Blackbird down!..and up again



The rythmic thumping of the helicopters blades preceded it’s arrival as the cool morning air transmitted the ever expanding and ever dissipating pressure waves created by the circling bars of metal. Like a pebble in a pond these waves spread through the otherwise silent morning air bouncing off the mountains and trees, building and cancelling, rhythmic and varied. The amplitude of these impacts increased as the machine glided on it’s spinning wing towards the now dry and dead pasture.
“Now you can hear it” intoned the Boss.
“Here she comes!” a guest added excitedly, eyes to the tree line.
A bright eyed tow-headed young boy began to jump with expectation. He was promised a seat on this flight and his excitement could be measured in inches as his feet left the ground over and over.
Cameras were raised and the moment was captured as a gorgeous Bell 429, Black with Gold pin-striping, sporting the West Point mascot proudly beneath the rotors center glided over the treeline like a superhero.

The aircraft appeared over the treetops, moving slowly, gliding in to softly touch down on the gentle groomed slope of the pasture.  Effortlessly removing my hat on its way down.

West point mascot


Well today was a big day. After many days of preparation, a helicopter tour was commencing in the 100 year old pasture which had been cleared in this rain forest long ago, for horses long since passed.
Our county, along with many in northwest Montana, is currently under stage 1 fire restrictions due to the lack of precipitation. It hasn’t rained much at all this spring or summer so far.  What rain has fallen has dissappeared into our often single digit humidified air.  It is bone dry here.

Many days of preparation were required to make certain that we didn’t start a grass fire, leading to a forest fire, potentially leading to our eviction from the neighborhood. The process began with a significant mowing performed in the early morning when dew should have been present, but wasn’t.  The cooler temperatures gave me confidence that I wouldn’t start a fire during this morning operation. A large clearing was carved from the two foot tall, mostly dead grass, as a welcome mat and perch for the Bell’s arrival, still days away at this point. Then the watering began.


Conveniently, the owners of this particular Lodge have their own fire truck, it is a 1981 Utah LaGrange on a 4×4 Ford chassis carrying a 1000 gallon tank and engine.  It’s red, of course. Initially I had planned to use the 1 1/2 inch hose reel to spray down this nearly one acre patch, but after a few minutes I realized that would take a lot longer than was necessary.  I found that by aiming an unemployed connection on the top right side of the truck I was able to splash water off the hose rack in a spraying arc as I drove the truck around in overlapping circles like the world’s largest sprinkler. Accomplishing a full watering and dumping of the 1000 gallons in under 10 minutes time and leaving the dusty ground and dead grass stubble quite adequately soaked.

Monday was to be our launch date, but that appointment was delayed by two days due to inclement weather. Finally! Rain! It lasted all day Monday, and part of Tuesday. And here we are Wednesday, at 6:30 a.m. and I find myself in the pasture reaching down into bone dry grass and soil. Even after all that rain, still no morning dew.

The helicopter arrived promptly at 7 a.m. setting down to the great delight of all present. Hands were shaken, and approximatly 20 minutes of photographs were taken as introductions were made and stories were told.

One interesting bit that came out of all the talk was that this particular aircraft was recently flown from Kalispell, Montana to a movie set in Florida (a 14 hour flight), where it was filmed, measured, and digitally reproduced to be used in the next Iron man movie.  To be clear, the helicopter was never flown in the film.  Upon arrival to Florida a team of technicians descended on the aircraft to the chagrin of the pilot, with lasers and cameras to record every dimension and angle so as to be digitally regenerated as needed.  So remember, when you see Mr Downey jr riding around in his helicopter, know that it never really happened,.. through the use of CGI and a green screen, no actors were required to leave earth for that film.

Back in the pasture: Once the champagne and coffee has been dispensed by the accommodating pilot and seating arrangements made, the fortunate voyagers climbed aboard, settling into the finely crafted leather interior of the Bell 429 for a 2 hour tour around the valley.  A safety talk was delivered and the doors were closed and latched.

The turbine started with a woosh much like when a gas bbq is lighted, and the rotor began to spin.  It took about 5 minutes for the preflight and warmup and as the rythmic whir and thump deepened the skids became light on the earth, and ever so gracefully and gently the machine lifted into the air.

liftoff landing side view

Glacier Park is currently on fire, and so their intended flight path over that beautiful piece of geography would have to wait for another day.

With the tour underway, I occupied my landborn time tending to my duties. Watering the dock flowers and fueling some boats.

In the distance, just before 9am, the rythmic whap whap whap once again beat off the mountainsides and bays. The helicopter returned with a similar flare and grace. Landing neatly in the space prepared.  The guests climbed off, all smiles, with heads full of new perspective.

The young blond fellow had slept through a portion of the trip, unable to defend against the somnolent drone of his carriage, and he exited the craft with a big grin and with a full run launched into his waiting mothers arms to the delight of them both.

Pilot Mike returned to his craft and with a wave departed like a superhero in a movie,  equally impressive as a real life Black Knight.

Thank you Mike and The Glacier Jet Center for delivering on an amazing charter.  It is another great day to remember.


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