Editorials

December 15, 2016

PHOTOS: The Grand Canyon Onboard The Maverick Experience

I have never been that into helicopters. It probably doesn’t help that, despite growing up around an airport, my only real experience with them was a short, underwhelming flight over a fair.  But that was before I visited  Maverick Helicopters.

Bryan Kroten is the Vice President of Marketing for Maverick Aviation Group, the parent company of Maverick Helicopters. A Las Vegas hospitality industry veteran, he has served in various executive roles in some pretty exciting venues around the city. He’s also very passionate about the product that Maverick Helicopters delivers. Bryan explained that Maverick is unique in that they don’t sell helicopter rides, they provide an experience. He said that the only true way to explain that assertion to me was to have me experience it myself. With that, it was back to the hotel to await the shuttle to Maverick’s terminal at the Las Vegas McCarran Airport.

They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’d like to extend that to “you can’t judge a bus by its paint scheme”. In the early afternoon a small white bus adorned with a small maverick logo pulled into our resort. We were quickly greeted by our driver Mike who, as it turns out, is a retired Pratt & Whitney employee.  Mike showed us aboard and I was immediately surprised to find it was not your average bus. The bus was outfitted much like a limousine, complete with large leather seats that wrapped around the perimeter of the passenger compartment.

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After a brief but comfortable ride down the Las Vegas strip, we arrived at Maverick’s Las Vegas terminal, located adjacent to the famous Las Vegas welcome sign. The terminal building here is an absolutely elegant facility. Walking into the main entrance you are greeted with commanding views of the Las Vegas McCarran airport and surrounding mountains, courtesy of the full length windows rampside. The waiting area is reminiscent of a first class lounge for an airline. There is more than ample leather seating, a well equipped snack bar, gift shop, and helpful staff. There is even a private luxury seating area for those who are holding an event or group function.

 IMGP1231IMGP1228After checking in at the counter, which is equipped with a built in scale for weight and balance planning, we were soon greeted by our pilot, Zach. Zach had already checked out the paperwork and had a seating plan for the five us who would be on this flight to the Grand Canyon with him. The preflight briefing was mostly handled inside the terminal. While this was best for normal people, an aviation geek like me would rather have been battling to hear over the roar of departing international flights blasting off adjacent to the ramp. Good call, Maverick, keeping people inside is pretty smart. I would be remiss not to mention that it was 104F outside, so passenger comfort is likely a big part of the lobby briefing.

After a quick run down of the seat belt, door, and safety equipment procedures everyone climbed into their assigned seat and worked on getting buckled up. It was at this time that I started to really get excited. I will admit, even as an aviation enthusiast, I didn’t think I would get this excited to take off. It was a gorgeous, clear blue day, there were airliners, executive jets, and other helicopters departing all around us, and we were going flying!

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The Maverick helicopter fleet is comprised solely of Eurocopter EC-130 T2’s with executive configured interiors. Not only are they elegant looking and comfortable, they are powered by the SAFRAN Turbomeca Arriel 2D turboshaft engine. This is the same engine that powers that U.S. Coast Guard HH65 Dolphin. If the Coast Guard trusts it, I’m all for it.

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One the coolest factors about this flight is that Maverick pilots are encouraged to create their own soundtrack for the flight. The initial music to my ears was our pilot Zach starting the engine and hearing the powerful turbine spool up. The only down side as an aviation enthusiast was that we could not hear him talk with ATC. This all for good reason, it allows the passengers to chat amongst themselves and leaves the pilot to the important business of communication with being interrupted. No one else seemed mind or notice, so I doubt they get any complaints. After a short hover taxi past the Las Vegas Sands Corporation’s terminal and the infamous JANET terminal (which isn’t so secret) we lifted into the air to the sound of U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” in our headphones.

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I really couldn’t help but have an ear to ear smile on my face for the entire flight. If you enjoy flying over the southwest United States, you would absolutely fall in love with flying over it in a helicopter. The views are astonishing. While my initial ride to the Grand Canyon was in the front, which holds three passengers plus the pilot, my return trip was in the rear, which holds four, and even the back seat allows for commanding views. While it was initially warm inside, shortly after departure the air conditioning system took over and cooled everything down. It was really one of the most comfortable rides I have had in any aircraft, yet alone my previous helicopter rides in the Bell Jet Ranger. The Eurocopter really made the Bell seem like a pickup compared to a luxury sedan.

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow detail of everything that I saw. Highlights of the flight are Lake Las Vegas, Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, Fortification Hill, the Bowl of Fire, and of course the Grand Canyon and the Las Vegas Strip. I really have to let the pictures do the talking because I cannot do them justice in words.

