I arrived at Oxford Airport on a sunny Tuesday evening, in early summer 1989, with 120 hours fixed wing flying in my logbook.
Small though that amount of flying experience was, it had taught me some useful stuff, such has how to use an airport circuit, how to use the radio, how to go places without getting lost too often, how to keep a good lookout, what the law said I could and couldn’t do, and so on. These are useful things to to have under your belt, as they allow you to focus on the really tricky matter in hand; learning to fly the helicopter.
These were still relatively early days in the history of teaching civilians to fly helicopters, and things followed what, looking back, was quite a military format. This meant, specifically, that the pace of the training was brisk. I hoped to cram it all in to what I thought was a sensible amount of time. In my head, this was two weeks. After all, if you only needed 35 hours, how hard could it be? I reckoned I could average 3.5 hours a day, as of course I needed to go back home to the family at the weekends. I’d need good weather, and a metaphorical following wind in all respects.
At the time, Oxford Airport was an imposing establishment, visually reminiscent of its wartime training role (for glider pilots) as RAF Kidlington, now making a living from training large numbers of foreign airline pilots. I dumped my bags in my student study/bedroom, where I was to sleep and work in between lessons, and followed the sound of nearby voices to a dining room, carrying my flying revision notes. I sat down, surrounded by teenagers from a Middle Eastern country playing table tennis in Arabic, and started reading my notes about Lost Procedure. One of my biggest fears was getting lost while out on my own. I had chosen Oxford as a place to convert to helicopters for lots of good reasons, but one downside was that I was pretty unfamiliar with the surrounding area, and with the nearby airspace. I made some notes about local radio frequencies, danger areas, controlled airspace, local landmarks, and so on. Outside on the grass were parked in neat rows dozens of Piper training aeroplanes for these boys to fly. I wondered what their secret was for navigating in such, to them, totally unfamiliar surroundings.
The next day I reported to a small office at the far end of the apron, known by the fixed wing boys, I learned, as the beehive. This was the office of CSE Helicopter School. Outside were two R22s and a Schweizer 300C. I walked round them, trying to familiarise myself a little. In the office I introduced myself to the Chief Flying Instructor Capt Andy Gutteridge, who, I later learned, had joined the Royal Air Force in 1962, learned to fly on the Jet Provost, then moved on to helicopters. Andy had subsequently flown all over the world instructing and examining for the RAF. He was now a civilian instructor. He wore highly polished Oxford brogues, with leather soles, naturally, which I still find are excellent shoes in which to fly a helicopter. He checked my paperwork, discussed my aspirations, and didn’t try to alter my plans, though I can imagine he thought that he thought I was being a little optimistic.
He took me outside into the sunshine, and introduced me to the available machines. I had settled on the R22 as my preferred training choice. The 300 seemed more cumbersome and old fashioned to me at the time, though of course I didn’t know enough about helicopters to make that judgement. By contrast, the R22 looked modern and well designed, and drew me in instinctively. There was a choice of two R22s, G-BNKX and G-FMUS. They were early model R22s, with no governor, and tail booms that were pretty much parallel to the main rotor. Andy gave me an expert tour of all aspects of the airframe, the engine, and the transmission and rotor systems. I was excited, and keen to get cracking, but it all seemed very complicated. I made notes of the component names to memorise later, particularly of the main rotor head, as Andy said I might be asked about it in my final handling test. Most of what Andy said went right over my head. The only thing that seemed familiar to me as an aeroplane pilot was the engine, which was very similar to the ones in the planes I had been flying, though even that appeared to be fitted the wrong way round, with the front pointing to the back. This meant the oil filler was on the wrong side, and the magnetos, Left and Right, were mis-labelled.
We climbed in together, to get familiar with the controls and instruments. My main impression was how much perspex there was ahead of me. In an aeroplane, you look at the world you’re flying towards through a slot of a window, over the top of the bonnet, and through the spinning prop. The result is, looking forwards, you don’t get much on an impression of what’s below you, and how high you are. Here, you can look up from your toes and immediately look down at the terrain immediately ahead of you. A little bit like standing on top of a flagpole.
