His friend and colleague, Luiz Cintra, also learned to fly in the United States, then worked as an instructor for a couple of years in São Paulo before moving on to flying traffic helicopters, air taxis, and, for a corporate job in which he flew VIPs, a Jet-
Ranger. Now he flies the Agusta 109 for a private owner. “It’s fun,” he says, noting that landing on highrise rooftops “is no big deal. We always land to a point. It doesn’t matter where the point is. But there is no ground effect [the cushion of air helicopters create near the ground] on rooftops. When the client wants to carry a lot of stuff, you have to know how to say no.”
The aircraft are mainly a convenience, he believes, a way of saving time on recreational travel. In the course of these jaunts, pilots can become something like a member of the family. “The way your job is, you have a very close relationship with the owner, the family,” he says.
In a culture of vertical flight, a helicopter mishap is front-page news. People still talk about the woman who walked into a tail rotor a few years ago and was killed, along with the companion who tried to rescue her. Last July 27, an Agusta 109 crashed during a night approach to Maresias, a popular resort and surfing beach. The aircraft belonged to the Pao de Acucar supermarket chain, owned by Abilio Diniz. Aboard were a pilot and copilot; the owner’s eldest son, triathlete Joao Paulo Diniz; and fashion model Fernanda Vogel. All four survived the crash and tried to swim the two miles to the beach through rough seas. Only two reached shore: Diniz and copilot Luiz Cintra.
Barring such high-profile crashes, helicopter ownership is a closely kept secret in São Paulo. The wealthy may stick a helipad between the pool and tennis court, but they don’t want to advertise that they are rich enough to own a helicopter. When you bring out the camera, you’re told: No tail numbers please. As for talking directly with an owner, forget it.
Northerners tend to think of Brazil as a huge country with only two big cities, São Paulo to the south, Rio de Janeiro 300 miles to the northeast, with scads of villages scattered everywhere else. In fact, all 27 state capitals are huge; the state of São Paulo, in which the city of the same name is located, has several cities with populations of more than a million. Dire poverty exists, to be sure, but there is also great wealth—enough to acquire a helicopter, hire a pilot, and take the family to the beach.