I got bored of lounging at the beach so decided to check the FBO over at the airport to see if there were any charter flights available. Turns out a family of three that just arrived in port on a cruise ship were looking to meet up with some friends aboard a private yacht arriving at Key West this afternoon. But the yacht wasn’t looking to put into port and it had a helipad so the family decided to just charter a helicopter to pick them up from the pad on the cruise ship and ferry them out to the yacht. Man, must be nice to have the dough to splurge on that! Well, at least I get a cut. So I hopped in the Bell 206 sitting on the tarmac and fired her up, took off and skimmed the south side of the key, around Fort Zachary Taylor and landed on the bow of the cruise ship where the family was waiting. My landing was straight in, no wobbles, no futzing – a smooth approach and the softest touchdown I’ve ever done ever. Which was good cause I had an audience and they were sitting right on the pad!
After I landed I pulled the throttle back but in messing around with Shift+# keys to find a window that would help me open up the doors I accidentally shut off the engine. Oh well, probably safer for the family to board that way anyhow! I finally remembered just opening the co-pilot door up front opens all the doors except mine, so the mom, dad and daughter could finally stow their day-trip luggage and climb aboard. This time I remembered to go into the Fuel and Payload menu to add weight for my three passengers and their baggage. I gave the dad 175lbs, the mom 115lbs and the daughter was 75lbs. Their baggage was only 35lbs. We took off from the ship and circled north around the key to find the yacht. The captain was nice enough to stop for us but apparently ignored my suggestion to turn into the wind. It was a 10kt breeze so even though I approached slightly crosswind it didn’t push me around too much and wasn’t a real issue. What I did find surprising however was that coming in to land I was having a much more difficult time keeping the helicopter stable on my approach. It wanted to oscillate back and forth a lot, since the center of gravity had shifted further to the rear with my passengers and baggage. Still, after a bit of hovering and nudging around I finally found the edge of the pad and then scraped my skids along to the center to let people out.
Once my passengers were offloaded I went and removed their weight from the Fuel and Payload screen, took off an made the short hop back to the airport, completing a nice circle around the key. Coming in to land at the airport was exactly like landing on the cruise ship – back to the loadout of just me the helicopter was really stable and I made a smooth approach and landing with no need to hover and futz around. I’m really annoyed now I didn’t remember to change the loadout the other two times I simulated passengers, the difference is very noticeable! I’ve always read about how important it is to properly load an aircraft but I’ve never really experienced it like this before. I’ll have to make sure to always remember from now on – I will actually make it a checklist item for pre-flight and takeoff in the helicopters and pre-flight in the aircraft.