Call to Arms! - by Crewmaster Simon Johnson July 2014.
Every June around the country there are events organised to highlight our Armed Forces and support the various charities that help serving and ex servicemen and women alike. A few months back we were approached by the Skelmersdale Ex Services Association asking if we could attend a brand new event on the 29th June. Initially they just wanted to book Huey 509 but after a meeting with the organisers, they decided that they would like Loach 011 too.
Skelmersdale is local to us so it was easily done in a day, with a flying time of about 15 minutes perhaps 20. It was also agreed we could take the Huey shop with us as it would be an extra attraction for those going to the event to be able to come along and chat to the crew. On the day Jo drove the motor home with myself and Nina on board. We set off just before 0800 hrs and arrived on site just before 0900 hrs. The playing fields were busy with stalls being set up and the football pitches being prepared for the day’s exhibition matches. We parked the van a safe distance from where we were going to land the two helicopters. Once parked we set about checking the landing site and chose a suitable spot, in the centre of the Blaguegate playing fields where the event was being held. It had been requested that the aircraft arrive no later than 1000 hrs as there was to be a parade from the War Memorial to the playing fields of ex servicemen led by the Pipes and Drums of the Liverpool Scottish.
Now that was a bit of a concern as our arrival times tend to be, how shall I put this.... “fluid”. Phil was to fly 509 with Stuart whilst Dick was flying the Loach single handed. Their lift time was to be 0900 hrs so landing time would be 0915/0920 hrs all things being equal. I was listening to the comms radio and had heard Phil talking to Blackpool airport so I knew they were airborne and from that I had an idea that their touchdown would be around 0940 hrs. I was stood in the centre of the field with my orange jacket on for ease of recognition. Phil called me on the radio asking for wind direction and strength and to make sure the field was clear. As I was talking to Phil the cry went out that the Huey could be heard and not long after that the aircraft had been spotted.
The Huey was in the lead with the Loach tucked in behind, getting used to formation flying. They were approaching from the North and planned to fly down the western edge of the playing fields and turn east just south of my position and before the motorway then turn north to head towards me. There was a cable to clear that ran across the field so a high approach was needed. Once the cable was cleared Phil began to lower the collective and to ease back on the cyclic to bring the mighty 509 to a hover. Dick mimicked Phil's actions and as I guided Phil down to the ground Dick stayed in the hover until I guided him forwards to land him in line with the Huey.
By now the field was extremely busy with people finishing off their stalls and exhibits. Once the blades had stopped and were secured, Jo put the motor home in place and we began to set the shop up. The weather was good so only the awning was needed which made life much easier. The West Lancashire area of the Military Vehicle Trust had arrived earlier with a selection of vehicles including two World War Two Jeeps and an array of ex military Land Rovers including the mighty 101, and an Austin Champ along with an impressive collection of weapons (which are always extremely popular). From there on in we were talking to all those who came up for a closer look - it was nonstop all day. The most common question was that they had heard the Huey fly in, so what time would it be taking off?
The shop did a brisk trade throughout the day. Baseball caps seemed to be the most popular, the sun shining might have had something to do with that as it was really rather strong when it was out. We were visited by various dignitaries including the organisers who were really pleased with our attendance and also the Lady Mayor who insisted on having her photograph taken with the Huey.
As five o'clock drew nearer we started pack up the shop and to prepare the two helicopters for departure. As we were removing the arsenal of weapons from them the MVT guys were taking down their tent and packing up the weapons. Vehicles and people were moved back to a safe distance.
Phil was flying the Huey and I was jumping in the front left hand seat. Dick would have Nina on board for his return flight. Stuart and Jo would drive the motor home back to base. As we prepared to light the fires there was a problem with the headsets in the Loach but soon the fault was found and rectified. Happy all was good, Phil and Dick powered up the two helicopters. After the warm up period and final checks on the instrument binnacle and controls, Dick lifted first into the air shortly followed by Phil with 509. Dick chose to lift and turn left off the field. Phil lifted much higher before heading straight ahead. Once clear of the field we turned west and then south with Dick taking up position behind us before heading north past the field we had just left.
We set our course for Blackpool airport to fill both the Loach and Huey 509 with Avtur so that both would be ready for their flight to RAF Waddington the following Thursday and Friday. Neil was waiting at Blackpool for our arrival as he was on duty with the North West Air Ambulance. Brimmed, we all clambered aboard and got ready to depart Blackpool for Wesham. By the time we were on the ground Jo and Stuart were already back with the motorhome. Dick landed the Loach on its trolley and Phil put the Huey down on the landing strip. Swiftly wheels and A bar were attached, the hangar door was opened and smoothly both aircraft were towed inside.
Content that all had been done we sat down for a meal and chat about the day’s events. Our conclusion was that a good day was had by crew and visitors alike. For a first event of its kind in Skelmersdale it was very good. As they say from little acorns.....let’s see what next year brings.