G'day! and welcome to my blog's new home. I'd like to say a big 'cheers mate' to Clay for building me such a fabulous new house.

Here you will find my articles and blogs from the sky documenting my aerial adventure across Australia, and sometimes - when I'm very lucky - around the world!

Lots of airyplanes, plenty of new shoes and hopefully many undiscovered places.

Blue skies,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Whole New Attitude

Since my very first TIF, back in 2010, I've dreamt of learning to fly helicopters. Even though I would have to grow another limb to gain the coordination necessary to fly a chopper, I've salivated over helicopters ever since, even going as far as applying for a conversion scholarship.

Although sometimes even an optimist has to put dreams in the 'save for much later' basket, it doesn't stop one seeking out time in other peoples' magnificent machines. Imagine my good luck, then, when the lovely Bas Scheffers of OzRunways 'broke the news' that I would be returning to Bankstown from Ausfly in an R44. Poor me.

Neil Weste is part of the OZRunways success team,  a Cirrus AND R44 owner, and extremely generous to boot. A helicopter pilot before he was fixed wing, I sense Neil's real passion is with chopper flying and as we begin the start ups for departure from Narromine, he has that look I know so well.

A Whole New Attitude
As I sit there, transfixed while Neil speaks the language of chopper, watching gauges unfamiliar to me and twisting levers I don't have, we begin the magic (or the magimix, as an old instructor used to call helicopters) of hovering. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it really does feel like magic. I realise this illustrates my scant knowledge of helicopter aerodynamics, but I'm going to risk looking light-headed (again) and simply say - "wow!" You don't know you're flying until you're taking off vertically and floating along to the runway - look no taxiways for me! - to take off in a glass bubble.  It really is the most sophisticated form of flight. It is, however, a little slower, but in my mind, certainly on this trip, a 100 knot cruise only furthered my enjoyment of the scenery, above which we remained low enough to see people's washing on their lines. Thankfully, Neil only had one set of controls fitted, so he wasn't obliged to give me any 'hands on time' which was (frankly) a bit of a relief, as I remembered the 'pat your head and rub your stomach' technique of keeping everything upright and stable from my TIF.

After a blissful hour's flight, peppered with my shortfire questions to the very patient Neil, we landed at Cessnock for fuel. Although the aerodrome was as busy as a fly-in day (who says General Aviation is dead?) we didn't have to worry about joining circuits at 1000ft. Helicopters have their own circuit height, and as we were the only one there, it was straight down onto the grass for us. As Neil shut down, I offered to go and fetch coffee. Upon my return, I spied a fabulous old Bonanza (which the owner wouldn't sell, alas) as well as SkyThrills pilots Jodie and Jeremy, in their Decathlon and newly acquired Nanchang.

After refuelling, with both coffee and Avgas, we departed and headed coastal for the most scenic and stunning part of the trip. Neil resides on Lake Macquarie - an area I've visited by road, but is most certainly best seen by air. As we did a touch-and-go on his front lawn (which was really no bigger than a handkerchief!) I realised this amazing area, with houses perched on the side of the lake, is something of a residential secret (until now!) You really wouldn't know it was here, in all its hidden magnificence, unless you were looking for it.

As we continued coastal at 500 ft, we spotted a whale. I sighed in perfect contentment, and started mentally selling my shoes and frocks to save up for chopper lessons. Neil, however, had saved the piece de resistance for last. "How'd you fancy a harbour scenic?" he asked. Nodding furiously, he took my 'yes' and went on to say, "this will be quite different from a fixed wing scenic."

It turns out, to my utter astonishment, that choppers don't need clearance into the harbour. Not only THAT, they get to fly at 500ft, just skimming the harbour bridge AND are allowed west of the bridge, down the Parramatta river all the way to Bankstown. I don't know what kind of special place helicopter pilots have in the 'can do' drawer at CASA, but this was beyond amazing. No wonder Sydney chopper pilots look so damn smug!
Our landing at Bankstown was an eye-opener, too, with the chopper circuit being quite busy. "Choppers West" and other inbound points I'd heard on the radio, but never really acknowledged, became a reality as we headed for 'the main pad'. After the pad, we danced over to Andrew's hangar, where he and his son came out to gush over the R44. As I alighted the fabulous machine, I felt like a movie-star, giddy with excitement, privileged in experiencing something only a very few are allowed. 

Once again, I reminded myself that while I may not have fallen into the most well-paid profession in the world, I get to fly in (and on) the most amazing machines in the world and am lucky to meet the most fabulous people.

And, this time, when asked if I enjoyed the flight, I didn't answer, "oh my! The EARTH moved!"
Which is progress.


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  2. You'll have done your Rotary Conversion by the time you take us on the harbour Scenic in Feb ... won't you!!?? ;-)