It was raining when I landed in Honolulu after my 5 hour flight from LAX. I rented a car and was soon sailing down the H1 headed for my hotel in Waikiki. My job definitely has its perks to offset the weeks away from home and going to Hawaii on a business trip is right up there with some of my favorite trips – even if this was only for one night. Typical of Honolulu, the closer I got to my hotel the heavier the traffic got and soon I was in a 3 lane parking lot with all the cars pointed in the same direction. An hour later I had traveled 5 miles and was finally at the hotel. After a quick change of clothes I met up with my Pratt account manager, Nick Kanellias, who had arrived a day earlier. Since the rain had stopped we jumped in his rented convertible, threw the top down and headed back into the Honolulu traffic toward Dillingham Field on the north side of Oahu.
Recently we completed our first skydive airplane in Hawaii on the island of Oahu with an amazing company called Skydive Hawaii. Back in March I travelled to Honolulu to meet with Frank Hinshaw – owner and founder of the company. He had already signed up with us a year or so ago but had decided to delay the upgrade until he could use up the time remaining on his old engine. I knew that there was another sky dive operator on Dillingham who had the Honeywell engine on his Caravan and I thought what better way to see which airplane performed better with the exact same conditions and similar operators. I was able to convince Frank to move forward right away rather than wait a year so I sent Joe Gale, one of my top installers, to assist in the installation of our engine and cowl. Joe worked long hours every day but finished the install in a little over two weeks, whereas our competitor with the Honeywell engine takes upwards of 5 weeks which was important to Frank as less downtime means more revenue.
I had suggested to Frank that we have some sort of special event to commemorate the first Blackhawk airplane in Hawaii. I would handle the press if he would handle the event itself. He readily agreed, so today Nick and I were headed for the Dillingham Airport to attend an “aircraft blessing” and luau event celebrating the new addition to the airport. I had never heard of an airplane being blessed so I was curious to see how this went. We arrived at the airport around 6:30 to a clear warm Hawaiian evening. When we pulled up we were surprised to see about 50 people milling around the airplane, which was adorned with leis and wreaths on the cowl, prop and jump door. Most of the people there were 20 something kids with the same look as a surfer – kind of a wild look in their eye and a huge grin on their face.
“You the guy from Blackhawk?” a guy with a bright orange spiked Mohawk hair style said walking up to me.
“Yes I am.”
“Awesome, dude. Your engine is a freaking beast!” he said as he pumped my hand vigorously.
A 22-year-old girl with tattoos from neck to ankle chimes in; “Like; it’s the complete machine dude. We HATE sitting in the back of a Caravan for like, half an hour while we climb! We get to 14,000 feet in like 14 minutes! Totally rocks.”
“Well thank you…”
I introduced Nick as the Pratt rep and he got the same pats on the back for building an “awesome engine.” I am not sure that Nick knew what to think but he took it all in good humor.
I finally spotted Frank, who was talking to who I assumed to be the Kahuna or Hawaiian priest. The Kahuna had on a long Hawaiian robe and was carrying a small bowl with a stick to sprinkle the holy water on the plane. Frank spotted me and motioned us over. The Kahuna had long black hair sprinkled with strands of grey. He looked exactly like what I would imagine a Hawaiian priest to look like. After the introductions were complete Frank herded us over to the plane for the blessing which was to take place just before the sun set.
Speaking first in Hawaiian and then translating to English the Kahuna talked about the Hawaiian custom of blessing not only babies, but houses, machines and yes even airplanes. He said the airplane was like a baby that been reborn with more power and greater service. There was a long wreath of leaves taped to the entrance of the jump door that he said represented the umbilical cord. Like a baby, the airplane needed to have the umbilical cord cut so that it could grow and flourish. So with me holding one end of the “umbilical cord” and Nick holding the other, the priest said a prayer in Hawaiian and then English while Frank cut the cord. Great applause and hoops erupted as the new “baby” was born.
Frank then gave a great speech as he spoke of the engine upgrade being a major turning point for his small company. He was able to increase his business revenue by 25-30% just by being able to do one more load per hour or take more jumpers to higher altitudes faster. He said that it was critical for first time jumpers to get to altitude quickly, as a long bumpy ride tends to make them airsick. Being able to climb twice as fast shortened the time spent bumping along. He had already flown one full weekend of jumps and was amazed at the performance. He commented that his plane took off right behind the Honeywell-equipped airplane and was able to keep up with it until passing through 10,000 feet when his plane “walked away” from the Honeywell and got to 14,000 feet well ahead of the other plane.
“Jumpers away” is followed by an ear popping 5,000 fpm, 2.5 minute descent to land before the jumpers began touching down in the drop zone. The Honeywell was still at 14,000 feet just starting its jump run. Since the Honeywell is restricted to 150 knots indicated airspeed in the decent it takes over twice as long for it to descend. By the time the Honeywell was on approach, Frank’s plane had already taken off with the next group of jumpers and was climbing out of 2,000 feet headed back up to 14,000. Frank would lap the Honeywell twice during the day even though several times he had more jumpers on board.
After a photo op and more pats on the back we headed to the luau where we were entertained with hula dancers, fire eaters and some incredible food. The highlight of my evening was that I got to sit at the same table with two famous Brazilian super models who had come to Hawaii to film a travel documentary about things to do in Hawaii. They had skydived earlier in the day and were now enjoying the atmosphere of a real Hawaiian luau. Of course it’s just my luck every time I have dinner with a couple of super models. They speak very little English and my limited Portuguese wasn’t much help, so all I could say was Boa noite. (Good night).
The next day Nick and I came back out to the airport to watch Frank’s operation in action. We learned a lot about how they operate the engine and it really takes a beating; Full throttle to altitude, then throttle back for the jump run and flight idle for the descent. No long cruise power settings here – just max out and idle. It was truly an amazing choreographed display of efficiency. All tourist jumps are pretty much tandem, meaning you have a “Jump Master” harnessed to your back who takes care of making sure you uh, don’t go splat. The riggers keep the chutes packed and ready, the tourists get their harnesses fitted, the instructors brief the tourists on how to hold their hands and legs and what to do and not do. Then they file out to the pickup spot and await the plane. As soon as it would taxi up they loaded up like seasoned paratroopers. Every action was timed and measured to get the most efficiency of each jump run. As soon as the announcer would call out “Jumpers away”; the next group of tourists and jump masters would start heading for the pickup spot and be ready to load the second the plane pulled up 3 or 4 minutes later.
On it went, load after load. For the better part of 3 hours I watched as Frank’s crews performed flawlessly. I looked over at the Honeywell competitor and smiled with satisfaction as he was lapped time after time by the Blackhawk airplane. He had half the jumpers going up yet the Blackhawk still beat it going up and down. Needless to say, Frank has already ordered his second engine for his other plane.
Mahalo Frank. Aloha.