To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

Column T h e re I Wa s... Grand Designs for the Grand Canyon by Do rcey W i n go When the chief pilot informed me that our mutual employer had landed a six-month contract based in and around the Grand Canyon, I could hardly wait for the other shoe to drop. Yes, I was indeed going to be the lucky Lama pilot contracted to a reputable construction outfit based out of Denver, and ultimately, the National Park Service (NPS). This was fabulous news, for I had been doing some very demanding work elsewhere for more than two years. The accompanying snow, ice, and frequent relocations were wearing me and my wife rather thin. The prospect of having new customers and a warmer climate sounded like manna from heaven. Naturally, I wanted to set off on the right foot, so I paid special attention to the particulars of my helicopter, my dedicated A&P mechanic, and our trusty support vehicle. My designated helicopter was unfortunately the ugly duckling of the fleet, Chris Rohrmoser Illustration 134 Ver tical Maga zine but I was delighted to discover she flew more like a swan. My middle-aged mechanic was missing a few teeth, but I valued his experience. He knew his Lamas, bottom line. The fuel truck had a wheel on each corner, a large red toolbox, and a load of Jet-A. Our chances of making Arizona by sundown on Friday were looking better by the minute. Next, we planned the cross-country flight from our Utah base to an improvised construction helispot on the canyon’s North Rim. One fuel stop enroute would get me there with a little reserve, and “Toothless” would drive the fuel truck and meet me at the job site. Only it didn’t quite work out that way. I don’t know about you, but I get a little nervous being assigned a “new” aircraft, especially one with thousands of hours on the airframe. My distrust of unfamiliar flying machinery prevailed, no matter who my employer was. I was especially leery of “new” fuel gauges. All this needless wringing of hands leads to my unscheduled landing 10 miles short of the North Rim, Friday afternoon. The Lama’s intimidating low fuel light convinced me to squeeze the ship into a tiny turnout beside Highway 67, where I prayed for Toothless to drive by. This he did, a couple of hours into my cockpit’s dusty novel. My mechanic was obviously happy to be back on the road, and soon sent me southbound, brimming with go-juice. My directions to the construction landing zone were spot-on. After landing in a grotto of tall Ponderosa pine, a small assemblage of NPS personnel were on hand to welcome and accompany me to a nearby isolated RV campground, punctuated with prancing, white-tailed Kaibab squirrels and giant, fragrant pine trees. Our personal trailers arrived shortly thereafter, and Toothless and I were happily reunited with our domestic partners. We began the process of hooking up our trailers within the shady retreat. The Lama was not required until Monday, leaving us ample time to unpack and go gawk into the abyss. We were also warmly invited to attend a “mint julep” party at the park’s permanent housing area the following evening, hosted by the chief Park Service engineer. I was familiar with the featured beverage, but being a beer-drinking individual, I had never sampled the mint julep, per se. My wife didn’t drink alcohol, but she had ladies to chat with while I shook hands all around and tried out a couple of those delicious juleps. One would have been plenty, it turned out. The chief engineer was the bartender, so “the pilot” was treated to overflowing shots of bourbon while he laid out the more exciting aspects of our upcoming project in the mile-deep canyon, where my flying skills would be tested. The party overflowed outside to a gentle slope of green grass, chairs aplenty. I was feeling mildly euphoric at our 8,100-foot elevation. My pretty mate was watching, giving me the eye — convincing me to lay off those powerful juleps — and go find a beer, maybe? When I asked for a beer, the grinning bartender handed me a clean glass and pointed in the direction of the keg. The clever engineers had strategically positioned the beer-on-tap at the top of the incline. The tipsy pilot was the first to crack the spigot, unleashing the chilled, frothy, golden liquid. And the tipsy pilot was the first to roll to the bottom of the incline, accompanied by loud hoots of laughter and scattered applause. And yes, I spilt that beer — I never tasted a drop. It was about then that my gorgeous wife rose from her chair — dressed in a lovely black evening dress, and several months pregnant. Saying “goodnight” for both of us, she informed the hostess that we would be returning to the Airstream. Good thing I didn’t make a practice of getting plastered in front of customers, but it was very clever of the pilot to have his partner along to minimize the damage.