Reflections on rotorcraft

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Power is usually associated with the production of movement, not its prevention. and one might have difficulty thinking of a machine winch can use its power to produce either.

Such machines do exist and the one we have in mind is capable of becoming airborne, of flying in any direction and even of station, flight. You will need no core prompting, of course, to recognise that our subject is the helicopter.

Helicopters are generally slower in flight than fixed-wing aircraft but in terms of convenience they have no parallel. Consider the delays of ground travel, thc need of fixed-wing pilots to End suitable airstrips and the sheep-herding methods employed at scheduled airports and you can only conclude that helicopters save time on all but the longest and shortest of journeys.

Small wonder, then, that they are put to good use by people in motor sporting circles. It is quite commonplace for drivers and others to be ferried to and from racing circuits by helicopter, avoiding all manner of likely delays and at the same time pandering, perhaps, to the needs of ego and image.

Even spectators often avail themselves of this convenience, and when McAlpine Helicopters Ltd. established a temporary heliport, complete with air traffic controls at Brands Hatch for the 1980 British Grand Prix there were no less than 1,094 in or out movements on race day alone, involving 57 different aircraft.

Apart from their more obvious use as personal transport, helicopters are excellent worl.orses in all manner of applications, and when a rally team uses one in the field it is certain to have an operational role far more important than that of pretentious tearn manager’s taxi.

Floods, deserts, forests, mountains and even open bush are not easily crossed quickly by ground transport, and when spares, tools, fuel, mechanics or medical aid have to be moved in a hurry over difficult terrain there is no substitute for a helicopter.

Rally servicing schedules are based on the leap-frogging movements of mechanics on the ground from fixed point to fixed point, and if an emergency causes the delayed departure of a vehicle from one of those points the outcome could be the failure of that vehicle to arrive on time at its next rendezvous.

The use of a helicopter can obviate this possibility and add a versatility which not even the biggest fleet of ground vehicles could manage. Indeed, weather and daylight hours permitting, there could be almost total coverage of a rally route, and that to a team manager is insurance of the best possible kind.

Film crews, too, find helicopters invaluable for adding extra angles and dimensions to their footage, although when the same aircraft is used for both service and filming (teams often commission films us advance) the tmosses sometimes conflict. Of course, if a manufacturer has an adequate budget, two aircraft will be chartered, one for set-vice and one for filming, but this is really only for the very well-heeled.

Film crews sometimes annoy competitors by getting their pilots to fly too close to the cars, particularly on roads earring along the shoulders of hills where the aircraft can actually get lower than the car, and there have been occasions whcn the noise of a helicopter has distracted the attention of spectators from approaching cars and caused them robe oblivious to the sound and sight of impending danger on the ground.

But these are not criticisms of the machines, and it would be foolish to listen to the few weak calls for a ban on the use of helicopters in rallying simply because men who fly them occasionally cause nuisance. After all, the machine simply does what its pilot tells it to do.

A country which is particularly aviation conscious is Kenya, where air support for rally crews was probably born. Farmers and other bush fliers — and there are many of them in that country — used their light aircraft to take fuel, food and other supplies to rendezvous with their competing friends. But even in Kenya the use of helicopters is relatively new, the first occasion we recall being daytime sorties by the somewhat well-used Bell 476 of the Kenya Police Air Wing, a much smaller, cheaper and older aircraft than the two costly, twin-turbine (but single rotor! Bell 222s bought last year by the Metropolitan Police. Majesty smiled on the Fiat team on one of their visits to the Morocco Rally, for the Alouette which they chartered turned out to be one of the helicopters of the Royal Bodyguard!

This, in June 1975, was the first time a helicopter had been used entirely for service, and it flew over the entire route, incluthng special stages, ready to alight whenever and wherever the attentions of mechanics were needed. The aircraft carried two aircrew and two Fiat mechanics, one of whom was a former paratrooper.

Much use was made of that helicopter, although another aircraft — a fixed-wing twin — was also in service with Fiat as an airborne radio relay station. It missed one rendezvous with its fuelling truck after deviating to collect retired crews, and there were gulps and looks of alarm when the two pilots negotiated with the local Caid and had the Alouette — turbine powered of course — filled up with a mixture of commercial petrol and paraffin, which was promptly drained in favour of the proper stuff when it landed at Marrakesh Airport.

The facility to land mechanics and spares right alongside a stricken car within minutes was a tremendous boon, and certainly far better than dropping spares by parachute as some teams have done, relying on competitors’ mechanical skill to fit those spares and their fitness to chase an off-target parachute across the desert scrub.

There were murmurs from rivals that helicopter service was unfair, but the option was open to all and there can therefore have been no unfairness. Is it wrong for one professional team to have a bigger budget than another? If so, it must be just as wrong thr a f.tory car to be backed by a dozen service vehicles whilst poor amateurs have to make do with one. Helicopter hire is by no means cheap, and the complaining on this occasion was from teams with financial resources far less than those of Fiat.

However, when a rule forbids entry to special stages by service vehicles, does this also apply to helicopters? Mechanics on foot are allowed to enter, but would hovering over a stage to lower a mechanic by winch constitute “entry of a vehicle”?

Another complaint wan that helicopters were being used on secret rallies (those which banned advance practice) so that pace notes could be radioed to competitors from the air. Those who know anything about pace notes will realise that the complaint was exaggerated, simply because it is impossible to make pace notes from the air. But it is nevertheless useful for a driver to know in advance that there is a bullock cart aroud the next blind bend, or that a certain drift is full of fast moving water, and it was perhaps more at this sort of thing that the complaints were levelled.

