Sunday, January 26, 2014

Vertical Limit Aviation: New helicopter school ready for liftoff

Photo by Melody Parra 
Vertical Limit Aviation Vertical Limit Aviation shares hangar space with Francis Aviation at the Doña Ana County International Jetport, 25 minutes from Downtown El Paso. 

SANTA TERESA, N.M. – Albuquerque-based Vertical Limit Aviation has opened a helicopter flight school here, which will offer helicopter flying lessons, tours and aerial photography.

The school, headed by Army spouse Deb Rothchild, is the only one in the El Paso region. Company executives say there is a large market here that has gone mostly untapped.

Just the second opened by Vertical Limit Aviation, the flight school officially launches this week at Doña Ana County International Jetport in Santa Teresa, 25 minutes from Downtown El Paso, where it shares hangar space with Francis Aviation.

For now, the company offers helicopter flight training here and, for those who just want a ride, aerial tours.

But the company hopes to offer a helicopter-for-hire service in the future, including charter flights for business executives. It also has a helicopter fitted with a high-definition broadcast camera that news organizations and law enforcement agencies can charter.

The company also offers training for Army helicopter pilots stationed at Fort Bliss who want to get their civilian pilot certificates so they can fly civilian aircraft or even transition to a civilian job. Qualifying veterans can use their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to help pay for helicopter flight training, owner Doug Christian said.

Vertical Limit Aviation’s El Paso operation is headed by Rothchild, whose husband was stationed at Fort Bliss more than a year ago.

Rothchild, a certified flight instructor, will teach the classes and said there are some unique skills she will be able to teach students here in the desert, where all flights start at about 4,000 feet above sea level.

“The heat and the altitude, those are skills that are really important for pilots to be able to negotiate,” she said.

Flying family

Rothchild’s grandfather, a bomber pilot in World War II, was stationed at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso. Her father, who also served in the military, was stationed at White Sands Missile Range before being transferred to Alaska where Rothchild was born.

Her parents were bush pilots and owned a Cherokee 140, and Rothchild grew up flying. She started working in commercial fishing when she was 15 and, later, worked as a wildland firefighter.

“That’s where I found helicopters. I got my first ride in a helicopter, and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.

Rothchild decided she was going to be a pilot someday, but flight school is expensive. Getting a private pilot rating, essentially a driver’s license for flying helicopters, generally takes 60 hours of flight time at a cost of between $15,000 and $20,000.

Then there is the commercial license, instrument rating and flight instructor certification, which are all offered at the school here.

“Typically, because of the price, people don’t get just a private rating for fun. They are looking to be a professional pilot,” Rothchild said.

But with the help of a grant, she was able to complete her flight training and has been flying for six years.

Rothchild will also pilot helicopter tours here, including a romantic “Sunset Champagne Tour.”

“The evening is just gorgeous,” Rothchild said. “You can see the Star on the Mountain and the lights all the way into Juárez.”

Tours start at $180 for up to three people, according to Christian, a former fire fighter who opened the company in his hometown of Albuquerque in 2008.

“It’s perfect for Valentine’s Day,” Christian said of the Champagne tour.

In Albuquerque, he said, the company flies for KOB, the NBC TV station, as well as for law enforcement agencies in Torrance County and Valencia County.

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