Photo Keith Bradshaw
B-25 Mitchell on the Ramp at Tampa Executive airport awaiting its next bunch of riders.
Welcome to episode two of this short series of stories from my quest to fly on two hundred different types of flying machine. As you may remember I left episode one with the taster to tell you about a Tale of two Hueys and how I became ankle deep in paper at Barcelona !
Well as most of you no doubt know the Bell UH-1 Huey was the helicopter made famous by the Vietnam war. Many are still in use around the world today and a few have been sold onto the civilian market for various uses. Some of these examples can be found in the South African city of Cape Town. The old harbour area of Cape Town has been redeveloped with lots of shops, hotels and restaurants. Also on offer here are various experiences such as swimming with Great white sharks, fishing trips and of mega interest to this writer helicopter flights over Table mountain. Not using a boring Jet Ranger or similar but a genuine Bell Huey! To get the most passengers on board they had removed the side doors, now where the gunners used to sit were a couple of pairs of seats. You sat sideways looking straight out or straight down past your toes and the landing skid to the ground!
Photo Keith Bradshaw
A UH-1 Huey of the type used for joy rides in Cape Town. The large side doors with the twin windows were removed for the pleasure flights.
These seemed to me the best seats in the house, it appeared not many others agreed as when we were ushered out to the plane the seats by the missing doors were last to be taken. In fact I thought the one next to me was going to stay vacant until at the last minute a young lady rushed across the tarmac and strapped in next to me. Waving all the time to her boyfriend whose feet remained firmly planted on Terra Firma, it transpired he had bought her the trip as a birthday present and was convinced she would enjoy it. Wrong! She was far from happy with the lurching way helicopters fly as we ducked and dived around the mountain, the strange thwack- thwack of the blades and the sheer drop inches from her feet ! How do I know this ? Well the imprinted fingernails in my arm were a giveaway as she kept grabbing it throughout the flight. Would have loved to of been a fly on the wall when her boyfriend greeted her after landing !
That was Huey one what about number two? Bell made a dramatic redesign of the cabin of the original Huey and turned it into the AH-1 Huey Cobra gunship with just a pilot, a gunner and a large machine gun ! As you can imagine the military were not that keen to let any of these get into civilian hands and it was many years after the first flight before some of the earlier ones became available to US Veteran flyer groups. I was lucky enough to meet up with one of them at a show in Florida and found out they were offering rides. A very manoeuvrable machine, as the pilot was keen to point out when he demonstrated how it was flown in Vietnam to attack target tanks or trucks. It was it seemed simply a case of fly straight down firing the machine gun then pull vertically up before cartwheeling round and diving straight down again. Best done before a hearty meal, thank Goodness I hadn’t hit the burger bar beforehand!
Photo Keith Bradshaw
The second Huey an AH-1 Cobra version with a bit more bite than the first!
Whilst on the subject of helicopters, many airfields in the UK have a resident helicopter company most of which offer trial flying lessons. Worth having a go if only to gain great respect for those who can actually fly a machine whose purpose in life is either to throw itself into the ground or shake itself to bits ! I am very proud of the fact that I once actually managed to hover one of these beasts for all of sixty seconds without almost crashing !
Now as they say time for something completely different. In 2008 the Zeppelin Airship company sent ,with sponsorship from Stella Artois, one of their ultra modern airships to the UK for a couple of weeks. They offered flights over East London from a micro light field in Essex. The chance to fly on an airship was too good to turn down. What a machine it was ! Full glass cockpit, massive windows, luxury seats and even a toilet on board, I bet the Hindenburg was nothing like that. The ship was controlled by three rotatable podded engines which meant she could be turned on a sixpence and was relatively easy to moor. The flight over Canary Wharf, the Thames barrier and up the Thames to the Queen Elizabeth bridge was most impressive and they even offered a glass of Stella, shame I can’t abide Lager!!
Photo Keith Bradshaw
The Stella Zeppelin coming into land with the two engines at the front tilted to lift the nose up whilst the single one right at the rear is pulling the tail down to keep the ship level.
Talking of airships and after flight drinks reminds of an earlier Hot Air balloon ride I took. Who remembers Barclaycard points ? These were a kind of loyalty scheme for using your Barclay’s credit card. There was a brochure for which you could exchange your points for prizes, one of which was a hot air balloon ride. Well even living on your card like I did at the time it took literally years to build up enough points for the flight but I got there. After several false starts due to weather I finally got to be lifted aloft by a bag of hot air from somewhere in Hertfordshire. The plan was to have the flight, land on Elstree airfield, and open the Champers, seemed good to me. All went well until as we approached Elstree we could see lots of blue flashing lights on the runway. When our pilot contacted the Elstree tower he was refused permission to land as a light plane had just landed and its undercarriage had collapsed blocking the runway. Very inconsiderate. We may have come down in a farmer’s field alongside the airfield, but we still got the Champagne!
You may be wondering if having enjoyed all these varied flights did I ever learn to fly myself? Well many years ago I did start to learn at the British Airways Flying Club at Booker airfield High Wycombe. As the club was owned by the airline there were very good hourly lesson rates for staff and I managed about thirty hours, going solo and completing most of the exercises you needed for a PPL . However with just the cross country phase and the exams to do British Airways found itself in one of its regular cost cutting exercises and the cheap rates disappeared. Sadly the new costs were too high for me so I gave up and bought an Austin-Healey 3000 restoration project instead !! But that’s another story, the point of this one is one of my instructors during my time at Booker was an old lady by the name of Joan Hughes MBE, sadly no longer with us having died 1n 1993. It wasn’t until some time later that I learned she was an ATA girl from the war and used to deliver the various aircraft from the factories to the airfields for the RAF. She was in fact the youngest member at just 21 of the original first eight ladies that were allowed to join the ATA. The amazing part about this story is that she was only about five foot tall and had to sit on a cushion in the little Piper we were flying to allow her to see out of the windscreen. She never mentioning what she had achieved during the war. A remarkable lady.
