Anybody for a helicopter ride?
by Jill Slack
May 04, 2011 | 3041 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Monticello and the Abajos from the cockpit of a helicopter. Staff photo
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That was the question Bill Boyle asked in the office at the San Juan Record.

“Heck, yeah,” was my response, “I’ll go!”

Unlimited Aviation, of Page, AZ, was in town promoting helicopter tours. They have a pilot in training you may have gotten to know recently: Ben Breedlove. He and his wife Crystal just bought the Grist Mill Inn.

The vision is that the company will fly people in from Page, maybe ride some horses, see the sights, stay at the Inn for a few days, and then fly back. Youcan also book flights here.

The company recently got a license to fly tours. They already EMS and transport work and have a fleet of helicopters, as well as fixed-wing. Ben hopes to have his pilot’s license in the next few months.

Meanwhile, his trainer Owen Park gave several rides to local residents and members of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce.

He gave us a passenger briefing before we could get into the black and gold “Robinson 44” helicopter. He instructed us on how to buckle the harness similar to those worn by Nascar drivers. When we got in the helicopter, Ben and Owen helped us on with our safety belts…we didn’t have all day, after all.

We donned our headphones for communication. Easton Saunders made “ooh” noises in the back. Sorry I can’t interpret all his comments (I’m a little out of the preschool scene now) but they were precious. Ah, life through the eyes of a child.

Park started up the motor and told us it would take a few minutes and not to worry about the noises, they would soon smooth out. He checked the instrument panel for all the things that needed to be just right for take off.

The helicopter hovered while he maneuvered into position to take off near the power lines. There was no goofing around during this part of the ride. Although quite confident, you could tell Park was really concentrating.

As we ascended over houses going south, the ground dropped away and everything became flat. Clay Hill showed no apparent topographical changes, even though we knew they were there. The last visible signs of “life” were the sheep in the corrals at Blue Mountain Meats, then everything got too small to pick out.

“What would you like to see?” Park asked.

I couldn’t really think at that moment, so Mindy Saunders suggested Canyonlands. We circled back to the north and in seconds we were over the new airport. The trucks on the adjacent highway looked like Tonka toys. The last time I had seen this view, I was about seven years old in a little Cessna flown by my uncle Lark Washburn. I love the way the farms look like checkerboards. I attempted to take pictures whenever something caught my eye, but mostly I tried to focus on taking it all in.

We could feel the strain of the wind on the aircraft, but it was quite smooth and not very noisy. Park explained that the rotors had just been painted and they needed very slight “tracking” adjustments for best performance.

He said the terrain near Page is magnificent but he prefers all the green of the mountains. I thought how we were flying over at just the right time of year for green.

We were over Canyonlands in a matter of minutes. Park showed us how a helicopter can glide as he throttled down the engine. It felt just like a roller coaster; that thrill of split-second weightlessness. The ground was coming up quickly, but we were up high enough that it didn’t make me nervous.

He showed us the altimeter and engaged the engine again and sped forward. He explained how the air speed plays with the compass readings. When we sped up, the compass veered slightly east and when we slowed down, the compass took a drastic turn west.

“But we never turned, did we?” he asked.

“Not that I could tell,” I told him. He was a very good instructor and I could tell he loved his job.

We flew over the Dugout Ranch and into a few canyons for a closer look. He apologized that he wasn’t a better tour guide for this area.

“Hey,” I said, “I could be the tour guide.”

I’d better study up on the area and find some ruins we could see from the air. On our way back to Monticello, we flew over a body of water I was unaware of.

“Is that Monticello Lake?” Mindy asked.

“No, I do know Monticello Lake and that is not it,” I said.

Later I found out it is Gordon Reservoir, that it is used for irrigation, and the reason I didn’t know about it was probably because it could be dry by July. Ok, so I would make a lousy tour guide, but I’d go up in that helicopter again any chance I got.

We landed back in the field by the Grist Mill Inn. Park told us to watch our step and be sure to go toward the front of the helicopter after we got out.

Breedlove helped us with our seatbelts and I let him take my hand as I got out. (We had already been warned that the pilot would laugh at you if you trip on the skid.)

I was a little light headed. Perhaps I had forgotten to breath normally for the last 20 minutes, but it was well worth it. If you love this area like most of us do, you’ve probably explored it plenty.

But what better way to get a new view of it than from the air. In a cliché: breathtaking!
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