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Helicopter at Bandera Rehab

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Three years ago, Rick Neely gave in to an almost life-long dream and bought himself a helicopter. Friday, March 9, Neely flew his Robinson R22 2-seater to Bandera to share his machine and his enthusiasm with the residents and staff of Bandera Rehab and Health Care Center.

Neely's dad got him started with flying when he was 16 to keep him out of football. "After I graduated, I went into police work and kind of dropped the flying," said Neely. He didn't get back to it until he turned 45 a few years ago.

Today, he has earned his Airline Transport Pilot's license, is a certified flight instructor in airplanes and helicopters.

Neely and his student, Luke Williams, flew across the Hill Country from Burnet on what turned out to be a very cold, windy and rainy day.

Because of the overcast conditions, "we had to fly at about 100 feet," said Neely. "In this [helicopter] you don't have the instruments, so you cannot lose sight of the ground, at all cost!"

Neely had wanted a helicopter for so long that he decided to build a landing pad in front of his house.

For years, he just sat on the front porch and watched the landing lights come on in the evening.

"My wife finally told me to do it or shut up!"

Neely purchased his machine from Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, California. The company was founded in 1973 by Frank Robinson, whose goal was to produce a helicopter for private use. "He wanted everyone to have one in their driveway," said Neely.

In addition to Neely's R22, Robinson also produces the R44, a 4-seater.

Both use Lycoming piston engines.

Recently, the company has begun production on the roomy 5-seater R66, which is equipped with a Rolls Royce turbine engine.

The R22 is the number one training helicopter in the world. Neely says it is a very dependable machine and is easy to maintain, making it the perfect private helicopter.

Neely's granddaughter has been flying with him since she was two and she often runs up to him and says, "Papaw, let's go fly Heli!"

They roll it out of the hangar and off they go.

"We can fly about 300 miles on a full tank of gas," he said. "We flew to Houston last week, and often go to Fredericksburg for lunch."

Neely has turned his passion into a ministry for his community. "First, it was just about taking a few kids flying," he said. In the past three years, he has taken about 200 children on Sunday afternoon flights. "Their parents use it to entice kids to make better grades or clean their rooms."

He also works with the Burnet County Sheriff's Office and local volunteer fire departments. "I do fire spotting from the sky, and last week we had an escaped prisoner that I helped search for," said Neely.

Neely has owned his helicopter for three years and it looks brand new. "How old do you think it is?" he asked a gathering of enthralled residents. Most guessed five to 10 years. "This one's a 1985," he said.

He explained that with airplanes and helicopters, maintenance often means rebuilding and replacing. "About the only thing that's original is the serial number."

Judging by the interest shown by the residents of Bandera Rehab, Neely and his helicopter were a big hit. "If nobody's told you they love you today, just remember that I love you!" Neely said in closing.

Pictured: Bandera Rehab resident Louis Stilie joined helicopter pilot Rick Neely at the front door Friday, March 9, when Neely landed his Robinson R22 at the health care center in Bandera.