Andy went through what was what in the neat little free-standing instrument panel. A lot of it was familiar, but the warning lights, and the Engine/Rotor RPM gauge and and something called a MAP gauge were new to me. We discussed the controls. There was one at the end of every limb, which clearly would present some challenges when the need arose to reach for something else like a chart, a pen, or a radio switch. In front of me was the cyclic stick, which I now prefer to call the stick. I had to disregard its most obvious arc of movement (up and down) which does nothing other than to present it in a convenient position for each pilot, and instead train myself to use the bit in my hand as a kind of pantograph, where my inputs were reproduced 1:1 on a single central stick heading down to the floor between the two pilots. So in the normal run of things, neither pilot actually touched the only actual joystick. Clever, simple and lighter than two proper sticks, one each, but another unfamiliar thing to become happy with.
At my feet were a left and right pedal. Simple enough, and light to the touch. These adjusted the thrust of the tail rotor, and in practical terms determined the direction in which the helicopter pointed. In my left hand was a lever, called the collective, hinged at the back end like a car hand brake, with a twist-grip throttle falling conveniently to hand at the front end. This lever adjusted the thrust of the main rotor. I was a bit confused by this. Andy invited me to extend all the controls simultaneously to their limits, while watching the resulting change in the angle of attack of the main rotors above us. We then rehearsed the start up procedure.
We got out, used the office phone to book out with the tower, came back to the helicopter, strapped in, started up, and set off. From a place in my head where I thought I might have some talent at this, I was suddenly humbled into feeling completely behind the machine and the situation. Everything piled up to confuse me. The unfamiliar airfield and its procedures and radio frequencies, with planes flying about in all directions, and even the fact that I was sitting on what was for me the wrong side of the cockpit. Then there was the machine itself with that weird stick. All the unfamiliar checks were done before moving.
Taxying was actually flying. Hovering appeared to be a kind of stationary taxying. And the take-off roll involved tilting the machine forward alarmingly such that the view through the windscreen comprised only the neatly mown grass of the airfield. Incomprehensibly, from this take off roll, as we accelerated, there was a sudden rush away from the ground, and the windscreen suddenly filled with the clouds and sunny blue sky I could associate with a climb. Even “following through” with my hands lightly on the controls to learn from Andy’s inputs, I was aware that I had actually felt him do little or nothing. How was I supposed to learn to fly this thing, when all the control movements appeared to exist only in the instructor’s imagination? It made me smile, though.
Andy flew us to a place well clear of the airfield, over nearby piece of open ground known as Otmoor, so I could have a go. He flew with enviable ease and elegance, with great economy on the controls, authority on the radio, and with plenty of spare brain capacity with which to explain everything that was going on, interrupted only by relevant radio calls from a constant chatter which he seemed to be able effortlessly to disregard except when they included our callsign.
Once at a safe distance from the airfield, and at 2000ft above rural Oxfordshire, he invited me to try the stick in my right hand, though covering it in case I messed things up. He reminded me that I should never let go without agreeing this with him first, and that all inputs should be gentle and tiny. More like squeezing movements than energetic aeroplane-style lunges. The greater the extent of any control input in a helicopter, the faster would be the rate of change in the machine itself. So whether I pulled the stick back a tiny amount or a huge amount, the effect would ultimately be the same, i.e. the nose would rise, we’d end up in a steep climb, and we’d end up looking at the underside of the clouds through the front window, but the difference would be how quickly and violently this happened. After a briefing and a demonstration from Andy, I tried some descents and climbs using the stick. This was all very familiar in concept to me, other than the ridiculously tiny inputs required. Andy said I should be particularly careful when pushing forward on the stick, lest we go weightless. So, head towards a distinctive point on the ground in the distance, and very gently pull the stick back to bring the nose up. The helicopter began to climb, the windscreen filled with sky, the speed decreased as I was asking it to do more work (against gravity’s effect) but adding no extra power. Just like a car encountering a hill slows down unless more throttle is applied. Gently, very gently, easing the stick forward again, the nose came down, the helicopter picked up speed as, the airframe shook a little, the noise of the blades changed subtly, the horizon rose in the window sight picture ahead of me, and I saw less sky and more of the ground. Recovery was another gentle pull back on the stick until the horizon returned to what I had to learn was its normal place in the windscreen.
This taught me an important early lesson. Everything in a helicopter is constantly being controlled by the pilot. The machine has no “settings” for straight and level, what is up what is down, what is acceleration or deceleration, what is a left or right turn. You must find the control position that equates on that flight to straight and level by trial and error. In other words, unlike in an aeroplane, there’s no inherent stability to trim out to, to give the poor pilot a break, or a swig of coffee, or a look at the map. Worse still, if you let go, you’re instantly no longer safely straight and level, you’re upside down in a few seconds. Irrecoverably so.
