Around 7:30 a.m. on school days, most kids in the Fort Worth area head to a bus stop or climb into the back seat of their parents’ car and sit in traffic on their way to school. But sometimes 10-year-old Sarah Jayne Frank climbs into a helicopter.
“I just like looking down and seeing them in the air and the cars look like ants,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s dad, Jim Frank, is a licensed commercial aviation pilot who operates a business called Helicopter Up out of Spinks Airport in Burleson. On days when he’s headed to work in Dallas and gets clearance from The Oakridge School in Arlington, he’ll hover anywhere from 500 to 1,000 feet above traffic along Interstate 35W and take Sarah to school.
He says that would typically be about a 30-minute drive. But from Spinks Airport by air, “it’s about 5 minutes,” Frank said. “No traffic, no carpool, just a quick in, quick out.”
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The Star-Telegram learned about Sarah flying to school from a reader after a Star-Telegram photographer got photos of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ helicopter landing at Mansfield’s Vernon Newsom Stadium last week. Jones and a few relatives were there to watch his grandson, Highland Park quarterback John Stephens Jones, take on Mansfield Timberview in a football game.
In an email the reader said: “A 4th grader at Oakridge School in Arlington flies in her dad’s helicopter to school on a regular basis. Jerry arriving at a football game in a helicopter is really no big deal.”
For Sarah, arriving at school via helicopter, although not a daily occurrence, is “not uncommon,” she said. She’s been flying with her dad since she was about 2.
“We can do it really whenever,” Sarah said. “It’s fun.”
Frank operates a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter. After launching his company in August, he says, he’s only done charity work so far.
“I primarily look for an excuse to go fly,” he said. “The Chris Kyle Foundation is having a charity golf event November 6th and I’ve volunteered for that.”
But taking a helicopter into the sky for pleasure or school isn’t as simple as having your parent jump in a car, turn the key and pull out of the driveway. There’s a fairly long preflight process that involves making sure weather conditions are favorable and checking instruments and equipment.
“It’s about a 10-minute process without any interruptions on a good day,” Frank says.
Once they board the helicopter and buckle themselves in, Sarah says aside from making sure the doors are locked properly and getting her headphones on to be able to chat with dad, there’s one rule you have to remember when you exit the helicopter once it lands.
“Never go back to the tail rotor,” said Sarah. “There’s really bad heat and the rotor is spinning so fast you can’t see it and the rotor will chop you up into tiny pieces. And that will not be pretty.”
Frank has to land the helicopter at a safe distance from the school, which means Sarah normally has to walk across football and soccer fields to get on campus.
“I actually like walking,” Sarah said. “I go into the same entrance as everybody else.”
Most days, Sarah has to sit in a car with her mom or dad, weaving through rush-hour traffic and waiting her turn in the carpool line. But that’s OK with her. She’d rather not show up to school in a helicopter every day.
“Because then it wouldn’t be anything exciting,” she said.