Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Confessions of a 21st Century Aviatrix

Topsy Taylor on board. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016. Another Dog Day in New York (and all around us) with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s to the high 80s by mid-evening. Midday I went to get a haircut, same place I’ve been going to since I moved back here from Los Angeles 24 years ago.  Jean Louis David on Broadway and 75th. My haircutter is Lyudmilla, a Ukrainian-born lady who emigrated here about three decades ago with her two sons and her mother and father. I go to Lyudmilla because she’s fast and efficient. I usually go to her on Saturdays but in summer she takes the day off and goes out to the Hamptons with her boyfriend where they rent a house with a swimming pool.  It sounds like heaven.

When I lived in Los Angeles, there was usually a week or ten days in early August when the Santa Anas would blow in from the desert and it would be steaming day and night. There was very little humidity which plagues us, but the desert heat is like a furnace. However, there was a pool right outside my bedroom (sliding glass) door, and if it were sweltering enough, I’d go sit in the pool for about fifteen minutes and then go back to bed where I’d sleep like a baby.

These are what the Farmer’s Almanac call the Dog Days of summer. I’ve been hearing the term since I was a kid growing up in New England. The popular explanation for the term was that it got so hot that even a dog couldn’t bear it. Which is true, although I see a lot of dog walkers out in midday with a slew of canines, all with their tongues hanging out.

Dogs need a LOT of water on these days, outside or in. Don’t forget them. It’s as bad for them as it is for us – maybe worse since they don’t perspire and they have fur. Plus that hot pavement on their paws isn’t heavenly either.

Last night, I decided to look up the term “Dog Days” on Wikipedia just to see if there is an explanation of where it came from. And there is. And it came from ancient times. The heliacal rising (hi-LY-a-cul)  of a star occurs annually when it first becomes visible above the eastern horizon for a brief moment just before sunrise, after a period of time when it had not been visible. Wikipedia reports that the expression refers to the hot sultry days of summer originally in areas around the Mediterranean and to other areas especially in the Northern Hemisphere. 
The coincidence of very warm temperatures in the early civilizations in North Africa and the Near East with the rising, at sunrise (the heliacal rising) of Orion’s dog, the dog star Sirius, led to the association of this phrase with these conditions, an association that traces to the Egyptians and appears in the ancient written poetry and other records of the Greeks.

More: Sirius is a star system and the brightest star in our night sky. What we see and perceive as a single star is actually a binary star system. The name is derived from the Ancient Greek meaning “glowing” or “scorcher.”

So now you know (if you didn’t already). Sirius is serious and you ain’t kidding down here in sultry, steamy Manhattan.

Today we are running another piece that I wrote for this month’s Quest magazine on Topsy Taylor, called “Confessions of a 21st Century Aviatrix.” Many readers may be familiar with Topsy by name, and not a few know of her professionally as well as socially in New York, Newport and Southampton. She’s been an enthusiast of aviation since she was a little girl and in her adult years, she’d become a proficient and frequent pilot and especially with helicopters. Today, serendipitously, she’s become a partner in a thriving helicopter business in Manhattan with a fleet of helicopters that started with the one she bought for herself when she passed the pilots tests.

The August issue of Quest is also Quest 400 list issue. Coincidentally, Topsy is a member and actually one of the very few on the list whose ancestry in New York runs back four or five generations, with their prominent participation in the development of the city.
I’ve known Topsy Taylor for about twenty years. We met through mutual friends who were working to raise funds for City Harvest. She is a New York girl in that she has a real New York ancestral history. She’s one of those individuals who is naturally friendly and agreeable, but also one to express her opinions fairly and clearly.  She’d never discuss it unless it were brought up but she has an Old New York background. Her great-great-great grandfather Moses Taylor was a 19th century New York businessman and banker who through his father had a close business relationship with the first John Jacob Astor.

Topsy's great-great-great grandfather Moses Taylor.
Moses Taylor, from his early 20s in the early 19th century – he was born in 1806 -- was a very prosperous sugar importer and business leader who vastly expanded his investments into and including controlling interest in the First National City Bank as well as railroads, and  local gas companies that eventually became (through mergers) what today is known as Consolidated Edison. When Taylor died in 1882, he left a fortune of more than a billion in today’s dollars. That fortune has been distributed over the following decades to several prominent New York families of the 20th century.

None of this information is worn by Topsy as relevant about herself. She has the bearing and accent which speaks “uppah-clahass” New York, one of the last mid-Atlantic accents. It is the result no doubt, of upbringing and schooling. It is the kind of bearing and accent which might easily lead one to believe they are in the present of a Big Snob. She is also a very worldly woman from her youth when she traveled frequently and widely in the thick of the Jet Set. She is also one of the nicest, kindest and most directly honest women in New York.  I wouldn’t know anything about her ancestral background if I hadn’t researched it. What does seem relevant is that the lady has naturally inherited entrepreneurial instincts.
Topsy Taylor, DPC, Emilia Saint-Amand, and Joy Ingham at Michael's restaurant. Photo by Harry Benson.
When she was seven or eight, Topsy had her first plane ride. This was in 1948 in Newport, Rhode Island. There was a retired Army pilot man named Bob Wood who had a small plane which he flew and chartered out to people in the community. On that first plane ride, Topsy was allowed to sit in the cockpit next to the pilot. It was a first; nobody in the family had ever been in an airplane before. Her sole memory of that first flight was looking down at the land below and seeing how it lay with the towns and houses neat and tidy, and the streets in squares. The child was fascinated.

