This Big Bear trip was a rather short
as vacations go. One day was all we could muster for this trek.
We had been there before during the winter, but thought it might be an
interesting escapade du jour! We picked up the helicopter at Chino,
filled up with cheap gas, and were headed for the mountains. Chino
Tower handed us off to Ontario Tower, and they in turn switched us to the
Radar folks at "Socal Approach" on 127.25 mhz. It was not long before
we were in the mountains and were no longer able to be tracked by radar.
We crossed the ridge line headed for
a point about 10 miles west of Lake Arrowhead. From there we made
our way eastbound over, above and between the mountain tops. We found
it necessary to be almost 8,000 feet above sea level in order navigate
the terrain without a collision with the ground. There were three
large lakes and one small one along our route. The smallest of the
lakes went by underneath us. After only a few more minutes, Lake
Arrowhead filled the windshield. There was a thunderstorm at the
northwest corner of Big Bear Airport. It was providing a nice light
show and an ample supply of rain to the airport and the surrounding area.
This was a good thing, as it had been a dry summer. We contacted
the Unicom, and were given the winds, weather, and a recommended parking
place. We took a short detour of a mile and a half to the south of
the airport and made an approach in much the same manner as we would have
in an airplane. We were full of fuel, less what had been used in
the 40 minutes worth we used to get there. Having never flown this
or any other helicopter at this altitude, I checked my available power.
It was fine. It's nice when the performance charts are accurate!
The only thing still to be determined was the effectiveness of the fenstrom
(tail rotor) at this altitude. I made the approach such that I was
not committed to land until I found out if directional control was to be
a problem. It took almost all of the right pedal to hover, but it
was enough. I knew the temperature to be slightly lower when we departed,
so I expected no problems. Helicopters are reliable and very safe
if you remember to engage your brain before you engage the rotor.
We have discussed a slight rigging change to provide just a bit more authority
for the fenstrom. It is amazing, but our trusty power plant was able
to provide well over 80% torque at 6,750 feet. It took just over
70% to hover. Horsepower is a wonderful thing.
The fellow working the Unicom was
nice enough to come pick us up and transport us to the terminal building.
I guess a Gazelle, or any other helicopter is a bit of a novelty at this
airport. He was a very nice guy. He ordered us up a rental
car, and after a brief wait, we were off. The Enterprise Rental Car
guy came and fetched us from the airport and provided us with a Ford Explorer.
It was a bit more car than we needed, but it could be had on short notice
so we were on it like ugly on an ape.
We drove around for a short time and
found ourselves in the village area. We happened upon a delightful
place to have lunch. The food and the service were both great.
It is the slow time of the year, so we were one of only three couples there
at the time. Karla ordered salmon, and I had a sea food salad.
Both were delicious.
Feed Me Now
Great Food and Nice People
Where did that old guy get that cute young wife?
We walked around the village for a
while. It was interesting seeing all the little shops. There
were no crowds so it was kind of relaxing to just walk around and see the
sights. We took a few pictures, and just basically enjoyed the day.
Love in it's automotive form struck as we happened upon a gorgeous Hummer
in one of our favorite colors. We wanted to take this one home!
After coping with the reality that the Hummer
would not be going home with us, we stopped at a small place for some coffee
and a Diet Coke. This place was out of almost everything. We
made a prompt exit and headed for the local Starbucks!
Starbucks - Even in the Mountains
They were not out of anything.
I was just going to order a cup of coffee, but was informed by Karla and
a young lady in line that I did not want just a cup of coffee. I
wanted something else. I guess it is a good thing they were there
to save me. They ordered me something with ice, chocolate and whipped
cream. It probably had a billion calories, but it sure was good!
After a brief chat with some nice folks outside, we were back in the car.
After having cruised the "Main Drag"
a couple of times, we headed over to the north shore by Fawnskin.
It was a winding road on the north side. We went by some very nice
homes. The north side afforded us some nice scenery as well.
I would venture to guess the road on
the north side of the lake is a reliable source of income for the local
tow trucks and body shops. That road, snow, and California drivers
would lead to a mishap or two. After taking a few pictures it was
time to head back to the airport.
We parked the rented Explorer at the
airport and left the keys as directed by the rental car guy. We went
upstairs for a Diet Coke and a cup of coffee prior to our departure.
It was a Mandarin Chinese place. Karla noticed that there was a poster
of the "Kitchen God" in the bathroom. She came and got me to be sure
I saw it. Given a choice, I would rather have the "Kitchen God" in
the bathroom than the "Bathroom God" in the kitchen, at least if I intended
to eat there.
We made our way down the stairs and
through the gate onto the ramp. After having a brief look at our
favorite helicopter, we were in the air again. As before, it took
full right pedal, but directional control was within our grasp. Soon,
the airport disappeared behind us. We were flying through the mountains
into the setting sun.
Getting In Motion
So Long To The Runway
Big Bear Lake
Off Into The Sunset
While downing the last of our caffeine
laden beverages, we decided to stop at Bracket Field to have dinner at
the airport restaurant. We tried to contact the tower to see if it
was open, but were too far away. Socal Approach and Ontario Tower
cleared us through their airspace and handed us off to Bracket Tower when
we were about 7 miles from our proposed dining site. We asked if
the restaurant was open. The controller responded, "The restaurant
closes at 3 PM, but there is a real nice Coke machine accessible from the
ramp. Our culinary hopes being crushed, we opted for a low approach
and a left turn out for Chino. The tower cleared us for a low approach
down runway 26 Left, and advised that traffic was a Piper Seneca, a small
twin engine airplane, departing in front of us. I said, "If we wind
up overtaking him, we will offset to the south." "I don't think you
will be overtaking him." the tower remarked. I knew different.
Having prior experience in the Seneca, I figured he would be climbing between
110 and 120 knots. We were at max power doing 150 knots or so.
"Wow, that thing is fast", the tower said. My nose would grow if
I did not say that I savored each one of the thirty knots of speed I had
over this twin engine plane. Men, boys, price of the toys, you know
the story. We proceeded down the runway, over the lake, and made
a left turn to pass behind a fire department helicopter. He was headed
for a rising column of smoke. We definitely felt he should have the
right of way. Soon we were five miles to the southeast and it was
time to say good-bye to Bracket and hello to Chino Tower. They cleared
us to land, and after a lap around the hangars, we were on the ground.
Soon the helicopter was secured and we were on our way home. All
in all, it was a very nice day. Flying when and where we want is
a welcome change from just "driving the winged bus" for someone else.
It kind of reminds me of why I learned to fly in the first place.