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?

20 October 2011

Best-Laid Plans (Part II)

The job in Dallas fell through. It turned out that the LongRanger my friend Brad thought was for sale is...sort of...well...not. The owner does intend to sell it, but he wants to find the replacement helicopter first and he has not yet started that process. Apparently this message was not communicated strongly enough to Brad, who usually doesn't mix up stuff like that. In any event, the aircraft is not available. This made for a tense discussion between Brad and his boss - one that did not go well as you can probably imagine.

So we are looking for a nice, used Bell 407. I should say, Brad is looking for a 407. I'm only pretending to look. They're out there, but they can be spendy. The LongRanger owner is looking for a "deal."

I've had second, third and fourth thoughts about the job. I don't know if I could look at myself in the mirror if I took it. The thought of jumping back into such a situation is simply too stressful - at any amount of money. So I think I'll just stay here in Pensacola and... well that's a story for another blogpost. However, I've got some part-time flying and travel opportunities coming up and I want to be available for them. I want to go up and visit my family in New York for Thanksgiving, and maybe even Christmas too! You cannot do that with a "regular" full-time job.

Oh, and the trip to Chicago got canceled. I was rather looking forward to that, but the helicopter I was supposed to go look at was sold a week or so ago. This is the second one we just missed-out on. I'm starting to feel like Maxwell Smart.

16 October 2011

My Ass and the TSA

I have to go to Chicago this week to look at a helicopter we’re thinking about buying. Quick up-and-back. On the phone with my friend Matt, he suggested that I get a cheap flight that connects through in Atlanta so I could come see him. “You are flying, right?” At which point I launched into one of my patented diatribes about how I will NEVER fly on a goddamn airliner ever again, period. I worked myself into high dudgeon, cursing like an ex-sailor-turned-New Jersey mobster, blood pressure setting off alarms at nearby hospitals and clinics, CIA eavesdroppers yanking off their headsets and blushing in embarrassment. Long-suffering readers will know that this is familiar ground for me.

At one point when I inadvertently paused to take a breath, Matt said in a quiet voice, “Sorry I asked.”

Well, he should have known better.

The last time I flew on the airlines was before the implementation of these new body image scanners (Advanced Imaging Technology) that allow the TSA perverts to look through your clothes and see you naked. This was before the newer, more-invasive "bad touch" pat-down/feel-ups of incontinent grannies in wheelchairs, nuns and little children. No, the last time I flew we merely had to remove our shoes, belts, watches, etc and sneak through the metal detector, hoping our iron-rich blood wouldn't set off the alarm. I wrote about it here. It pissed me off so much that I vowed to never set foot on another airliner. It angers me still.

Fuck the TSA! That’s what I say. I’m tired of this shit.

Those last three sentences are basically what I said to Matt. Only I took about thirty minutes to say them.

I will drive to Chicago. It will take a day and a half each way. It will take a total of 30 hours of driving – in my own car on my own schedule. I may remove my shoes – but if I do so it’ll be so I can drive in comfort not because some idiots are afraid that there’s a bomb in them. I will bring as much luggage as I like including substances packaged in containers exceeding three ounces. I may even bring my gun, or my guitar so I can practice in the motel rooms.

Gas will cost $220 (at $3.50/gallon). I will spend three nights in a motel…figure a total of $300. Food…I dunno…figure $50. Total trip cost: Call it $600. Could I fly up and back more cheaply? Maybe not. The cheapest flight/hotel/car package on Orbitz.com was $573. The cheapest similar package on Travelocity.com was $610. Could I book each item separately and find cheaper deals that would result in a lower overall cost? Perhaps. But the total isn’t going to be that much cheaper than driving. The difference would be that I could do the trip in two days instead of three. But I’d have to agree to being felt up or seen naked by the TSA. The choice for me is easy.

You can't see it with your fancy xray machines, and you certainly can’t feel it with your rubber-gloved hands, but you can kiss my ass, TSA. I will drive.

Sorry, Matt.

12 October 2011

History Repeating Itself? (Updated)

When my former boss was looking to buy a jet, we focused on a mid-1990’s Cessna Citation V/Ultra. It’s a wonderful airplane. Dependable, tough, economical, can carry a big load and go a long distance…what’s not to love? Well, Citations are not sexy. They have a straight wing (not very jet-like) and they sit low to the ground (no fancy airstair to use getting in and out). My boss ended up buying the equally-unsexy Westwind jet.

Cessna Citation


Cessna has been in the jet game for a long time. The first Citation, the model 500 came out in 1971. The original was a small, slow jet. Over the years, Cessna made many nice improvements. They stretched it and put larger engines and better wings on it. The fact that the same basic airplane (the “Ultra”) was produced right up through 2008. Cessna is still making derivatives of the Citation…newer, better versions.

There are a lot of people making business jets. Gulfstream (nee Grumman) still builds the crème de la crème G-550 (as well as other, smaller jets). Lear is still in business, unbelievably, although it was bought some time ago by Bombardier of Canada which has its own line of bigger jets, the very successful Challenger series.

