Flying through

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Helicopter Life Winter 2012

Helicopter Life Winter 2012
The latest edition of Helicopter Life has gone to press and will be out later in December.
In this issue we have : test flight of the Bell 407GX, with its new Garmin 1000 instrument panel; training for the special services; Guardians of the Golden Gate, US Coastguard in San Francisco, AMREF Flying Doctors and many other stories.

Both the recession and the weather are making helicopter flying in Europe pretty quiet at the moment. After yesterday's UK budget, with its revised forecast for the downturn to continue until 2018 or beyond it seems likely that this will continue. However, on the bright side more companies are using helicopters and the oil and gas industry continues to thrive. And, of course, outside Europe and the USA the number of helicopters and helicopter owners is growing...

Friday, 30 November 2012

CAA and EASA Licences

Black rhino at Ol Pejeta
Now back in the UK and back to problems with the CAA.
Because I recently renewed my examiners rating and sent the test results to the CAA I have to update my JAA licence to EASA immediately. If you don't make any changes you have until 2017 to comply, but as soon as you make a major change it has be updated. The cost was £477. This in itself was bad enough but worse still the licence did not arrive. So, I wrote to the CAA checking they had sent it. They said it had been printed out and sent on 7/11/2012. Note printed out ie no huge cost to them here.
Anyway, since it had not arrived I asked them to send it again. This is the letter I received back from the regulatory authority.

Dear Mrs Hunter-Jones,
Thank you for your email.
In order for us to re-issue a duplicate EASA licence and EASA examiner certificate, we require the fee of £52.00 as per our scheme of charges, which includes the £6 FedEx fee. Please see the payment form SRG1187 attached and submit to our Licensing Department. ..
Kind regards,
Licensing & Training Standards

My reply to them was not particularly diplomatic but it was heartfelt.

Tell me you are joking! Even the CAA cannot be asking me to pay for a licence they either have not sent or has got lost in the post. I shall keep your letter in my licence and I will write about this in my magazine and when I am asked for my licence I think this will explain why it is missing.

I had not further correspondence with this lassie, but now I have an email from her boss.

Dear Mrs Hunter-Jones
Your email has been forward to me as you have requested a duplicate licence....

NO I DID NOT! I asked for the licence I had tested for and paid for to me sent to me without further hoo ha!

Anyway, I wrote again and finally got a phone call from the CAA representative who agreed to send me another licence but insisted I should pay £6 for FedEX. I refused. I have already paid far too much, I hardly earn anything and this drain of money to the CAA from working pilots has to stop. It is ridiculous.

In the end he did agree to put it in the post, although with dark warnings that if the post lost it again I would have to pay for a duplicate. I won't! I can tell you now.

And of course the joke is we are arguing over a piece of paper, not the examiners rating, which has been done and is not in doubt, but a piece of paper which could more easily be emailed to me! I suggested this, that it was emailed to me, and the CAA rep nearly jumped down the phone. His horror was only equal to a Train Driver's Union representative on discovering that the underground trains are going driverless...!!

My campaign is now for a more uptodate CAA that uses email for delivery!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ol Pejeta and the Nanyuki Triangle

 There are two types of Zebra the Grevy's zebra - comparatively rare and actually endangered, and the common zebra.
The mother feeding her foal is the common zebra, the one below is the Grevy's. Note that Grevys look more horse like and have downwards stripes, plus huge ears.
The mother and foal were photographed at Ol Pejeta outside Nanyuki in Kenya and the Grevy's near where we were staying in Ol Jogi.

Monday, 12 November 2012


We are between Malindi and Mmbassa. Fantastic shop names here like Harmonious Butchery and Be Patient Bakery but very little in the way of electricity and wifi, so not too much on the internet front - hard to survive these days but once we lived without it!

Now in Nairobi for a quick break before going to Nanuki where even less electricity and no wifi at all!

