Huey follows Loach over the Rainbow
By Crew Master Simon Johnson July 2014.
For the third year on the trot our team headed to Lincolnshire for the annual RAF Waddington Air Show. Logistics dictated three crews setting off at different times and indeed days, to all converge in one place.
First to depart was Dick (Barton) in the Loach. He left Wesham a little before 0900 hrs and headed south before turning left to head east following the M62 over the Pennines. On paper it sounds straight forward; the reality was rather different. Dick had to find clear airspace to make progress through the far from perfect flying conditions. Once over the high ground the conditions improved considerably making the rest of the flight a joy. Once he had arrived he could put his Flying Control Committee head on as Dick is part of the RAF Waddington Airshow organising team.
The following day Phil, Jo and Nina hit the road in the motorhome at 1030 hrs with a predicted 3½ hour journey ahead of them. Rather like Dick's journey it wasn't as clear cut as on paper.
Rob and I were flying 509 but our arrival slot at Waddington wasn't until 1422 so we were not going to set off until much later than the guys in the motorhome. We watched the weather which was very grey and wet but we could see some brighter patches travelling through. Rob having checked all the details decided we would head off at midday and fly to Gamston. If we could get away earlier it would take the pressure off us getting to Lincolnshire if the weather was against us. Thankfully the aircraft had been lovingly polished and prepared well in advance by Stuart and he was on hand at the hangar, reliable as ever to assist with our departure.
So at 1207 hrs Rob pressed the starter button and 509's Lycoming whistled into life shortly followed by her heavy beat from her blades. Allowing everything to get up to temperature, we made the final checks before lifting into a still very grey Lancashire sky. Rob turned her around and off we headed in a south-easterly direction. Rob was following his flight plan whilst I was monitoring using the good old paper map. I was recognising particular landmarks which confirmed where we were. It was useful as was the case with Dick’s journey; we too had to avoid unfavourable conditions. As we got further south and east there did seem to be a slight improvement.
At Wigan we began to swing around to the east and like Dick picked up the M62. Speaking to Manchester Airport we were given the ok to transit to the north of Manchester following the M60. As we approached Rochdale we changed course to the south east which took over Snake Pass towards Sheffield. As we reached the top of the Pennines the weather improved and visibility was much better.
Rob was talking to London Control who were tracking us and was then handed over to Gamston. We were given permission to enter their circuit as nothing else was flying and they asked us to land using runway two one. Air traffic was aware that I was going to get out, so guided Rob to Stand 2 just in front of the Tower. I alighted and made some checks inside to make sure everything was properly secured as Rob was going to throw the old girl around a little. I retreated a safe distance and made my way to the Tower as Rob waited to be given the all clear to do his display practice.
I was getting the best of both worlds, flying in 509 and now watching a private display and so able to enjoy that wonderful sound of her huge blades thumping the air in the way only a Huey can do. Whilst watching the display the Air Ambulance guys came over for a chat and asked if we were going to land back on and shut down and if so could they come and have a closer look. It goes without saying we take great delight in showing 509 off at every possible occasion. Even the guys working in the hangars downed tools and came out to watch the spectacle (... and who can blame them!).
As Rob came to the end of his display I headed back out to hold onto a wing of a light aircraft that was code to the landing spot. Rob swooped in and plonked her on the ground and I waited for the cool down period and the blades to stop before securing them. I was just tying them down when three engineers appeared to have a closer look, closely followed by the Air Ambulance crew. Rob headed off for a walk to stretch his legs and get a drink whilst I stayed and chatted to them all.
Rob reappeared and we untied the blades and readied ourselves for the final leg of our journey to RAF Waddington. Shortly after 1400 hrs 509 came to life and we said our goodbye to Air Traffic. We lifted up into a crystal blue sky and set a course for RAF Waddington which was soon in sight. Speaking to RAF Waddington Air Traffic they gave us permission to come in to land. Rob made his approach and hovered by the runway whilst the ATC gave us directions to follow the marshals on our right. We understood the directions, the only problem was the wind was gusting awkwardly making it challenging for Rob to hover taxi to the static display area. Finally at 1425 hrs 509 was on the ground.
