Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saving the planet, one seahorse at a time

This post has nothing to do with helicopters. I mentioned the other day that I went to a seahorse farm. First, let me give you a little background.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is a method for generating electricity by exploiting the temperature difference between cold, deep water and warm, shallow water.

Since Hawaii has both high energy costs and deep ocean water, years ago the government installed an OTEC facility in hopes of providing an alternative energy source. They plumbed pipes to pull cold water from hundreds of feet down off the Kona coast.

The system worked, but it wasn't very efficient. It cost them 10 cents to generate the energy they could sell for 11 cents.

Enter private aquaculturists, who recognized the value of this deep, nutrient-rich water for farming sea life. Desperate for an alternative revenue source for their alternative energy plant, the government began leasing land near the facility, as well as access to the water.

Today, Keohole Point beside Kona International Airport boasts a sprawling community of aquaculture companies that grow just about everything you can imagine: abalone, mussels, microalgae, lobsters, and even sushi-grade yellowtail.

One of these companies is Ocean Rider, Inc., which operates the only seahorse farm in the world. They sell farm-raised, domesticated seahorses directly to home aquarium owners. Their business has deeply undercut the poaching of wild seahorses worldwide, giving this endangered creature a fighting chance for a future.

Incidentally, seahorses mate for life, and separating them from their mate increases the probability of illness or death. For this reason, Ocean Rider only sells seahorses in mated pairs.

If you're ever in Kona, I highly recommend the tour at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. It was awesome. If you want to buy their seahorses, you can at

Here's a movie of some of their seahorses stampeding for a cloud of food that was dropped in the tank. If you look closely, you can see some of the mated pairs holding each other's tails, which they often do.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Helicopters are always trying to crash

Several friends have mentioned that they are reading this blog. Thanks, it really means a lot. With school six hours a day, plus commute, plus studying, I don't have a lot of free time, and I spend much of it writing, rewriting, and finding images for posts. It's the best way I have of sharing this experience with everyone. That means you.

Progress: Today I moved the helicopter around the airport with little assistance from my instructor. He still takes hold when I have an accidental spasm towards the fuel trucks or a multi-million dollar private jet.

I operate all of the controls during regular flight, except when Lee is demonstrating a maneuver. Don't confuse that with being completely in control.

A helicopter is an unstable system that requires constant effort to inhibit its natural tendency towards chaos. Or, as instructors explain it: A helicopter is always trying to crash, and the pilot's job is to keep it from doing so.

What that means for me from second to second is that things are constantly going wrong, and I'm constantly trying to fix them, like a cartoon character sticking finger after finger into a dyke that keeps springing leaks.

As soon as I stop the unintended climb, I've got to correct a loss of airspeed. I'm no sooner done with that then the engine's manifold pressure is too low. Ok, manifold pressure looks good, but we're out of trim, skidding sideways through the air. Fixed that, but now we're losing altitude and I'm late informing the tower of our position. And on and on. I don't have time to look out my door anymore, I'm way too busy!

Lee took the controls for a minute so I could shoot some video for you. In order of appearance: New subdivision on raw lava (right turn, looking straight down), nice blue coastline, Four Seasons Resort and golf course, relatively recent lava flows (1800's?), and (in the distance) Mauna Loa volcano, shrouded in her own fumes.

Sorry about the wind blast, but as I've said, there's nothing next to me but sky. By the way, if there is anything you're curious about, send an email or leave me a comment, and I'll try to explain or shoot some footage.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Helicopters are just so misunderstood

Most people grasp that an airplane can fly, at least for a while, if its engines stop working. Ask ten people on the street what happens when a helicopter engine fails, and probably all ten will tell you the helicopter will fall out of the sky.

Although false, this is a deeply ingrained popular belief, so much so that even I was a little apprehensive when my instructor told me that today we would practice descending without engine power.

The maneuver is called autorotation, because, as the helicopter descends, the blades are automatically rotated by upward flowing air, rather than the (failed) engine.