Photo credit Unknown
Joan Hughes MBE in front of a Short Stirling, the third of the RAF’s heavy bombers. With just a copy of the Pilots notes for company Joan and her colleagues delivered all types of aircraft flying entirely alone.
Those of you who have read episode one of these stories will recall after a P-51 Mustang flight I was hooked on warbirds. Over the years I’ve added Harvard, Avenger, Trojan and various trainers to the list. Then I found the Collings Foundation website. OMG ! This US based foundation has a number of world war two bombers and fighters with which it tours the US for nine months of the year offering pre bookable rides, no club membership or anything like that required. So easy, plan a holiday based around one of their stop overs. I got my flight and the wife got her US shopping and sightseeing, a win- win situation ! I have flown with them three times over several years experiencing their B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. All just quite amazing. The way they operate is several passengers get on board and strapped in , some in original crew seats, others on the floor as there are no extra seats fitted, you just get strapped to the bulkhead ! Once airborne you are free to roam around the aeroplane, visit the cockpit, tail turret , Bomb aimer’s position etc. The only warning given was on the B-17 “ Don’t step off the catwalk across the bomb bay as the bomb doors are spring loaded and if you fall out we’re not coming back for you “ !! Great stuff.
Photo Keith Bradshaw
The famous Norden Bomb sight in the nose of the B-25 Mitchell somewhere over Florida.
Needless to say there are a couple of stories to go with these old ladies of the sky. On turning up in Tampa for the flight on the Mitchell I was greeted with the sight of one of the ground crew sat atop an engine beating it with a hammer, a little worrying. Apparently it needed an exhaust pipe refitting. Well I’m not sure if he had managed the job because during the flight the noise in the bomb aimer’s position was deafening!! The other story was about he B-24, this flight took place at Manassus which is just outside Washington DC . It had been delayed for a day due horrendous storms and it was with some relief we actually took off. It was a great flight and it was hard not to marvel at the bravery of the young men who flew in these things for real. Just walking about without bashing into some sharp piece of structure or equipment was difficult and we were cruising serenely at about 1000 feet with nobody shooting at us, it must have been terrifying to have gone to war in one of these bombers. Anyway, as the flight drew to a close and we settled on to our final approach to land all of a sudden there was a terrific roar as all four engines were opened up to full power and we did a climbing turn away from the airfield. After another circuit we landed and taxied back to the ramp where the pilot informed us he had been told by air traffic to do a go around as a VIP jet containing Colin Powell the then US Secretary of State wanted to take off in front of us landing!!
Photo Keith Bradshaw
The Collings Foundation B-24, one of only two airworthy examples on the planet.
Moving away from warbirds here are a couple of airliner stories. One of the scariest flights I had was with Dan Air on one of their Boeing 727s. We were flying on a holiday charter to Switzerland and as such the plane was full. The flight out from Gatwick had gone well and we were all back in our seats with seatbelts fastened and tray tables folded and seats upright for the approach into Zurich looking forward to the holiday. These thoughts soon went to the back of my mind when one of the Stewardess’s answered an intercom call from the cockpit, unbuckled and came back to look out of the cabin windows at the wing, now you didn’t need to be an engineer to know that was not normal! She returned to her seat and nothing more was said but as we touched down it was obvious we were going rather fast and despite the prolonged use of reverse thrust not slowing down very much at all !! After what seemed like an eternity of thrust reverser roar the plane suddenly slewed sideways and finally stopped. That’s where we stayed, they sent the buses out to pick us up from the runway. As we deplaned the problem was clear for all to see, the flaps had not extended so our landing speed had been very fast and at a guess the brakes had been affected as well. What had happened in the last moments of the landing roll was the pilot had been faced with a choice. Try and take the last turn off at high speed or run off the end of the runway . He took option one and the effect of the plane sliding sideways had finally stopped it yards from the end of the runway. Still as we all walked away unharmed I guess it was deemed a good landing!
Photo Pedro Aragao
A Dan Air Boeing 727, the type that caused all the excitement at Zurich. Funnily enough my only other serious incident was also with Dan Air when a BAC 1-11 engine failed on take off!
I will end this episode as promised by recounting the Barcelona story. By 2003 the flights had been mounting up and I was one trip away from the first one hundred. The plan was to fly on a Boeing 767-300 to Barcelona for the day in December. The timings were perfect as the Barcelona flight was one of the first out of Heathrow and with an evening flight back there was to be plenty of time in Barcelona for a quick look at the sights and a spot of Tapas and Rioja. So off we flew and the day all went according to plan until we returned to the airport to check in for the return flight to London. The terminal check in area was awash with torn up newspapers, pieces of cardboard and lots of other rubbish, also at one end of the building were a group of people chanting in Spanish whilst one of their members kept time on a large drum! The check in girl explained the group were the terminal cleaners, on strike for more pay and were showing how they would be missed by littering the terminal! I think this must have been one of those “Spanish practices” the papers were always going on about. What about the flight, well purely coincidentally the date I had chosen for flight number one hundred was 17 December 2003, exactly one hundred years to the day since man’s first powered flight by the Wright brothers, spooky eh!!
British Airways Boeing 767-300, my one hundredth type.
That’s it for this time around, the next episode will feature some Float and Flying boat trips along with my connection to Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs!
Till the next time Keith.