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IMGP1264IMGP1267IMGP1273IMGP1277IMGP1278IMGP1280IMGP1281Speaking of words,  I will say that Zach did a great job at narration and conversation. Each Maverick pilot flies about 100 hours per month, and it is clear that Zach really does know the history of the area and enjoys his job. He combines the right amount of tour guiding and conversation with the right amount of relaxing and enjoying “flying along in flight”. He gets major points for the Indiana Jones theme music as we descended into the Grand Canyon for landing.

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Maverick has a series of landing sites on land leased from the Hualapi Tribe which sit a few hundred feet above the Colorado River. I had seen the Grand Canyon before, but I had never seen it like this. Just after landing Zach had set up a gorgeous snack spread at a nearby picnic table. Fruit, cheese, and other snacks were served as well cold water, soda, and champagne.There were even wet face cloths to freshen up with.  I never thought I would be sipping champagne at the Grand Canyon, but I can tell you it is truly amazing.

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IMGP1308Our departure was equally impressive, skirting through the canyon and back out toward Las Vegas. The aviation enthusiast in me loved that we stopped for fuel. There is a remote fuel depot where Maverick flights may stop if needed. Passengers must deplane during fueling for safety, and it gave me a chance to watch another flight arrive and depart up close.

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IMGP1329IMGP1332IMGP1336I’m in love with the beauty of the southwest to start with, so it wasn’t a hard task to excite me screaming across the desert landscape in a helicopter soaking it all in. In my mind I was lost somewhere in a western, and at other points marveling at the beauty of it all. As we swung over “Old Las Vegas” and turned parallel to the Las Vegas Strip, I knew our time was drawing to a close.

If you are drawn in by the Las Vegas skyline, you will love being part of it in a helicopter. It was impressive to see some of the mega resorts from the air, and it offered  a whole new perspective on their enormity. It was impressive during the day, so I can only imagine how it must look at night.

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IMGP1350Sadly, we swung another turn and were shortly set gently down back in front of the Maverick Helicopters terminal. After a quick exchange of pleasantries in the terminal, we were whisked back to our resort by a Maverick bus. My head was still back in the desert sky somewhere. With a smile.IMGP1363IMGP1359

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IMGP1389Behind the Scenes

Part of my initial meeting with Bryan Kroten was a tour of the Maverick Air Group’s corporate headquarters at the Henderson Executive Airport, about 25 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.

 It really gave me an understanding of not only the enormity of the operation, but of how well run it is

Maverick Air Group is comprised of Maverick Helicopters, Mustang Helicopters, Maverick Airlines, and Maui Helicopter Tours. The fleets maintenance facility is located at Henderson Executive Airport.

In terms of fleet numbers, Maverick Air Group is the largest operator of the Eurcopter EC-130 T2, having 44 in service. The fixed wing fleet is made up of 4 Cessna Grand Caravans and 3 Beechcraft 1900’s.

Maverick has a lot of money and thought invested into infrastructure. Their maintenance department is well equipped, going so far as to have technicians certified by the turbine manufacturer to do in depth work that would otherwise have to be sent out. This is supported by a parts department who not only stocks parts, but forecasts parts flow based on operational tempo.

IMGP1207IMGP1208IMGP1209IMGP1210IMGP1211IMGP1212We have all heard about the looming pilot shortage, and the rotary wing world is not without these worries also. A lesser publicized shortage is that of certified aviation mechanics.The staff at Maverick have been very involved with not only technical college level recruiting, but with a local aviation high school.

As a Part 135 operation, the pilot candidates all have 1500 hours minimum of flight time coming in the door. Some have come from other operations, and there are some who came with military time. The biggest thing that all of the pilots have are a great attitude. Bryan stressed that these pilots are going to be center stage for the whole flight and really a part of the overall experience, not just flying the helicopter.

The bulk of the business for Maverick is tourism. Plain and simple. However, they still operate chartered helicopter flights to cater to a multitude of needs. One of the largest is executive transportation to events at other venues in the greater Las Vegas area. While this is only a small part of their business, it is a very lucrative part. There is something for everyone.

That gets me back to that “experience” term I keep throwing around. It is more than just a catchphrase to set Maverick apart. Maverick and it’s subsidiaries all offer a slightly different experience, and they cater to all price levels and interests. This includes short Las Vegas Strip flights, to package experiences  that including multiple attractions and modes of transportation.

In the interest of full disclosure, Maverick Air Group did provide my helicopter experience with them for free for this article. Please keep in mind, however, that I went into this skeptical, as I was never a big helicopter fan, but kept an open mind. I am certainly glad that I did. If you promise not to tell my die hard fixed-wing fans, I may even tell you I love helicopters now.
Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer from New England. Mike grew up around the airport and has a professional background in public safety and business. Follow him on Twitter.


About the Author

Michael Lothrop
Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer originally from Maine. Mike grew up around aviation and is currently the director of operations and safety for an aviation related company.




 
 

 

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  • speedbird1

    Great shots! I am a fan of the SW scenery between Vegas & the Canyon but am too chicken to do the flight. The Canyon is so spectacular; one must experience in person!