CALISTOGA — The eye-catching red helicopter in the driveway of a home on Lake Street is something Lance Lehto figures people in town have all seen at one point, and they probably wonder what it is doing there.
“It’s a little project that I took on about five years ago,” Lehto said.
A little $24,000 project that is his passion, and gives him an opportunity to log more flight time.
“I have a love affair with flying,” he said.
He built the helicopter from a kit he purchased from a dealer in Canada after reading about it in Kitplanes Magazine, a publication for homebuilt aviation enthusiasts.
As a Seventh-day Adventist he said his dream is to fly a big brother to mission work in places of need. For now, he’s tinkering and logging hours in it when he can.
“I had it out just Tuesday, and it was the best ever,” he said.
He said he’s logged about 130 hours flying the helicopter and thousands working on it.
It’s a work in progress.
“It’s had all kinds of problems,” he said.
He’s a licensed pilot, but not a licensed mechanic; self-taught, he’s been working on car engines and such since he was a teenager.
“I’m crazy enough of a guy to try to fix it.”
The ultra-light helicopter weighs about 300 pounds, has a two-cylinder, two-stroke motor with about 60 hp, about the same horsepower as a snowmobile, he said.
He’s taken it up to about 500 feet and since there are no doors on it, it’s more of a fair weather flyer because it gets cold up there.
But it does fly, he pointed out, and that’s the exciting thing to him. About the farthest he’s flown it is from Willits and back.
In May he’ll join friends in Groveland for the Central Sierra Helicopter Meet.
Working on the helicopter is a lot of work, he said, likening it to surfing and how surfers have to wait and wait for just the right wave, but when it’s there it’s magical.
“Mere mortals should not have so much fun,” he said.
It’s not so fun to his wife, he acknowledged.
“She tolerates it,” he said.