Another VanLifeDiary post that doesn’t directly involve the van but she is still being rebuilt and we have lots of adventures planed for her in a few weeks time. However, for today’s post we first need to skip back to Christmas morning before getting to the helicopter lesson.
We were sat on the floor in the living room, still wearing our pyjamas and sporting messy hair when Louise gave me my Christmas card. Needless to say I was suspicious when she started filming so I knew something was up!
I opened up the card and read the lines “Please don’t hate me, I love you. You can do this” which filled me with an air of both excitement and terror. The next page was hiding something. It was a card with a picture of a helicopter on it and on the inside of that card, the realisation that Louise had bought me a helicopter lesson in Yorkshire!
Fear, nervousness, excitement and realisation hit one at a time followed by some swearing. I was shocked and had no idea that a helicopter lesson in Yorkshire would even be something Louise would have thought about!
Helicopter Lesson Day
Having had the flight cancelled once already due to storm Brendon, I was pleased in the morning that the flight was still on today – so far! I rang up at 9am to check and they said it looked good so come along for 1pm. I had all the camera gear set up ready to go but somehow lost the chest harness for the go pro somewhere – no clues… it is in the house somewhere! I managed to lengthen the head harness to make it fit.
We had a light lunch and set off in the beautiful sunshine and blue skies, got fuel and headed towards Leeds/Bradford airport. Not even halfway there and all of a sudden this wall of cloud hit us. It was like a scene from a movie, where the tornado lands and kicks up a skirt of dust, only this is cloud and threatens to halt the experience.
Nervously we drive on, hoping to exit the cloud and leave it behind us and after a few miles we seems to have passed the worst of it. Low cloud is still evident but the visibility is much better. I get more nervous every mile we travel. It isn’t more than about an hour until we reach the destination of Leeds, Yorkshire for the days helicopter lesson. I have never even been in a helicopter and lots of ‘What if’s’ are buzzing around my head.
Low Cloud could stop the helicopter lesson.
We check in at HeliJet Aviation and take a seat in the conservatory, large windows looking out over the field and a few helicopters dotted around the edges. The cloud seems to have congregated over the helipad and I don’t know whether to be happy that it might get cancelled again or if having to wait a 3rd time would just drag out the agony.
A gentleman in overalls goes out and checks the helicopter over. He fills her up with fuel as Louise and I discuss whether it’s a positive sign. We watch him talk to the control tower on the radio before walking towards the conservatory doors.
“I doubt Leeds will let us fly” he says as I wait nervously for the lesson. The cloud level is too low. We joke that it was blue sky at home but this man is serious. “Well we are not there are we! Besides – we are just over the road from Leeds airport”. It’s all business here. No messing around and no sense of humour, something I am learning about Yorkshire inhabitants.
I wander around the conservatory – may as well take some pictures while we are here as it looks like we will be sent packing when the pilot appears again. I get a small lecture on using my phone, I am here to fly not take video so I quickly throw my phone to Louise and wish I could take off the go pro but it’s under a hoodie and I don’t want to make him wait.
His sharp tone puts me on edge and I want to run away but he said we can fly if we go quick. I am marched upstairs to a replica helicopter and am told to sit down and not interrupt him when he is talking – Questions at the end. He runs through his checklist with his broad Yorkshire accent pointing to dials and I can only assume explaining what they do but I can’t follow him that quick.
I catch what I think are the important bits, hold the bar but not tight. Don’t press the pedals unless told to. Keep the compass on the horizon and he will keep the chopper in the air. He tells me the route we are taking but it doesn’t mean a thing to me as I am not familiar with the geography here yet. I am too scared to ask him any questions at the end and decide to hold my breath and trust he will keep me alive.
Hellicopter, Check. Lesson, Check.
Marched down the stairs and shuffled outside I am starting to regret this decision but I understand that he is making sure I am listening and respecting the danger of learning to fly. This isn’t something that I can take for granted. We all know how dangerous this is and it is his job to make sure I understand, after all he is putting his life in my hands too.
Once in the helicopter the health and safety instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency are recited by heart as if a national anthem. He tells me to put on the headphones and makes sure we can hear each other. He turns on the chopper and the blades start to turn quicker and quicker. Once at speed, the pilot explains that there is a lever which turns the blades, it is this that will push the vessel upwards as the force of air is pushed downwards.
He lifts the helicopter and after a quick pose for the camera, he turns us around and shoots us off over the fields. It is only after we are in the air that he seems to settle and relax, making me see that he is actually ok. I realise as long as I do as he says we will have a laugh. He points out the location he wants me to head towards, shows me once more how to steer and lets me loose on the controls. I am flying! I am actually flying the helicopter!
