Pilots of the Air Waves, Portrush (by Simon Johnson)
Once again we were delighted when Air Waves, Portrush invited us to take the Huey and the Loach to their air show at the beginning of September. It has been a popular event amongst the team. As with previous years, the plan was to fly over to Causeway on the Friday in readiness for the two displays on the Saturday and Sunday culminating with the ‘Poppy drop’ after the air show had officially finished.
This year saw yet another team taking to skies. Due to previous arrangements Rob had to decline with Neil being the Huey pilot with Phil Co-piloting. Dick was to fly the Loach with me in the left seat. So the team was organised.
Friday saw Phil, Dick and I meeting at the hangar to then travel to Blackpool Airport to meet Neil at Bond’s for us to pick up our survival suits. All kitted we headed back to the hangar. Both aircraft had been fully fuelled for the flight to Newtownards, so that was done. Aircrafts checked we donned the survival suits, never any easy task but after much huffing and puffing we were suited and booted. Not the most elegant of attire as the photograph shows!
It was decided that our preference was to fly up the coast over land all the way to Stranraer before heading out over the sea to Northern Ireland. We lifted in to the Lancashire sky a little after midday and turned north. Neil and Phil took the lead with the Huey and dealing with the radio traffic with Air Traffic. We made good progress up past Lancaster to head out across Morecambe Bay and the Lakes beyond. Avoiding the Barrow shipyards we headed north flying to the east of the restricted zone around Sellafield. We crossed over the coast at Whitehaven to fly across the Solway Firth to Kirkcudbright before turning west. Over the point of Whithorn and on to Port Logan before striking out to Northern Ireland and Newtownards.
We arrived around 13.45 pleased to have made it to the mainland. We refuelled the Huey but the Loach still had plenty of fuel on board. We decided to remove the survival suits as they are so uncomfortable to fly in, not to mention bulky and cumbersome and is particularly awkward in the Loach which at the best of times is tight for space. We had a drink of tea and had a bite to eat before climbing aboard for our final leg to Causeway.
From Newtownards we headed back out to the coast and north all the while looking for a clear route to take us west. The weather was turning decidedly murky. We could see waves of bad weather including rain heading west but to the north of us. Neil decided to press on up the coast rather than turning west over land. Past Larne, Ballygalley, Carnlough, Cushendun, Torr. Turning west we could see the weather from the north was deteriorating still further. Past Balleycastle and Ballintoy Neil called over the radio that he was looking for a suitable field to land in. We touched down in afield to the north of the Causeway Road west of Dunseverick where we sat the worst of the rain out. After an hour we were beginning to run out of time and more importantly day light. There was a break in the weather and Dick and I left Huey and climbed into the Loach ready to lift at a moment’s notice. We could see that the brightness was beginning to dim so Dick took the decision to crank. Hearing the whine of the Loach firing up Phil untied the Hueys rotors and jumped in. Soon 509 came to life as Neil followed our lead.
We lifted into the air and turned and pointed our noses south west into clearer and cleaner air. Soon heading past Bushmills we made our course to fly south of Ballybogey we could see the very distinctive Newbridge Road running SE/NW with the railway in the distance. Beyond the railway lay the River Bann and the grass strip of Causeway. Neil called Causeway on the radio and Mark Holmes, owner and manager of the Adelphi Hotel in Portrush where we would be staying, responded giving us clearance to land at our discretion. Dick approached the strip and headed to the grass just outside the hangars giving Neil plenty of room behind us to put the Huey down.
We unloaded our gear and packed it into the cars waiting to take us to pick up the hire cars. We secured the rotors and put the engine and pitot covers on and locked both machines. No sooner we had done that and the heavens opened again, we had made it just in the nick of time. We picked up the hire cars and headed to Portrush. On route Mark took Phil and I on a recce of a location he wanted us to have a look at, by the time we arrived at the hotel the others had already checked in.
We met up with many a familiar face of the other display pilots staying at the hotel. Conversation was sometimes hard to conduct due to the level of noise from everyone talking at the same time. After a much needed meal we all retired for an early night.
Up and breakfasted we headed for the pilots briefing. The weather report wasn’t bad nor was it brilliant but it would do. As per previous years we were going to land the Huey and Loach on the tennis courts as a static display, though this time after they had done their display. This was because the tennis courts were full with other helicopters including a Royal Navy Seaking, a Bell Griffin 412 and a couple of Gazelles. Dick and Neil headed off to Causeway to prepare the two helicopters whilst Phil and I headed off down the crowd line as we had several tasks to do. We were asked to go to the VIP tent and a have a chat to some of the aircraft enthusiasts who had already arrived, which we did and had a good chat to several of them. We then went in search of the Press room and the commentary point. We found both after quite a long walk. Phil was going to talk to George Bacon about the Huey and the Loach during his commentary on their display. I left Phil at the commentary point and headed back to the Press room as the local radio station wanted to record an interview about the Vietnam Veteran aircraft. After the interview I headed up to the tennis courts to await the arrival of the two helicopters.
The large tennis court did not have as many helicopters on the ground as we had expected, but the small courts were empty as we had been promised. I saw part of the display but heard more of it. Eventually the two machines appeared from behind the buildings and made their approach to land. Everything secured the waiting enthusiasts were allowed in. We were there for three hours before the area was made secure for the Huey and Loach to return to Causeway. I headed back to the hotel and waited the return of the rest of the team.
Sunday dawned rather overcast with the forecast saying it would brighten up later on. I headed off to the tennis courts to make sure all was good for the arrival this time of the Huey and Loach before their display time. They were also carrying some VIP guests namely the Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Councillor Michelle Knight-McQuillan. As per the previous day the public came to have a look at all the helicopters on the courts including of course the Huey and Loach. Half an hour before the display time the area was once again made secure and Phil and I departed down the crowd line, Phil was heading to the commentary point and I was off to a pre-arranged vantage point from which to do some filming. This was to be the first time in a long time I was going to see both helicopters flying their displays together. I must say I did enjoy it, not that I’m biased. Phil came up from the commentary point and we walked back to the courts to help prepare the Huey for her next task.
Terry had arrived with his bags of poppies which we decanted into two black dustbins. The bins in turn were secured to the Huey using lengths of rope and the tie down loops. The sideways bench seat on the co-pilots side were tied in the upright position and the forward facing single seat was turned to look sideways. Neil was flying the Huey with Phil in charge of sprinkling the poppies out of the side. Terry was also on board to help with the bulky dustbins.
The call came over the radio asking the Huey to lift and to take up its holding position to the east of Portrush just off the coast from the golf course. Dick and I were in the Loach and we lifted at the same time. The Huey turned east and we turned west to then head south to Causeway.
Dick and I landed on and prepared to put fuel into the Loach. Whilst we were topping up the tanks we heard the Huey approaching. One the ground we moved the refueller to put the remainder of the fuel into the enormous 209 gallon tanks. We were running slightly behind schedule so we were soon in the air and this time flying a straight line course to Newtownards. 35 minutes later we were on the ground and filling up the thirsty Huey’s tanks yet again. We all pulled on our survival suits and climbed back on board for our final leg back to Wesham.
The flight back was uneventful and somewhat quicker than our flight out due to having the wind blowing from behind and giving us a helping hand. Dick landed the Loach onto it trolley and Stuart who was waiting for us opened the hangar door and got the tractor out to pull it into the hangar. The Huey’s rotors were tied down in the horizontal position and the ground handling wheels attached. In no time at all both aircraft were secured back in the hangar bringing to an end another enjoyable trip to Portrush, Northern Ireland for Air Waves 2015.
Thank you to everyone who made our visit and display such an enjoyable one.