Game, Set and Match to Huey and Loach
By Rob Tierney and Simon Johnson – September 2014
We were delighted when Air Waves Portrush confirmed earlier in the year that they wanted the Huey and Loach to appear once again, especially when we heard that we would also be carrying out the Poppy drop on the Sunday. The plans included a 105 mile transit across the Irish Sea on the Friday before the air show weekend. On the day, the in flight conditions were challenging with no good horizon until within 10 miles of the Irish Coast. Read on to find out how the Huey Crew worked together to provide flying displays around the Portrush coastline, static displays based at the local Tennis courts and a superb poppy drop on the Sunday. For this adventurous weekend our Crew were, in the Huey, Capt Rob Tierney and Simon Johnson and in the Loach, Capt Dick Barton and Bradley Johnson.
Over to Rob Tierney and Simon Johnson for a review of the weekend from the crew’s perspective.
Thursday evening saw Rob and Dick arrive at Wesham in order to be on site for the early start on Friday. Bradley and Simon arrived at 0900 Friday morning. First things first, both aircraft were given their pre-flight checks by the respective pilots. Happy they were good to go we attached the tractor and pushed 509 into the open air. The Loach was pulled out on its trolley and the hangar door closed. The four of us then headed off by car to Blackpool Airport to collect our survival suits and life jackets.
(Loach and Huey waiting for their crews to return)
We got back to Wesham and checks were made on the latest weather conditions. Huey 509 was to head off to Blackpool to refuel; the Loach had enough fuel on board so was going to wait on the ground until the Huey had been refuelled and was ready to lift. Rob eased 509 in the sky and nosed her over and we were on our way. Talking to Blackpool approach they asked us to report when holding over the gasometers which we duly did. We were passed over to the tower who gave us permission to head for H East and then to hover taxi over to the refuelling point. As soon as we had secured the rotors, the tanker pulled up and began to fill up Huey 509's fuel tank to the brim. We wanted/needed as much fuel in the tank as possible as we were to head out over the sea. Whilst the fuel was being pumped in we huffed and puffed as we struggled to put on the survival suits (very fetching outfits they certainly are not!). With suits and lifejackets on we climbed aboard for the next leg of our journey.
Rob put the call in to Dick and he and Brad jumped aboard Loach 011 and lifted to fly North West towards Fleetwood, our agreed rendezvous point. Blackpool ATC gave Rob permission to start the Huey. Three minutes later they gave him the all clear to hover taxi to H North and to take off to the West. Huey 509 went light on her skids and then rose to about fifteen feet where Rob checked his controls before smoothly slipping away from the hangar in front of us over to H North. Happy with the feel of everything Rob pulled in some power and pitch and gently eased the cyclic forward whilst keeping it all balanced with some input with the pedals. We were soon over the coast and turned North up the coastline towards the Pleasure Beach and the Big One with Blackpool's iconic tower beyond.
We knew Dick had lifted so we were on the lookout for the Loach approaching from the East. Loach 011 is not very big so we were confident that they would see the Huey before we saw them. Just South of Rossall we spotted them about half a mile to the North heading at about one hundred knots westward. Rob began to turn Huey 509 to the left to pick up a position behind and to the South of them and followed the course set by his air navigator. Soon we were well and truly over the 'Blue' grass and all eyes were on the temperatures and pressures and monitoring how the aircraft felt. Conditions weren't brilliant but we kept visual contact with the Loach for the bulk of the flight. We transferred from Blackpool Air Traffic to Scottish Control who tracked our progress.
Passing Point of Ayre on the Isle of Man the weather seemed to take a turn for the worse but was still flyable. Dick continued to lead and after some fifty minutes flying time, he was talking to Newtownards airfield who cleared him to land. We were about four and half miles behind them. By the time we were on finals the Loach was already on the ground and cooling the engine down with the rotors at flight idle. There was quite a crowd gathered watching the two helicopters land. We could see they just wanted the rotors to stop but they knew they had to wait for the big heavy rotors to wind down at their leisurely pace. Once the rotors were tied down and permission was given by Capt Tierney, they came for a closer look. The fuel tanker arrived and filled up both machines.