Learning to fly
The helicopter has been adapted for dual controls and the steering is controlled by a T bar shaped joystick. Both of us can hold it at the same time meaning that he can correct any movements required quickly. It isn’t like the movies at all. No sudden sweeping movements and over exaggerated actions to move the helicopter. In fact it is quite the opposite. With my right hand resting on my lap holding the bar, I only need to move it within an inch circle to control the direction of the helicopter. This lesson has taught me so much about the reality of flying a helicopter already.
“Can you see that large pile of rocks sticking out of the ground? That’s Craggy Rock. I want you to fly us to the left of that rock and then turn right and past that farm on the horizon”. I have full control of the steering and keep her steady. It’s a straight line so if I keep my hand perfectly still, we should be ok.
As we pass Craggy rock he indicated to move the bar to the right and tells me to lean in with the craft. I fight my body that wants to stay upright and move left but manage to turn, watching the horizon and trying to keep us level. The cloud is low today and we need to be careful. We are flying just underneath it for most of the lesson and the Pilot is on constant contact with Air traffic Control about our location and visability.
I spot a viaduct of some sorts out of my window and make a mental note to try and find it again on land to visit. It is a large bridge, glowing yellow in the sun that has started to peak out of a cloud. Lots of little arches support the structure and the pilot indicates that he wants me to fly over the idle of it. I manage to centre the helicopter directly in the middle of the bridge and watch my lines as we fly over it. It looks like a railway line on top.
A lesson on hovering a helicopter
Once back at the heliport, he brings us in and lands us in the middle of the field. He says that I did very well for a first timer and that he would like me to have a go at hovering. With such ease he lifts the metal bird up and shows me just how easy it is. It is all about keeping her from spinning. He shows me that with the down draft from the blades, the chopper automatically wants to spin the other way and that the art of hovering is all about counteracting that.
The pilot gets her in position for me and tells me that when he lets go I will feel some kick back and it is my job to keep her steady. No pressure… He releases his hand slightly and I feel the force of the helicopter wanting to spin. I counteract and for a few seconds all is going well. Suddenly she wobbles and I try to balance her out but it is so hard. The nose tips down and then swings up before going from side to side. My calm co piolet said well done for a first attempt and takes control. He swings her round in a circle bringing her back to the correct position before handing over for a 2nd and third attempt. Very slow improvement was made but he said after flying for about 20 hours it gets easier to do.
Louise gets a treat
The whole time we had been out here Louise was standing outside in the cold and wind videoing my helicopter lesson. My brave soldier endured biting winds to film me so my pilot, now relaxed and enjoying the ability to show off a bit, decided to treat Louise to a heart attack, on the house of course! He took us up along the treeline to gain some speed and then made a bee line for her. We came in low, straight towards her and the main building before climbing overhead, banking right and bringing her back down for another training session.
In the last session I was allowed to gently use the foot pedals. A bit like driving a car, it centres on clutch control for this section. He showed me how to turn the helicopter using just the pedals for this lesson and then let me have a go. Getting her to start turning was fun but getting her to stop on a mark was harder. I managed the first 3 compass points but fudged the last one as I stopped too early and she started to swing back around the wrong way.
A few attempts at landing the hovering helicopter were allowed and I managed to do them very gently. The pilot gave a last hurrah for Louise by swinging the helicopter around on our way to the last landing spot and once down we were able to start the proceedings for our exit. You can not get out of the aircraft until the piolet lets you out. As far as a cheap haircut goes, I think I would rather pay more than lose the top of my head, thank you.
Once the rotors had come to a complete stop, we were allowed to disembark sharing a celebratory hug. Once we were in the aircraft he really did relax and the brash Yorkshire Sargent became a happy and relaxed mentor. He has been flying a helicopter for 30 years and giving lessons is a joy to him. He wants to share his passion and knowledge but wont settle for time wasters or mucking about.
What an adventure
Here is the video of the experience!
I am so glad I had this opportunity. I had mentioned one lunch time about 2 years ago that I hadn’t been in a helicopter and Louise had remembered that. She keeps a diary and anytime I mention wanting to do something, she writes it down and tries to make it happen. I feel so lucky.
If you get the chance to fly a helicopter, do it! It is incredible to be able to fly up, down, left or right. I felt like a bird. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Fun Fact, Carol Vorderman is a trained helicopter pilot as is Noel Edmonds, James May, Sir David Jason and James Blunt!
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