The effect is similar to the way a maple seed spins gradually to the ground, as you can see in these videos of autorotation in a previous post.

Despite my efforts to imagine riding a maple seed to the ground, I didn't really know what an autorotation would feel like. I guess I expected something like the freefall rides at Six Flags, or like the one they have on the Stratosphere building in Las Vegas. I hate those rides.

So I caught my breath when, while cruising at 1800 feet over immaculate black lava flows and a glistening blue tropical bay, my instructor said, "Autorotation in"

He cut the throttle, and the engine tachometer needle collapsed to the bottom of its housing. For the briefest moment, I felt us fall, and my stomach threatened to rise into my ribcage.

Then, just as quickly, I settled back into my seat, and we kept flying. Sure, we were descending, but we definitely weren't falling. We weren't even descending that fast.

Over the course of the next minute, I watched as the ebony lava below gradually rose towards us. The helicopter was quieter without the engine noise, and there was a low, mechanical hum. It reminded me of driving down a mountain road in first gear. You feel the tension of the machine controlling your speed; you know that if you were forced to crash, you might be hurt, but you'd survive.

Before we reached the surface, Lee halted our descent completely with a quick adjustment of the blades, as he would if we really had to settle down without power. Rather than land this time, he re-engaged the engine, and we climbed back into the sky.

So...would you rather have your engine fail in a helicopter, which can float down and settle softly to the ground just about anywhere, or an airplane, which needs several hundred feet of flat land and hurtles in at 60+ miles per hour? Spread the word.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New habits, hard drugs, and flying helicopters

I've noticed I've developed a new habit. As soon as I depart the airport and begin accelerating to cruising speed, a little voice in my head startles me with a bark: "Don't forget to check your gauges!" Yikes, that's right, check gauges!

So I look down to verify that my airspeed, climb rate, and manifold pressure are all normal. Imagine my surprise when I'm confronted with the miles per hour, RPM, and gasoline gauges in my Jeep.

Oh, that's right, I'm driving. Well, I suppose it's good to have the habit.

Speaking of which, I have a new metaphor for hovering. I've been comparing hovering to balancing. That's accurate. But if you're only two weeks into helicopter training, hovering isn't so much like balancing as it is like balancing drunk.

I'm reminded of a passage from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

This is the main advantage of ether: it makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish loss of all basic motor skills: Blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue -- severance of all connection between the body and the brain. Which is interesting, because the brain continues to function more or less can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can't control it.

That last line nails it precisely. Hovering over a short distance, say from the helicopter's parking space to the fuel pump, shouldn't be that difficult. And yet, when I try, it's like I'm already six shots deep into a bottle of Jose Cuervo.

My instructor, Lee, sits patiently beside me with one hand on the collective to keep us floating a few feet over the asphalt. I operate the other controls and focus intently on the fueling area, but I just...can't...get there. The beast swirls this way and that, stumbling several meters forward, then a few back, lurching left, then right, pitching at weird angles all the time, teetering on the edge of disaster, then swaying back through level before groping forward again. can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can't control it.

Drunken helicoptering! Hunter would be proud.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hovering and my out-of-body experience

Today I hovered for the first time using all flight controls without any assistance from my instructor. He tells me it lasted for 20 seconds or so before he had to act. I was shocked, because I was certain it was a minute or longer. I'll explain more about that towards the end of this post.

I mentioned before that learning to fly a helicopter is a physical endeavor involving feeling the helicopter as an extension of yourself and then learning to balance it.

Think about the last time you learned to balance something, perhaps a basketball on your finger, or your body on a bicycle, in a handstand, or even on one foot. How did it happen?

I suspect that when you began, you were able to balance for only an extremely short period of time. Very quickly, things started to fall out of balance, you likely made a few last ditch moves of rapidly increasing magnitude, and then you lost it. The classic "whoa whoa WHOA"...done.

With practice, you extended the time before the loss of balance. Your movements became more subtle, your corrections less excessive, and more time elapsed before the first "whoa." With enough practice, you extended the time long enough that the loss of balance never occurred; you could balance until you decided to stop.

