Category Archives: Aircew

Cabin Crew Hero!

The water dripped sullenly off my jacket, creating audible “plops” as the droplets hit the polished wooden floor, where they co-operatively coalesced into a minor puddle.

I smiled at the barista, as she cheerfully passed my coffee across to me, proudly announcing “Caffe Latte Medio”, as if she were conferring a knighthood upon me.

I walked to an empty corner table, and sat down, shoving my rucksack into the corner.

Pulling my battered laptop computer out of its cover, I set up; the battery was full, my mug was full, and so I settled down.

I have had a life-long interest – a passion for aviation that has spanned fifty years. My early schoolboy heroes were the wartime pilots from both the Great War, and World War Two. In my teens, the trailblazing pilots of the 1920s and 1930s caught my imagination, and I read almost everything about the early fliers that I could lay my hands on.

By the age of thirteen or fourteen, I was familiar with the great pioneers – Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Jean Batten, Sir Alan Cobham, Neville Norway, Elrey Jeppesen and Wiley Post.

Over the years, I became familiar with the names of hero pilots, Al Haynes, and his flight deck colleagues who heroically flew their stricken DC-10 jet to its infamous crash landing at Sioux City.

Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal whose aircraft ran out of fuel over the wastes of the Canadian prairies, and who successfully glided to a safe landing at Gimli, a former Royal Canadian Air Force base.

More recently Captain Chesley Sullenberger was hailed a hero after ditching his fully laden Airbus A320 into the River Hudson after a bird strike critically damaged both of its engines shortly after take-off.

All these accounts tend to stick in the minds of the public, due to the courage and swift decision making of the flight crew.

Little is said about their cabin crew colleagues, despite many of them having been instrumental in saving lives – and sometimes dying in the course of their duties, and the spotlight tends to focus on the pilots.

This imbalance is probably not deliberate, but needs to be corrected, so after a little digging around, I found some accounts of very brave and courageous cabin crew.

Take the case of Barbara Harrison. She joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in May 1966, at the age of twenty one as a Flight Attendant (or Air Stewardess as they were known at the time).

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On the 8th April 1968 she was rostered to operate BOAC’s Flight 712WE to Sydney. This long-haul flight was flown by a Boeing 707 –  long and tiring, routing via Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore and Perth.

Sadly, the flight was doomed from the start. It departed Heathrow Airport at about three thirty in the afternoon. During the initial climb out, the number two engine caught fire, and was so severely damaged that it fell from the aircraft, leaving the rest of the left wing ablaze.

The flight made an immediate emergency return back to Heathrow, where it made a safe landing. However, the fire on the port wing intensified to the point that the cabin windows were actually melting. Once the stricken aircraft touched down, the situation was so dire, that the cabin crew were beginning to start an immediate passenger evacuation.

Barbara’s crew position was at the rear of the aircraft, and her emergency duties were to assist the cabin attendant at the aft crew station in opening the appropriate passenger door, and help to inflate the escape slide, and then subsequently direct passengers to the door to make their escape.

The pair eventually managed to open the rear starboard door, furthest from the fire and fired the escape slide, however, during the deployment, the slide twisted, making it useless. Bravely, the steward climbed down the slide, and straightened it, leaving Barbara in the cabin to organise the evacuation.

She managed to evacuate six passengers before the slide was punctured, and deflated, but despite this she managed to evacuate a further five passengers through encouragement and in some cases forcibly ejecting them down the deflated slide.

She then moved to the port rear door, which was extremely close to the blazing left wing, but she still managed to evacuate a further five passengers before that slide was damaged by the intensity of the fire, and deflated.

21 year old Barbara Harrison was last seen in the doorway, looking as if she were preparing to jump.

She didn’t…

She disappeared back into the blazing cabin in a desperate attempt to save the four remaining passengers – including a disabled woman and an eight year old girl.

She was never seen alive again.

 

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in recognition of her selfless gallantry that day – the only woman to have ever received the award in peacetime, and the youngest woman ever to hold the George Cross.

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Digging a bit further, I found out about Neerja Bhanot.

Neerja was a senior Cabin Attendant working with Pan American Airlines. She was just twenty-three when she was rostered to operate Pan Am Flight 73, scheduled to fly from Mumbai to New York on the 5th September 1986[1].

