Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oregon Trail

I wanted to wait until it was official, but it looks like we are headed to Salem Oregon on Friday!  I am excited to be in Oregon, and I hope I get a chance to visit family while I am there.  Supposedly we are going to be there for a week, maybe a week and a half and then it is back to Delaware or somewhere on the East coast. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nothing but work

Nothing really new to report, we have just been doing more of the same flying around, taking pictures of houses.  I saw a kid jumping on a pogo stick, that was interesting.  Took pictures of the Baltimore Ravens training facility, that was really nice.  It's still not a boring job, but not much to talk about either.  To make up for the fact that this blog post is not entertaining, why don't you watch this video:



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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Keep on truckin

We have been keeping pretty busy the last week or two, and we have been moving around a lot!  In 10 days we went from Suffolk VA, Westminster MD, Dover DE, Frederick MD, Culpeper VA (where I accidentally left all of my worldly belongings behind) , and then back to Westminster MD!  No pictures though because it all looks the same.  It has almost been a month since the two week August break, and re-adjusting to life on the road has been a little harder than I thought it would be.  I miss everyone a lot and I can't wait to get back home.  After a few weeks though I will be on the home stretch and hopefully things will get a bit easier.  At least it is cooling off - most mornings are in the 60s - and the days are getting shorter.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

EARL!!

Lookout, Earl is a'comin!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Greensboro NC

Photographed an interesting property today.  A nudist colony.  Water volleyball.  Hilarious.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lightspeed Zulu vs Telex Stratus Heli-XT


Since I am now flying between 5 and 7 hours every day with one of the doors off in my R22, I thought it might be time to upgrade my headset to protect my hearing.  I like listening to music and talking to people, and I would be really sad if these things disappeared because I didn't have a good enough headset.  I tried to do some preliminary research on the best headsets out there, and it seems to come down to the Bose Aviation X and the Lightspeed Zulu.  The Bose for me is automatically out: I don't like the noise canceling, I don't like the cord, I don't like the mic sound and position, and I really don't think they provide all that much protection (supposedly Bose won't publish the decibel protection because it is proprietary information).  So I basically had to either buy the Lightspeed Zulus, or find an alternative that was just as good or better.  On paper, the Heli-XT headset from Telex was at least as good, but I could not find any reviews on it, so here is my biased opinion.


Price



As a helicopter pilot who flies for a living, price was a big deal for me.  I am still getting my career started, so naturally I am pretty poor.  Thanks Sallie Mae.  Anyway, the absolute cheapest I could find the helicopter version of the Lightspeed Zulus was $900.  There are a lot of websites advertising $850, but as far as I can tell those are all fixed wing versions.  For some reason the helicopter version has to be $50 more.  Makes sense, right?  $900 is a lot of money for a headset in my opinion, and I found the Telex Stratus Heli-XTs for about $550.  After shipping and tax and doc fees and delivery fees and licensing fees and registration fees, my total cost was $571.

First point goes to the Telex Stratus Heli-XTs for saving me $350


Noise protection

Lightspeed Zulu - total protection of 30db (skygeek.com) 
Telex Heli-XT - >29db passive and up to 16db active for a total of 47db (Telex  Heli-XT instruction manual).

In theory, the Heli-XTs should be a lot quieter than the Lightspeeds, but we all know that sometimes the numbers in theory don't match the end user experience in the real world.  However, the Heli-XTs should be a HUGE improvement over my 17db David Clarks.  It was very important to me to have some good passive protection, because as good as active noise reduction may be, all ANR headsets run off batteries (except Lemo) and I still want to be able to fly comfortably once those batteries run out.  This is another reason the Bose are out for me, once the batteries run out, you might as well not be wearing anything.  The Lightspeeds are similar, without the ANR the protection is minimal. In theory, even without the ANR, the Heli-XTs should be better than a lot of headsets out there. 

So how did it turn out in the helicopter?  The Telex are very quiet in the cockpit, and it gets even better once you turn on the ANR.  Telex claims that the ANR is tuned specifically to helicopter frequencies that are harmful for your hearing, and the ANR definitely takes a lot of the bass sound away.  Compared to the Zulus, I can't really say which headset is more quiet, they are just different.  The Zulus are really quiet, the Heli-XTs are really quiet - one is not clearly better, just different.  With the ANR off though, the Heli-XTs are the clear winner, I wouldn't want to run out of batteries with the Zulus. 

