Saturday, April 7, 2012

Oh, I've Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth*

"A helicopter is 10,000 totally unrelated moving parts, bent on self destruction, flying in relatively close formation."

Pimp my helicopterToday, I used the Christmas gift certificate my wife gave me to fly in a helicopter. Big whoop? Maybe. Thirty minutes of vibrating our way around a city I've lived in for the better part of thirty years, landing at virtually the same place we started. We never got more than a thousand feet in the air, an altitude most commercial aircraft attain before they get to the end of the runway on takeoff. In thirty minutes we made it from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport to downtown Denver and back. I don't need lights and sirens to do that in the police car.

"Hovering is for pilots who love to fly but have no place to go."

Twenty years into a successful marriage, it's hard to experience something unexpected. Of course there are the blind-side things creeping into a life - an unfortunate diagnosis, an unanticipated life event. Somehow, my wife figured out how to give me a gift so unexpected, and so perfect, that it reinforces how people who seem settled in routine can offer the occasional, wonderful surprise.

"An aircraft in flight wants to fly. A helicopter in flight wants to crash."

I arrived precisely on time to my appointment at Colorado HeliOps, was greeted by my genial host Dennis, and introduced to the various of the "crew." An affable, earnest young man gave me a safety briefing ("don't walk into the tail rotor") and I signed the usual release form stating (I'm a lawyer, so I'm paraphrasing) if the helicopter crashes it's really my fault and my heirs and assigns - wife, kids, dogs, cats, Facebook friends - can all go pound sand. I met the other two guys who would be passengers with me, killing time in the simulator while our pilot and helicopter returned from an elementary school, dropping off two grownups dressed in Easter Bunny suits.

"A 'good' landing is one from which you can walk away. A 'great' landing is one after which they can fly the helicopter again."

The simulator was a hoot. Although not the full-motion monstrosity I'd ridden in down in Ft. Carson ("Don't be surprised if you puke," Warrant Officer James Wiley had said. "Experienced helicopter pilots hurl all the time in this thing. Just don't get anything on the instrument panel." My prized possession from that day is an unopened barf bag). I was able to take off - with a little help - and somehow planted us in a field within walking distance of the helipad. The screen didn't turn all red, so I guess I kept the thing upright. High fives from my instructor, the usual male bantering about me flying the "real thing" and we departed for the real thing.

"Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers attached."

Pilots call the sky today "severe clear." A light breeze (Air Traffic Control reported "Winds one one zero at ten" - from east south east at about eleven miles an hour) blew away whatever haze might settle over the bowl into which Denver was built. Our pilot informed ATC we wanted to leave, they told us it was fine by them and.... Time to feel the magic. There is something special about a helicopter transitioning from giant windmill to flying machine. Tenuous at first, the machine settled into a meaningful climb and soon we had a ringside seat to an unlimited view. Pike's Peak appeared to our right, clear as a painting. Below, Sloan's Lake. Denver's downtown buildings were easily distinguished. A pass over Mile High Stadium was cool, Pepsi Center a glimpse into the past (I worked there during the Democratic National Convention) but.... Coors looked particularly inviting, beckoning us, and summer, to alight and sample the field of dreams.

"If God had meant man to fly, He'd have given him lots more money."

Too soon, the flight was over. Our pilot received instructions concerning his approach, was told he could land on the spot we'd left "at own risk" (WTF?!) but it seemed as hard to our pilot as parking a car in an empty lot. Perhaps, in his understandably professional pilot focus, he failed to notice me waving my American Express card crazily, requesting another lap.

"A male pilot is a confused soul who talks about women when he's flying, and about flying when he's with a woman."

 A good wife understands her husband. A great wife does something with the information. I have a great wife.

Were I younger, I would throw a lot of money at Colorado HeliOps to teach me the amazing skill of flying the entirely improbable machine called the helicopter. They are approachable, friendly and superbly competent folks. That I can't manage that is a shame.

Were I younger, my wife might have chosen someone else with whom to share her life. That would have been a tragedy.

Thank you, dear.

*High Flight. John Gillespie Magee,1941


  1. Sounds like your wife's very thoughtful gift was just the ticket to lifting spirits and embracing your world around you with a pleasant view from above. Thanks for sharing,
    Ruth G. Zavitsanos

  2. Thank you, Ruth. It was an amazing experience.