During this process of practice and improvement, you didn't think about how to improve. You didn't think "Oh it's going left, quick I need to reach more left!" The truth is, you don't have time to think about it. If you think about it, your reaction is too slow, and you lose the balance.

This is the amazing thing: Learning to balance happens completely outside the realm of conscious thought. It's as if your body learns it without your mind.

This is exactly the process of learning to fly a helicopter, and holding a hover is the most acute example. You may recall that my first hover lasted two seconds, after which I entered "whoa whoa WHOA," sending the helicopter careening off at a deranged angle, and Lee had to take hold and bring it back.

That first time, I was only using my right hand, while Lee was managing the left hand and feet. Fast forward to today, when I was controlling all four flight controls (the cyclic, the collective, and right and left pedals) using my right hand, left hand, and right and left feet, respectively.

Today, as before, Lee had me focus on a palm tree several hundred yards in front of us and then just feel the hover. This time, for the first time, I really did concentrate on the tree -- and nothing else. I stopped trying to control my limbs, I stopped thinking about them or their motion.

The helicopter hovered. It was a bizarre sensation. It moved around a little, but as soon as it started to lean, I just willed it back. "Willed" is the best word I can use to describe it. It actually felt more telekinetic, like a medium might bend a spoon or move a bowl using mind energy alone. I just intensely silently expressed a desire for the helicopter to ease back into stillness...and it did.

I had no conscious interaction with my limbs. Although my hands and feet must have been making countless tiny corrections over fractions of seconds to maintain the hover, I have no memory of their motion. I can only remember the tree. (In a way, this was a little disappointing; I was so focused on the tree that I missed my own first hover.)

Actually, I do remember two specific movements, one by my right arm and one by my left foot. Right after each of these, I lost the hover and Lee had to act. So if I started thinking about a hand or foot, things went to hell immediately.

Afterwards, I was sure my longest stretch of unassisted hover had lasted a minute or more. Lee said more like 20 seconds. I still can't understand that, because it felt so long.

I can come up with only one explanation. Have you ever been "in the zone" while playing a sport? It feels like time slows down, so you see and react much faster, often faster than your opponent. I think that's the same effect I felt today. When you are in a state of calm but intense concentration during a full-body physical endeavor, time gets stretched and feels longer than it is.

So maybe it was only 20 seconds. But it was pretty cool, anyway.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No time to think

So far, my favorite thing about learning to fly a helicopter is how hard my instructor is pushing me. Every day, I feel like a juggler who has just barely learned to add another ball into the mix, and my instructor throws me two more. But, um, I'm not even very good with these ba---well, ok...

Maybe it's because of my short window in Hawaii, maybe it's just Lee, maybe they always do this. But it's a good feeling to have someone ask you to do something you are pretty certain you can't do, and in the asking make it clear they have absolutely no doubt you can do it.

Lee tells me I will fly by myself ("solo") the weekend of August 2. That's such an outrageous claim, it's laughable. It's July 22, and I can't keep the thing under control for a full minute, and that's with him handling the radio, minding the gauges, watching for air traffic, and managing at least half of the flight controls. Not to mention taking off and landing, which by my estimation are both fairly important to any successful flight.

For me to solo August 2 goes beyond utter madness and into pure fantasy. I'm not kidding. It's like if somebody told you that you will earn a million bucks this year, or that your favorite celebrity will meet you in a coffee shop and fall in love with you.

The odd thing is, he says it with a completely straight face.

A new perspective

It's a strange thing to find yourself in a place you couldn't even imagine not long ago.

When I wrote this, I was scared to death of being thousands of feet up in tiny helicopter with no door beside me, mere inches from oblivion. I don't think I was completely honest about the extent of my fear. You know how we hide fears, even from ourselves, hoping they will just go away.

When I learned that my flight school flies with the doors off, I was confronted with circumstances I didn't know how to handle. I didn't think I could do it. Or rather, I was pretty sure I couldn't. But there was already too much momentum towards Hawaii to stop.