Second point goes to the Heli-XTs for better passive protection and great overall noise reduction


Comfort, Fit and Style


In my opinion, Lightspeed zulus look and feel sweet.  They are slim, sleek, light and cool.  They are comfortable  and fit well on my head, even with my sunglasses on.  The Heli-XTs are definitely bigger - 18.5 oz compared to 13.9 oz.  They are a bit bulky, and I was worried about getting a neck-ache after a long day of work.  I never thought of myself as a sensitive neck person, and it turns out the bigger Heli-XTs caused no comfort issues even after long days (7 hours plus) of flight.  Another common complaint is the clamping pressure.  Again, the Lightspeeds seem to have great clamping pressure - enough to keep a tight seal but not cause headaches, but I have never worn the Lightspeeds for more than 2 hours.  The Heli-XTs have 3 adjustable clamp pressure settings, and mine is currently on the highest pressure, and no problems at all.  I have never personally worn any headset that I thought clamped too tight, maybe I have a small head or I am just not a wuss, but this was not an issue for either headset.  I do have one beef with the Lightspeed's microphone - for some unknown reason, you can only rotate the mic one way!  In other words, you must have the mic on the left side of your body.  This is fine if you are sitting in the right seat, but if you are in the left seat this requires you to wrap the cord around your body, which I find very uncomfortable and annoying.  The Heli-XTs mic can be rotated so you can have the mic on either side of your head.  Another thing I don't like about the LightspeedsHeli-XT cord is a great length for a helicopter.  The control module with the power and mute buttons hangs down to just below my shoulder instead of dangling down by the collective. 

Third point is a tie - both are very comfortable and the Lightspeeds are cooler looking and lighter, but the Heli-XTs have the fit features that are important to me.


Features

Both headsets allow you to connect your headset to a music player and a phone.  The Lightspeeds have Bluetooth for wireless connection to cell phones, but the Heli-XTs have a corded connection that plugs in to the hands free part of my cell phone.  I do like the Bluetooth option better, but the cord works just fine.  Both headsets have volume adjustment for each side, Lightspeed has the control on their battery compartment, Telex has theirs on the side of each ear cup.  Telex has a mute function to instantly mute cell phone calls or your music if needed.  Lightspeed also has an FRC option, which is apparently for listening to music or watching movies with great sound quality, but I really don't think I am going to be walking down the street listening to my mp3 player with my headset cord dangling down by my side.  Likewise I can't imagine listening to music at home with my helicopter headsets, so for me this feature is really pointless.  Overall, the only real difference in features is the addition of Bluetooth compatibility for the Zulu.  I really like Bluetooth, and I thought this was going to be a let down for me to not have it, but once I used the Heli-XTs with the cord for a cell phone call, I realized Bluetooth wasn't really that important to me.  The Lightspeeds automatically mute your music if there is any activity on the radio, even talking between occupants of the aircraft, and I was surprised to find that the Heli-XTs did not have this feature.  I was afraid that the music would drown out the calls or our conversation, but this was not the case.  The volume set on my mp3 player was such that I could clearly hear my music, but I just set the radio and intercom volume a bit louder, and I found no issue hearing the calls clearly.  In fact, in retrospective comparison I think the Lightspeed's automatic muting is annoying.  I prefer to have the music quieter but at constant rather than muted automatically for me, I just find it to be a more enjoyable experience, and not distracting at all.

Fourth point is a tie - essentially the features for both headsets are the same


Durability

This remains to be seen, since I have only had the Heli-XTs for about a week, but they do have a 5 year warranty (5 years!).  According to what I could find online, the Zulus have a 5 year warranty as well.  Not to pick on Bose again, but they originally had a two year warranty, and now apparently they have caught up to the competition with a 5 year warranty, but I know a lot of people who have had issues with their Bose sets - ear cups, head bands, etc.  The Lightspeeds and the Bose seem to be a little less substantial. The Heli-XTs seem like they are built like old Buicks.  I will update this if I have a problem, but until then, the jury will remain out on the Telex's durability

Fifth point is undecided


Conclusion


For first impressions the Telex Heli-XTs kill the Bose Aviation X, and are a bit better than the Lightspeed Zulus.  A big factor for me is the value - with the Lightspeeds and Bose being $1000, the Heli-XTs seemed like a great alternative and a chance to save some money.  I was very happily surprised to find that I actually like the Heli-XTs better than any other headset I have tried.  The only thing that could improve the Telex headset is to add the Bluetooth feature, otherwise they are just as good if not better than the Lightspeeds.  I may change my tune if they break easily or the customer service is bad, but for now, the Telex Stratus Heli-XTs are the clear winner for me and the things I care about in a helicopter headset.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Too much BBQ

Kristina and I ate so much Bar-be-que in Memphis that we gained a little weight.  I wonder how long it will take to work it off.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation

Since the helicopter is down for maintenance (AGAIN!) I have some free time and I can finally update my blog!  I have spent the last 2 weeks on vacation, visiting Memphis, Phoenix, and a little stopover in Vegas. 