From Newtownards we were going to fly over land to Causeway but the best laid plans didn't quite work out that way. When we lifted, all looked ok so we headed across the Lough before we turned west. It wasn't long before the cloud base lowered and we decided to head back east to the coast at Whitehead and turn north and then follow the coast round until there was a break in the weather. At Glenarm the weather to the West broke so Dick turned towards the clearer air and the Huey followed. We tracked almost straight all the way to the Causeway strip. We shut down and the first thing we did was head for the office on site to remove our survival suits, which we had decided to keep on just in case we had to venture out over the sea for clearer air. Now we could unload our bags and then secure the two aircraft.
At Causeway we met up with Mark Holmes who operates the airfield and owned the hotel at which we were to stay. He had arranged the loan of a SAAB Turbo Diesel Convertible for our use (and pleasure!) On our arrival at the Adelphi hotel we were asked if we could put someone up to be interviewed for radio and for the commentary during the air display. Bradley and Simon immediately volunteered Dick and Rob for these tasks. We dined at the hotel both nights of our stay - on the second night there was an informal official dinner which would have been “bad form” not to have attended.
At 0900 each day there was the mandatory briefing, after which we drove to the airfield to bring both helicopters forward to the Tennis Courts at the North end of the town. Here the public were allowed to visit the aircraft and there was a steady stream of visitors all through each day. With a Northerly wind blowing, the approach was close to a block of flats on whose balconies were groups of observers who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the noisy passage of our machines.
Both days had an impressive line up of aircraft to display including the Catalina flying boat, Strikemaster, P51 Mustang, OH10 Bronco, Canberra, the Red Arrows and the BBMF (Lancaster 'Thumper', two Spitfires and 'Vera' the Canadian Lancaster). Due to poor weather on the Saturday the two Lancasters didn't make it, but they more than made up for it on the Sunday.
At about 1515 each day both aircraft were scheduled to carry out a joint 10 min flying display. The display began with Huey leading Loach along the crowd line before breaking off to allow Loach to 'do its thing' - Huey holding in the distance. Once Loach had finished its energetic routine, Huey flew direct at the crowd at 120kts generating its distinctive signature note before pulling up and turning along the crowd line. A series of manoeuvres were then carried out before rejoining with Loach for a final fly past by both aircraft.
We retired early on Saturday night as we knew we had a long day ahead of us on the morrow. We were back at the aircraft by 1000 on Sunday and ready to lift at 1115. That was after we had put the two large plastic dustbins which were for the poppies in the back of Huey 509. We flew north in formation but as we approached Portrush, Dick broke formation and headed for the tennis courts. Rob flew Huey 509 once again to the display line to the East of the peninsula to recce where we were to drop the poppies and to get it clear in our mind suitable marker points for the drop. After a few circuits we headed east to just beyond the headland of the golf course. This seemed a likely place to hold during the commemoration service without making too much noise. We then timed how long we needed to fly to the drop zone. Once over the parade area Rob monitored our ground speed and the wind speed so that he knew what to expect later on. Happy we knew what we were going to do, we headed for the tennis courts. Shortly after we landed, the crowds were keen to get a closer look at both helicopters. It didn't seem long before we were readying the Huey and the Loach for their display. They departed the tennis courts and formed up for their opening flypast. The weather was much better than the day before so both Dick and Rob flew impressive displays, but also very sympathetic displays for the photographers in the crowd. No sooner had they taken off they were back on the ground.
Poppy Drop ........
