Saturday, November 16, 2013
Pat Robertson's favorite number is said to be 700,000,000. I'm uncertain if that figure aligns with his net worth, but the hefty bankroll would've been able to purchase roughly 125 Family Channel-branded airships. During the blimp's heyday in the early 1990s, it was the only aircraft of its type to illuminate at night. The powerful internal lighting system was utilized for tracking endangered right whales off the Florida coast. Other Sunshine State flights over the Daytona International Speedway on NASCAR's biggest day and Polk County for a Special Olympics promotion contributed to over $5 million of spin-off media value in the first year of operation. My first and only sighting of the IFO (Identified Flying Object) occurred at the Military Circle location of Putt-Putt Golf And Games circa 1998. While practicing trajectories on the course facing Virginia Beach Blvd., an unusual dirigible suddenly appeared amongst the puffy clouds. Indeed, the Family Channel-tagged behemoth was headed in the direction of the nearby CBN headquarters. Mouth agape, the first question I silently posed about the airship was pretty obvious: Was Pat Robertson on board? Maybe his sidekick Ben Kinchlow and Operation Blessing buddy Mr. T were also seated in the cabin. Later the same year, the irreverent home of Bart Simpson acquired the television property and renamed it Fox Family. Who knows what became of the blimp? Did it retire to stud a la Secretariat in a hangar behind the Regent University campus? Is it parked on a used lot somewhere in Chesapeake alongside one marked Blockbuster Video? Did some neo-hippie with a trust fund win it for a bargain-priced bid at an auction and have the thing shipped to Colorado? Hopefully, the Phish Phace or Spread Head kept the original logo intact, 'cause fifty stretch limos from Jay-Z's stable wouldn't come close to the entrance power of P-Rob's old ride. Pimp my blimp, Xzibit!
In 1982, WAVY-TV became the first station in Tidewater Virginia to cover local news via helicopter. The "Chopper 10" of today, a Bell 206 Longranger, has been in service since 2000. It can attain a maximum speed of 160 mph and costs approximately $1.5 million. The helicopter's registration form contains one of my current favorite words: airworthiness. I'll refer to longtime pilot John Massey by his noble title: HIs Most Airworthiness. At this very moment, Chopper 10 is on assignment at various area high schools for WAVY's renowned "Friday Night Flights" segment. The closest run-in I've had with the 'copter was in April 2008. Assessing damage from the tornado that had touched down about a mile from my home, the Longranger countlessly flew over the cluster of impacted Suffolk neighborhoods for nearly a week. Due to the unfortunate situation, any hope of grabbing a prized WAVY mini-football tossed by Katie Collett or receiving a big hug from Mary Kay Mallonee was nullified. As a consolation gift, unintentional comic relief came in the form of ex-WAVY big-shot anchorman Les Smith. Resigned to reporting for competitor WTKR- TV (NewsChannel 3), his addresses to a new camera were laced with uneasiness. Even worse, Smith came across like a total turncoat in his NewsChannel 3 collared shirt. Much like Karl Malone in a Lakers jersey, some things just don't fit no matter how much they're forced. "Nothing hits home like Chopper 10," announced WAVY-TV's legendary "Voice of God" in old spots for the station. I'm betting the deep-voiced gentleman I've heard on broadcasts since the late 1970s has taken a trip on the 'copter. NASCAR great Ricky Rudd, a Chesapeake native and friend of WAVY's veteran sportscaster Bruce Rader, would be my choice for the only person who has ever boarded both the Family Channel airship and Chopper 10.
Should the long-odds lottery ticket scratch out a miracle, add me to the roll call of the helicopter's passengers. Sorry, P-Rob. The blimp's got flow, but it goes too slow.