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The flight was to be operated by a Boeing 747-100 series aircraft, and departed from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International carrying 394 passengers, 9 infants, and 13 Indian cabin crew.

Flight 73 was planned to land twice before getting to New York, with stops at Karachi, Pakistan, and Frankfurt in West Germany.

Arriving at Karachi at 04:30, Flight 73 had disembarked over a hundred passengers, and was in the process of boarding the first busload of passengers for the next leg of the trip, when the aircraft was violently taken over by four Palestinian hijackers.

The Hijackers identified themselves as belonging to the Abu Nidal terrorist group.

During the ensuing confusion, Neerja managed to contact the flight deck and give the alarm, and the flight deck crew, following corporate policy, immediately evacuated the flight deck, thus leaving the hijackers with no means of flying the aircraft away[2].

This escalated the tension, and a passenger was arbitrarily selected, and taken to the forward aircraft door, where he was brutally murdered – shot in the back of the head, and thrown onto the tarmac from the aircraft door.

As the Senior Purser on board, Neeraj maintained her professionalism, and kept the passengers calm in an effort to stabilise the situation.

She was ordered to collect all of the passenger passports, and give them to the lead hijacker.

Realising that holders of US passports would be at the highest risk, she briefed her colleagues to hide as many of the US passports as possible, and many were hidden under seats, and the rest thrown down a galley refuse chute.

Realising the situation could only get worse, Neerja removed the page detailing how to open an aircraft door from her cabin crew manual, and slipped it into a magazine. Passing down the cabin, she passed this to a male passenger sitting adjacent to the door, instructing him to read the magazine carefully and to refer to it again later if needed. The page contained full instructions on how to open the door safely, and how to deploy the evacuation slide.

As the hijack progressed, The aircraft ran out of fuel, resulting in the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) shutting down.

The aircraft was now only lit with the emergency lights, and this obviously unnerved one of the gunmen standing by the forward aircraft door, who opened fire in the darkness, aiming at the suicide vest worn by another of the terrorists.

The shot was inaccurate, and the desired explosion didn’t happen, but the sudden gunfire acted as a catalyst, causing the remaining gunmen to detonate explosives and open fire indiscriminately in the passenger cabin injuring and killing many of those on board.

Neeraj bravely opened doors, and assisted passengers in making their escape. Shot in the hip, and bleeding heavily, she was eventually evacuated to the local hospital, where she died of her wounds.

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Stories on the internet suggest that she was shot whilst shielding three children, one of whom was so inspired that he learned to fly, and subsequently became a captain with a major air carrier, although I have found no corroborative evidence for this, not even in documented interviews with the crew.

There is no doubt in my mind though, that Neeraj saved many lives with her selfless actions that terrible day in 1986.

More recently, on the 5th May 2019, Aeroflot Flight 1492 left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport bound for Murmansk. Shortly after take-off, the Sukhoi Superjet was hit by lightning, sustaining damage to its fly-by-wire flight controls, autopilot and radios.

It returned to Moscow, where it made an emergency landing. During the landing, it bounced heavily, and burst into flames.

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Twenty-two year old Maxim Moiseev was positioned in the aft section of the cabin, where the intense fire struck first. Unable to open his exit door, he directed his passengers forwards, but died quickly in his valiant efforts to assist his passengers.

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His colleague, Tatyana Kasatkina stationed in the forward part of the fuselage managed to kick her door open, and forcibly ejected passengers down the escape slide, saving many lives as she did so. This was conducted whilst the cabin was filling with pungent, acrid smoke, and with intense fire. Temperatures in the cabin were so high that windows were melting.

In all of these cases, many passengers only survived as a result of the courage, selfless bravery and cool thinking of their cabin crew.

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Call them what you will – Flight Attendants, Cabin Crew, Stewards and Stewardesses, they have as much to be proud of in an emergency as their flight deck colleagues.

Next time you fly, show a little respect for the “hostie” or “trolley dolly” that is serving your meal, or bringing you another Gin and Tonic. Behind the uniform, or the make-up and smile, there will be a brave, highly trained and caring person – who could be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Draining the last of my coffee, I closed the lid of my laptop, the article finished.

The result is here on my page.

