Helicopter Turns Into Santa’s Sleigh, Rescue Craft

Retired Builder David Ash Sr. Reprises Past Uses With New Chopper
Nov 29, 2017

A dispatch is just in from the North Pole to “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages”:

“Santa Claus is flying in to Long Beach Island from the North Pole on Dec. 2 at high noon by modern-day motorized sled high in the skies over LBI.

“You might even see him over the Christmas parade that is scheduled for the same day.”

It has been about 27 years since helicopter owner and commercial pilot David Ash Sr. “flew to the North Pole” to “pick up Santa” and bring him for a pre-Christmas perusal of LBI, but Santa has traveled this way many times before. Newspaper articles fill a folder in Ash’s Stafford Township residence, dating to the 1980s when the retired building contractor had designed a heliport at his and his late wife, Meredith’s, Loveladies bayfront home. Ash is also a previous pastor at Grace Calvary Church in Ship Bottom.

The articles also detail other donated uses of the helicopters that Ash has owned over the years – for search and rescue.

Now that he has moved permanently back to the area after spending recent winters in Colorado, Ash is again offering to pilot his new three-seater helicopter for municipalities and authorities for services during emergencies.

“I have contacted four municipalities; they know it’s available,” he reported last week. “I’m available anytime pending the weather conditions.”

The sleek Enstrom chopper with its 225-horsepower turbocharged aircraft engine can navigate almost any weather conditions  – “as long as I can see the ground, that’s what the Federal Aviation Administration requires,” Ash said. Its capability comes in handy when collecting Santa at the North Pole.

Although the red aerial sleigh (the skids even resemble sleigh runners) is not an official part of this year’s Ship Bottom Christmas Parade, the timing of a possible flyover at high noon “might” coincide, according to the pilot.

“This will be the fourth ship we’ve flown over Long Beach Island, and we used to do it for the Christmas Parade in December. So hopefully we’ll fly back from the North Pole at the exact time on Dec. 2 and make it; we might fly by the parade,” anticipated the pilot.

There won’t be a Boulevard landing this year, but there was in decades past when many of the town fathers and police personnel had grown up together and were excited about planning such an event.

“The joy it brought to the crowd was electric,” described one newspaper reporter.

“As it is every year, Santa’s arrival by helicopter was the highlight of the day,” read a thank-you letter from a Bay State Bank vice president on behalf of the Ship Bottom Merchants Association after the fourth annual Christmas Parade, in 1982.

“We landed four different times right in the highway; there are pictures of that with Santa getting out,” Ash pointed out in a scrapbook. At the time, “the FAA came down and OK’ed it, and the Department of Transportation from New Jersey approved it.”

In answer to a SandPaper reporter’s question, there are no height restrictions on how low a helicopter can fly, Ash said. It’s up to the discretion of the pilot. When he and his second wife, Elaine, fly today, she keeps an eye out for the current prevalence of drones in the summer sky, but there have been no incidents yet. One time a kite string got tangled up in the rotor when flying over the beach, but the string worked itself out, so it was a non-event.

Ash has maintained his commercial rotorcraft license for 40 years. The current Enstrom model, made in Michigan, weighs 1,700 pounds and flies at 115 miles per hour. Ash considers helicopter flight safer than attending many public events, in today’s world. Even if the engine shuts off, a pilot is taught the aerodynamics of landing the craft in a small space.

There are three major controls in a helicopter that the pilot must manipulate during flight. They are the collective pitch control, the cyclic pitch control and the anti-torque pedals, or tail rotor control.

Explained Ash in laymen’s terms, “There are three different sets of controls: there are a collective on the left side, which changes the engine speed and pitch on the blades, and that gives the lift on the helicopter. There is a directional control, it’s called cyclic – the cyclic is right in the middle of the floor, and that determines the direction the helicopter goes in – the helicopter can go forward, backward or sideways. And there are two foot pedals, which control how straight the helicopter will fly, left and right, and that’s for the tail rotor.”

The aerodynamics of flying a large or a small helicopter are the same, Ash said. When flying over salt water, he doesn’t like to fly lower than about 8 or 10 feet so the salt spray doesn’t get pulled all over the craft.

“One year that we flew in and landed for the parade, it was blowing so hard out of the northwest, it was incredible,” the pilot recalled. “I had to go around three or four times before I got a little lull, to drop in.”

On Standby

For Search and Rescue

He obtained his pilot license for pleasure, and it was helpful in business and real estate endeavors, but an adjunct use has always been to help police department and rescue efforts.

“If it saves just one life, or even helps someone, it’s worth it,” Ash said.

One can only imagine how much it might have been used right after Superstorm Sandy; Ash personally made rescues by swimming to stranded victims in Harvey Cedars during the March Storm of 1962.

However, the Ashes were still wintering out west at the time of Sandy. For the near future, it’s hard to say how often the pilot might get a call now that he is offering the helicopter availability to police and municipalities at no charge, for emergency situations.

But in the past, officials took him up on the offer for searches for lost children, people reported missing in the water, to check on beach conditions, and for a variety of other matters.

“Municipalities have used it to go out and search for stolen items out in the woods and for illegal drugs and instances like that,” Ash said, “and Burlington County used it for environmental reasons.

“There were quite a few different rescues we did; for instance, one wintertime when the bay was frozen really bad and you couldn’t travel back and forth in a boat, we were able to get out to an island where there is a clubhouse and the caretaker and his wife were out of fuel for their furnace. It was blowing 60 or 70 miles an hour out of the northwest like it does in the wintertime.

“Myself and another person flew out there and delivered 10 gallons of fuel so they could stay warm. And then the next day, the woman got so sick that I had to fly again and go out and bring her in so somebody could take her to the hospital.

“One time I flew down to Virginia to pick up somebody’s child who was injured in a surfing accident, and they couldn’t spend the time driving in the car; it would have been a five- or six-hour trip.”

But in the meantime, the job at hand is to get Santa down here to Long Beach Island next Saturday at high noon. Look up in the sky.

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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