A winter adventure

John Young and his Robinson R-44Membership in a vibrant flying club opens the door to a variety of new flight experiences through its membership.  This morning I flew with a friend for lunch, and ended up with an introduction to helicopters.

John Young has been a member of the club for as long as I have, and is now a helicopter CFII instructing out of Nashua in Robinson helicopters with a share in a Robinson R-44.  John answered my call for people willing to fly with me on Presidents’ Day, and we decided to fly up to Sanford, Maine, for lunch on what was a cold and windy New England winter morning.  As a pilot, I am enthusiastic boy with plenty of room for improvement, so flying with John is a special treat.

We landed at Sanford for lunch at the airport restaurant — cheese burgers with butter-toasted buns — and John began to explain helicopter flight to me.  Watching out the window, we watched a Twin Bee amphibian pull up to the restaurant.  John noted that it was a multiengine, an amphibian, and a tail dragger, each property requiring a different rating or sign off and each increasing insurance costs dramatically.  Nearing the end of the lunch, John mentioned that his helicopter was up at Laconia, New Hampshire, so we decided to fly over there to see it.

Laconia airplanes in the coldFlying toward Lake Winnipesaukee, we flew north of the Alton Bay ice airport that club member Egbert Woelk wrote about last month, and we admired the patterns of snowmobile tracks covering the snowy surface of every frozen lake in sight.  Landing at Laconia, we walked past a grass parking area filled with snow-covered planes looking forlorn stuck among frozen drifts of snow.  Entering the hanger, we found John’s R-44 sitting next to a smaller R-22.  (And a yellow Ferrari.)

Sitting inside the cockpit and opening access panels outside and climbing over the platform with his helicopter, listening to John, I began to understand his love of helicopters. My greatest moments in airplanes are those moments when I feel at one with the machine, bonded to it, understanding the plane so well that I know what the machine is going to do before it happens, and then getting to watch it happen.  Bonding with a helicopter seems to be a requirement for flight, and not just an opportunity for a fleeting moment of joy.

Laconia airpot in winterFlying from Laconia back to Lawrence, Massachusetts, our tailwind at 4500 feet added 40 knots to our ground speed, and we absolutely flew home.  Landing at Lawrence, that tailwind became a strong headwind. It made our landing roll so short that we could easily turn off at the cross runway, which was just as well, because the tower had advised us that the usual taxiway was closed by snow drifting over the frozen tundra of the airport property.  In the bitter cold wind, the snow crunched and the ice cracked under our feet as we walked back to the car.

Another great New England flying adventure.

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