The noise increased rapidly from the south until I could make out a fire-engine-red Hughes 500 helicopter that flared out and settled on the tarmac at our small local airport. Jeff Jobe’s 21-year-old helicopter still looked as brand new as it was 5,000 flight hours ago. Jeff is a highly skilled pilot and obviously knew what he was doing at the controls. He is the only person I know who has his own private helicopter hangar alongside his garage at his home on a lake near Seattle.
I first met Jeff after a show in Seattle in the fall of 1969. I had gotten excited about a picture of a water skier in Sydney, Australia, who was in a hang-glider being towed by a boat. I had immediately sent a letter to the hang-glider wanting to buy one and take it to Sun Valley to get some friends to learn how to fly so I could film them.
Jeff Jobe came up on the stage after the show and told me, “I have been flying my hang-glider all summer on Lake Washington, and if I water the lawn before I go flying I can come in for a barefoot landing on the wet lawn. I think I can fly off of a mountain on skis.”
I told him, “I will be in Sun Valley over Christmas. Can you get over there?”
Jeff showed up the day after Christmas. The following morning we went over to Dollar Mountain for the first test flight. By the time he got to the bottom, he was at least three feet off the ground, but no further.
I folded up my gear and skied down to him and said, “We have to talk about this a little more. I think we should try it on Baldy instead.”
Jeff was 19 at the time and it was long before contingency attorneys were making millions off stunts such as this. It was 1969 and I knew I was onto something if I could get just one good shot. Jeff was young and resilient and he wanted to do it, but I did worry.
Early the next morning, after a lot of arguing with the lift operators, they let Jeff on with all of his gear and we started up the lifts on Baldy. At the top, it took Jeff about 20 minutes to get his hang-glider bolted and duct-taped together. Then we went over his flight plan several times.
Jeff did just exactly as I had asked him to but he found it a bit difficult to land on the narrow catwalk. I knew I had a great shot of the flight and did not need to do it over again for good measure.
His flight was the highlight of my next year’s movie. Within a year a lot of skiers were cobbling together hang-gliders out of PVC pipe and Visqueen held together with duct tape. Unfortunately, a lot of skiers had accidents because of their poor equipment, lack of previous flying experience, and plain old-fashioned macho-enthusiasm.
The next thing I heard from Jeff was that his phone was ringing off the hook from advertising agencies that wanted to have him in a commercial. In Jeff’s enthusiasm to do what he was being paid to do, he almost paid the ultimate price in Jackson Hole, Wyo., one spring afternoon.
Unable to get up enough speed to fly off of a cliff he found a go-cart and took the engine off of it. They built a ramp for him and he figured he would get going fast enough and just let the go-cart crash as he took off. It did not work quite like that and as the go-cart went over the cliff Jeff went with it and dropped like a safe.
He spent 47 days in the hospital.
Jeff and I retold this story to the three friends he had flown up from Seattle for a lunch in my favorite restaurant in Eastsound. Later that afternoon, I watched the brand-new-looking Bell 500 take off, with Jeff flying it, heading back to Seattle. I was concerned about Jeff making his hang-glider fly in 1969, but he has proven how amazing he is, time and again.
This column was orginally published in 2012.
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