Until a return to Nairobi then.... who ever thought one would think of Nairobi as the height of sophistication!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Tsavo West and on to Kilifi

Giraffe disturbed from feeding watches us curiously
Driving out of Nairobi for Tsavo there was a fire on the Mombassa Road. For a while everyone sat there, then they got bored and decided to 'go bush' we followed as cars turned off the roads and headed into the rough, down goat paths, sheep tracks and into the back of estates- it was driving that made you glad to be in a landrover!
Finally, we got back onto the road and carried on - a half an hour detour.

Later between Tsavo and Kilifi we came across similar roads, where the tarmac had been washed away by the rains and was just mud and ruts. As we went up and down the holes, wondering if this was really a c 2nd class road as depicted, we thought the bush road diversion from Mombassa was actually a better quality road.

Here we have a few baboons, quite clever chaps I wondered if they had ever thought of learning to fly helicopters.

Tsavo West in Kenya

Family group of elephant
We are staying in a safari camp, Kiliguni, in Tsavo West, between Nairobi and Malindi. Driving the landrover (a friend's) near the river we came on this group of elephants. They were quite nervous and at one time the supporting bull elephant made as if to charge us. This is owing to the number of poachers around. According to Daphne Sheldrick from the David Sheldrick charity 36,000 elephants are killed every year. As there are only 400,000 elephants in the whole of Africa this could lead to their destruction, which would be terrible.

Baby elephant suckling
Below is a baby elephant suckling his mother. Elephants have teats between the front legs like human-beings. They also have a long gestation period, of around 11 months, and look after their babies for several years. As the rains were about to come we saw a lot of baby elephants. I do hope they and their families will be safe from poachers.

This little gekko had a turquoise blue body and a head that sometimes looked orange, sometimes red. He was not particularly worried about the people around him.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Video on Olympic Policing

It is quite interesting in a gentle sort of way. Nothing happens, but I guess that makes it a good day in the police world!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Examiner's rating redone

Revalidated my examiner's rating with Leon Smith. EASA changes came in on 17th September 2012 and this has made a considerable difference to what an examiner can and cannot do. Ironically, moreover, this European attachment has made it harder to examine non-national students. In theory, to now test German, Russian, Dutch etc students as I have been doing for the last five or so years I should have a medical for each country! I do like travelling but really...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Glorious September

Bell 407GX taking off
Interesting the way the Bell 407GX takes off left skid low, and inevitably with a slight drift too. Cyclic correction, please.

There sounds to be a lot more things coming out of Bell Helicopters in the next year. If we are lucky the HAI in Las Vegas may hold a new Bell model .... and if it is the rumoured one I think that is very good news.
Keep watching this spot for more helicopter information.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Bell 407GX Test Flight

Bell 407GX
Flew the Bell 407GX for a test flight for Helicopter Life. We flew from the helipad behind Manston where HeliCharter is based. HeliCharter started in 2000, but just recently (it was announced at Farnborough) became the Bell dealer.
The flight was really wonderful. I am used to the Bell 206 but this is like a much more powerful LongRanger, with a really nice digital display and a FADEC. It has four blades and is wonderful to fly. There was such a lot of energy in the engine that we seldom used more than 60 torque.
We did lots of emergencies and there feels to be a good safety margin in everything. Rate of descent in auto is 2500 fpm though, so you want to keep a good interest in what is happening around you!
We also had a wonderful photoshoot over the white cliffs and local area. Huge thanks to Paul the photographer for his excellent work.
For more see the next edition of Helicopter Life.