I then tried some left and right turns, just squeezing the stick left or right as appropriate, and not letting the nose rise or fall by monitoring the sight picture out of the window, and adding some tiny nose up or down input (stick back or forward) as required to keep the tilting horizon at the same height in the windscreen. Recovery was a squeeze back the other way, until the view outside returned to normal.
I didn’t seem to be doing much with the pedals, but every now and then I thought I could feel Andy making an adjustment from his side.
I then had a go with the lever in my left hand. Keeping the stick still, and with Andy on the pedals, I tried lifting the lever an inch or so. The nose lifted a little, and the helicopter began to climb. That baffled me slightly, as I hadn’t really got my head round what the lever did for a living. I’m one of those people who needs to understand the physics or aerodynamics of something before I can use it properly, and I wasn’t there yet with this control. Andy then pulled the carb heat out fully, and invited me to lower the lever a little. This really spooked me. So far, my only understanding of this lever was that it controlled the effectiveness of the main rotors. So to lower it seemed, to my uninformed brain, to be like asking me to unclip the wings of an aeroplane. Didn’t we depend on that lever being far enough away from the floor of the helicopter to stop us falling from the sky? I had to trust my instructor. I gritted my teeth, lowered it a little, the nose dipped, Andy made a discernible input of some kind on the pedals, as the helicopter began gently to descend. I could feel it, see it, sense it, hear it, and even get confirmation of it from the Vertical Speed Indicator; we were descending, but we were not falling from the sky with no wings. Recovery still came as something of a relief, by pulling the lever back to some kind of normal position, at which point the sanity of straight and level flight was resumed. As a natural extension of this, Andy demonstrated a normal autorotation, where the lever went so far down (but not quite all the way down, it seemed) that I really was cured of my silly notions about unclipping the wings. Especially when I gave it a go. The helicopter descended quickly, but seemed to be really controllable, and easy to steer. Recovery was lever up, stick forward, and left pedal to keep the nose straight, and carb heat in.
Time to go back, announced Andy, after what seemed like 10 sweaty minutes of all this, but actually after nearly an hour. With two of us on board we were approaching our fuel safety margin.
Back in the office, a debrief in which Andy said he was satisfied with my handling of the helicopter in simple turns, descents and climbs, which he attributed to my previous relevant experience in the air. Then a quick lunch, and out for the same again.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted, physically and mentally, felt I had learned relatively little, and worst of all I was only half way through my daily target of 3.5 hours. I was at just under two hours flown. I was going to have to up the work rate, though I couldn’t at that moment, over a welcome portion of cottage pie in the student dining room that night, see how.
I sat and reviewed what I’d learned. It was all extremely difficult, and not in the least self-explanatory. Well that wasn’t too surprising. You seemed to have to learn to fly three kinds of aircraft. A hovercraft, an aeroplane-like craft with a frisbee-style wing, and a glider (for this autorotation thing). And you have to be able to handle the transition between them all. I tried to learn the start-up checklist, and went to bed before dark.
The next day, Andy introduced me to the instructor who was going to take me through the rest of the course. This was Capt Michael JH Smith (Mike), a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot. I immediately warmed to his dry humour, his gentle English manners, and his slightly eccentric bow-tie and deck-shoes dress style. Mike asked me if I had any residual questions from the day before. Right then I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, so questions about it were beyond me. So he suggested we try a bit of hovering, and if that went well maybe we could venture into the circuit. This was my opportunity to shine, I thought, remembering what I’d managed at my trial lesson some months ago.
Of course it was harder than that. Whatever spell had been woven by my trial lesson instructor to make me think I could hover had by now evaporated. Having taken the doors off to keep us cool, Mike took us effortlessly across the main runway to the far side of the airfield, and settled us into a rock steady hover, into what was generally the prevailing wind, and with our backs to the sun so we didn’t fry. It was a hot sunny day, delivering some flukey gusts of light wind. I had a go. With the stick.
Humiliatingly, I could generally manage only about 10 seconds of dancing about in more or less the same place before losing it completely into a pendulous “dishing” motion left and right or back and forward, each swing bigger than the last. Each time I lost it, Mike took the stick, and patiently placed the helicopter back into a perfectly stable hover for me.
