Every now and again we receive a request that really gets our attention. One such request was from a small school not far from our base at Wesham. The request also happened to coincide with training requirements of the crew so it was agreed we would go ‘back to school’.
The request had come from Vicki Wrathall one of the teachers at Kirkland & Catterall St.Helen's C of E Primary School. Vicki’s Y2/3 pupils along with fellow teacher Mrs Prest’s Y1/2 pupils had decided they wanted to do a project on ‘transport’ so she set about trying to bring different elements into the children’s research. She contacted local vehicle owners clubs to bring along a selection of vehicles to the school.
She also thought that it might be possible to bring something along that wasn’t land based and bring a whole new dimension to the lesson. The Huey came to mind as she is a family friend of the Connolly household and asked on the off chance whether it would be possible for Phil to fly and land the Huey in the school field. Phil agreed and so plans were made by Becky liaising with Vicki/the school for this rather unusual visit.
All the necessary requests were put in to the various governing bodies and permissions granted. A full risk assessment was made along with health and safety. The Sunday before, Phil and I went along to the school for a look at the layout and to check out the chosen landing site. We had studied the aerial pictures on Google but you really need to get on the ground to get a true idea of what you can expect.
We checked the ground for firmness and looked at natural barriers to separate the helicopter from those on the ground during landing and take-off. We found the ideal site in the field at the back of the playground. (I found out as I was removing the marker posts on the ‘Transport Mania’ day that this is the planned site of a garden for the school). Happy with what we saw we were able to make a more detailed plan for approach and departure.
The weather forecast for the Wednesday was not too bad and certainly looked good for flying. It was decided that Becky and I would drive to the school in the MUTT and act as the ground crew. Phil and Neil would fly with Stuart from Wesham to Catterall. They did not fly a direct route as they wanted to get more training/flying time in as the weather was ideal and more importantly they were under strict instructions from Becky not to fly in before 10.25 am so that the children could all be waiting!
Becky and I arrived at the school in good time and parked ‘Mutley’ in the playground and put out the information sheet where it could be read by the children. Shortly after our arrival more vehicles arrived for the children to study (the Ginetta G50 racing car was a very popular arrival as all the children thought it looked like it was out of ‘Cars’ the Disney Movie). The previous week they had had the chance to take a closer look at another group of vehicles including a Fire Engine.
Becky and I then walked the landing field to clear the area of anything that might be thrown up by the Huey’s downwash and to check wind direction on the ground. As we were doing that we heard the distinctive thump of the Huey’s rotors, the sound was being carried by the westerly breeze. About ten minutes later we got the call from Neil on the ground to air radio explaining what they were doing and their estimated time of landing. As we were walking the field the pupils were being brought out of the classrooms and lined up outside the school.
There was a very tangible feeling of excitement in the air. The level of excitement grew by the minute as the arrival time grew nearer. It wasn’t just the children; the teachers admitted that the excitement was getting to them as well. Becky then quickly had a word with everyone about the shutdown procedure and that only when the rotor blades had been secured and that I had received permission from the Pilot would they be allowed a closer look. No sooner had she finished talking I heard the distant sound of the Huey approaching.
Phil and Neil had flown initially east from Wesham following the M55 motorway, to the south of the school. They continued east and north to Beacon Fell before heading west and slightly to the north of Catterall. This meant that the sound of their approach would not be heard too soon due to the wind carrying the sound away from the school adding to the anticipation on the ground!
Mrs Price, the Headteacher, was the first of the staff to hear the Huey. She asked the children to listen out and see if they could work out where it was coming from and could they see the helicopter. On hearing the sound of the rotor blades they all began to look around them. The excitement grew and the children’s voices were raised, whilst jumping up and down and pointing in the direction they thought the Huey was approaching from. Screams went out when they spotted the Huey to the north through the trees as it flew south over the tree tops for its landing in the field.
Becky stood in her high visibility jacket to identify the landing spot and wind direction whilst I filmed their arrival. Happy with what I had got I then went out in to the field to guide them in to where they were to land 509. As Phil made his final approach spontaneous applause broke out and could be heard above the shrieks of delight and the sound of the blades cutting deep and heavy into the morning air. This had to be the best, and loudest, welcome Huey had ever received.
Once on the ground Phil and Neil went through the shutdown procedure then whilst the rotors were being tied down Phil and Neil went to say hello to the waiting pupils and teachers.
Shortly after, the first group of school children were escorted out to the helicopter. Neil started to talk to them about 509 and her history and to explain her role during the war in Vietnam. Neil has a very natural and easy manner with children and he had them hanging on his every word. After the talk about the Huey the children were eager to ask questions which came thick and fast.
All of the questions had obviously had a lot of thought put in to them wanting to learn as much as possible for their school project; Neil and the rest of us were pleasantly surprised by some of the questions asked. Neil took it all in his stride and the children appreciated the answers they got. All, of course, wanted to sit in the back of the Huey and take a closer look at the M60 machine gun. Becky had appointed herself ‘Chief giver out of Huey stickers’ ….. anyone would have thought she was on a piece rate with the number she gave out but her mission was to ensure that every child had a sticker!!
Whilst one group of children were with the helicopter the other groups were looking at the vehicles parked on their play ground. There was Mutley, a Mini Moke (made famous by the Prisoner TV series) and a Ginetta racing car. The owner of the latter demonstrated its power for the children by spinning its wheels and doing a couple of doughnuts. The playground now has some new black rings…… I’m sure they will come up with a new game to make the most of their new markings!!
No sooner than we had started and the last group of children had asked their questions, than it was time for the children’s lunch and time for Phil and Neil to fly 509 back to Wesham. This time much to the surprise of Becky she was to fly home with them (not the bravest of flyers so has to be told at the last minute!) and Stuart was driving back with me in the MUTT (poor Stuart).
Once everyone was back in the school grounds on the other side of the hedge we untied the rotors and Phil and Neil lit the fire and brought the Huey up to speed and its operating temperatures and pressures. There was one more surprise to be sprung on the children and that was to make it look like their Headteacher and Miss Wrathall were going to fly out in the Huey. We took them out to the helicopter, opened the door and they jumped in, waving to the children all the while. We closed the door and then opened the other side which the children couldn’t see so they could get hop straight out again. I escorted them safely away from the helicopter, crouching below the hedge line and hid them out of sight.
509 lifted into the air and headed off for home. The children were totally unaware that their two teachers were still on the ground so got a surprise when they emerged from the field by the gate. With the sound of the Huey fading into the distance the children went back inside for their lunch excitedly chattering away about what they had just seen.
It was a day we know the children will talk about for a long time and one we won’t forget in a hurry. It was a delight to see their reaction to all the vehicles that had turned up. They were superbly behaved; a credit to the school and their parents.
A big thank you to the School, Staff and especially the Pupils for inviting Huey 509 and crew to attend their ‘Transport Mania’ Day and for sending their kind messages to our Guestbook Page.
To see the brilliant pictures and thank you cards received from the children, please click here