Mark Charlwood©  December 2019

[1] One India news article     India Times article

[2] Boeing 747 Flight Crew Escape System

A Summer Fly-in at a Country Airfield

The sky was an azure bowl, and the scent of new-mown grass lay heavy in the mid-morning sunshine. The playful breeze toyed with the surrounding tents, causing them to billow and sway, like an insane troupe of Turkish Belly Dancers.

I wandered along, past ranks of parked aircraft, each one trembling slightly at each soft breath of wind. To the other side of the runway stood a mediaeval cluster of tents, gazebos and stalls, each accumulating untidy gaggles of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

The subdued hubbub of conversation was suddenly overwhelmed with the electronic hiss of the public address system. The disembodied voice of the commentator rolled across the airfield, bouncing back from the surrounding hills, the echoes garbled and distorted.

The announcement was garbled, but I caught a few words and realised that a lost boy was being held at the First Aid tent. I wondered idly where his parents were. At the Burger Van? The Mobile Bar?  Or were they queuing to use the lavatories?

The murmuring was quiet at first – almost beneath the threshold of hearing, but it gradually became persistent, growing in volume and engorging with tone. Suddenly the day was split apart with the thunderous yet melodious note of three vintage aeroplanes flying in perfect formation – appearing low over the trees at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The staccato high-pitched whine of motor-driven cameras was just audible above the palpable growl of the engines. Every spectator looked skyward, envying the superb airmanship shown by the pilots.

The flight swooped majestically around the airfield, the sun glinting on the polished cowlings, refracting off wings as they looped and rolled above the South Downs. They were gone as suddenly as they arrived, and peace reigned once more.

As I continued my ramble towards the end of the runway, I heard the much softer note of another aircraft engine. I spotted a single light in the sky, which grew steadily until it metamorphosed into a small aircraft.

With its engine at idle, the aeroplane passed me, sighing softly as it touched down on the bumpy grass, its nose nodding up and down, affirming a good landing. As I watched, it slowed to walking pace, and taxied sedately towards the low Nissan Hut housing Air-Traffic Control.

A sallow youth wearing a very grubby High Visibility Tabard, stood glumly at the head of a vacant parking slot, and  began to unenthusiastically wave his arms at the pilot, marshalling him into the vacant position.

More incoherence from the Tannoy indicated something would soon be happening. Looking up, I faintly recognised the profile of an aeroplane, obviously at high altitude – a ghostly insect crawling across the window of the sky.

Suddenly, the blue fabric of the sky was cross-stitched with a web of pristine white trails, each creating patterns of gently expanding white.

Blossoming into multi-coloured parachutes, each action-man figure oscillated like a small pendulum, expanding as they approached the white cross laid on the grass.

With a graceful pull on their control lines, each man arrested his descent, landing as softly as thistledown. An appreciative crowd clapped, as the team collected their deflated chutes.

Shadows were lengthening as I drove out of the car park. A Spitfire suddenly howled overhead, just in front of my car, its wheels already tucking up into its belly, its sides bronzed and gilded by the setting sun. Disappearing into the heat shimmer, it left only the echoes of its engine to testify to its existence.

End

Mark Charlwood MRAeS MISTC)©

The Guardian of the Skies

The Guardian of the Skies

The Pilot has a trusty friend, who’s heard, but never seen,

Who issues forth instructions, in a never ending stream,

The calming voice, in times of stress, our anchor to the ground,

The measured tones, in hours of need, a truly welcome sound
When we’re “uncertain of position” or have a crisis in the air,

It’s good to know you have a friend, who’s always waiting there,

When fuel is low, and met is poor, you’re losing V.M.C.,

That’s when you’ll really value, the folk in A.T.C.,
It’s easy for us pilots, to infringe somebodies zone,

A moments inattention in the hurry to get home,

Then we get admonished by the ATCO, we’ve unhinged,

Who curtly, politely, tells us, his airspace we’ve infringed
When things are getting busy, near an airports cluttered skies,

Our invisible supporter, lends another pair of eyes,

On flying a tricky clearance, your jangled nerves she’ll settle,

As she vectors you quite safely, amongst the heavy metal
Next time you go aloft, spare a moment for the chap,

Who commands the little lines of blue, upon your half mil map,

Don’t gripe about the airspace, that in the UKs rife,

Or curse the ATCOs down below, one day they’ll save your life 

Education And Aiports – Are we Losing the Plot?