Legendary airplane maker, Beechcraft merged with British company, Hawker. Hawker has produced a business jet forever, the incredible -125 model. Over the years, Hawker improved and improved it; the new model 1000 is a far cry from the original, but the heritage and lineage is unmistakable. Concurrently, Beechcraft also produces the Beechjet 400 and a small jet called the Premier.

South American airline maker Embraer has also recently entered the business jet market, not only with corporate, plus versions of its ERJ line, but an all new small jet called the Phenom 100 and 300. And let’s not forget the French company, Dassault who have been building the well-respected Falcon line of jets forever as well.

The trouble is, nobody is really selling any jets- new or used. The market is in the toilet. So it is very odd that, of all companies, Honda is entering the field with a new business jet. And this is no ordinary jet. For one thing, Honda decided to mount the engines on the wing – but not under the wing as would be typical. Honda mounted the engines on pylons above the wing. Not only that, but wind tunnel testing caused them to make the shape of the fuselage very…well…odd. The bug-eyed look is usually disguised by the paint scheme. See here.


In the 1990’s, nearly everyone in the aviation industry knew that Honda was working on the design of a small jet. We’d seen pictures and we’d puzzled at the, um, unconventional look. The HondaJet program was announced officially in 2006. Certification should begin sometime in 2013. The date has been pushed back a couple of times already. Maybe they're waiting/hoping for the economy to improve?

Two things will work against the success of the HondaJet. The first of course is the name. Honda? Puh-leeze. Couldn’t they at least have called it the AcuraJet? Can you imagine a businessman at a party…a CEO or something. And he tells the pretty young blond that he’s leaving in the morning on the company jet for…somewhere…Barbados. Pretty blond widens her big, blue eyes and says, “Oooooh, a jet! What kind do you have? A Gulfstream?” And Mr. Ceo shuffles his feet, downs his drink and says, “No, actually, it’s a…well…a Honda.”

Yeah, right. Pretty young blond won’t be joining him on the jet to Barbados, much less back to his house tonight.

Secondly, the unusual look of the plane will inhibit sales. People like things that look “normal,” and the HondaJet does not look normal. Seriously, it looks strange.

In 1990, Beechcraft came out with a new, revolutionary turboprop design which they called the Starship. It had a little wing up in the nose (called a canard), swept main wings, no vertical tail/horizontal stabilizer at all, just rudders on the end of the main wing, and…get this…turboprop engines that were mounted backwards! on the wing.

Beechcraft Starship

Guess what? It didn’t sell. Beechcraft eventually ended production and tried to buy them all back and scrap them. Sad, because it was a great airplane. The buyers of business aircraft are fickle. I wonder if the same thing will happen to the HondaJet?

P.S. I found this little 3.5 minute video of the HondaJet on its maiden flight in December of 2010. Sure is a curious-looking little bugger.

06 October 2011

The Return of "Where's The Beef?"

Uh-oh. You know me and television commercials. I hate most of 'em. But occasionally we'll find a gem. I've written about some of the good ones before. And I'm happy to report back when I discover another.

Remember the old commercial for the Wendy's hamburger chain in the 1980's? It starred three little old ladies who've just been served a (presumably) non-Wendy's hamburger with a big, fluffy bun. The shortest of the three women, the famously cantankerous Clara Peller examines the burger and begins yelling, "Where's the beef?!" It became a catch-phrase of course, because you know how we Americans love a good catch-phrase. Watch...

Okay, so the video quality is terrible. Digital recording equipment hadn't been introduced yet in 1984 when the commercial first aired.

Soooo... I happened to catch the newest Wendy's commercial. In it a young man (the guy who played Dylan on ABC's "Modern Family") rummages through a thrift store bin and selects a yellow t-shirt with the words, "Where's The Beef?" on the front. He puts the shirt on and then, evidently unaware of the significance of the expression, is surprised when everyone who sees him shouts out, "Where's the beef!" He finally arrives in front of a Wendy's where he makes the connection.

The payoff comes right at the end, naturally. The protagonist sits outside on a bench, eating his burger. A pretty girl sitting next to him says, "Nice shirt!" instead of what he (and we) probably expects. Cute.

I love this commercial because of its callback to the original. I like tradition (it's why I ride a Harley, after all). And even if the phrase has lost its literal meaning, as one snippy, humorless media blogger/reviewer opined, the phrase is so linked to Wendy's that it doesn't matter what those three words actually are. The spot just sparkles with brightness and color, the people in it are impossibly good-looking and dammit, it makes me want to run out and buy a Wendy's hamburger.

If that isn't good advertising, I don't know what is.

05 October 2011

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

Okay, not twenty years ago as The Beatles sang, but it was just a year ago today that someone ran a red light and caused me to drop my motorcycle which resulted in me breaking my arm.

I'm usually not big on anniversaries or event-marking on a calendar, but this was something of a pivotal event. Just days afterward I made a decision to quit my job and do...something...else. I did not know then and to a degree do not know now. But had I not quit I never would have been able to go up to Washington State to dry cherries, never would have had met those wonderful people and had that awesome summer. So maybe there really always is a silver lining.

