Long Way Home- A Helicopter's First Flight

On May 25, 2021, Skybound's Chief Pilot Gregg Bourdon began his journey from Torrance, California to Kansas City in a brand new Robinson R-22 Helicopter. Even after thousands of hours flying, Gregg had some new experiences along the way. Here is Gregg's account of the long trip:

N522SB before lifting off from the factory.

It has been many years since I have made a long long cross country flight in a helicopter, in this case 1500nm+ (Torrance CA to Kansas City) and would be in a brand new factory Robinson R-22. When General Manager Ryan Mendon offered to me to take this delivery ferry flight I deferred, wanting to make it available for a younger pilot building time and experience. As it turns out the insurance requirements had been upgraded and ultimately I was the only qualified local pilot available for the planned 4 day trip. I have been fascinated by the stories of some colleagues who have chronicled their global ferry flights in light aircraft, this certainly wasn’t global but was particularly “light”. The R-22 is the most basic of certificated helicopters, non adjustable seats, non augmented controls, no ECS and no (optional) integrated GPS. It is therefore, inherently uncomfortable (over long distance) and aerodynamically unstable. It needs to be “hand flown” and navigated continuously (most airplane guys find this strange as airplanes mostly want to fly). Due to the seasonal hot conditions on the desert route to El Paso it is only allowed to be flown single pilot for performance considerations. Previously I never had reason to load a flight app so I got Wing X (free to instructors) on my iPhone for weather/navigation information. After completing an insurance training requirement of local mountain flight operations in the R-22, I was issued my new aircraft, N522SB. Preflight, weather check (CAVU) and a route brief with a factory instructor was completed, I launched on my way through the SoCal labyrinth airspace, the Banning Pass and into the expansive Mojave Desert and mountains. My limited previous high desert experience is in the AH-1F Cobra and though there are few comparisons, a loaded hot/high Cobra is maxed out performance wise, similar margin with the R-22. However, the venerable IO-360 has reasonable reserve power for its size and there was never any performance concerns being relatively light with 95+ degrees and up to 7000’. Among the several long cross country anxiety’s there is the “new aircraft” glitch worries. Though the factory flies every new helicopter at least 4 hours, that doesn’t necessarily convince you it’s ready for all of this. Gratefully, through almost 18 hours of operation, 2 Sierra Bravo flew flawlessly! Much deserved credit to the Robinson Factory technicians and test pilots for their careful attention to detail. Day one fuel stops included Palm Springs, Blythe, Phoenix Goodyear and finally Tucson, all airports I had not been to previously. I was impressed by the great service and hospitality I received at each stop, even the remotest. Day two was the same hot southwest weather with stops in Lordsburg, Las Cruces, Carlsbad and finally Lubbock. By the end of day two the fatigue factor was kicking in, being 6’3” and 61 years old, no a/c...the sustained hours of intense flying in a single position was definitely being felt. My third day would be presumably the final though the weather guys had clearly changed their tune and storms were predicted on and off the rest of the way home. Navigating and aviating low level weather, single pilot in a non advanced aircraft over that distance was rare for me but ultimately a great flying/learning experience. One of the anecdotal challenges of the day was turning down the invite for a burger going on the grill at the Clinton Regional Airport in Oklahoma, instead deferring lunch and getting further northbound before the afternoon convection developed, My timing was good and I would need to dodge only a few area storms in northern Oklahoma and Kansas before my final fuel stop at Wichita Jabara. The last leg was mostly unremarkable, though arriving at MKC just ahead of a large air mass thunderstorm sweeping in from northeast Kansas. Two and half days of low level flying in the desert and the high plains included amazing views of landscapes...but I must say, I was struck by the lush serene beauty of Kansas upon my return! Being a career military aviator and regional EMS and ENG helicopter line pilot on the east coast and Midwest region for the last 25 years this was a great change of pace opportunity for me but an endurance test nonetheless. This is the first aircraft purchase for Skybound Helicopters and the second in our inventory along with a leased R-44. We have recently begun conducting Part 91 operations at our Downtown Kansas City base and look forward to serving and growing the needs of our area customers. Look forward to seeing you guys,

Gregg Bourdon Chief Pilot Skybound Helicopters

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