Grumpy – And With Good Reason!

It may be because I am getting older, and therefore less tolerant of the idiocy of others, or it may be that other people really are becoming more cretinous and idiotic.
To prove my point, let me share some thoughts with you.
A few weekends ago, I had to make a short train journey to meet up with some family members for a genteel lunch, at a beautiful quiet country pub, nestled snugly in the Surrey countryside, in a fold of the peaceful and wealthy Surrey Hills.
In order to enjoy my journey to its fullest extent, I made a quick excursion into the pleasant little town of Haselmere, where I was to catch the train.  I left myself time to take a gentle stroll into the quintessentially English High Street where Costa Coffee is located, so I could buy my usual Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot.  

Meandering back to the station, I popped into W H Smiths and bought a paper to pass the time.

Standing on the sun dappled platform, I began to peruse the news of the day.  Amidst all of the hysteria about the forthcoming General Election, and the sad stories relating to the earthquake in Nepal, I found some cause for an element of grumpiness, which cheered me up considerably.
It seems that London’s Goldsmith College have banned Caucasian men from attending an “Anti Racism” event, because according to the “Diversity Officer,”  in order to attend you have to belong to the BME. It appears that the BME, far from being some supremacist group, stands for “Black Ethnic Minority”. 
Mind you, there is good news here as well, because the event also positively welcomed those who are “non-binary”. 
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some form of computer phobia, or an inability to count in base ten.  
I was a little amused to discover that those amongst us who are “Non Binary” do not know what sex they are.
Is it not somewhat ironic, that an event that is intended to break down barriers, and stop people discriminating against others based on racial background should fall into the trap of banning others from attending because they come from a different racial heritage.
You couldn’t make it up could you?
I did have to chuckle at the next article, concerning yet another bastion of the British Education system –  this time Queens University in Belfast.  Why has such a respected seat of learning become the target of my grumpiness (albeit mirthful grumpiness)?
Well, the scholarly leaders have decided to ban a conference on Free Speech, Self-Censorship and the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Who employs these people?  Are they specially selected for being stupid, so as to make the scholars feel clever?

So, it was with a mood of cheerful grumpiness that I met up with my family, and enjoyed an excellent lunch, with good company and good food.
Having to a certain extent, forgotten the previous evidence that modern educationalists are sillier than primary school children, I awoke the following morning early, as I had to take a trip to London to attend a business meeting.
Driving to the station, I grabbed a coffee, and picked up a Metro free newspaper at the station entrance.
Skimming through it, – amongst the latest daily doses of pre election hyperbole and more sad stories of the earthquakes and avalanches around Everest I spotted what I was subconsciously looking for…..my morning fix of idiocy to fuel my impish inner self.
Now, I work in the aviation industry, and have done for the best part of my working life, having previously served as a security officer, VIP services manager, an aircraft cleaner, a passenger services executive, and have been flight crew.  I have been exposed to much witless behaviour on many occasions from both passengers and colleagues, but I did draw a sharp intake of breath at the story published.
It seems that a little boy, of four years old was travelling through East Midlands Airport with his family, who were flying out to Lanzarote for their holiday.
All would have been well, but for the four year old carrying a plastic toy gun. It was promptly confiscated by airport security staff because “it posed a security risk”. A spokeswoman for the airport apparently said “No items may pass through security that resemble a prohibited item”
Having seen a Nerf gun in a photograph, it’s quite difficult to see what part of a bright yellow and orange plastic toy could cause anyone but a certifiable lunatic, (or maybe a user of psychotropic drugs) or someone of less than normal eyesight and common sense to mistake it for a real weapon.
Are these people actually recruited for their simplistic interpretation of a regulation that is obviously designed to stop people wandering round the departures lounge with replica AK-47s and similar.  
Mind you, a few years ago I  personally witnessed another situation whilst passing through to airside as a passenger.  The lady in front of me was asked to cover up her tee shirt….it was camouflaged and had an image of a Hand Grenade on it.  
She was justifiably irritated, but was told that the image could be distressing to other passengers.
We live in a very strange world these days, where reality is skewed to accommodate flawed thinking, and four year old children can’t take their favourite toy with them on holiday.
Welcome to brave new world.
Discuss! 
Mark Charlwood © 2015.  Mark Charlwood holds the intellectual property rights associated with this article. Please contact me if you wish to use it, or quote from it.

