"Fifteen hours for $750 is $50 an hour," she pointed out. "That's the price of 100 baby sitters. Can't you see them all sitting there, watching TV at once?"
"It's a bargain," I insisted. "It used to cost twice that."
"I'll remember that line of reasoning for future shopping."
I showed her page 32 of the manual, which had a section headed: VISUALLY CLEAR THE AREA BEFORE COMMENCING A BACKWARD TAKEOFF.
"Do you realize how long it took man to come to this?" I demanded. " Da Vinci's inspiration came true. Imagine being able to take off backward, like a hummingbird."
"I read in
that it's a common failing among the gooney birds on Midway Island," she said. "But you go ahead. You haven't had a vacation in two whole months."
So I left my four sons practicing backward takeoffs from the living room furniture and headed for Kentucky. Not without a certain sense of guilt, though. I had always been able to more or less justify my other flying ventures on the grounds that they were legitimate and often practical transportation for my family and for me. This new project was going to take some stretching of the rationale.
The helicopter school is on a farm on the Paris Pike, just north of Lexington, in a classic Kentucky landscape of rolling fields, dazzling white fences and well-kept old mansions. The farm has 300 acres or so of open pasture and fields and a couple of big, black tobacco barns, alongside one of which are a pair of shiny new buildings: the hangar and the schoolhouse. There are a wind sock and a black asphalt pad with a white H in a triangle. What probably makes Rotairport unique among flying schools is that the nearest conventional airport is 10 miles away, on the other side of Lexington. "We think helicopter students have enough problems without worrying about airplane traffic," explains the owner and operator, Marion L.L. Short. After my first five minutes as a student, I came to agree with him.
Short is a former American Airlines captain who flew DC-2s and DC-3s in the '30s with Ernest K. (The High and the Mighty) Gann, served a hitch in MATS and gave up professional flying for tobacco farming after the war. He has kept it up as a sideline. He and his wife Judy own a twin-engine Apache, belong to the Sportsman Pilots Association and are both expert helicopter pilots. "We couldn't resist getting into the school business, because we think the Hughes and the Brantly are going to open up a long-overdue market," Short said. "The backyard aircraft has finally arrived."
"Do you think there will ever be a 5:30 rush on Victor Airway 97?" I asked.