Bell 206 taking part in the photoshoot

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Visiting the oil rigs from the Shetlands

Sikorsky S92 on the airport at Scatsca
Flew with Bristow Helicopter company out to an oil platform just off the Norwegian coast.
Bristow is based at Scatsca Airport on the mainland of the Shetlands - the mainland, incidentally, is another island, not connected to Scotland.
We are staying on Fetlar, a wonderful island with a population of 70 people. There are four or occasionally six children in the school and one school-teacher.
Bristow uses Sikorsky S92s and has some Eurocopter Pumas. However, it seems they find the S92 more reliable than the EC225, so most pilots prefer the Sikorsky.
On the platform
Other helicopter companies are based here including CHC and Bond Helicopters.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Wings 4 Warriors Charity

Mark Radcliffe, Alex Robotham, Matt Bryant and Steve Monteith
Went to see the charity Wings 4 Warriors today. An interesting charity started after a chance meeting by an amputee and a businessman which led to this charity that pays for severely injured servicemen to retrain as helicopter pilots. The charity started at the end of 2011 and so far has one commercial pilot and two private pilots, with one more training. Three of the students are ex-marine, the other one was in the army.
Mark Radcliffe, the director and motivator of the charity, stresses that the charity can only grow slowly as there is not the market for a large number of new helicopter pilots. For more see Helicopter Life September issue.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Olympics London 2012

Main stadium
Went to the Olympics today. We had tickets for the diving but it was as much to see the whole Olympic park and to feel the buzz of the atmosphere.
It was a very interesting experience. There were some amazing pieces of architecture - not least the 'singing building' - and some less effective pieces. There were wetlands and concrete cages, there were definite attempts to get the rural feel shining through. In the aquatic centre it was very easy to see what was going on in the swimming pool below, even from the gods.
See for yourself - here are the buildings.

Aquatic centre
The singing building
Although it has been disappointing that helicopters have not been well used in the games - and we could have done with one to take us home - there was a Squirrel watching the whole day. It could have been police or press and it certainly had a camera in its nose.

I lifted my thumb  hopefully but no dice.

Velodrome and singing egg

Friday, 20 July 2012

Exam time

Been doing a few LPCs recently in the H300 - these are yearly checks which have to be done on each type of helicopter a person flies.
This one was a private helistrip which was once part of Denham Airfield. The owner has built this nice little pad to get the H300 in and out of the hangar. Quite testing to land on, but we did bettter than the last person. When we picked it up it was nearly falling off the back of the pad!

He passed his test, but we did have a bit of a problem with the flight plan that you are supposed to file for any airfield within the Restricted Zone. Neither of us realised that you need to become an approved person before you can file a flight plan.

Instead we did the test within the Denham Local area - which was fine and used Airbox Aero on my ipad to make sure we did not go outside the specified area.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Farnborough day two

Day two at Farnborough. Weather was still not kind and we don't really have anything new, but none the less it was an enjoyable day. A press briefing (we don't have press conferences anymore, they are now called briefings and yet some are far from brief - not least the Russian 2 and three quarter hours!) or two, a drink here and there and lots of company information but nothing actually new. The nearest we got to something new was the handover over the Wildcat AW159 to the British government - however 6 have already been delivered. Still, why not. You have a show so let's have something to show.
Blades Extras
Blades did a really good show in the four Extras, even if a little long.

And, of course, it is always nice to see the odd former politician in employment.

Bruno Spagnolini and Geoff Hoon

Farnborough Day One

A red arrows and Vulcan flypast at Farnborough on a rather dull day. Luckily at this point it was not raining, but a most other points it was!

Sadly, this is a recession Farnborough. There is very little new stuff in the helicopter world and many of the big players have given only a token appearance.  One of the journalists reckoned this is the start of a slow decline because there is so little new technology.... let's hope he is wrong and that as the economy gets stronger we have a burst of new aviation dreams!

There were some interesting things though, and this included the Virgin space traveller. See more in Helicopter Life Autumn issue.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Photos cheeting

Took this cheetah in the dark in the Mara conservancy in Kenya, but now the photo insists on putting itself into a negative! Why? I suppose with time I will find out but....

