The helicopter field trip adventure began shortly after my Dad died in 2009. Mom contacted her brother about scattering Dad’s ashes from a plane. My uncle put me in touch with a pilot friend from my youth who performed this type of service. It was wild man Steve. He has flown everything, jumped out of everything and regularly landed a plane on top of a moving car just because he could. Steve was flying helicopters when we reconnected and he took me on my first helicopter flight and I was hooked. I am sure Dad’s ashes were the opening God used to set me on this adventure and perhaps it was Dad’s way of continuing to look out for me.
What started in December of 2009 as a crazy idea for an interesting hobby become a major enterprise of risky curiosity, non-stop adventure, out-on-the-limb faith and great hope for a future. I remember at Christmas when a friend from my youth Delilah Tamar was taking Santa Claus pictures at the mall, she told me that next year she was going to hire her own Santa and do the program on her own terms. We were on an adventure with our mutual friend Steve, the helicopter pilot, where we outfitted him with a Santa Suit for delivering gifts in the Big Red Helicopter. I thought that Santa in shorts in Florida sounded like a good plan. The idea grew and morphed into a larger-than-life chance for kids to get their first taste of aviation. Shortly thereafter, the economic downturn had both Delilah and I underemployed so we kicked the helicopter field trip into high gear.
opportunity has landed
We tried to start with Steve’s REAL helicopter and quickly found out that this was not a workable idea. We landed the opportunity to attend an experimental aircraft show in Sebring where I lived and we were positioned next to the biggest names in Experimental Aviation. One thing led to another and we launched the idea of the “To Your Door” Helicopter Field Trip for Children. Delilah has been a professional children’s photographer for over 20 years working primarily in preschools taking school portraits which is how we came to chose preschools and child care centers for our target market. We bought Jr. Pilot jumpsuits and helmets, we used some photogenic nieces and nephews to model and we made Steve pose as the pilot (actually he was not posing, he WAS the pilot) and we created a concept.
angels do build helicopters
Looking for a way to make a tiny budget acquire both a helicopter and trailer, God led me to Bob St. Denis in Lake City Florida who fabricated a trailer-able helicopter for the purpose of allowing two middle aged women the ability to haul around a real helicopter on a trailer going to schools and taking pictures of kids dreaming about being some big deal. Bob took my meager budget and put our heli together so we could handle it ourselves. He donated all the labor which was something only God could orchestrate. While I saw it as my great blessing, his wife Cil informed me I was her blessing in that I give all credit to God for all that comes my way and I routinely referred to God in my many emails to her husband as we put the first helicopter together. She had prayed for such an influence.
We designed all our marketing material and our website. A friend made the signage for the truck, the trailer, the tent, name tags, banners, business cards, name badges and more. We found a helicopter paint job to go with our child-like primary colors of red, blue and yellow. An early-education trade show in Orlando created a stir and everyone was excited.
I visited the air park where Bob and Cil live in Lake City and watched as Bob fabricated the Rotorway kit built helicopter. The helicopter was very light weight as I had it built without an engine since it was never going to fly. I learned the art of moving the helicopter by balancing the heli on the ground handling wheels and driving it from the tail.
two old women
We had to adapt many aspects of the project so two old women could handle it all. Bob helped us customize a trailer so we could haul the heli. YIB Boney and his brother further customized the trailer so we could wench the helicopter and the big storage box we call the “coffin” onto the trailer. At the time we said if the concept did not work we could use the “coffin” to smuggle 10 illegal aliens at a time back across the border.
YIB Boney watched out for me by making sure I understood about DOT requirements, how to use tie down straps with ratchets, he outfitted me with a new generator, a new spare tire and rewired all the lights on the trailer. He gave me his mini air compressor and made a kit of tools to get me out of every scrape I could get into. It was a big tool kit as he knows just how many scrapes I can get into. Remember this is the man I forgive when he kicked me out the door as part of God’s overall good plan for my life. See Risky Journey Ch 2: Don’t Let the Screen Door Hit You In …
practice, practice, practice
I practiced and practiced loading and unloading all the equipment. YIB Boney and his brother just stood back and watched me make mistake after mistake until I learned. They photographed me the entire time so I would remember just how ridiculous I looked doing it. See blog: Risky Journal Ch 3: Cadillacs and 5 Gallon Buckets for the details of learning how to handle the trailer in reverse. It took me two weeks before he ever let me leave the driveway. He would place two buckets in the yard and tell me they were Cadillacs and that I had to back the helicopter trailer between them without hitting either one. Cadillac owners can now breathe a sigh of relief. I passed.
check your load
The day I picked up the heli from Bob’s in Lake City, I was scared to death. We wrapped the heli in industrial strength saran wrap. Bob told me to stop at the first rest area and “check my load.” These men always tell you to do something but never tell you how. When I stopped to “check my load,” all these people ran toward me with their cameras. People pulled beside me, honked, waved, yelled and I began to see what it might feel like to be famous. The helicopter gets enormous attention.
