HELI-EXPO 2014 has come and gone and I’ve promised a post on my time down there for the last week and a half. So here it is. I’m going to start by saying that HELI-EXPO was by far the best experience of my career! I can’t think of a better venue for anyone in our industry to be at every year in a row. And I plan on going back. After putting at a “half joking, half dead serious” status on my facebook account asking if someone wanted to sponsor me for the expo, I not only got in. I got in as an exhibitor with press access.
Want the scoop? Also – want a huge gallery of pictures from HELI-EXPO? Click the link and follow through.
So about a month and a half before HELI-EXPO I put out a status update on my personal account. Those of you that know me, know that my personal facebook account isn’t very personal these days. I have hundreds of “friends” that are just people I know through facebook. Business owners, magazine owners, helicopter pilots, mechanics, the list goes on. Now – by no means are they “just people I know” but more, people I WANT to know. These are people that I try and help as best I can, given how young I am in this industry, and in turn they scratch my back from time to time to time.
On January 17th I was driving back to Spokane from Moses Lake and before hitting the road put this status update online. I didn’t really expect anyone to bite, and really was expecting a whole lot of other people to chime in looking for sponsors too. After about an hour and a half on the road, I had not one, not two, but three different offers come in from people that just seemed interested in helping me out! I was floored, and humbled, and in awe, all at the same time.
The first offer came from a man who has since become a dear friend, Mazhar Ali – of India, messaged me and told me that he was having a bit of a delay with his VISA to come to the United States and that he had won a Safety Scholarship through HAI that he would be willing to let me attend on in the event he couldn’t make it to the Expo. How amazing is that? This man knew me only through our few brief interaction in the Helicopter Pilots group on facebook that I manage and he was willing to send me in his place to HELI-EXPO. I’m happy to say that Mazhar did get his VISA and that he and I shared some meals together and with him in the USA to finish school now – I’m hoping that our paths cross again.
The second offer came from J. Blake, with a simulator company. He also only knew me through facebook and my work in the Pilots group but was willing to open a spot with his exhibition team on the show floor for me. I could work with them at the FlyIt booth and in return I would be in the show. Wow. This company makes simulators that I use, that I actually instruct my students in, and they were willing to bring me on as an exhibitor with them. Humbled. Just amazed.
Then the offer came that I wound up accepting. Ned Dawson, of HeliOps magazine had approached me almost half a year ago to help admin the HeliOps facebook page. I’ve worked since then cleaning up posts, getting rid of spam or otherwise distracting comments, and keeping the page in generally good shape for everyone that visits. I even post some content from time to time to get people talking. Ned messaged me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a story or two – and that if I would, he could get me in as an Exhibitor with HeliOps Magazine, with press access. SOLD! To the man from New Zealand. I finally got a chance to meet a few of the team I’d been working with through facebook face to face, I got to write and take photos, and I got to go to HELI-EXPO in style! Ned and I admin two different Helicopter groups on facebook and we’ve chatted back and forth over the course of the last year or two before I came on with the HeliOps team.
So it was set, I was going to HELI-EXPO. Now I needed to get there and needed a place to stay. This is where a close friend of mine came to the rescue. Mark Sales and I live in the same town – he’s a pilot for ERA Helicopters and is the reason I have any time at all in the Bell 212. (Mark pulled some strings at Era and got me approved to go along for a ferry flight to Calgary last year). He wanted to go to HELI-EXPO and had a companion ticket on Alaskan Airlines. We agreed to split the total airfare and hotel down the middle, and were on our way.
I had some time to think about it, and the excitement kept building. I got my boss to sign off on my time away from the flight school, we got another instructor up to speed on my students so they could keep training while I was gone, and I pulled my summer clothes out of the closet (Washington has been very cold and snowy this year).
The flight down was adrenaline charged, Mark and I swapped stories on the plane (a few about plane crashes) and Mark gave me a pre-show playbook and overview. Who I should try and meet, how I should navigate the expo floor, keeping my left hand as my eating hand, and the right hand will be doing a lot of hand shaking…who knows what’ll be out there. We were the only two people on the plane talking, and either our tales of crashes and planes and helicopters scared the other passengers into silence, or we just didn’t know they were on board.
Personally I was “kid in a candy shop” crazy and I wasn’t even at HELI-EXPO yet. It was my first time going, and it will not be my last.
After what can only be described as “near death on four wheels” in an Airport taxi, Mark and I arrived at our hotel, immediately across from the convention center. Literally only a few minutes of walking to the front doors. We had a few hours before the big HAI Welcome Reception and took that time to juice up our phone batteries and then went over early to try and get onto the show floor. No luck. But all the same, we were here.
And the next few days would be some of the most interesting, engaging, and ultimately perspective shifting of my entire career as a Helicopter Pilot.
TO BE CONTINUED!