Mothers' Day 2016
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May. 11th, 2016 | 10:03 am
In april of last year I achieved the milestone of being certificated as a commercial pilot. This means that as of that date I'm able to exercise commercial pilot privileges for the purposes of being remunerated for various (limited) flights. Contrary to popular belief I can't ferry people from point-A to point-B or do charter or on-demand flights -- those all require "Part 135" certification (http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?t
However, I'm able to do photography flights, cropdusting (ha!), and most importantly nonstop flights within 25 statute miles of home base under Part 91.147. To that end the company I work for, Tango Three, has partnered with Groupon to create a program where we'll do "30 minute tour of Tucson" flights. That has blown up beyond our wildest expectations. Because the Groupon passengers are not interested in helicopters per se but rather "whatever experience is offered" they don't convert to regular customers... don't refer anyone else to us... so it's all a one-shot deal. We do those three at a time (one fueling for 3 flights) every weekend day. That is working out great.
We reserve special weekend days for potential full-fare passengers. Mothers' Day was one such day. My friend is a mother and her sons are all working so she got a "happy mothers' day ... off to work" and was left to her own devices. Accordingly I invited her to come with me to go get coffee and breakfast/lunch in Phoenix.
We took off from Tucson International around 1130. While we requested a northbound departure along the Campbell-2 departure corridor we were instead sent to A-Mountain (Sentinel Peak http://tinyurl.com/zp5x4on). From there it was pretty simple to go direct following Interstate-10 northwest past Marana (KAVQ), Pinal Airpark (KMZJ), Eloy (E60) and over to Mesa/Phoenix Gateway airport (KIWA). South of Eloy we elected to bisect Eloy and Coolidge (P08) and avoid parachuters at Eloy and traffic at Coolidge. Our arrival into the Gateway area was just a few minutes after we passed Pegasus Air Park (https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-1
We called Gateway, advised ATIS information Zulu, cleared for taxiway Yankee (Yes, AM familiar:) and landed into the wind to park at the FBO. There were 4 AV-8B Harriers and one Erickson Aircrane (N237AC) parked on the tarmac. Pictures of the latter at http://www.airport-data.com/aircraft/ph
As it was around noon we had coffee (decaf for me), ate lunch, watched the Harrier pilots start up and go, and then do low-level takeoffs, and then wanted to head home. By now the helicopter had been filled with fuel, which I confirmed was 100LL AVGAS, not Jet-A. The former makes the engine work great. The latter would be disastrous. As the aircraft has had its fuel mixture settings changed, I've been working on not flooding it. This time it was easy... 1/4 second prime, then started right up. Next time I'm going to try zero priming. We called Gateway Tower for permission to leave... asked for a westbound departure (into the wind) then SW. They thought we said NW... but we got that cleared up in the air.
Once we were clear of their airspace they said "Frequency change approved" but there being nobody else to talk to... we stayed with them. However, as we approached Pegasus again I saw an aircraft lifting off from there. He was just off the runway. I immediately turned left to remain on the north side of the runway... switched the radio over to 123.0... and identified our callsign, position, altitude, and intent. I also apologized for not having been on frequency earlier. The gentleman replied that he had us in sight and that we were no factor. There was a second aircraft behind him. Both identified as "Husky" which I later looked up as an Aviat Husky, a bush plane. The gentlemen were headed to Marana (KAVQ) and we were going to Tucson (KTUS). I asked for their speed and they said 102-105kts... which is what we were doing... so rather than keeping an eye out for them or having a lot of CTAF work where we're constantly updating each other on location while being thousands of vertical feet apart, we set about going a bit more to the south to head over La Cholla airpark and approach Tucson from the north. While a bit bumpy, that flight was uneventful, required much less radio work, and was a beautiful way to see the Tortolita mountains.
Moral of the story: when approaching an uncontrolled airport even if you've never ever seen traffic there before - switch to its CTAF and announce your position. Lesson learned.