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Skeeter AOP12 XL809/G-BLIXChopped choppers

Andrew Bates reports from Kemble's 'Heli Air Day', 31 August

Following the success of last year's inaugural event, the airfield at Kemble was once again scheduled to play host to a show devoted entirely to helicopters during the last Sunday of August. Unfortunately, during the run up to the event, Glen Moreman and his team were hit by a series of cancellations, primarily from the UK military. However, undeterred by this disappointing turn of events, the organisers ensured that the show carried on as a fly-in rather than the planned 'airshow for helicopters'. Accordingly, the admission charge for the show was thus reduced by 50%, which as the day unfolded, proved to be rather good value for money.

The news of the downgrade to fly-in had been advertised prior to the day via the Heli Air Day website, but thankfully this had not prevented a good-sized crowd of 'chopper' enthusiasts from turning up. At the start of the morning, all the early birds arriving at the airfield would have perhaps thought they had turned up on the wrong day, with just the one helicopter to be found sitting on the flightline. However, this was just the start of a rotary-winged bonanza, as by lunchtime the flightline was full to bursting, necessitating the double-parking of a number of machines so that all the visiting pilots could be safely accommodated.

Gazelle HT.3 XW898/'G'/G-CBXTSo what turned up? Well, as would be expected during a fly-in devoted to helicopters, the flightline was dominated by a varied selection of types so familiar at many airports and heliports around the world. There were examples of the Robinson R22 and R44, Hughes 500, Aerospatiale Ecureuil and Gazelle, Enstron Shark, and of course, the ubiquitous Bell 206 Jetranger. All smartly turned out, with a variety of colour schemes, it was as if this particular corner of Kemble had been transformed into the helo equivalent of a sports car showroom. You could almost imagine the sales patter; "…….the Gazelle? Good choice Sir, one careful owner, only been used for a few trips to the races at Newmarket, less than 300 hours on the clock, full service history, a snip at 120,000, shall we go inside to discuss terms?" We can but dream.

Easily the most modern chopper on display was the Eurocopter EC135 from the Gloucestershire Police air support unit. Taking a few hours out of their busy schedule to attend the show, the guys from the Gloucester Constabulary at least gave the crowds a taste of the high-tech glamour that had been denied to them following all the military cancellations.

However, as interesting as modern helicopters may be, it was really the historic contingent that attracted the most interest amongst the enthusiasts. These included an Alouette II pairing, one ex-Swiss AF and one ex-French Army, the latter intriguingly using a Hungarian civil registration. There was also a pair of Bell 47s, one of which was an ex-AAC Sioux AH1, along with a pair of ex-AAC Scouts and a pair of ex-RAF Gazelles, both of which were still displaying their 2 FTS markings. Finally, a pair of charismatic Brantly B2s, and making a late arrival, an immaculately finished Skeeter AOP12, again ex-AAC.

Scout AH.1  XV134/'P'/G-BWXLA popular move, halfway through the day, was the opening of the flightlines to the general public. This allowed all the machines on display to be subject to closer scrutiny for an hour or so, with the added benefit that all the serious photographers amongst the crowd now had an excuse to peruse the stalls or grab some lunch, as the majority of interesting helos were swamped with people.

Once lunch was out the way, and as the afternoon drew on, the flightline was then cleared ready for departures. Then, as and when the relevant owners/pilots were ready, one by one, the visiting choppers started up and lifted off for the return journey home. With all the arrivals in the morning, and all the resultant departures in the afternoon, it was amazing how fast the time passed throughout the event. Before you knew it, it was about 16:30 in the afternoon, and the last rotor blades were spooling up.

For the rotary winged enthusiast, a show devoted entirely to helicopters is not a commonplace occurrence, so full marks to Glen and everyone else involved at Kemble for having the foresight for such an event. Hopefully this year's downgrade to fly-in is just a temporary measure, and with luck, next year may see a return to the originally planned airshow for helicopters.


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