Look again. It isn't a bird and it isn't a plane. It's a Heli-Home. And if this contraption isn't the ultimate in sporting luxury, it's right up there. Depending on how you approach it, the Heli-Home is a helicopter with a built-in home, or a home with a built-on rotor. On the outside it looks pretty much like a conventional copter. But on the inside it is outfitted like a luxurious motor home, complete with kitchen, bar, color TV, tape deck and speakers, deep pile carpeting, air conditioning, furnace and sleeping accommodations for four.
The Heli-Home can plunk sportsmen down in spots where light planes dare not go, from big-game hideouts in the backwoods to hidden lakes or fishing streams. Skiers have been helicoptering to the tops of undeveloped mountains for years, the better to find unpacked powder, but they've always had to be back in the base lodge before dark. With Heli-Home they can spend the night parked on a ridge, warmed by a 40,000-BTU furnace, soothed by soft music and sated by a sirloin sizzled in the microwave oven—and then break up the next morning's snow before anybody else is awake.
Heli-Home is the creation of Fred Clark of Orlando, Fla., a 45-year-old ex-helicopter pilot who is now in the business of refurbishing used government copters for civilian resale. He works mainly with the 42-foot Sikorsky S-55 and the slightly larger S-58, two old workhorses which are to helicopters what the DC-3 is to airplanes. Like the latter, both are built to last nearly indefinitely with proper maintenance and replacement of components. Because of the prohibitively high cost of new helicopters (which may sell for more than $1 million), there is great demand for re-manufactured machines for use as air ambulances and passenger ferries and in construction work.
Clark's decision to turn out a copter strictly for leisure was prompted by the recent boom in self-contained motor travel. Sales of motor homes—including those luxury models in the $30,000-to-$60,000 range—have spiraled in recent years despite a sometimes shaky economy and increasing fuel costs. This convinced Clark that the leisure-oriented traveler of the '70s was willing to pay a premium for mobility, comfort and freedom from schedules and reservations. Total independence from the hassles of highway travel was the key. Private airplanes provide such freedom, true, but they are restricted by airports, runways and FAA regulations. Besides, who ever heard of landing a Comanche on top of Old Baldy? Clark decided he had a notion worth pursuing.
A year and a half ago he placed two teaser ads to test its merits, one in an aircraft magazine, the other in a medical magazine. The latter was chosen on the theory that doctors have money to spend on leisure. Although the ads appeared only once, they drew more than 500 inquiries. Clark then went to Winnebago, one of the country's largest manufacturers of motor homes, which put its design and marketing forces to work transforming the Sikorsky into a luxury rotor-motor home. Winnebago knew exactly what the affluent camper wanted. The model it came up with, which is being marketed under its Itasca Division trademark, proved to be the hit of a sports and vacation show at Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium last November.
"Everybody who saw it flipped," says Winnebago's Frank Rotta. "It's a natural for the sportsman who wants the ultimate in mobility, for surveyors or construction people who need to fly to remote locations and live on the job. Or for entertainers, say, rock singers or country-and-Western groups who perform in a different town every night and want to move quickly from place to place."
The Heli-Home cruises at 100 to 110 mph, has an outside range of 3½ hours and burns regular 100-octane aviation fuel. FAA regulations do not require private helicopters to land and take off from licensed helipads; as long as the pilot respects the safety and rights of the landowner—and preferably has his permission—he can put down just about anywhere within reason.
If he intends to operate his own cabin in the sky, the buyer will need to acquire a helicopter pilot's rating—a fixed-wing license alone won't do—which entails a 50-hour training program.
The flight deck of the Heli-Home is located on a separate level above the living area and contains all the standard aircraft instrumentation and equipment, including such items as dual flight controls, a VOR navigation indicator and an emergency locator transmitter. Access to the main living area is through a stairway passage in the bathroom.
Because no two Heli-Homes are exactly alike, there is no need to worry about parking next to one just like yours. All are custom-ordered, with a delivery time of 120 days. Fabrics, upholstery, accessories and interior and exterior colors are the buyer's choice, as are such options as gun cases, fishing-rod holders, ski racks and wine racks. The price tag for all this luxury? A Heli-Home, ready to fly you to your favorite wilderness spot, sells for $300,000 with a Wright R-1820-84, 1,525-hp radial engine or $840,000 with twin Pratt and Whitney turbine engines. No discounts for His-and-Hers models.