A pilot’s wife flies, by Aly Lawson

Note: This is a guest column for Teri’s Notebook, written by my Nevada Momentum colleague Aly Lawson. Aly is a journalist, formerly writing for the Lahontan Valley News, and lives in Fallon with her Navy pilot husband and two children.

A helicopter built as if for a sci-fi movie loomed near the entrance of the hangar I was going into by the Reno Stead Airport.

I wandered inside to where other journalists were congregating for a press flight to show wildfire preparedness and how the Nevada Army National Guard helps fight fires every summer.

This was my excuse for a lift. Take some pics, maybe do a write-up to share.

The truth was, I wanted to fly in the helicopter my husband has been flying for nearly eight years. Cary flies the Navy version of the Army helo I was about to climb into. Both aircraft are Sikorsky H-60s. The 60 is most commonly known as a Black Hawk though its name and colors vary by branch and purpose.

(The true story “Black Hawk Down” put the large chopper on the map for most people — myself included.)

After jotting down our emergency contacts and a short talk out on the tarmac, I strapped myself into my seat clumsily. I was slightly concerned I wouldn’t be able to secure myself properly before take-off. I shouldn’t have been. The safety checks take a while.

The long rotor blades eventually, steadily came to life. Dust swirled. Then — after maybe 10 minutes — it happened. We took off straight up. If you’ve never been in an aircraft that can do this, it’s a surprising feeling. We were on a ride, not a commute. The pilots made take-off complete with a tilt forward as we sped toward Stampede Reservoir.

Not being from the area, when I looked at a map later, I realized we hadn’t been in Nevada and had traveled farther than I thought. It took no time at all. This was a good thing given if we went much further I may have had to vomit in my bag, since I know I would’ve been too embarrassed to ask the service member to my right for an airsick sack.

Still, I completely understand why my husband wants to fly every second he can. Despite my slight queasiness — from the quick and swooping swaying left and right, sudden ups and short drops, bumps and rumbling — it was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done.

We arrived at the lake in perfect time; when the crew slid open the side doors in flight, the cool, fresh air gusted in and I instantly felt better. We were treated to views of the accompanying Chinook (a tandem rotor helicopter) suspending a large, soft, orange “bucket” gathering water, followed by dramatic releases that would waterfall across the nearby trees.

The pilots would sometimes tilt the helo far to the side as we flew, the huge door spaces filling with either sky or blue-green water, clouds or desert terrain.

On the way back, we landed in a lush, green meadow so the crew could shut the doors. Don’t worry, I made it back without puking.

When we touched down back at the hangar, I was happy to be on solid ground — but I was ecstatic to have experienced what my husband does for a living. I learned a few things too:

The Chinook’s Bambi bucket holds 2,000 pounds of water, and the Black Hawk can do the same mission with a 60-gallon bucket (the latter requiring less fuel).

This Guard unit does three to 15 missions every summer to fight fires.

An interstate agreement allows them to help in California as well.

Last year, while helping fight the devastating California fires, the unit was amassing approximately 100 flight hours per month. Which is a ton. Capt. Nigel Harrison added that one pilot flew the whole season, and he alone amassed over 100 hours. Which is also a ton.

Out of the unit’s six Black Hawks, half head to Afghanistan for a year with their crews while the others remain behind to help combat the fires.

I had a fantastic time regaling Cary with my story that night. At the end he said, that crazy-looking helo you saw in front of the building is a Tarhe.


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