We set about re-jigging the seats in the back of the cabin to allow the two bins to be attached to the aircraft and positioned where they would be easily accessible. All our belongings were stowed and secured. The poppies arrived and were transferred into the two bins. Simon put on a full harness as did our volunteer from the local Legion. At 1645 Rob fired up 509 and we lifted into a beautifully clear blue sky. As quietly as he could Rob headed out across the bay and set a course for our holding point. There were a large number of people on the beach so they were entertained as we circled. Everyone was waving so it would have been rude not to wave back! Rob got the call on the radio to start his approach for the parade. We gently eased into position maintaining 200ft with a slow forward speed. On the word of Rob, Simon started to sprinkle the poppy petals by shaking the bin. It took some time to empty it but I could see the stream of petals heading for the beach. First bin emptied we headed North up the display line to empty the second bin to get the petals over the crowd, VIP area and the town. No petals left we returned to the tennis courts for the last time. Without shutting down we dropped off the Legion rep and took off for Causeway.
(Huey Poppy Drop Sunday 7th September 2014 – Photographs courtesy of Alwyn Curry)
The drop from 200 feet was very successful. We have since been advised that the petals actually dropped onto the parade, as had been requested. Apparently this was the first time in the 15 years of the airshow history that it had been achieved. We are absolutely delighted with this feedback and there are some great pictures of the poppies falling on the memorial parade in the gallery section of the Airwaves Portrush Website. www.airwavesportrush.co.uk
(Huey Poppy Drop Sunday 7th September 2014 – Photograph courtesy of Alwyn Curry)
At Causeway the Loach had had its fuel tank topped up by the time the Huey landed. The remainder of the fuel was pumped into 509. We donned the survival suits and climbed aboard for the leg of the journey that would take us to Newtownards to brim the fuel tanks before heading back home to Lancashire. The weather was with us so we headed overland which made our flight that much quicker, especially with a tail wind. We landed around 1830 and the help was on hand to make it a quick turnaround.
The aim had been to return to Blackpool on the Sunday evening however early in the journey a call came in from Dick saying there seemed to be a problem with the Loach. He turned back to the airfield with Huey 509 following. On the ground Bradley jumped out to make sure there wasn't anything very obvious that could be causing the vibrations that had started shortly after takeoff. Nothing found, Dick decided to have another go, but to no avail so he returned to the airfield and shut down.
Further checks were made whilst talking to the Engineers back in Lancashire (who confirmed that the Loach was fit to fly) but by this time we had run out of daylight hours to be able to get back to Wesham. We booked a couple of rooms at the Strangford Arms Hotel and booked a taxi to get us there. Monday morning we were back at the aircraft and had them topped up with more fuel as we used quite a bit with our two aborted attempts at flying back the night before. As a result of the vibrations experienced it was decided to take the short route across the water and to fly to Stranraer which was around twenty miles as opposed to just over a hundred miles flying straight to the Lancashire coast. Dick led and the Huey followed watchfully behind.
Dick reported that the Loach was flying much better than the evening before. We soon made land and then we flew down the coast flying over the Solway Firth. We continued south to fly over Morecambe Bay and set up our approach to Blackpool Airport. We landed at the hangar of our maintenance contractor so that Andy, the Engineer could check the Loach over. Whilst he was doing that Huey 509 took on more fuel, as did the Loach. Andy said it was safe to fly the Loach back to Wesham. We departed in Huey 509 with Bradley on board and Dick followed on as he volunteered to return our survival suits and life jackets back to the offices at Blackpool Airport.
Much to our surprise as we began to unlock the hangar door it mysteriously opened and there on the other side was Phil. He had literally just returned home at the time we landed. So now mob handed we made light work of preparing Huey 509 to be towed back into the hangar but before we got to ahead of ourselves we waited for the return of Dick and the Loach. We didn't have to wait long.
Once again Portrush didn't disappoint. Our thanks go to the organisers of the Northern Ireland International Air Show and to Mark Holmes who looked after us so well. We look forward to being invited back; hopefully next year. Many thanks also to Alwyn Curry who has kindly shared his photographs for use on our website. There are also more great photos of the airshow, including some of Huey and Loach on the Airwaves Portrush Website. www.airwavesportrush.co.uk