I started out in Memphis to visit Kristina!  It was really nice to see her after spending so much time apart, especially since I was going to get to see her for more than 2 days at a time.  It was a nice preview of what it will be like when the season is over: I had nothing to do and she worked a lot.  We spent a lot of time either in her apartment, or at her night job at the Flying Saucer.  They have hundreds of beers on tap and in the bottle, and I wanted to get started on my UFO club.  If you drink 200 different beers you get your name on a plate and hung somewhere in the bar.  I am currently 4.5% done, so it shouldn't be long! We partied on the rooftop of a hotel in downtown Memphis called the Peabody, it was their last night for a rooftop party for the season, but unfortunately it rained most of the night.  Emily and Kristina assured me it was cooler when it wasn't raining, but I thought it was great anyway.  We spent all day cooking a delicious dinner together as well, it was devoured in about 10 mins.  I had a great time in Memphis and I can't wait for the end of the season when I can come back for good.





Look how pretty she is!  Almost as good as me:


At the Flying Saucer




Having too much fun on the rooftop of the Peabody:








Next up was Phoenix, it was so good to be back home, and it wasn't even that hot while I was there.  Unfortunately due to poor planning on my part, I didn't get to spend a lot of time actually in Phoenix.  I got to have a nice dinner at an Irish restaurant with my family, but soon after I was on the road to Vegas.  The annual "Amber's spectacular birthday celebration extravaganza" had to be pushed back to August because I couldn't make it in May, but it was worth the wait.  Amber is being lazy, so I have no pictures to post, but I promise I will as soon as I receive them.  I can't really tell you much more about Vegas, because what happens in Vegas...well, you know.

I was back in Phoenix and before I knew it, my vacation was coming to a close.  I got a chance to see a few friends but by no means did I get a chance to do everything I wanted to do.  In December, I am planning on being there for about 2 weeks, so I will have to play catch up then.  It was really nice to see my family and friends in the desert again, I can't wait to come back.

On the road again, and the helicopter has a new mysterious shake and rumble to it.  I was supposed to fly from Chicago to Raleigh, but I wanted to make a precautionary landing every 30 miles because I was sure there was something wrong with the helicopter.  I only made it as far as Richmond Indiana when I decided that I wasn't going to fly it until I had someone check it out.  The next day I found out that there was a Robinson service center about 30 miles from the airport I ended up at, so I decided to fly it there.  Still rumbling, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to self destruct before I made it there.  Upon inspection, the mechanic noticed that my clutch assembly was loose - it is not supposed to move at all, but when you tried to move it you could pick it up off the lower stop switch!  Fortunately, the part was sent out and replaced by the next day.  Unfortunately, this did not stop the roughness of the helicopter.  But after inspecting the helicopter so closely, I figured there was nothing wrong with the helicopter so I flew it to Raleigh, where I didn't get in until 10PM.  I decided that the photographer's opinion could be the determining factor to see if the problem was my imagination or it really was an issue.  The next day, he felt what I was talking about, but we both fell like it is not enough of a shake to warrant an immediate stoppage of flight.  However at the end of the day, the clutch motor froze, and we need to replace that now.  So I have been about a week since I have been back from vacation, and we have only been able to do one day's worth of work.  As much as I like relaxing, I would rather work, build my hours, and get the season over with.  Anyone have a new helicopter they want to trade?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Slow Internet

I really need to update my blog, especially since I have a lot to talk about after beng on vacation, but this particular hotel has internet so slow it might as well not exist.  So I can't update for now, but soon.  Lots to talk about: Memphis, Phoenix, Vegas, and my broken clutch actuator, but all that will have to be another day.  It doesn't help that I am completely engrossed in Mad Men season 3...Oh Drapes, you dog!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to Chi-town!

Life returned to normal (as normal as life on the road can be) after Kristina left, and we did a lot of working and flying.  We finished up in Frederick, where we found out what was wrong with our strobe light.  Apparently the reflector fell onto the light and melted into the bulb, effectively self-destructing



Its kind of hard to see, but trust me, that is not what it is supposed to look like.

