A Day In The Park (by Simon Johnson – Crew Master)
We were contacted by the organisers of Newton le Willows Town Show asking if we would be able to fly the Huey and the Loach in to be on static display. The event is organised to help bring the community of Newton le Willows together and to celebrate the town in which everybody lives. There were craft stalls, a fairground, demonstrations by local groups covering all kinds of activities, classic cars, rally cars - there really was everything to appeal to everybody.
The request went out for availability of the crew and Jo, Nina and myself undertook Ground Crew duties taking the motorhome/shop by road with Dick piloting the Loach with Stuart as Flight Crew and Phil piloting the Huey with Daz as Flight Crew.
As always leading up to an event we monitor the weather and it wasn’t looking too good, but as it was a relatively short flight there was a good chance of finding a window of opportunity if the weather didn’t pick up entirely. Jo picked Nina and I up from junction 31 of the M6 and we carried on to Mesnes Park in Newton le Willows. With it being a relatively early start the traffic wasn’t bad at all and we were soon pulling off the M6 and heading down off the A580 to the home town of Rick Astley (fact fans!). The park was found and no sooner had we pulled up, Sev Gomez-Aspron, the Organiser, made himself known to us.
We discussed the arrangements for the arrival of the two helicopters and his team were briefed. The three of us did a walk of the field and checked it for anything that might cause a problem during landing. We were in constant contact with Phil at the hangar giving him weather updates from where we were and he would keep us up to date with the situation at base.
The arrival time was planned for 1030 hrs so the lift time from Wesham was going to be around 1000 hrs. I had the ground to air radio and the relevant frequencies so I could listen in to the ‘Vietnam pair’ talking to the Air Traffic on route. I picked up Dick talking to Manchester so I knew they were on their way. Stewards were dispatched to the perimeter to make sure no-one encroached on the landing site.
Shortly before 1030 hrs the anticipation levels rose as the sound of Huey509 could be heard in the distance. All eyes were straining then the shout went up from eagle-eyed Stuart and we all looked in the direction of his outstretched finger. I called on the radio to say we had a visual on them and gave them an indication of the conditions on the ground. Dick acknowledged and continued his approach. They flew around to the south of the site to get a visual on me and to check the wind direction as they knew that I would be standing with my back to the wind. There were several flags and banners which were good visual indicators as well. Dick turned the Loach towards me and started his descent following my guide. At the same time Phil had also come down to a low hover over the back of the playing field and awaited directions from me. With Dick on the ground, I walked over to the spot I wanted Phil to put the Huey down. Following my hand signals he approached slowly, far enough away from the Loach not to cause Dick a problem with the downdraught.
Now both helicopters were on the ground we had to wait for the engines to cool down and then the rotors to stop.
(Photo with kind permission of Jason Kerner)
Rotors secured the barriers were put in place and the crowd moved forwards. The morning had started grey and it was looking decidedly like it would rain. Phil had been sitting the rain out at Wesham but had a break long enough to get airborne, being told by the Air Traffic at Blackpool that there was a window of opportunity. Not long after the landing the rain did indeed arrive and showed no sign of moving on. It was rain and short periods of dry followed by more rain which unfortunately was the pattern for the day but that certainly didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the local community.
Not deterred by the weather the crowds came and went throughout the day. Many had arrived early to see our aircraft land so when the rain arrived they stayed. They came over to say hello and have a chat about the two machines whilst sheltering under the awning of the motor home. We didn’t set the shop up as we felt the shelter of the awning was a better use of space.
We monitored the weather which was getting better later on into the afternoon. Our departure time was around 1700 hrs. The time arrived and the weather had improved so once again the stewards moved the crowds back and the barriers were removed from around the helicopters.
The Flight Crew for the return journey climbed aboard and made ready. The perimeter of the field was packed with onlookers; many having returned especially to see us depart. Happy the area was safe Phil and Dick were given the all clear to start up. The Loach came to life first sound like a very big blow torch. The Huey’s turbine whistled and the mighty blades started their slow beating of the air. The pace gathered speed as the Lycoming took over from the starter motor to get the blades up to speed. By this time the Loach was already up to speed and the pre-take off checks were made.
Phil went through his final checks and they both prepared to pull pitch. Dick rose majestically first, he made a final check of the controls before climbing higher and turning away from the site. Phil pulled pitch and gently turn the Huey around to then climb and nose over, using the open expanse of the field.
(Photo with kind permission of Jason Kerner) (Photo with kind permission of Jason Kerner)
Off safely the Huey and Loach began their return to base. We packed up the motor home and set off back up the M6.
Many thanks to Newton-le-Willows Town Show Organisers as all in all it was a great event which was well supported and we were made very welcome. It was such a shame the weather couldn’t have been kinder but that is an English summer for you.