“I can’t stand heights.”
So says the pilot of a Robinson R44 Raven helicopter as it hovers momentarily before taking off at the fairgrounds.
“You put me on top of a house and I get nervous,” said Wolf Zon, who was behind the wheel last Saturday. “But up here, I am cool and calm. It is completely different. I tell people that and they don’t believe me. I have been flying since I was 14. I’ve flown a lot of different types of aircraft.”
At 14, he flew a Cessna 152.
“That was all I ever wanted to do as a kid and I was blessed with the opportunity and never looked back,” he said, speaking into a microphone so his two passengers could hear him on headphones.
A company named DTWA Helicopters was providing rides as part of Flour Power Friday and Saturday. The $35 per person fee covered about a 4-minute tour.
And there I was holding onto my Rebel t5i camera with both hands, because there were no handles. Oh, by the way, there was no door either.
The helicopter did some near 50 degree rolls, providing many photo opportunities over the treetops of Abilene and a unique look at the ground that even skydivers don’t see.
The Raven could hover basically motionless or fly at 150 miles per hour and go up 10,000 feet.
“We’re local,” he said of his business in Wichita. “We love working with people in communities at events. We don’t charge the events. Events like this (Flour Power) just want to break even. They are working so hard. Same thing with the free fairs.”
He said a percentage of airfare goes to the organizations putting on the event.
“We’re a community-based organization and we want to help the communities. The rate we charge for the flights is significantly less than if you would go to other places. If you went to Branson, the same helicopter ride would be $70.
“We try to give everyone an experience and hopefully create a new generation of aviators,” he added.
“That’s worth $35,” said my son Ryan who took the flight about an hour earlier than I did. “That was pretty cool.”
There was not a lot of danger. Zon said he has never lost a passenger. In fact, despite the dives, turns and speed, he’s never had a passenger completely freak out.
“We have some that get stressed and feel uncomfortable,” he said.
In the preflight briefing, passengers are told that the blades are 12-feet off the ground, thus there is no need to bend over. Passengers should be careful with loose items. And hold on to your camera.
“The wind will actually be less than we have here,” Zon said at the sign-up booth.
DWTA is a commercial air carrier company and uses the $400,000 helicopter for the day job.
“We do everything from government contacting to flight training. We do a lot of other things,” Zon said.
DWTA was looking at coming to Abilene for the Central Kansas Free Fair in August and stumbled onto Flour Power.
“We were really pleased and excited to be invited. We worked with Mark Miller and a couple other people and everyone has just been wonderful. Great group of people,” he said.
Zon is a pilot of both airplanes and helicopters.
“Helicopters are wonderful machines,” he said, adding that the R44 Raven is one of the most popular helicopters in the world.