I was a lucky lad yesterday. A very lucky lad.
I got to have a ride in a Puma medium-lift helicopter, belonging to 33 Squadron.
Yeah, I spent an hour and five minutes pottering in the skies above Oxfordshire – Travelling from Benson to Brize Norton and then back again after flying over my house in Abingdon…
How did this happen? It was because I was owed a favour…and we had a quiet morning due at work, so I called it in. A couple of emails and phone calls and then I am booked in to sit on a training trip for a pilot who needed to get a hour or so flying using instruments. ‘It won’t be a very exciting trip, Alex’ they said, ‘But it’ll get you flying.’
‘I don’t mind, really. Anything is good. I sit in an office all day, it’s not exciting. Any trip will be ace.’
And so I got all excited. As the aircrew discussed all about the technical aspects of the trip, I spent 10 minutes marvelling at the flying suit they had kitted me out in. There were so many pockets! Ohhhh one of them has a sick bag in…not sure about that…ohhhh look I can put my camera in this pocket and it’ll be easy to get to when I am sitting down in the aircraft…that sort of stuff.
I kept putting the flying helmet on and taking it off, like some excited 6 year old, just short of hopping from one foot to the next…I was trying to remain cool and look calm and relaxed, but when the Crewman said we are ready to “walk” for the trip I think I jumped up a little bit to quickly and eagerly.
I am such a kid. We got to the Puma and I strapped myself into a corner seat out of the way, waiting with excitement for us to go. And then all of a sudden the helicopter began to shake from side to side as the rotors built up speed. I had a bit of a moment at that, my eyes widening for a second or so, but the movement subsided as the rotor head got to full speed. It got noisy, not TOO noisy, but it made it difficult to speak without the headset and microphone built into the flying helmet, and then…we were airborne. Straight up. To about 20 foot or so for an “airborne taxi”. The crew in the front continued to do their pre-flight checks, when…
‘Ohhh that doesn’t feel right,’ said the Crewman.
‘No,’ said the pilot. ‘It doesn’t. I’ve never seen that before.’
Again my eyes widened. It sounded like something was wrong.
‘We can put it down and take the spare,’ said the pilot instructor.
‘Hang on,’ said the pilot. ‘We wouldn’t normally do that test if there was a heavy load, so I am happy to go with this snag for the moment. Trying the test again.’
‘That IS odd.’ said the Crewman.
WHAT? What the heck? Something wasn’t working. Would this put a kibosh on my flight? Bloody bugger. My head started to move quickly between the three of them as they spoke in turn. Wondering what was going on. It was something to do with the way the helicopter moves in the yaw channel – how it turns left and right on the spot. But what? I didn’t know; I didn’t understand. All I could think of was that the engineers were going to be busy as a result of this trip.
‘Try it again. Recycle the system first though. Crewman, check the circuit breakers please,’ came over the headset from the pilot.
After a few moments he continued with ‘Waiting out for the system to cycle through. Ok. Yaw appears to be fine now. Rotation at 30 degrees.’
‘Try to the left’ said the Instructor. ‘Ohhhh that’s better. Not sure what that was all about. Seems ok now though. Never seen that before, ever.’
The crew discussed the ‘fault’ as we took off into the sky above Benson and headed towards Brize Norton. I had no idea what they were talking about, and frankly I didn’t care. I was just enjoying the experience of the ride. I am not a great flier. You know when you go on holiday on the airliner, that take off and the landing moment – the feeling of rising or dropping through the sky is not good for me. When the aircraft hits a touch of turbulence and drops as a result of it – just a few feet, but it makes your insides move up into your mouth…I don’t like that.
Anyway, here, there was little of it. We lifted off to about 4000 feet and stayed there. The pilot invited me down to sit on the observer’s seat just behind the two seats in the cockpit. The Crewman lounged on one of the chairs, looking out of the window.
The instructor took to pointing out things and places along the way. ‘Sorry this isn’t an exciting trip…it is a bit of a dull one, but it is necessary for him to maintain his currency in instrument flying.’
DULL? This was ace. Instead of sitting at a computer in the office arguing with a PowerPoint slide I am sitting just behind two pilots flying over Oxfordshire. We flew over Brize and watched a C-17 take off underneath us! I flew over my house! No way could this be considered dull. AT ALL.
But then I got to thinking about my recent blog post. The one about not really being interested in aircraft. And I thought; it’s all about degrees again.
Degrees of separation.
I am not really interested in aircraft because I spent so long working on them, but the average member of the population is excited when a helicopter of fast jet flies over – I often get Twitter messages saying a jet flew over their house and they got excited by it. These three guys fly day in day out and so a simple trip over to Brize IS a bit dull to them. A bit workmanlike. But to me – wow! It was fantastic. And it was a reminder to enjoy things. Enjoy what you do and not to take anything for granted.
And it reminded me that I am a very, very lucky boy. I was doing something that a lot of people would simply NEVER get the chance to do at all. I am incredibly fortunate to be in an organisation and have a job where I can go flying after a couple of phone calls. And dear tax-payer, I need to let you know that I don’t take this for granted at all. I am very, very lucky to be able to do cool things like this.
So what did I get out of my trip? Apart from a couple of hours out of the office away from the damn computer screen.
Several things…but the biggest was the reminder that I am very fortunate and it was also a good reminder about how to view the world. With a little bit more wonder at what it has in it and what it offers…
Or it was to me, but then maybe my recent news about a dicky-ticker and badly wired heart might have had the emotions burning a bit brighter than usual.
So, not only did I have a fantastic trip in the Puma, but I also had a good wake up to remind me that the world is an amazing place – and it doesn’t have to be viewed from 4000feet to see that.