I suppose that's what my high school sweetheart meant when she told me, "You just have to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down." Give yourself no way back, and you'll find a way forward.

My first right turn in the helicopter was tough, in retrospect. The only feeling stronger than panic was the notion that if I panicked I would either fall out or cause my instructor to crash. So I sat scared and pretended not to be.

Yesterday, I found myself in another right turn, staring down through five hundred feet of nothingness to the swerving green ground...and enjoying it.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning this discovery to my instructor. In his ever-chipper British accent, he said, "Great, let's see if I can make it bother you."

He proceeded to lean the helicopter into a 50-degree right bank, which of course means your right side is more the bottom than your bottom is. Except I didn't have a door, so there was no bottom.

You know what? It was pretty amazing, actually. I watched the kaleidoscope of dense vegetation and scattered buildings wheel crazily below me and felt nothing more than amused, relaxed curiosity. Oh look, that looks like some kind of plant nursery, and look there, I see a swimming pool.

It's a strange thing to find yourself in a place you couldn't even imagine not long ago.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Very few words

Efficient communication is a worthy goal. After composing a blog post, I go through and slaughter every word that isn't pulling its weight. I know readers have zero patience for fluff.

Aviation radio communications are remarkably efficient, but for a different reason. Since every aircraft near a given airport is communicating on the same radio frequency, and consequently only one person can be heard at a time, keeping it short and sweet is imperative.

Imagine you're in a room full of twenty blindfolded people, all actively walking around, and you're the only one who can see. Now imagine that you have to guide all those people out the door using only verbal instructions. Oh, and if anyone bumps into anyone else, they die.

If you say some instructions, how can the people be sure who they're for? How do you tell a person where to walk, when to turn, and by how much? What if several people all need help at the same time? The only solution is a system of very clear, very specific, and very rapid communication.

Here's the first radio call I learned and its translation:

"Kona Tower, Helicopter Five Zulu Kilo on south ramp requesting to enter left close traffic to taxiway Alpha with information Foxtrot."

"Hello Kona Airport air traffic control, I am flying the helicopter with tail number '5ZK' that is hovering in the southern staging area. I'd like permission to enter the standard air traffic pattern that circles to the left of the main runway, returning back to taxiway 'A.' I have already listened to the latest recorded weather and airport update, so you can assume I know that information."

Love it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Flight school: Day two

Yesterday, we got rained out (apparently a rare occurrence at Kona Airport, which is shielded by one of the volcano's peaks). Lee, my instructor, says we can fly in the rain, but it takes me twenty minutes outside the helicopter to get through the pre-flight checklist, and we would have been soaked and cold.

The checklist is a detailed safety inspection of the helicopter's surface and systems, including structural elements, fuel and oil lines, rotor and tail blade condition, and so on.

Anyway, this is what I've done so far today:
-Ate breakfast on deck overlooking coffee grove
-Drove around barefoot in jeep with top down
-Swam in bay with wild dolphins (close enough to touch)
-Ate lunch of authentic Hawaiian food
-Flew helicopter

Not even Richard Branson lives this good.

I am so glad I studied ahead of time. Without it, ground school would be overwhelming, a double-whammy on top of flight school, which by itself is one of the most intense experiences of my life.

The book knowledge doesn't help flight school much, any more than reading mechanic's manuals would help you drive your car. Flight school is a physical endeavor that involves little if any intellectual thought. It's basically just learning to feel the helicopter as an extension of yourself, and then to balance it, like you would a bike or anything else. And similar to riding a bike, it's much easier when you're moving forward. Hovering is a bitch.

Today I hovered for ten seconds before the thing veered off at a crazed angle and Lee, patient as ever, caught it. He said he's seen much worse, but whoever that was, I'm glad I wasn't in the helicopter.