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Last Day of the Festival of Speed

Festival of Speed logo
The last day of the Festival of Speed. It has been good in terms of the number of visitors - they say 40,000 the first day and 80,000 on the Saturday - although official figures are yet to be released.
In terms of aviation interest - that is different. There were a lot of helicopters flown in to the airfield, but the riders and pilots went in the VIP entrance, which does not go through the aviation exhibition entrance. Moreover, there were no signs to the aviation exhibition from the main exhibition and many of the visitors were actually unaware of its existence. Another year I think it would be better to have 1. an exhibitors extrance; 2. someway of getting those interested in aviation through the aviation exhibition; 3. Better signs.
Otherwise it was good. I sold a lot of copies of Atlantic Warriors, my book about ferrying a small airplane across the Atlantic, which I did in 1988. I sold a few subscriptions, and all the magazines were given out. Will I get some new advertisers? I hope so. The true of test of how useful a show is for the magazine is only discovered in the weeks following the show.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Other Oddities

Oryx Jet?
Someones sense of humour? The Oryx, as I remember it, was the South African version of the Super Puma, made because South Africa was ostracized by the rest of the world over their apartheid policy and so had to create their own war machines.

Day One Festival of Speed

Look closely and you will see two interesting things. This is not a SeaKing but a Commando! And it is Royal Navy, while the van is Royal Air Force - why? Mixed services or just that with the defence cuts they can only afford one vehicle each?

Festival of Speed set-up day

Aviation Festival of Speed
Today is the set-up day for the Festival of Speed at Goodwood. It is still possible to get tickets and come to the festival... should be a good one and the aviation side alone looks vibrant.
More when the show starts....

Tomorrow there is a moving Motor Show - no idea what it is but it sounds good and, whatever else, there is always a chance to buy a copy of Helicopter Life and get a flight in a helicopter.
Helicopter Life booth

Monday, 25 June 2012

Battersea Heliport changes hands

Barclays Battersea Heliport
Battersea Heliport was bought by the Ruben Brothers on February 23rd 2012. It remains an essential service for helicopters in London, and now has a longterm future.
It is now to be known as Barclays London Heliport owing to its new branding sponsor! Just hope they don't have the same kind of computer gliches as RBS or there will be helicopters all over the place : "..can the EC135 from Southend to Battersea now come in from Wales, please." Etc

It is now the only landing site in London with full ATC and fire and rescue service. It has had 470,000 movements since it opened in 1959.
Today, we had a meet the press day at Barclays London Heliport (BLH). I wonder if they changed the name so people flying into London didn't realise they were going to be stuffed out in Batteresea and nowhere near central London?

Anyway, they are 100% booked for Silverstone, and did more flights to Ascot than last year by 30%.
They are arranging a shuttle service from Oxford London Airport, which is also owned by the Reuben Brothers.
They are now intending to increase the amount of light helicopter traffic by reducing landing fees - up to 20% they said, although an exact price is not yet determined.
For the Olympics they are hoping to arrange a helicopter to boat service with a company Water Chariots to take punters right up to the Olympic Park. They are looking for a service which starts with a jet and ends with the Water Chariot.
See Helicopter Life magazine Autumn issue for more on the Barclays London Heliport and this site for this weeks Festival of Speed at Goodwood.
David Learmount with an EC135

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Pilots and photographers - Kenya

Marco Brighetti
Marco Brighetti, pilot and owner of KIDL Helicopters, flying between Karen in Nairobi and the Maasai Mara. He is in the AS350B3 Squirrel, also known as the Astar. This is one of the best helicopters for Kenya and it works well at high altitudes and low density. The Astar is a weight-carrier and can take five passengers - depending on their weights . Check out for sel-fly-hire flights in Kenya and see the Autumn issue of Helicopter Life for the story of our hands-on flight in Kenya across the sometimes barren, sometimes fertile plains and mountains to the tented bliss and animal heavens of the safari parks.
Leopard in a tree - Mara

Photographer photographed

Tented camps in Kenya

Ol Seki in the Maasai Mara
This is the tented camp of Ol Seki. It was originally started in 2005 and after a couple of different owners was bought in 2011 by the Hemingway Group, which also owns a place on the east coast of Kenya,Watamu.
Hemingway have made a lot of changes and upgraded the showers and decking.
This is a particularly popular site because the Wilderbeast migration from the Serengetti to the Maasai Mara comes through here in July to October.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Game animals

On Ol Seki conservancy there were loads of giraffe, while in Loisaba there were herds and herds of elephant. Flying the helicopter between both places means you get the best of both worlds.