The benefits far outweigh the possible misuses, however, and complaints tend to fade to nothing when a team’s helicopter is diverted to take an injured person to hospital, or to bring fuel to officials whose tanks have run dry.

The Automobile and Touring Club of Greece used their veteran, piston-engined Bell 47G to collect time cards from controls and fly them back to rally headquarters. More recently they used a Cobra borrowed from the military. but these were straightforward communication matters and might have been better accomplished by radio or telephone.

During the 1980 Motogard Rally, in New Zealand’s South Island, helicopters swarmed around the route, some filming and some servicing. Most of them were Hughes 500s which are regularly used by hunters and sheep farmers, their pilots well used to flying close to the groued and making tight manoeuvres around obstacles. 

Most of the time the air traffic was orderly, for the pilots had got together in advance and selected a common radio frequency for their own communications, independent of those of he teams for which they were working.

But when film crews spotted ears being assisted by spectators and 4-w-d vehicles through a deep and fast flowing river they all wanted the action on film and their helicopters homed in like moths to a candle.

The first to arrive got the prime position directly overhead, but the cameraman hanging on his straps through the door aperture hogged the spot for longer than his confederates were prepared to accept, and there Was a delicate situation when another Hughes came in close to “nudge” its rival into moving over.

Yet another decided to put its cameraman on the ground and the pilot chose the actual stage road to do this, maintaining 90, hover even though its skids were on the ground so that it could depart smartly if a car came into view suddenly. A Japanese friend was very close to this operation and since he is terrified of helicopters he took refuge beneath a nearby parked can until the whirling rotor blades were safely airborne again.

The Mercedes team scorned the Hughes in New Zealand and opted thr the more powerful Bell 206 Jetranger. The particular aircraft carried all the avionics for night flying, plus lifting gear and powerful ground floodlighting, and flew with pilot, team manager and mechanic. It was used to good effect on many occasions, even bringing a complete rear axle for one of the cars and lowering it to waiting mechanics by winch. But its experienced pilot drew the line — figuratively. of course — when asked by the Mercedes team manager to hitch his winch hook to a ditched car and help get it back to the road. Wisely, the pilot declined. The aircraft’s floodlights were not really brought into full use either, the violent storms blew up at night and grounded the machine.

Since so much use is made of helicopters by rally teams, why do they rent and not buy? What are the economics of acquiring and running such an aircraft. and how easy is it to learn to Its one?

In the first place, the costs of both purchase and operation are much higher than those of corresponding fixed-wing aircraft, and that means a proportionately higher depreciation figure uito the bargain. Stringent servicing and inspection rules result in annual maintenance charges which apply whether the aircraft is used or oot. Indeed, it costs a great deal just to keep a helicopter on the ground, and the most economical machine is one which is kept working as much as possible, earning money to offset running costs.

A rally team would not have such regular LISC Inn a helicopter, unless it indulged in leasing the aircraft to a charter company, but that would almost certainly add a few headaches to the already well taxed minds of team managers.

It is not such a difficult process to grasp the rudiments of helicopter flying, then to polish them up to satisfy eagle-eyed examiners, but it isn’t a cheap process by any means, although it is possible to shop around for the best terms. The most prominent school in Britain. indeed in Europe, is that operated by CSE Aviation at Kidlington, and we hope to bring you more un activities there in a future issue.

Meanwhile, we trust that no ill-informed administrator will instigate restrictions on the use of helicopters in rallying. They provide unrivalled mobility, are immensely versatile, are tremendously exhilarating to fly and can render aid in emergency far more readily than any other means of transport. — GP.

Flying in Fiction

We tend to be mole receptive to real aeroplanes in books than to fictional flying. But it would be churlish to pass over two recent hooks of the “thriller” kind, both directly concerned with aviation and both very exciting and gripping of their kind. The first is the New English Library / Times Mirror paperback “Mayday” by Thomas H. Block. It centres around a supersonic airliner of the future hit by a missile. Described by the Daily Express as the best disaster novel they have read, you may enjoy it enormously if you are conditioned, perhaps by television, to a long succession of improbable thrills interspersed with blood, vomit, violence and had language, surprisingly tempered by very little sex.

The other thriller icier more civilised, plausible and better written, although a few obseenitivs and improbabilities are there. It is “Scream At The Sea” and is largely about adventure against a background of security fopr one of our nuclear submarines based in Scotland and a Teal Amphibian which the author, Christopher Murphy’, has obviously flown — indeed, his descriptions of doing this and operating a deck-based 14K Royal Navy. Phantom might have come from a non-fictional heath— and a girl with a Lotus. This book is publish.] by Seeker 8/ Warburg. You get what you pay for, and it costs £5.95 whereas “Mayday”, in which hero John Bemy survives an incredible number of gory. fraught and decide, unpleasant situations, can he bought for only £1.75 –W.B.

Miniatures News

To celebrate the Ettore Bugatti anniversary Grand Prix Models of 173-175. Watling Street, Radlett am offering their 1:43-scale metal-kit for making a miniature 1936 , 1937 Ty, 57S streamlined Bugatti to represent either the Le Mans winner and long-distance record cars or the French GP team cars. The car is in (usable alloy developed for GPM’s 1981 range and the streamlined Bugatti kit sells for £7.45; postage another 50p. — W.B.

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