In no time it was time to make my maiden voyage. I left for Indiana six weeks sooner than we had planned. We both started marketing the idea on the same day. Delilah was in Indiana and I was in Florida. The phone started ringing. We got our first bookings in Indiana, so I decided to go there. We were solidly booked for the entire summer.
The night before I was to leave for Indiana, something drew my attention to the front yard of my little metal mansion. I walked outside to see two women with their hands on the tail of the helicopter. I was mad as a hornet, being very protective of the investment that took ALL of my meager savings and then some. I went out to investigate and it was Cathee Poulsen and her friend Fran Lankford. They are fine Christian women and authors of one of my favorite books Thresholds and Passages…portals to the life you were meant to live. This book is what gave me the confidence to live out this adventure. They had come to wish me well. They did not think I was home, so they put their hands on the heli to pray together for my safe passage. See Risky Journal Ch 1: Thresholds and Passages for that story. Here is a link to their book Thresholds and Passages on Amazon.
Earlier that night, having reached a point of extreme panic as I pondered this monster I had created. Scared to death and not sure it would ever work, I was wondering what in the heck I had actually done and how in the world was I going to drive this rig all the way to Indiana by myself. My eyes were red from crying and I needed the prayers of my friends more than I had ever needed anything in my life. We held hands outside in the dark and they prayed their heart out asking for God’s blessing in the venture.
too tight turn
The trip to Indiana was thankfully uneventful, short of missing the exit to bypass downtown Atlanta. I stopped at a friend’s house in Chattanooga, TN and she let me park the helicopter in her front yard for the night. My Mom even believed in this venture. She bought the truck I used to pull the trailer and she shopped all over town for a place to safely store the helicopter. Mom, my sister Jill and her kids even assembled the lanyards, and the Jr Pilot Licenses, all 2000 of them! Jill’s husband Jim was called to action the first night when I took the trailer to the storage facility and could not get the trailer off the truck. Apparently I had turned too tight somewhere along the way and bent the jack and it was stuck. He took it all apart and fixed it for me. YIB Boney would have a rip-roaring fit about that!
desire for a different sort of life
I found this entry in my journal April 2009 – “It is not important whether this venture is a success or a failure. What is important is that I had a desire for a different life. I prayed to God for direction. This is not the first time I promised God that I would follow whatever He brought to me. When I do this, He brings me amazing “change of life” events, so I have to be very careful when I promise I will do whatever He puts before me. I know there is MUCH more to come. I know this will touch people. I hope it will inspire people, particularly children to have a dream, have faith and fortitude and follow your dream no matter how difficult, how unlikely, how absurd or ridiculous, because everything is possible with God.”
every door opened
In this economy, no 50 year old woman would spend the last of her meager retirement savings on an idea such as this, but I did and every door opened. Everything was easy. The right contacts were made and opportunities just fell from the sky. I met the most amazing people along the journey. Even my insurance agent became a friend and Travelers, the insurance company wanted to feature us once they were brave enough to insure us! Everyone we marketed to loved it. When you ask God for His plan for your life and you are willing to follow, amazing things happen.
My journal went on to state “We did two practice events for charity which allowed us to work out most of the bugs. The first day was perfect and everything went right. The second day it rained for six hours and everything went wrong. We now have experienced the entire spectrum. This is written long before we made the first dime. I will not be ashamed to tell you if it does not financially support us, because I am following a plan set in motion when I said my prayers and asked for divine guidance. If it is a success, mom might not have to own a big pickup truck that she cannot even get into and Bob will be ready to build Heli #2.”
Once we arrived in Indianapolis for the summer of 2010 and tried out our first business plan, it flopped. Everyone loved us but no one paid us. We had to rapidly go to plan B and we have been all the way to plan Z. Every day that summer we left at 7 am, did the field trip at the day care centers and then lugged our professional photo printers in to the center and printed the packages and then sold them directly to parents the same day. This started to work well but it was a 16 hour day. It was hot, physically taxing and mentally exhaustive. While Delilah was printing photo packages in the chaos of a day care center, I was trying to make marketing calls to book more centers and trying to use a wireless network card that worked only marginally, but somehow we lived through the summer and were still afloat.