Below is a picture I took near the airport. Hawaii is a relatively young island; its edges are raw black lava, frozen forever in the smooth humps and ripples of a flowing liquid.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First day of school

In Hawaii, it doesn't just rain. The sky collapses in a torrent of great fat drops the size of worlds, the whole multitude of them crashing at once into tin roofs, banana leaves, and the canvas top of my jeep. It's a miracle, and when it's over, the air is left as pure and fresh as the whisper of a child.

Today was my first day of school -- two hours of one-on-one ground school and two hours of helicopter time. The amount of information to process, particularly in flight training, is astonishing. The number of things a helicopter pilot has to do, simultaneously and in rapid sequence, is overwhelming.

If I didn't know that thousands of people before me have learned this, I would believe it's impossible. There is a lesson there, which I will come back to often: The only difference between impossible and possible is belief. Nothing else.

We flew, both of us, our hands and feet on the controls. Each time I said, "Ok, you do it," my instructor Lee (pictured), said, "We'll do it together."

We flew straight, we turned left, we turned right. The latter could have been harrowing; I was sitting on the right side of a helicopter with no door, so that looking to my right during a right turn (and bank) meant staring straight down, with nothing but a thousand feet of freefall between me and the lush, green floor.

I say could have been harrowing, because my brain was too busy franticly sorting and seizing information about how to fly to be very scared. In the one moment that was too much, Lee had me focus on my sight line past the cockpit compass to the horizon, and soon the turn was done.

(By the way, my left hand was on the collective, a handle that looks like an automobile parking brake but controls the up-and-down in a helicopter. I'm glad I was able to fight off the urge to yank up on that handle to keep myself from falling out the door. That could have gotten unpleasant.)

We also practiced hovering, this from a more reasonable but still potentially fatal altitude of about five feet. Hovering is the most difficult basic skill. It's an extreme balancing act, something like a one-arm handstand or riding a unicycle. My first hover lasted literally two seconds before Lee had to take over and save us from a violent death of high octane flames and splintering steel.

My longest hover was six seconds. Lee says six seconds is pretty good for the first day. Six seconds seems pretty useless compared to five minutes or fifteen minutes or forever.

But it's true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Today, I began with impossible...and finished six seconds closer to possible.

[Click "Newer Post" below left to read the next post, or start from the beginning.]

The right place

Yup, if you want to go to helicopter school, Hawaii is the place to do it. I went snorkeling yesterday at Two Step Reef. It's one of the nicest reefs I've seen, and that's coming from a former marine biologist who once lived beside a reefed lagoon in Jamaica.

This morning I showed up for school at 9am, three hours early, because I screwed up the time zone conversion. Brilliant student.

To kill time, I took a tour at a nearby seahorse farm, just one more fascinating Hawaiian mini-adventure. More on that later.

School starts today at noon. Here's a picture I just took of the trailer:

Edit: Well, looks like the blog can't convert time either. It's 11:30, not 2:30...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Flight school orientation

I found a cafe with an Internet connection, so that will do for now.

Today I checked in with Mauna Loa Helicopter School, and I'm stoked. The instructors were very friendly; several of them introduced themselves spontaneously to me.

The school itself is just a trailer (like at a construction site) next to Kona International Airport, with a cluster of helicopters on the hardtop. That's fine with me. It helps explain why helicopter time here is cheaper than the school in San Diego, which boasts a large modern hangar and plush classrooms with fancy multimedia equipment. Somebody has to pay for that stuff.

Today's agenda involved about two hours of orientation and paperwork.

I begin training on Wednesday with my assigned instructor, Lee. He holds the school record for fastest instruction, having graduated a private license student in three weeks and a commercial license student in four. I'm lucky to get him.

The plan is to hit two hours of "ground school" plus two hours of flight time each day, five days a week. We'll try that and see how it goes. They seem very flexible. Hawaii in general seems very flexible.

It turns out two of the three books I've been reading are standard texts for this school. That doesn't surprise me, but it's good news. One of the instructors, Jesse, confirmed for me that people often fall behind in the ground school (because it's not as fun), and end up requiring extra flight time to learn that information in the air. So my studying should help keep costs down.

