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Wind in my Sales

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Jan. 27th, 2017 | 09:01 pm

On Halloween 2008 I took my demo ride/. Five years later to the day I picked up N4204X at Orlando Executive Airport and CFI Kent Stevens and I had an adventure piloting it back to Tucson. On our four day trip we hit a sudden squal line, set down in Tallahassee, which was overbooked due to an NCAA men's basketball game. We made the best of it, got motel rooms, and had some awesome seafood.

During those three years of helicopter ownership I graduated from being a private pilot certificate holder to a commercial certificate holder. Although it actually happened the day before, it took so much out of me I couldn't even begin to post about it until the 13th.

I turned my fun of flying a helicopter and discussing all things helicopter into a job. I made the helicopter available for photography flights. We partnered with Groupon to make 30 minute "Tour of Tucson" flights. At first I would schedule them whenever people wanted to fly and I'd do the preflight inspection, wheel the aircraft out, fuel it, and do a thirty-minute flight. Eventually I got smarter and booked them in blocks of three on weekend mornings. I had managed to turn fun flying into a chore that destroyed my ability to go out Friday or Saturday nights -- and I couldn't go out Sunday because the next day was the day job. We had a company ("Tango Three") and business cards, and T-shirts, and caps, and a web-site and all manner of cool things.

However, all good things must come to an end. The Tucson market did not provide sufficient income opportunities to pay for the daily depreciation (aka "mortgage") of the helicopter. It was draining money faster than we were making it, and when it was making money I felt like it was draining my free time and my enjoyment of flying.

Having owned a helicopter -- something I'd never dreamed I could ever accomplish -- for three years, in late October we put it up for sale and in November had a buyer lined up. December saw the buyer fly out to test-fly it. He liked it. One of the photographers, a guy out of Reno, had a flight scheduled for December 30th and I knew he'd not be happy the helicopter sold out from under his reservation. I wanted to fly to Inde Motorsports Ranch but I also didn't want to destroy a quarter of a million dollars of a potential pending sale.

The buyer bought. The funds transferred. I towed the helicopter out of its hangar one last time on a cold foggy morning in mid December. He wanted me to do the start but I wanted him to do it so he'd be confident at the very next fuel stop two hours later. He did fine. It was going to Louisiana. There was supposed to be a CFI buddy who chickened out at the last minute. The buyer was a pilot with 130+ hours in helicopters but over 5,000 in fixed-wing aircraft. He was planning to fly at 8,500 feet. Us helicopter pilots wouldn't do that... but I can see a fixed-wing guy wanting to do that.

I had given him a briefing of the area. I told him they'd likely send him out to The Fairgrounds, fly heading 120... and then I listened to LiveATC as he made his call to Clearance Delivery and then to Tucson Tower. Sure enough they asked him if he was familiar with The Fairgrounds... and he said no. Wait, what? I just briefed... oh never mind. Anyway he took off, flew away, and I listened while he was still in Tucson airspace.

That was the last I've seen of N4204X. He made it home safely, and as I drove home I took the opportunity to let the broker know the aircraft and buyer had left, and cancel the insurance. It was the saddest day I've had -- especially because it has to do with something that's always made me happy -- helicopters.

The market didn't just not support us... it did not support helicopter flight training or rental in Tucson. When I started in 2008 there were several flight outfits. When we ended up in December we were the last one. Now unless you want to pay $900-$1300 for a Bell Jetranger (sightseeing, not instruction nor rental) you will not be flying in a helicopter in Tucson.

I look forward to flying in North Las Vegas with 702 Helicopters or in Scottsdale.

It's been a trip. It's not over... but it's the next phase.


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