PILOT: Have you ever flown in one of these before?
CLIENTSFIRST: No, have you?
Thus began our ‘learning to fly a helicopter’ experience, part of ClientsFirst’s Half Day Creative scheme (which is now, by the by, semi-famous in local newspaper terms). As it turned out, Michael, our pilot for the day, had flown in plenty of helicopters before, which was a major positive, all things considered.
Shortly after this welcome, our day started with an experience not dissimilar to the first time you ever stepped foot in Toys’R’Us as a wee child. We walked down a grey hallway, carpeted in the type of floor covering which suggests both ‘carpet burns’ and ‘budget’ simultaneously, and passed through a nondescript unlocked door into a large airfield hanger, currently home to four helicopters of various sizes.
‘Those two are about £275,000,’ Michael said, indicating the single engine pair in front of us, ‘the one at the end is upwards of £2.5 million. The one with the matt paint outside is upwards of that… I’ve never seen that one before actually.’
Owning and piloting a helicopter is, it turns out, an expensive business. Who knew?
Luckily, our half-day creative, split between yours truly, Web Developer Jake and Graphic Designer James, was significantly more affordable and designed to give us a brief taste not just of being in a helicopter, but of what it’s like to fly one.
The whole point of Half Day Creatives is to get people outside of their comfort zone, based on the logic of this sort of diagram. Pilot Michael possibly didn’t realise that that included him and would require him to relinquish command of his £275,000 bit of kit to three marketing bods from Macclesfield.
As far as ClientsFirst’s own Top Gun team were concerned, the level of comfort varied throughout the day. Jake responded with an alarmingly quick ‘yes, me’, when Pilot Michael asked, mid-air, if anyone wanted to experience a simulated stall, leading to some speculation that it may take quite a lot to get Jake out of his comfort zone. A nuclear explosion, for example.
James and I will probably admit to more nerves, in varying degrees. James found himself staring straight down at the motorway whilst I completed the first banking manoeuvre, which nearly led to him staring straight down at the contents of his stomach. I decided to inform Pilot Michael only after we landed that I’m not keen on flying and I did wonder whether, if I had mentioned that before, my day might have been more of a ‘walking’ experience.
Piloting an expensive bit of kit that can reach very high speeds, very quickly, then hover, then spin 360 degrees whilst still moving in a consistent direction is, as it turns out, quite a lot of fun.
With Michael guiding us, we completed a ‘square’ of turns, which took us up and out from Barton Airfield, over the motorway and back in to land, swap pilots and repeat the process. Michael controlled the pedals (rotation) and handbrake-like stick-thing (elevation), whilst we controlled the cyclic; the vertical stick in the middle of the helicopter which makes it turn. ‘Small movements’, Michael said, ‘this isn’t Hollywood.’ As the rain fell on a field in Manchester and our take-off was delayed so that we could actually see, he was proved entirely right.
Whilst making our own turns was undoubtedly terrific, it turns out that watching a pro twirl a helicopter around like it’s a remote control kite is infinitely more entertaining.
As well as the simulated stall (essentially turning the helicopter off and turning it back on again just before you make contact with some very solid-looking ground), Michael performed an ‘emergency stop’ and the aforementioned 360 rotation.
Our skills are probably in need of some more development before we’re able to pull those off with such confidence, although, give the full controls over to us and the stall will probably occur sooner rather than later, along with a large trip outside of everyone’s comfort zone.
With huge thanks to Michael and everyone at Helicentre Barton Airfield for a great afternoon, good humour and smooth flying.