Airborne "Autotests"

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A POPULAR missconception, particularly among those who are only casually interested, is the idea that to take part in a motor sporting event you need a wheeled vehicle. Contests just as demanding and exciting as those between cars or motor cycles frequently take place on waterways, and anyone who has watched a powerboat race cannot fail to have been enthralled by the spectacle.

The air provides another sporting arena, and both races and rallies often attract a variety of competitors and aircraft, although these are not as spectacular to the public as land and water sports since they take place over a much larger area and cannot be watched continuously.

An exception to this is a form of airborne sport which does remain largely confined to one location and which allows the public to see, at close quarters, displays of skill and precision flying. We arc referring to helicopter competitions, aspect which, although against the clock, involves speeds generally far lower than those on land or water. But it is nonetheless exacting, as anyone with knowledge of flying power-rotor aircraft will appreciate.

In June the Helicopter Club of Great Britain held its annual championship meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse (no need for a proper airfield, of course) where, despite cloudy weather and heavy showers, a sizeable crowd turned up.

The occasion was sponsored by the Colt Car Company, largely through its associate, Colt Executive Aviation, and was incorporated, with various other attractions, into a National Helicopter Fair.

There were 19 entries for the contests themselves, including piston and turbine powered aircraft of various sizes, some being flown more than once, with different pilots of course. The biggest and most powerful were two of Colt’s own Aerospatiale AS350 Squirrels, and the smallest a diminutive Robinson R22 in which pilot and passenger could not be on anything but the friendliest of terms!

Other aircraft included a Bell 206B JetRanger, complete with tusk-like cable cutters mounted above and below the nose cone, flown by Noel Edmonds, a number of nimble Hughes 500s, a couple of 300s, the smaller, piston-engined machine from the some stable, an Enstrom F2RA, one of the rather insect-like B2B Brantlys and an excellent example of a Bell 470, sadly no longer made.

The competition began with timed arrivals across two flag-marked lines at right angles to each other, and this was followed by accurate 360° hovering turns around a fixed point on the ground, with a penalty for every inch of variance between the positions of initial and final landings.

In anything but calm conditions accurate hovering demands the utmost attention to constant correcting movements of all controls, both hands and both feet, and the somewhat gusty conditions at Cheltenham meant that this test was none too easy.

The most critical and spectacular test was a slalom and obstacle course along the racecourse itself, right in front of the main grandstands.

Each aircraft had a door removed and hanging through each aperture was a crewman holding an 18’ rope tied to a bucket of water. The object was to come up to a hover so that the bucket came off the ground, marginally out of ground effect due to the length of the rope, then to manoeuvre the bucket between several pairs of irregularly placed posts, under and through various obstacles, and finally place it accurately through a hole in a sloping board, on to a target on the ground beneath, all without spilling a drop!

There were penalties for each second over the seven-minute maximum and for each two ounces of water lost.

Pilot and crewman were on opposite sides of the aircraft, ensuring that only one of them could really see the obstacles at one time. This put a premium on clear and accurate instructions over the intercom, to which pilots had to respond whilst coping with the pendulum effects of an externally slung load.

The Squirrels, since they were not flown by amateurs, were not eligible for the HCGB Championship, but there was a separate contest for the Colt Trophy involving the slalom only and Robert Kellie of Colt Aviation won this comfortably in one of his company’s Squirrels, giving a fine display of accurate sideways flying in the process.

Much water was spilled during the event, and although it rained at times the showers were not sufficiently heavy to keep the buckets full.

Lighter aircraft, more susceptible to wind gusts, were more difficult to fly accurately, but the outright winner of the championship — arrivals, hovering turns, slalom and navigation exercise the next day — was Bill Gray in an Enstron F28A, an attractive-looking piston-engined aircraft with belt-type clutch, non-hydraulic controls and a three-bladed rotor.

Other events during the day included a display by microlight aircraft, a fine show by two Pitts Specials of the Marlboro Aerobatic Team and an enthralling exhibition of helicopter versatility by a Westland Gazelle of the Helicopter Central Flying School at RAF Shawbury.

Another interesting diversion was that of Wing Commander Ken Wallis who demonstrated the little single-seat Wallis Autogyro which he designed and built himself and which he has flown all over the world, even for the shooting of one of the James Bond films.

The theme of Wallis’ display was a chase in which the pursued was in rather an old Triumph saloon from which smoke canisters were fired to simulate rocket strikes. Alas, something must have gone wrong, for the car actually did catch fire and the attending unit from Staverton Airport Fire Service was called to put out the flames!

Anyone who enjoys motor sporting events on wheels would appreciate this kind of contest with helicopters and it’s a pity that HCGB members are not able to thus entertain the public more often. — G.P.