up to Washington.
I shook the owner’s hand, telling him we’d be in touch. But both of us knew that the ship was a goner. What had once been a proud, good-looking, money-making helicopter was now a rusting, worthless hulk. Sooner or later the landing gear legs will get weak, and a strong wind will come along and knock it over. It’ll die right there, like an old warhorse put out to pasture with no one taking care of it. These things tug at the heartstrings of a pilot. I took a picture of it for posterity and left.
Looks good from here? When you get closer...and not much closer...the flaws begin to appear.