Survival techniques in Kenya

Cutting the fruit of the cactus
At Loisaba, where they have a lot of community input, we learnt a few techniques to help us survive if the helicopter went down and we had to look after ourselves until we were found. This is eating the fruit of the cactus - you roll the fruit to get rid of the silent pains (the silky looking thorns) then cut through the hard skin and eat the flesh beneath. Yummy.

Lion tracks
We also learnt to track lions - see below.

Some of the lions are taking part in a survey! They wear radio collars and can be tracked using a large aerial. We were given a crash course in identifying individual lions.

Friday, 15 June 2012

On and up to the Middle of Kenya

Day three, we flew from Lake Naivasha to Nanyuki for re-fuelling. We then flew on to Loisaba in Laikipia... I will write more but after 5 hours of flying and learning and admiring I am actually wacked and have to get some sleep...

Kenya flying day two

Day two, jambo! We flew from the Mara across the plains and over the Aberdare Mountains to Lake Naivasha. A sensuous flight, which included flower farms, termite mounds and weaver birds making their nests. This is the bird breeding season so the widow bird males have long tails to attract the females and protect their nest, and the weaver birds fight for tree space and their women!
We flew across the swamps around Lake Naivasha and saw the hippos moving around in their paddling pools! Water buck ran away from their movement but were undiminished by ours.
The squirrel is a beautiful but (sorry) squirrelly machine to fly, until you get used to it. Since I am a left-footed anti-clockwise pilot I am used to one way of taking off and landing and my first take-off involved a lots of shilly shallying and nearly ended with us facing the bush 90 degrees to the left of the nose! They got better... I am learning. Each hour gets a little easier.

We stayed in Lake Naivasha at a really beautiful place alongside the lake.

kwa heri!

Self-fly hire in Kenya

AS350 taking off from Lake Naivasha
I have just spent the last six days in Kenya, helping Marco Brighetti publicise his new hands -on flying in Kenya helicopter company. This is a totally new concept; that a rated pilot can go out and hire a helicopter, with a safety pilot and navigator, and fly him or herself around Kenya in the AS350 Squirrel. The safety pilot is there to help, give advice and navigate if required. We actually had a very good Garmin, so navigation was easy, but the concept is totally brilliant.
In my case I flew from Brighetti's helipad in Karen in Nairobi across Lake Magadi to the Maasai Mara. It was incredible flying: high - not so warm - about 23 degrees but with a variety of heights from 6200 feet down to sea level and back up again. We flew through lakes with pink flamingos, over untenanted plains and for a while into 'softer' lands where the tribesmen have been persuaded into farming communities. The flying itself was wonderful: up and down escarpments, over lakes and dry land and then into hills. And the animals.. well - you can see things from a helicopter you would not see from any other transport.
An elephant family in the Mara
Cheetah seen on a night drive
We stayed the night at the tented camp of Ol Seki in the Mara conservancy and the next day flew into the triangle to visit the Maasai Mara game reserve.
In the evening, we left the tented camp and went into the bush on a landrover to see game. We spotted many of the big five but the real piece de resistance was after sun-downers when the wardens were out with their lights and we spotted a cheetah ready to hunt.

The cheetah actually had three attempts to catch game - all unsuccessful but all witnessed by us and wow - what a change from flying around the circuit at Biggin Hill!