Helicopter Ride

Same type of heli I flew in
Same type of heli I flew in

A Machine that Shouldn't Exist

I used to hate helicopters. I was an aviation buff when I was younger. I loved airliners especially. They tore down the runway and pulled themselves into the sky with silvery screams. Soaring at thirty thousand feet, they left multiple cloud trails behind them. Returning from the blue, they gracefully floated down from the sky with quiet power. But not helicopters.

They seemed the most ungainly machines I had ever seen. They beat the air with what sounded like a sonic clatter. When they took off, they didn't smoothly roll down the runway and pick up the speed necessary for lift. They defied all logic and rose into the air, offending my sense of what was right in this world. All aircraft are supposed to get up to speed and start flying the natural way. Pretty ridiculous eh? Nevertheless, that was what I thought.

Workhorse to put out fires
Workhorse to put out fires

Anything that Flies

So my brother Robert and I were at an airshow at Nut Tree airport, before it was turned into a shopping mall years later. There was a Bell helicopter just like the MASH helicopter, taking off and landing periodically, giving rides for twenty dollars. I think I mentioned something to my brother about it, probably about how I didn't like helicopters. And my brother challenged me.

He said that if I would go for a ride, he would pay for it. He wanted to prove to me that it wasn't what I thought it was. That I would enjoy it. For me, any chance to fly was an opportunity I couldn't miss, but because of my ridiculous idea that Helicopters really weren't aircraft, I had no pleasure in the prospect of climbing aboard one of those things. I didn't care either way. Nor was I afraid. I thought about it and after a while I told him I wanted to try it. He made sure that I didn't feel obligated to do it because he said so, (I think he would rather not have spent the money), and we walked over to the evil-shouldn't-be-flying machine.

Precision Flying, Rescuing People and Property
Precision Flying, Rescuing People and Property

Back When

This wouldn't be my first helicopter ride. The first one was when I was 4 or 5 years old. My mother and I were traveling, I think we were going to Holland. We were at the wrong airport for some reason. Someone arranged for us to be flown from the San Francisco International airport to the Oakland International airport I believe. All I can remember was that it was very cold and noisy. I couldn't even see out and I wonder how aware I was of the fact that we were in a helicopter then. Now that I think about it, I bet that experience was what caused my bias, I just never put the two together

These Have Teeth - Cobra
These Have Teeth - Cobra

It's Like Flying

On the grass field at Nut Tree, I got into the contraption, strapped myself in and the pilot checked me. There were no doors on the bubble canopy, and I thought that would be fun. It didn't take long before the blades were spinning and as light as a feather, we lifted off the ground and rushed into the sky. To the right were some very tall eucalyptus trees, and as we rose, we turned and moved toward them and soared right over the treetops. That was the single most exhilarating aspect of the flight. I felt like I was flying myself, as in a dream when you take off and fly over building tops, sometimes just grazing them with your chest. This was the defining moment for me. At that moment, I understood helicopter flight, what a miracle it is.

We continued to rise and float over the airport, in a way that no fixed wing aircraft ever could and suddenly we were hovering over the freeway. It looked like we were standing still, and the slower speed of our travel as we gained altitude, had me thinking we were not moving very much. I think we were at three thousand feet. It was a wonder to look down past my feet at the freeway below, where cars rushed by on their single tracks, all clumped together while we were completely free, going where ever we wanted. We didn't need no stinkin' runway! That was when I looked over at the air speed and saw we were actually doing seventy. I couldn't believe it. I thought we were hovering. I wanted to be disappointed, but instead I felt awe. I think I was realizing how flexible the helicopter actually was. It can hover, take off from where it stands and fly in any direction and any altitude it pleases without consequences. An airplane stays clear from obstacles and the ground because it must maintain a minimum forward speed, and its options for landing are limited by the terrain, most often needing a runway. But a helicopter can land anywhere and fly anywhere.

Chinooks can carry a house
Chinooks can carry a house

Impressed Despite Myself

Needless to say, I was very impressed that day, and have loved helicopters as much as "regular" aircraft ever since. I always hail back to that experience when considering doing something I have never done before, knowing that if I do not understand what something is, I can not make a judgment about it until I have immersed myself in the experience.

Helicopters are Awesome

For a long time after, I struggled with my career path. I was dead set on becoming an airline pilot, but after encountering another helicopter, a Reach medical helicopter in the middle of an intersection, I leaned toward becoming a helicopter pilot. Unfortunately, that dream has been delayed by various circumstances and my own apathy, but I knew a black pilot who got his ratings in his thirties or forties and has a successful flying career today. I know it is never too late to start, and in a few years I may find myself flying a chopper too. Helicopters are awesome.

As graceful as an airplane
As graceful as an airplane

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Comments 12 comments

Botterguy 7 years ago

How about giving it a "whirl", try your hand at being a chopper pilot. The way you described the $20 flight re-ignites my passion for helicopters.


Utrecht11 7 years ago

Never thought about being a helocopter pilot but the way you describe it makes me enthousiastic. It sounds so wind blowing through your hair free.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon Author

Botterguy, maybe I should consider it. My plan is to get a regular private license first, but maybe I should get the heli license first. Everytime I get to go up in one, I love it.

Utrecht11, thankyou thankyou, it does feel like that, I should of said that in the article!


Zollstock profile image

Zollstock 7 years ago from Germany originally, now loving the Pacific NW

Sounds like a journey of self-discovery in retrospect. I had a really hearty laugh at about, “We didn't need no stinkin' runway!” I didn't realize this to be true until my daughter insisted we watch a Medivac helicopter take off from the local hospital – it's amazing how flexible and powerful these things really are, especially when it comes to saving lives. Thanks for bringing this experience to life for the reader so vividly.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Zollstock!


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

I love helicopters and even had a lesson in one once but the cost was prohibitive. My pilot son calls them "a few thousand nuts and bolts flying in close formation" Quite descript.Nice hub as always!


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 6 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Gypsy, helicopters are scary machines but definitely fun.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

What a great description. I feel as if I am inside a helicopter myself- something I have missed somehow. Thanks for creating a fun moment.


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

It was really cool to read about your dislike became a like. I have been on one once...scared at first. However, it became thrilling!

Voted this up for awesome!!!


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 4 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks iamaudraleigh, glad we shared similar experiences.


islandangler profile image

islandangler 22 months ago from Malta

Former fixed wing and now flying helos .. they are truely something else :)


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 22 months ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon Author

I am envious islandangler! Thanks for visiting.

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