There’s no denying Flying Pig Helicopters have a sense of humour. Their website declares: ‘If you are of average intelligence, average health and below average looks, we can and will teach you to fly.’ So with zero experience and reassured that pretty much anyone is capable of having a go, I journeyed to Elstree Aerodrome on a sunny morning to take to the skies.
Greeted by an incredibly friendly bunch, I was introduced to each member of the team, and most importantly my teacher and seasoned pilot; Paul. I’d be having my beginners lesson in a 4 seater R44 Helicopter previously owned by the founder of Pret-a-Manger, a fact I found all the more amusing as I’d scoffed a Pret sandwich on my journey to the aerodrome. I wondered how many chicken and avocado sandwiches it had taken to buy one of these…
Following a pre-flight safety briefing (demonstrated with a little Playmobil helicopter), I felt quite confident about the technicalities and was sure I’d be flying the helicopter before the day was done. Not quite. With pedals for left and right, a handbrake-type lever for up and down, and a ‘cyclic’ stick for, well, every other way… it was anything but simple.
Once strapped safely inside, I was raring to go so Paul started up the rotor. The helicopter accelerated crazily quickly and within a matter of seconds we were soaking up the views from up above. When we reached a steady (and slightly scary) speed, it was time for me to take over the controls.
Placing a tentative hand on the cyclic, I tried my best to steer the helicopter, attempting to keep the nose in line with the horizon as I over steered dramatically. ‘Yep, you only need to move it very slightly..’ said Paul, glancing at my white knuckles and gritted teeth. Unfortunately, as soon as I heard the words ‘you’re flying the helicopter!’, I became all too aware of what I was doing and started to go a bit wonky. Taking over the controls, Paul ever so expertly bought us down to a couple of metres above the ground where I would learn to hover.
Hovering is definitely not as easy as you’d imagine. Using both pedals, lever and cyclic at the same time, it’s a bit like that thing where you pat your head and rub your tummy but with another limb thrown in for good measure. I hovered for around 7 seconds which was apparently ‘above average’. I think Paul was probably being kind…
Taking to the skies for a final time, Paul took over the controls and we did a lap of honour, sweeping and swooping through the air until we pirouetted gracefully into the landing area. It was amazing to experience flying with someone so skilled and it’s no wonder people who have had a lesson with Paul often go on to earn their helicopter pilots licence.
I loved having the chance to fly the helicopter and although it was a lot harder than i’d ever imagined, I’d revel at the chance to give it another go. It’s the ultimate experience for those with an adventurous side and as Paul pointed out, if you have your own chopper and you fancy a spot of dinner, you never have to make a reservation!