My arm has pretty much all healed. I still have some range-of-motion issues and cannot reach behind my back. One friend pointed out that this would be a problem if I'm ever handcuffed. I've manage to live to the age of 56 without ever being handcuffed, so I'm not too worried about this. (Now watch- having said that I'll go out for cigarettes or something tonight and get my ass arrested.)

I've ridden the motorcycle a lot in the past year, both here in Florida and up in Washington. It didn't take long to get over my paranoia about cars running red lights. I rode with a heightened sense of awareness (not going to be taken by surprise like that again) but no fear. On the other hand, I've become oddly and extremely paranoid in a car. Whether behind the wheel or as a passenger, I'm constantly on edge about people pulling out without looking. I've become a terrible back-seat driver, jabbing for that non-existent brake pedal on the passenger floorboard. ...Or should I say an even-worse back-seat driver because I was bad enough already. I cannot explain it, but I feel more in-control, and therefore safer on the motorcycle than in a car.

That's strange, isn't it...a person who feels safer on a motorcycle than in a car?

04 October 2011

Best-Laid Plans

The job in Dallas may not exist after all.

As I've written about before, my jet pilot friend Brad’s boss is a big hunter. Kind of on the side, he also owns a huge lumber company that has made him very, very wealthy. To get around among his various, spread out business and personal properties, he owns two business jets. He bought the second one merely because the warranty ran out on the first one, and then kept the first one as a backup. Seriously.

He’s always been making noises about buying a helicopter for use at two of his (many) hunting camps. Every year he talks about it but so far has never done anything about it. Initially he wanted a small helicopter: The new Robinson R-66 turbine seemed to fit the bill. Nothing fancy, just a basic turbine helicopter to scout his properties when he was there.

I’ve known Brad for years. We’re good friends. From the beginning we’ve been looking for a way of working together. And by “working together,” I always thought it meant as the two-man crew of some bizjet, which would be a gas. When he told me that his boss was looking for a helicopter, I “sort of” committed to come fly it if and when that should ever happen. You know, the half-hearted thing one friend might say to another. Like, “Sure I’ll help you move!” while secretly planning to be in the Bahamas that weekend.

This year’s hunting season is upon us. Turns out that the new Robinson helicopter is experiencing some, err, “technical difficulties” in production. A brand-new one would not be available until February of 2012, after hunting season had ended. So it didn’t look like Brad’s boss would get a helicopter this year either. Oh well.

But then Brad found out that a friend of his who owned a very nice Bell LongRanger was interested in selling. The friend wants to move up to a model 407 which is newer and faster. The quoted price range for the LongRanger was good (about the same as a brand-new Robinson). Friend to friend. Aircraft brokers call such transactions “off-market” deals. Brad called me in Washington and suggested that we: A) go look at the ship; and B) talk to his boss about considering a different type of helicopter. I jumped in the car and beat feet for Dallas.

When we finally met up with Brad’s boss, he was much more receptive to the idea than we’d anticipated. I told him that the helicopter was in fine shape and suggested he go to Tulsa and take a look at it and maybe go up on a demonstra... He cut me off with a wave of his hand.

“You guys like this thing?”
he asked. Brad and I said we did. “Well I don’t need to see it. If you guys like it, that’s good enough for me.” He turned to Brad. “Okay, do it. Get it done. Buy it and get it down here.” Brad and I looked at each other uncomfortably. We weren’t that far along in the deal yet. Then his boss turned to me and we made our little employment arrangement.

I left Dallas the next morning, not quite knowing what to expect. I was ambivalent about taking the job. Money is nice, but it’s not everything. The prospect of moving to Dallas and taking one of these hybrid “corporate/personal” flying jobs was not attractive. My last job was exactly that, and there was a reason I left it (actually there were many reasons). My stomach was in knots as I drove across I-20 for home.

Tuesday morning, Brad called me up. “You haven’t started driving toward Dallas yet, have you?” he asked coyly. I told him that I had not. It turns out that the owner of the LongRanger has decided to not sell after all…at least not until he finds a 407 first. And that process has not yet begun in earnest. Oops! Brad had to relay that information to his boss, who was not pleased. Brad said that he got a major ass-chewing over that one.

So now we’re supposedly looking for a 407 for the LongRanger owner. To be honest, I’m not looking all that diligently. If this whole thing falls apart, I’m okay with it.

02 October 2011

Old Warhorses

It's been a busy couple of weeks! Since I’ve been back in Pensacola, I’ve been to see two Sikorsky S-55 helicopters that Dave Smith of Golden Wings Aviation in Brewster, Washington is/was interested in buying. We have to replace the one that crashed and burned, and the prospect of more business for next season means that we'll have to add more aircraft. Trouble is, there are very, very few of these S-55s left. Time is taking its inevitable toll on the survivors. They are, after all, nearly sixty years old.

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.