Leaving Frederick, we went back to Cambridge/Salisbury.  Back again? Yes, back again.  Same old flat land and chicken farms.  But after we finished up the material in Cambridge, we went to Roanoke VA to take pictures of Smith Mountain Lake.  Roanoke airport is a training area for new air traffic controllers, and it is not very busy.  Regardless, they make you talk to ground control, get a unique squawk code, then talk to tower, then a departure control!  Ridiculous for a helicopter VFR departure, but understandable if they are trying to train new recruits.  There is designated helicopter parking, where we must park, which is 300 yards from the FBO, so you would think it would be common courtesy to send a car to come pick us up, especially when we called for a ride specifically, but this rarely happened.  Landmark Roanoke is probably one of the worst FBOs I have ever dealt with. They had many employees, but all of them seemed completely uninterested in helping us out.  It was a gigantic hassle the entire time we were there, and we will not stay in Roanoke if we have to go back.

Smith Mountain Lake airport, on the other hand, was great.  It is a very small airport tucked in among the trees, which makes it hard to find, but there is an old pilot there that owns the airport, and he had a lot to talk about.  He was a very nice guy, and I would rather give my money and patronage to him and his airport than Roanoke who couldn't care less.  The lake was a lot of fun to shoot, there were a lot of people out on their boats and jet skis waving at us and having a good time, not to mention it was beautiful scenery.  Not a bad place to work!   No pictures though, sorry.  Here is a stock picture from Google:


One night I went to downtown Roanoke, and I was not expecting much. I am learning very quickly though, that these smaller cities that have been here for 100 years or more actually have a pretty decent downtown!  There was a lot to do, and some really nice places, I guess I shouldn't underestimate these smaller places any more.  The photographer and I went to a bar that had pool tables, and a cigar lounge, so I was pretty happy.  He schooled me in pool, with his own cue he brought in a nice leather case, yeah I had no chance.  But afterward I got to smoke a nice cigar on a plush leather couch while watching the NBA Finals, not a bad night overall.

The 100 hour couldn't come soon enough though, because we were doing it in CHICAGO!!!  I was really excited to get back and see a bunch of people and have some fun in my old city! 

During the 100 hour, I got the extraordinary opportunity to go to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field!  Kristina's mom called and said she had free tickets, so of course I jumped at the chance!  They were great seats and I couldn't thank her enough for an excellent time and my first Cubs game, it was a blast!


Kristina's little sister, Anna


Anna, Kristina's Mom Mari, and Me


Wooo!!! Cubs win in the 9th!!



Anna pretending to be drunk at a bar after the game


So here I am back in Chicago, it feels like it has been longer than it really has.  I have already gotten a chance to see the Uribarris, Angelo, and even mark who happened to be visiting from Phoenix (perfect timing!!), but I am looking forward to seeing many more friends over the next week and a half we have left.  Since we are getting lousy weather, I have had the chance to finally update my blog, but let's hope the weather clears sooner or later, I need to get back to work!

Maryland/Pennsylvania

To me, the entire state of Maryland looks the same from the air.  It is relatively flat, spread out, and boring.  Where we were taking pictures, there are a lot of chicken farms, and if you have ever smelled a chicken farm, you know what I was going through for at least week in Maryland.  On the ground though, there are areas that are beautiful, and don't happen to smell like chicken crap.  On a very windy day, the photographer and I took this opportunity to explore a bit.  We were staying in Cambridge MD, the place where Harriet Tubman grew up, and there is a large wildlife preserve. 



Maryland Blue Crab



We had to take a break, so why not land on the beach?




Cambridge is a nice little place, but not much to it.  We also stayed in nearby Salisbury MD, the home and headquarters of Purdue chicken.  Like I said, a lot of chicken farms.

We moved from MD to Lancaster PA, home of the Amish!  I was really hoping to see a horse-drawn carriage, but I never ran across one.  Lancaster struck me as a nice place to live, based on no evidence at all, but we were only in Lancaster for a few days, then back to Frederick MD.  In Frederick, there is a flight school called Advanced Helicopters, where I had an opportunity to see my first R22 Alpha.  I didn't even know these existed anymore, not only that, it is an instrument trainer!



While I was in Frederick, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to have Kristina come and visit for Memorial Day weekend.  I was not planning on seeing her until August, so it was a very nice surprise.  I still had to work a lot, but we made the most of it.  She came into Baltimore on Friday night, and I went and picked her up from Frederick at 11 PM.  Saturday night, we explored downtown Frederick, which was surprisingly nice, but also really expensive.  There is not a single restaurant downtown that has plates less than $25.  We found a nice Italian restaurant, and made the best of it with a long night of great conversation.  We also saw an all electric sports car called a Tesla outside of a restaurant called Volt! By the way, this car is over $100,000, there are only 1,000 in existence, and it can do 0-60 in 3.7



Sunday night we went to Washington DC, and got a chance to see a Memorial Day concert at the base of the Capitol Building.  Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, the National Symphony Orchestra, Lionel Richie, Brad Paisley, etc. provided a great night in DC.