I soon came to realise that whereas I made an input or two and then waited to see what happened, Mike made an input or two, safe in the knowledge that the machine would do precisely what he wanted it to do. That was the gap I had to bridge. I watched him hovering, and followed through on the controls. It seemed to be better to do nothing, than to do too much of anything, even of the right thing. So I tried to do less. It improved my hovering immediately. I realised that doing too much of any input on the stick simply resulted in a problem of excessive movement of the helicopter that I then had to fix. It was hard enough to hover, without superimposing the unnecessary and complicated task of fixing the results of my own mistakes.
Mike let me experiment. I sweated in the June sunshine.
Once I’d learned the value of doing very little with the stick, I started focusing on the movement of the helicopter relative to the ground in my peripheral vision. I set myself a limited target. I decided that I didn’t mind if I moved around a bit, which I decided to call “travelling”, as long as I was reasonably stable, with no “dishing”. This stability came from reducing the size of the control inputs. If I found I was moving (uncommanded by me) to the left, I could accept that, and start to make a series of tiny dabs of the stick to the right. Each dab was not enough in itself to stop the travelling, but as a series of dabs combined they might over 10 seconds or so amount to enough of an input to slow or even arrest the leftward travel. I would then wait for the next uncommanded drift, and deal with that one as appropriate. So we waltzed slowly around our training area, no longer losing it, and gradually even achieving less distance travelled over the ground. Next I learned to recognise more quickly the incipient uncommanded movements of the helicopter, so I could start my little dabs earlier. This meant I could use fewer dabs.
After 45 minutes, I was making real progress, but I had two problems. I was still doing all this in my conscious brain, making a series of decisions about movement and dabs. It was like focussing in a car, consciously, on the steering, to the exclusion of all else. Too much of my brain, and not the fastest part, was allocated to the task. It needed to be an entirely unconscious activity, like changing gear while negotiating a complicated road junction while selecting the right exit. And that led to my second problem. There were two other sets of controls in the helicopter that I hadn’t even even started to learn about. We headed back to the beehive for a break.
My next lesson that day, to give me break from dabbing and travelling, was hovering only with the lever and the pedals. The lever, in the hover, controlled how high off the ground we hovered. The pedals primarily determined which direction we faced, and, of course, compensated for the changes in the direction we faced by the changes in the lever setting. Why did how high the lever was alter the direction we faced, I asked? Because the higher the lever, the more work the main rotor blades were doing, and with more drag, and therefore the more power was required from the engine, which in turn affected the delicate balance between the main rotors being turned by the engine, and the tendency of the fuselage to turn the opposite way. It’s the tail rotor’s job to get that balance right. So without adjustment at the pedals, if you pull the lever up, the helicopter turns right. Lower the lever, the helicopter turns left. To help my conscious brain, I called that “down right”, i.e. lever down needs right pedal. Damn, it was hard.
Mike showed me how to practise with the lever and pedals by choosing a tree on the airfield perimeter and comparing its position with a distant church. They moved up and down relative to one another as the helicopter rose and fell. Also I could see the grass getting bigger and smaller out of the corner of my eye. I put all this received information together, and moved the lever and pedals as a pair. This bit seemed to come quite naturally, and towards the end of the 45 minute lesson, I was travelling, dabbing, levering and pedalling all at once, on all three controls. It didn’t leave much brain space for talking or anything else, but it was a hover. Now I had the basics, I could practise at the beginning and end of every lesson, to get it more unconscious.
To cool down, we tried one circuit, still with the doors off. Mike showed me a complete circuit, talking me through it, and focussing on the two aspects we hadn’t covered yet; going from a hover to a climb, and from a descent to a hover (“transitions”). I also still couldn’t lift into the hover, or land from a hover, but I was otherwise close to having the skills to make it round a circuit. From my lessons with Andy I could climb and turn and level off and fly straight and level and descend. The circuit gave me an insight of how far we had come, and how far we had still to go. We took a break.
There were two more lessons that day, focussing on take-offs, landings, transitions.
