PART 135 ADVENTURES
Commuter and On Demand Aviation Activities
March 22-24th was my introduction to the world of part 135 Aviation operations. Being ‘blown away’ would belittle my response to the world of commercial flight. Our orientation took place in Price, Utah. Price is half way between Salt Lake City and Moab. Redtail Aviation runs the FBO at both Moab and Price and has a larger facility for meetings in Price.
Moab will be the airport where most of our ops will originate. My company is rich with pilots who are icons of back country flying. If you mention LaVar’s name heads turn. The guy is so respected as a pioneer of canyon flying. Another pilot has made a film of flying the arches of the Southwest (that’s through them!). So here I am, one of four new hires, surrounded by 12 pilots of exceptional skills, stories and experiences. How could I get so lucky?
The Chief of Redtail Aviation, Mark Francis, started out the session describing a ‘normal’ day in June. Meet at the airport 7am for the morning briefing. Six planes take off for Green River airport where we rendezvous with 30-40 rafters. We shuttle them to a skinny, dirt strip high on a mesa over the Green River. While waiting for the rafters the noseeums, (biting gnats) attack any exposed skin. The ‘Off’ can passes around quickly. Besides the rafters there’s crates of food, beverages, and gear to transport. The cargo doors close when you push the gear in with your foot. We will be flying C-172s, C-206s, C-207s, and C-210s. Being a Piper pilot for the last 20 years I have a steep learning curve ahead. The C-207 can carry 7 people…what a mule! The trip to Sandwash Airstrip doesn’t take long. There is an urgent need to get in and out quickly. By 8am the winds up on the mesa can really blow and you don’t want to be flying around those canyons.
Back to Moab to pick up loads of tourists. The bus tour companies like to offer a side trip of flight seeing for their passengers. The French are especially enamored with our canyons of the Southwest. As the day gets warmer the air gets choppier and there is usually someone in the plane wanting to reevaluate their previous meal. Back at the FBO we clean up the planes and ready them for an afternoon pick up down the Colorado River at Hite Marina. Getting into Hite can be dicey due to winds coming up the Colorado. Getting out can be an even greater challenge. You are now loaded to the head liner with rafters, gear and temps over 100*. The engines vaporize fuel quickly in the heat and aren’t eager to start up again. Takeoffs are little more than ground effect and stall warnings. The lift doesn’t come until you’re a few minutes out over the water and speed and altitude slowly are gained. Then it’s an upriver turn and beautiful, bumpy canyon flying. Back at base around 7pm and a half hour of paper work, half hour drive home, dinner, shower, bed and get up early to do it all over again. After this description my knees were shaking, my throat was dry and the voice of survival asks “Why in the world would you want to do this?” Mark gave everyone the option to walk. No one had enough sanity to take the offer.
In the next 3 days what was described gave me the confidence that these skills can be mastered, and yes I really want to do it. It brings together all my loves of people, place and flying. Call me crazy, call me a challenge junkie, shake your head in disbelief.
The training will be intense, not just flying but spec sheets of 12 different planes and their personalities and foibles. The beauty is that these guys are wonderful, supportive and warmly taking me into their fold. I’m so proud to even be sitting in the same room as this congregation of legendary pilots. Training, training, training, sleep, eat, training, training, training!
Our new home construction should be complete by early April; about a miraculous, month early. Usually in Moab everything takes longer to get done. They are on a different clock. As soon as the ‘all clear’ rings out we’ll be shuttling our dog, car, plane and lives to Moab until early July.
Thank you very, very much to all who sent notes of support and celebration. It means so much, in so many ways, to know that your friends believe in you. You may hear my howls of frustration all the way back here in CA. Yet the learning curve and growth are always punctuated by the moments of despair, followed by the brilliance of success. Light the candles, say a prayer for me and stand by for more stories.