At this point I discovered my business partner had betrayed me financially and I did not know how I could continue. I sought counsel from my most trusted spiritual advisers and most everyone told me to cut my losses and run. God spoke to me time and again in my bible readings. I made the choice of forgiveness and I gave her a second chance. I then took on the debt of my partner’s financial theft. She understood that this was a one-time major act of grace. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt if there was one more mis-step or one more lie, I would be gone along with the business. I had worked with her through this time on her personal growth with God. She knew that the forgiveness I was able to extend was super-human and could have only come about with God’s help. By year end, she had paid me back for all she had stolen.
We moved next to Jacksonville, FL and made a go of it for another three months. We realized we needed a larger town and moved on to Tampa. But not before the landlord spent my $1100 security deposit due to his financial mismanagement. God once again stepped in when I prayed for help in how to deal with this landlord. I was as close to revenge as I had ever been but my bible readings say to pray for our enemies and I enlisted everyone I knew. I wrote my sound-off letter to the landlord and at the end I told him about God and told him that as much as I thought he was the scum of the earth, I would be honored to share God with him. See that story here: Vengeance is Mine.
We moved the operation to Tampa where Delilah worked the day-to-day operation and I came in off the road and did the marketing from my little home in Central Florida. We seemed to have things on an even keel. The income covered the expenses and we felt it might actually be working. We still worked 7 days a week but we felt it was necessary for a start up.
God multiplies the money
We knew we had to have more than one operation in order make enough to survive. Delilah found another turnkey trailerable helicopter on Ebay. I prayed and then felt it was the thing to do and I purchased it. When I called my investment people, I learned I had more in my account than I ever thought possible. I asked them for the balance in July of 2009 and then I looked at the balance less what I had taken out for the business and the account had grown $30,000. This was impossible as I barely had this much money to begin with, but it grew by the amount of the cost of the second helicopter!
God has provided for me since I promised I would follow wherever He led. When I needed to leave an unhealthy personal relationship and I told God I could not do it alone, He arranged for me to be tossed out on the street one morning on my way to work! I have been beautifully blessed ever since. I have always had enough to pay my bills and somehow I had the funds to start this operation which came as a direct result of God’s bold move with me.
The second helicopter was located in California and was a huge expense to bring to Indiana and when it arrived I found it in need of extreme rehab. I trusted when I shouldn’t and my efforts to insure I was purchasing a road worthy unit were a miserable failure. The repairs needed to make it road worthy wiped out the rest of my savings. In addition to all this work with the helicopter, I was also a professional guardian for three people in Florida. God has blessed me with an enormous amount of paying work and this has sustained me personally as we have tried to grow the business.
Once we arrived in Indianapolis for the second year, things stopped dead. For the first time, we did our program at centers which had NO orders for pictures. We had a tornado, a flood, two power outages which kept us from getting the helicopter out of the storage unit and to the job. We had cancellations with no notice from big schools and several rain outs. The rest of the time the jobs were so disastrous, we would have been better off staying home. Meanwhile I am keeping us both afloat.
We had decided that the second location would be Atlanta. I am always excited with the start of a new city and everyone is excited about the program and it is very easy to book. Atlanta had a black cloud over it. I made over 100 calls and got not one booking and no interest whatsoever.
brought to my knees
In my journal I wrote in July, 2011 – “God has my attention. I have been brought to my knees. Every door has been closed. I reflect on all God’s promises. He blesses those who are obedient. He encourages us to not give up. He gives encouragement in the face of adversity. He closes the doors He does not want us to go down. He opens doors He wants us to walk through. Worry is worthless. If God is for you then who can be against you. There are no coincidences. All things work for good for those who love the Lord. I don’t believe I have come this far to totally crash and burn although I am sure I would not be the first. Maybe I have misread all the signs. Maybe I just think this was what God wanted me to do because I wanted to do it. I have put God first in my life and in this business. I proudly proclaim that I answer to God first and I live to do His will. I truly am waiting to see what sign I get next as I don’t think it is over, it just needs to change.”
two helicopters that don’t fly
And the end came quickly. The short story is that I learned my business partner had been stealing cash since I trusted her to run the on-site operations. I also learned she had pawned some of the company equipment and was making loan shark payments also with stolen money from the company. The bitter end was indeed the bitter end in August of 2011. She went to jail and I went to the poor house with my tail between my legs. But I do have two helicopters that do not fly (plus they are paid for!)