Here's a picture from my outdoor (but covered) kitchen taken a few seconds ago as I write here while it pours rain (click to zoom). Yes, it feels like I live in Jurassic Park. I think I may enjoy the daily contrast between jungle living and modern flying machines.

An unexpected shock

My tiny hut squats on the side of an ancient volcano above the sea, breezes flowing though screened windows, a riot of tropical vegetation in every direction. A light rain just ceased, and the frogs and insects have raised their evening chorus.

But...this place has no digital inputs. I have no Internet access and my cell phone has no service.

For me, this is a viscerally shocking experience, not unlike being forced to hold one's breath. Your first thought is, Ok, surely this can't go on much longer. And your next is, If this goes on another minute, I will die.

But then the oddest thing: I kept holding, and nothing happened. I didn't need to breathe! How freeing.

I found myself thinking, This is really nice. The metaphor inverted: It was as if I was finally able to exhale after months (years?) of clenching.

I began to imagine six weeks without any Internet and little phone, and to my surprise the idea seemed appealing. Of course, that would mean no blog. Although it might disappoint my dad and my cousin (a second reader!), it's something I'll consider.

Tonight, before I began to write, my eyes were burning. They used to feel that way after a day of staring at a computer. Is it possible that now they're doing so after a day without digital exposure, the withdrawal symptoms of a screen junkie?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happy birthday, Will Bieze!

I just want to shout a quick happy birthday to my godson Will Bieze, and hello to his brother Henry and family!

I'm headed to Hawaii today to go to helicopter school. Perhaps one day we will fly together.

Will, his brother Henry, and their father Michael

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cramming results

Thirty seven days ago, in this post, I made an ambitious commitment to read Principles of Helicopter Flight (for the first time) and finish Rotorcraft Flying Handbook (for the second time) before leaving for Hawaii and flight school. That was 26 + 7 = 33 chapters to be read in 38 days. I leave tomorrow, so let's tally it up.

I read 19 chapters in Principles of Helicopter Flight.

I read zero chapters in Rotorcraft Flying Handbook.

I also read 10 "sections" in Private Pilot: Guided Flight Discovery. This is the standard text for fixed-wing students, but the sections on instruments, weather, and radio are relevant to helicopters, and I decided I needed to go through those.

So, that's the equivalent of 29 chapters. I fell a little short of 33, but still a pretty good effort considering my existential crisis.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bose X vs. LIGHTSPEED Zulu: Head-to-head comparison

There is a strong consensus among pilots that the Bose X headset is the established leader for comfort, function, and quality. That lead has recently been challenged by the LIGHTSPEED Zulu.

There are minor feature differences between the two. The best explanation of these I could find is in this comprehensive review by pilot Jeff Snyder, a self-proclaimed "headset whore."

For most pilots, the feature differences will be trumped by the comfort differential, which can go either way depending on the size and shape of your coconut.

In the local pilot supply store, an older pilot swore to me that the Zulu is far more comfortable. I decided to buy them both and try them both, since they are returnable for 30 days.

Yesterday, after two hours of wear around the house, the Zulu was really putting the squeeze on. Today, after two and a half hours, I was happy as a clam in the Bose. Your mileage may vary.

Raiders of the Lost Backpacker

Harrison Ford is Chairman of the Young Eagles program mentioned in my last post, despite having once crashed a helicopter while practicing autorotations during his training. ("I broke it," he told James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio.) Ford assumed the Young Eagles chairmanship from Chuck Yeager in 2003.

In related news, I learned in my reading that 90% of all search and rescue operations are conducted by members of the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

Ford must be a member of CAP too, as I remember reading about him being called on to occasionally conduct search and rescue operations in one of his helicopters from his ranch in Montana, or Utah, or wherever his ranch is. (Ah, Wyoming...I just looked it up. Love the Internet.)

