[If you want to skip this drippy story, the video is at the end]

You probably know that I did not do the DUI Task Force this year, for the first time in 12 years, mainly so I could spend time with my grandchildren, enjoy the holidays in general, and of course spend time with our Chief of Operations, Stevie! Well I have also been taking helicopter flying lessons since the beginning of December. I have been an aviator all of my life, with just short of 3000 hours in fixed wing aircraft. I hadn't flown at all since 2005 when I sold my beloved Beech Baron N300AS. It was just impractical and too expensive. DC-3 Dreams was barely keeping the doors open 8 years ago. Well things are better now, and I've been flying as a Tactical Flight Officer with the Sheriff's Office helicopters. It got to me. I couldn't stand it. So I took an introductory helicopter flying lesson. It was like crack: "Here, smoke this. It's free and you'll like it."

The helicopter flight school, Canyon State Aviation at the Falcon Field Airport nearby, is owned by ACP customer Jan Sandberg. Years ago he and I were talking on the phone (imagine that!) and I learned he is a senior captain for America West (now US Air). He learned I was an aviator and offered to take me to their simulation and training center near the Phoenix airport. Not only did I get to see it, but I got to spend some time flying the 757. Now, years later, I can return his fantastic favor by helping him get his new company going and learning to fly the helicopter.

It was rough going at first. I had moments of brilliance then days of misery. My instructor seemed to be getting frustrated, as was I. I had a lot of trouble "uncalibrating" the seat of my pants (pilot talk for sense of the air) from a lifetime of fixed wing flying then 8 years of no flying. I kept climbing in the turns, couldn't hold my airspeed in maneuvers, the basic stuff in the pattern. I did learn to hover fairly quickly - and that's considered to be the hardest part of learning to fly the helo. But it was a new skill and didn't intersect with my fixed wing muscle memory. Well, last week I had a breakthrough, followed by several lessons where I just flew the helo. Yesterday things were going well and after setting it down the instructor got out. We'd been talking about soloing so I had my camera with me and gave it to him.

It was every bit as wonderful an experience as my first fixed wing solo in 1963 and my first glider solo in 1975. I remember them vividly as does any aviator. Here's what it looked like (go full screen - this is HD video):