My first go at a take-off was clumsy. As I pulled the lever up, too far and too quickly, the nose came up and round to the right and the heels of the skids dragged their way inelegantly sideways from the ground, and I had a hell of a job to recover to a hover. I watched Mike demonstrate again. I realised that the take-off was another thing that needed no rushing, and tiny inputs. With the machine sat on the grass, I had to set the stick to my best guess as to what was neutral, add just enough left pedal to keep the nose straight, to suit the amount of lever it was going to take to get us off the ground. This was another one of these “pilot-decides” things in a helicopter. There’s no “take-off setting” for the controls, you just had to go for whatever approximation to neutral on the stick and the pedals you thought might work on that day, with today’s weight in the helicopter, with today’s wind, and so on. As the lever rose little by little, first the helicopter would shiver slightly as the weight transferred critically from the skids to the rotor head, making us not yet airborne but “light on the skids”. With less weight on the skids, there was less ground friction, so any pedal error (too much or too little) would just begin to make itself apparent with a suspicion of nose movement left or right. That was the opportunity to correct the pedal error, before continuing to lift the lever, still little by little. As the helicopter came clear of the ground there was a strong temptation to yank an armful of lever to get clear into a hover. But actually I found that doing this just created another self-inflicted problem that I then had to fix, as the yank would translate itself into an unsteady hover that then just needed steadying. Better to get light on the skids, pull a suspicion more lever, and another, and yet another, until the skids were no longer taking the weight of the helicopter, but were still in the grass. This, I decided, was the beginning of the hover, which then just needed a gentle series of adjustments for height. Another gentle squeeze upwards on the lever, with left pedal to match, and another and another until you were at the right height. I practised, and it came together.
The landing was the same in reverse. From a normal (i.e. stable at 3ft above the grass) hover, rather than seeing the job as a landing manoeuvre, watching Mike’s expert demonstrations, I realised I just had to achieve a series of lower and lower hovers, with no travelling at all, until I was in among the grass with the skids, and continue the process until I was no longer flying.
Mike now introduced me to translational lift. As I understood it, this was the moment when the helicopter morphed from being a hovercraft (beating the air downwards towards the ground to overcome the weight) into being a frisbee, where the lift came from the passage of the rotor disk through the air. The penny dropped that this was what was causing the sudden rush of lift as we accelerated away from the hover. As Mike demonstrated, I could even feel the moment when this surge of “free lift” allowed him to lower the lever a little from the high setting that was needed to hover, while continuing to accelerate. So it went like this. From the grass into the hover. From the hover, add a little stick forward, which produced a little acceleration. Raise the lever, as otherwise the stick-forward action meant you hit the ground. Push the stick a little further forward to gain more speed, and to overcome the tendency of the main rotor to flap back away from the direction of travel (a little like the peak of a cyclists baseball cap catching the wind and causing it to fly off). Then feel for the translational lift cutting in like a turbo delivering more power, at which point you could lower the lever a touch, and ease the stick a little more forward to turn this extra lift into more acceleration until you reached 45-50 knots. At this moment, pull full power with the lever (determined not by a setting on the lever, but by whatever the MAP gauge said was your maximum for that day’s conditions) and the helicopter would lift its nose and settle as if by magic into the desired 60 knot climb away into the circuit.
This was more like it. By the end of the day I had done four lessons totalling 3 hours. I could do almost all of the individual components of a circuit, and could pretty much hover. I went to bed feeling like I was back on track. I was completely wrecked physically and mentally, but it was beginning to be worth it.
Day three started with an introduction to transitioning from a descent into a hover. I watched the demonstration, and tried it.
Of course, I fluffed it. I was far to high and fast, as I was thinking like an aeroplane pilot coming in at a shallow angle, and leaving 60 knots on the airspeed to stop myself stalling. This had to be a steeper approach, with the last knot of forward speed bleeding off at the moment when I was at my landing spot. I also massively underestimated the amount of lever required to hover, once translational lift had evaporated at around 10-15 knots airspeed. I pulled more and more lever to avoid hitting the ground, asking the engine under my breath to give me more power, and while distracted by that I failed to put in enough left pedal to allow for the torque change, so the nose slewed to the right. If that wasn’t bad enough I jumped out of my skin when the low-rotor horn went off as I pulled the lever. Shockingly bad, and not good for my confidence. We practised again and again, and Mike showed me how to anticipate the need for more power from the engine, and to twist the throttle on just enough, to stop the rotors slowing as the drag increased with the sharp increase in blade angle of attack from raising the lever. Best of all, he taught me the importance of keeping the R22 in translational lift (by keeping the speed on) for as long as possible, to make best use of all that extra lift.