French food for dinner, and before I knew it, the night was already over.  On Kristina's last day in Frederick, after a long day of work, we had a chance to explore Catoctin Mountain Park and Frederick Municipal Forest. 




While exploring we happened upon this abandoned house that look as though it was built in the Late 1800s and hasn't been liven in for about 50 years.  There were broken out windows, decaying stone walls, and overgrown weeds.  We decided to take a closer look, and as we pulled the car behind the house, we saw the backdoor was wide open.  This house rubbed me the wrong way, it was creepy even in braod daylight, but it really had the feeling some kind of crackhead was living inside and was about to spring out and attack us.  Apparently I was the only one that felt this way, as Kristina walked right up to the backdoor and wanted to go inside.  Take a look for yourself, would you want to go rooting around in there?




Ok, it doesn't look that creepy in the pictures, but trust me on this one.  I decided there was no way I could let my girlfriend out-brave me, so I carefully and silently worked my way inside, peered around a few corners, and promptly got the hell out of there. 

Strangely enough, a few days later, while taking pictures the photographer was having stomach problems so we landed in a field in the middle of nowhere, and happened upon another house is disrepair.  This one looked even older, and was tangled in a wooded area, which would seem even more creepy than the house Kristina and I explored, but no.  This house did not creep me out at all!



Anyway, we continued driving in Catocti, and found a reservoir, which was a perfect place to take jumping pictures!










 And then it was over.  I am really glad Kristina got a chance to come out and visit, I only wish she could have been here longer.  It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it!  Thanks babe!



 

Better late than never

Since my last post was May 6th, I am going to try and pick up from there, I just hope my memory is good enough.  I have been very busy since the last post.  The days are getting longer, so we have been flying longer each day.  7-8 hours on the hobbs is pretty common, so I don't get back to the hotel with much more time than it takes to get and cook dinner, talk to a few people on the phone, and go to sleep.  After my DC trip, I ferried the helicopter to Elizabeth City NC.  Elizabeth City is just south of Virginia Beach near the Currituck sound. On the ferry flight, I had to fly across the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel.  If you don't know, this is a partial bridge and partial tunnel, ducking under and rising out of the water as you go across.  From the air, this looks amazing.

If you look really close in the top left part of the picture, the bridge actually dips under the water:



Once I got past the bridge/tunnel, the military activity at Norfolk forced me down to 300' along the coast, which turned out to be quite a scenic little flyby of Virginia Beach



Taking pictures in Elizabeth City was great, the weather was nice and the area is beautiful.  One of the best things about being based in Elizabeth City was the service we received from a woman attendant at the FBO.  Having been to dozens of FBOs since this trip began, I have begun to really appreciate good service, and dread the places that refuse to help us.  She was so nice and helpful, I decided to call her manager and let him know just how good of a job she was doing.  The airport itself is a base of operations for the coast guard, and it is right off the water:


We got to see all kinds of Coast Guard helicopters, which was interesting but made the R22 look a bit small.


We spent a lot of time taking pictures up north in Virginia, at times near a navy practice airport called Fentress Naval Air Landing Field.  I have never seen anything like this place, it is not a controlled airspace, but there are navy jets, helicopters, and even a crazy looking spy plane called a Hawkeye doing patterns and practice landings there


There is no information on any chart letting you know of this activity, nor is there a frequency you should contact, however, my handy dandy Garmin let me know of a controlling frequency, and I am glad I contacted them.  We were going to get back on station after getting fuel, flying from west to east and we told the controlling agency that we were going to cross over the top of Fentress.  They assigned us an altitude, and as I continued toward Fentress I saw 3 Super Hornets doing the fastest patterns I have ever seen any plane do.  I figured the altitude they gave me must be high enough to cross over the top and not interfere with their pattern, but as we got within about a mile, the jets were getting a bit too close for comfort.  As we are just about to cross over the top, the controller came on frequency and frantically told us we were interfering with the pattern and we needed to turn east bound.  Since we were heading westbound, this would require us to turn around and cross over the top of the jets again.  I questioned the controller, and a different guy came on and told me to continue westbound.  I thought it was a bit silly, it seemed to me that the military and civilian controllers had a bit of mis-communication, no big deal, but I thought the photographer was going to pass out from an anxiety attack.  He had a mini freak-out, but it always pays to stay calm in the air.  At least we got to see a frighteningly close up look at a super hornet in the air!

Here are some more pictures from Elizabeth City and Norfolk/Virginia Beach