In once instance, he picked up a solo backpacker that had become disoriented and lost. She boarded Ford's Bell 407 and promptly vomited. She didn't know who the pilot was until much later, and upon learning reportedly exclaimed, "I can't believe I threw up in Harrison Ford's helicopter!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Flying kids: "Sky's the Limit"

If you had taken a helicopter ride when you were young, how would it have changed your life?

I did it when I was fourteen, and it was such a thrill that two decades later I signed up for helicopter school.

I was reflecting on that the other day, and I had a little vision. What if there were some organization that gave helicopter rides to kids who would otherwise never have the opportunity? I thought: Perhaps every middle school could have an annual contest of some kind, maybe based on academic merit, and the winner got to go on a helicopter tour. A helicopter school could donate the heli time, and the pilot would be a volunteer. Now that would be cool. You could do it all over the country.

Can you imagine how exciting that would be for a kid? You could call it "Sky's the Limit," to capture the literal experience as well as the message that you can do whatever you can dream. Looks like is sitting unused right now.

I'm sure there are all kinds of legal and bureaucratic considerations, but the most important part is the idea, right?

Actually, I've been mulling the above for a few days, meaning to post about it. Then, a few minutes ago, while skimming through (the airplane blog that inspired this blog), I found a reference to Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program.

From the program's website:
The EAA Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give interested young people, ages 8 - 17, an opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane. These flights are offered free of charge and are made possible through the generosity of EAA member volunteers. [Read more...]
How about that! But forget airplanes. Pffff! Let's get 'em in helicopters. They are way cooler.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Technical upgrades

I added a list of links to books in the right hand margin. I'll add books there whenever I write about them, so they are always easy to find. After all, this blog is supposed to help others following my path. So far it's been paved with books, and more are soon to come!

I also added a handy-dandy subscription tool, so all the people reading my blog (read: my dad) can get the latest post without having to check the blog.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pilots are not passengers

That heli ride threw me for a loop.

I love the experience of being in a helicopter. It's a serene, peaceful feeling, floating up that high, moving kinda slow, having that breathtaking view. It makes me feel...well, free as a bird.

But watching Cynthia fly the Schweitzer (and watching Kelly in the Cessna) made me realize that piloting is busy work, demanding sharp mental focus and nearly constant coordinated multi-tasking. You don't get to sit around and watch the clouds and the hills and the tiny people on the baseball diamond like you do if you are a passenger. I know that's obvious, but somehow I didn't think of it.

So I cringed: What the hell am I doing? Do I really want to spend this huge amount of money and spend all this time to learn a skill that may not even be the experience I'm seeking? Should I just stick the money in a bank account and use it to pay for helicopter rides whenever I feel like it? (It would pay for a lot.)

And while I'm on the subject, the expense already had me a little hesitant. Not to mention the fact that this endeavor will demand considerable ongoing expense and time (in helicopters) just to maintain a safe level of competence, let alone improve skills.

So I got a little spun out. Especially since I'm already committed with time off work, air fare, and so on. And all my family and friends know my plan. How embarrassing to back out!! (Ironically, I had actually made a point of telling people, to challenge myself with the potential public failure; until now, all my life I've been the type to go learn something in secret and then arrive with it already done.)

After the helicopter ride, I was pretty distressed about the whole thing. I didn't touch a textbook all week. I wondered how I might back out gracefully, and pondered other ways to spend my time in Hawaii.

Then last night, I was talking with a friend about my trip, and his enthusiasm brought me back around a bit. And this morning, I had bizarre experience. I woke up early (spontaneously), and started randomly looking at popular YouTube videos. I clicked on a video by Nelly Furtado (just watch the first few seconds):

The coincidence was amusing. It made me smile. I also thought, Wow, they sure made that helicopter look cool. Maybe this will be fun after all! I was about to click on something else, when I saw the link to this next one. I've never heard of this band or song, and I actually started to scroll away without clicking, but then something pulled me back to it:

Yeah. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Either helicopters are the new must-have in music videos, or...synchronicity? Well, onward to flight school, let's see what happens.