As a child she grew up mainly in South Carolina and in Newport in the summertime. After that initial family  flight, her father would charter a small Cessna to take them back and forth. Her mother and father also used Bob Wood to go to Saratoga for the racing season, or to Canada for fishing, or to visit friends a few hundred miles away.

The way some young girls are attracted to horses, Topsy was attracted to the technology of motor vehicles. She was 11 the first time she drove a car, living in South Carolina. She loved it, and when she was 14 she got her first driver’s license. That was in the mid-50s; the rules have changed since then.
Preparing our buddy copter, a Bell 206 Long Ranger Helicopter, for takeoff.
Our beautiful, midnight blue ride, a 4-bladed Bell 407.
Looking out from the cockpit of the Bell 407 towards the Bell 206 preparing for takeoff.
Up, Up, and Away! (with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance).
At 20 she solo’d in a Piper Cub for the first time in Camden, South Carolina. She had had a fear of flying before, although she loved it, and she decided she’d be “better off sitting up front to get through the fear of it.”

On that flight she had to take off, come around, land, and then do it again. “In those days at that airport, after you solo’d successfully,” she told me, “they’d cut off a piece of the tail of your shirt and put it on the wall with your name on it. Driving home, I was speechless. I felt as if I’d climbed Mount Everest.”
Passing Ellis Island.
Looking northeast towards the Manhattan skyline.
Looking north along the Hudson River.
A cluster of buildings belonging to Columbia University.
The GW Bridge (for all those who don't know, New Jersey is on the left, and Manhattan, on the right).
Flying over the GW Bridge.
Southbound along the Harlem River.
Checking in on the the instruments.
The Great Lawn of Central Park and the Rooftop complex of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Looking south from the northern tip of Manhattan.
Looking west into the belly of the beast.
Two years later, in 1963, Topsy was working for Vogue, and in summertime would fly back and forth from New York to Newport and back on weekends. “A group of six of us would charter, and I always sat up with the pilot and do the radio work and that kind of stuff. That way I got to learn to speak to LaGuardia as we were arriving and departing.”

Always curious, in 1974 she got her Private Pilot license in a Beech Baron 58, out of LaGuardia airport, flying all over the Northeast. In 1985, Topsy started taking lessons at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, Long Island to get her Commercial Helicopter License. Her flight instructor was a man named John Kjekstad.
John Kjekstad and Topsy Taylor with their trusty Bell 407.
She loved it so much that the next year she bought a helicopter – a Bell 206 Jet Ranger (which was painted red) -- and started flying her friends back and forth between New York and the Hamptons or Newport. When her daughter Lisa McFadden entered St. Paul’s School, Topsy would fly her up to school, along with Pauline Boardman’s two daughter, Serena and Samantha.

Friends who heard about it were interested in chartering Topsy’s helicopter to get back and forth to Southampton or Newport, or another destination. Topsy – who never flew without a co-pilot --  initially got John Kjekstad to help. As more and more people became interested in the “service” --- getting a ride versus driving to a destination or another airport -- Kjekstad  became the chief pilot.
An expansive southbound view of Manhattan from behind the Empire State Building.
Turning the corner (smoothly, no doubt) ...
A cruise ship docked at the pier.
Looking southeast from high above the Hudson.
They began to do more and more business. Kjekstad was able to get an air taxi certificate, and he and Topsy partnered to create Helicopter Flight Services, operating out of Manhattan. The air taxi service also began filling requests for aerial sight-seeing over Manhattan. As they got busier, and busier, they acquired a second helicopter, and then a third. Today, Helicopter Flight Service owns a fleet of Bell 407’s, now producing gross revenues in the eight figures.

John Kjekstad has more than 18,000 hours of combined helicopter and fixed wing experience. He also holds an Airline Transport Rating, the highest rating possible to obtain. He is also a Certified Flight Instructor and instrument flight instructor in helicopters.
Overlooking the Liberty National Golf Club.
Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the principal container ship facility for goods entering and leaving New York City and the northeastern quadrant of North America. The Port is fifteenth busiest in the world today.
You too can soak in the views of Lady Liberty and Manhattan, not to mention the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge while playing Bayonne Club.
Flying over Governor's Island towards Lower Manhattan.
The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
The UN Building in the foreground.
Roosevelt Island and the Queensboro Bridge.
Although Topsy is one of the few women in aviation doing business, she’s unimpressed. Her main focus these days is safety, integrity and ensuring that Helicopter Flight Services is Number 1 in the helicopter business. “I’ve always done things that fascinated me, whether with someone and on my own. It’s very important for a person to something that’s just important to them.” Good for the customers too, I’d say.
Setting down after an invigorating tour of Manhattan and its surroundings.
On the tarmac looking out at our buddy copter.

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