Phil, Jo and Nina were still half an hour away but by the time 509 had been moved by the helilift to a temporary holding area they had got the motorhome on site. We set up, kitting it out for the shop. Happy all was done we headed off to get something to eat and catch a coach laid on to take the aircrew to the university accommodation.
We were back on the coach to site at 0730 hrs on Saturday morning. It was teeming down with rain which had arrived overnight. When we arrived on site already there were plenty of people arriving. Almost all had cameras and ear defenders. Others were carrying chairs and step ladders, obviously all well prepared for the day ahead. We unlocked the motorhome and Jo and Nina finished setting up the shop. Phil and I headed off to the helicopters and unlocked them so we could mount the machine guns and other kit to dress both machines. We were joined by Daz who had driven down from Lancashire and Patrick who'd come up from London. Dick came to join us but was soon off to take up his official role on the Flight Control Committee. He was to return later to talk to the visitors about the Loach and in fact was 'to and fro' all day. Rob came in from Lincoln on a slightly later coach which had got caught up in all the air show traffic.
The weather front was slow to pass over but by midday things were looking up and the sun came out. The weather didn't seem to put people off as there was a constant stream of people keen to have a closer look at both the Huey and Loach. All of us were kept busy talking to the visitors and handing out our stickers. We rotated around as best we could to give each of us a break and a chance to have a look around at some of the aircraft around us and a little further afield.
The Dutch engineers who were with the static Chinook came to have a look at the Huey and boy were they in for a surprise. Patrick approached them and bid them a good morning in English. They replied in English back only to find the next response from Patrick was in their own mother tongue. Patrick gave them an in depth tour of the Huey. His good deed was returned when he went down to have a closer look at the Chinook.
Lunch came and went and before we knew it we were packing up for the evening. We had a drink before heading off to the crew tent to grab a bite to eat. We were told there was an 2000 hrs bus so we headed off to catch it, only to be told there wasn't one after all. As it was a pleasant evening we sat on the grass, opened a bottle and had a drink whilst we waited for the 2100 hrs bus. We made the best use of our time and had a brainstorming session - some of what was discussed might see the light of day but the majority of our ideas won't! But it was a great meeting of minds with some crackpot ideas and other flights of fancy. By the time we got to our accommodation that evening we were all ready for a freshen up and an early night but it didn't stop us meeting up for a drink and a chat about the day.
Up early again on the Sunday, this time to a very grey overcast morning. Back at the motorhome we set about sorting the shop out and got a handful of bacon butties that would keep us going until lunchtime. The air displays got underway although somewhat restricted by the cloud base. As the morning wore on, the skies got brighter until the sun broke through and the temperatures began to climb. Again, the crowds weren't put off by the weather, arriving in their droves which kept all of us on our toes.
Above us throughout the day, a long list of classic and modern aircraft entertained the crowds and us alike.
Many who came to see us were sorry we weren't flying the Huey and Loach but appreciated that they could get close to 509 and 011 and have a good look. Something they couldn't have done if we were on the flight line.
How time flies when you are enjoying yourself! 1700 hrs came around very quickly and the crowds were starting to thin. We slowly broke down the shop and removed the weapons from the two machines. We loaded the ground handling gear into the aircraft and locked them up. We finished shutting the shop and hitched the trailer up. At the end of the Air Show, our air crew got together. Nina and I were driving the motorhome back to Lancashire. Phil with Rob were flying the Huey back to base the following day, with Dick and Jo flying the Loach back in formation with 509.
Nina and I arrived home around 0100 hrs on Monday morning. After a rather long delay in departing RAF Waddington, the Huey and Loach arrived back in Lancashire around 12.30.
Once again RAF Waddington Airshow didn't disappoint. It is a fabulous Event and has a great crowd who attend it. Due to runway repairs there is no RAF Waddington Airshow next year. Whether the air show will be reinstated in 2016 we will have to wait and see.
Our thanks to all those at RAF Waddington in front of and behind the scenes that make this weekend happen - your efforts are very much appreciated.