Now I was on top of the basics, we started doing circuit after circuit to get me performing reliably. After a morning of four circuits lessons, with a total of 8 hours 10 minutes in my logbook, Mike sent me solo.
This was one of those flying moments when you realise that it’s all up to you. There was no-one else there to advise me, or to save my skin, or to take over and land it if I decided that I didn’t fancy it. In an aeroplane this first solo realisation arises usually on the downwind leg, as you get near the hardest part; landing it. In a helicopter, the feeling starts the moment you leave the ground, not least because, no matter how much your instructor warns you, nothing can prepare you for the difference in performance and balance and general feel of an R22 with only one person on board, compared to two. As I lifted off, I found I had to put the stick forward and left so far that I thought it would come out of its mountings. This was because there was no instructor to keep the left skid low and the nose down with his weight. Recovering from the shock of that, I found that I was in a ten foot hover, because the kind of lever raising inputs I was used to for two were enough to send me into orbit with one.
With a grunt of alarm, and conscious effort, I managed to get it all under control, but by now my palms were sweaty, and I had a head full of doubts. What else in this circuit was going to bite my ass like the take-off I’d just done? Out of the corner of my eye I could see Mike standing on the grass, and I decided that getting a grip was marginally better than putting it back down again and refusing to go.
The climb-out was also a shock. The thing seemed to head skyward like a rocket, with only me on board, so I had to level off at circuit height a long way before my first turn. I was also in an unaccustomed place over the ground, as everything was happening sooner than normal. In the downwind leg I looked left to see the airport and the runway I was flying parallel to, and jumped slightly as I suddenly noticed that the seat next to me was empty. To steady my nerves, I did what I could remember of my downwind checks, and looked around in the cockpit to make sure everything looked normal. I turned base, pulled full carb heat to stop the inlet manifold icing up, and started to descend. Again, the difference in loading became apparent, and I was forced to choose between landing several hundred yards past my target, or lowering the lever further than I was used to. I chose a half way compromise, rather than trying to force it to the ground early. Despite all this, it worked out. I got round the circuit and back down onto the grass. The controller congratulated me. The transition to the hover had not been my best, again because of the unaccustomed weight and balance set-up, but the landing was reasonably controlled, now I knew what the stick could do without coming out at the roots.
Climbing back in, Mike congratulated me, with an understated matter-of-factness that came straight from the helicopter flight deck of a Royal Navy ship. We did some more circuits together, during which Mike again talked me through some emergencies and what to do about them. He pointed out some useful local landmarks, such as the huge concrete grain store on the other side of the main road, which he said was a surefire way of getting back to the airfield if you were a bit lost. For my seventh flight that day, he sent me off solo to find Otmoor and then return to Oxford. As I flew around alone I could hardly believe it. I landed back, tired but happy. I had flown 3 hours 45 minutes that day. I was finally on track. I drove home for the weekend, my head full of speeds and checklists, having thought of nothing but helicopters for three whole days.
I could now do the basics. The very basic basics. Now it was a matter of ticking off items on the syllabus, and perfecting them.
Over the next week and a half, life settled into a routine of a dual lesson, followed by a solo sortie to practise. Mike sent me off to find obscure English towns, dots on the map, to practise my navigation and general handling. He taught me engine-off landings, and how to land on the concrete roof of a brick shed on the airfield. He paid particular attention to confined area landings, as he said this was where people tend to hurt themselves if they’re going to. He showed me several ways of exiting a forest clearing when power is limited. Sometimes I just spent an hour dancing around the training square, turning the machine around it’s tail, or pirouetting across the grass. Possibly most memorable, of an extraordinary fortnight, was climbing the R22 up to its service ceiling to feel and hear the effect on rotor, engine, and pilot performance.
A week and a half later with 35 hours under my belt, I took my final handling test. My pass was marked with characteristically neutral “Satisfactory” by Mike in my logbook.
All I had to do now was embed this amazing new skill into my life. After ten years of using a variety of helicopters as a company car, as a family crew bus, as a European tourer, I was really enjoying helicopter life. Martin too.
One day, right out of the blue, Martin came to me with a plan. We simply had to go and visit his brother Matthew. In Australia. In our helicopter.
I thought about it for a few seconds. My geography was a bit sketchy as to how much sea there was to cross between here and there. It sounded like an important detail that could be resolved later.
Why not? After all, what could possibly go wrong?