Electric Taxi – A New Brand New Era in Green Aviation Practice

.Ask anyone in the street about pollution and noise, and most folk will immediately talk about the road transport industry, or, if like me, they live near a major airport, then they would probably refer to the airlines.

Over the last fifty years, air travel has opened up a whole new dimension to travellers. Whether travelling on business, or taking the family away, air travel enables people to reach some of the remotest parts of our planet.

During the early and mid parts of the 20th century, air travel was expensive, and only those travellers with access to a large amount of disposable wealth could afford to fly. 

This was in part caused by the relative lack of supporting infrastructure, but the size of aircraft was also a limiting factor.

The biggest direct operating cost for any airline is that of fuel, and the current smaller aeroplanes were unable to offer the economies of scale necessary to place flying within the reach of the average man. 

To put this into perspective, in the early 1960s, the workhorse of the sky was the Boeing B707, which had a seating capacity of about 140. 

On the 22nd January 1970 Pan Am introduced the very first Boeing 747-100 into service. This aeroplane changed the face of aviation forever.  With its massive seating capacity, of more than double that of the 707, the costs for air travel fell dramatically, and even the poorest backpacker could save enough money to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight.

Over the years, developments of the 747 have continued, and as an example, a British Airways 747-400 will carry 345 passengers over vast distances.

But there are always other factors.  The 1973 oil crisis made fuel costs escalate rapidly, and a number of airlines went out of business. Those that survived recognised the need for newer far more fuel efficient aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers rose to the challenge, and many new aeroplane were developed, constructed from much lighter materials, including polymers and carbon fibre materials. 

Engine manufacturers have developed cleaner, quieter and far more fuel efficient engines, and new software driven control systems enable aircraft to fly far higher, out of the worst of the weather, and at altitudes where engines are even more frugal.

Sadly, this is still not enough.  The global energy crisis continues, and international concern with  climate change is driving fuel costs upwards.

Airlines are looking to save costs wherever they can.  Most airlines will defer operating the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) until shortly before boarding, and some airlines have established a policy that requires aircraft to be taxied with one engine shut down.

The economics of this are sound, and saving may be made.

According to Airbus Industrie an Airbus A320 fitted with CFM56 engines will burn 250kg of fuel conducting a twenty minute average taxi time. A single engine taxi of the same duration will burn a reduced amount of 190kg.

Using IATA fuel data, jet fuel (Jet A-1) costs £0.3613 per kilo so a single engine taxi will cost the operator £68.65.  Two engines £72.26. This is doubled effectively, as the aircraft also has to taxi in after landing, which again, will take an average of twenty minutes.

Throughout 2014 fuel prices fell by an average of 42.8%, so it is reasonable to assume that they could rise again by the same amount, giving taxi costs of between £98.03 and ££103.19. 

A very simple costing taking into account British Airways fleet of 105 Airbuses, assumes that each aircraft flies 5 sectors a day (5×2 taxies = 10 x 20 minutes x 105) that’s a massive 350 hours of taxiing. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 12.5kg/min = 262,500 kg = 262.50 tonnes!

Now the figures look very different. In the above example, fuel currently costs £361.25 per tonne.  

£94,828 to just taxi around the airfield. Remember this is just a single days operation for one short haul fleet. 

Operators will be very keen to both minimise taxi times, and to reduce costs as much as possible during taxiing.

Airbus have been working on a new self propelled taxying system for the Airbus A320 series, known as eTaxi.

This system utilises a powerful air cooled electric motor that drives the main landing gear wheels via a self contained gearbox.

Powered is provided by the APU generator. The eTaxi motor has sufficient power and torque to enable the aircraft to be reversed off the parking stand, and then taxied to the holding point for the departure runway. At this point, the engines may be started.

Naturally, current procedures and checklists would have to be amended and modified to reflect the use of eTaxi to ensure continuation of current ground movement safety.

The eTaxi system offers many benefits.  Airbus’s own studies have shown that even greater fuel savings may be made than by using single engine taxying. 

Using the AP/eTaxi and a single engine for taxying equates to a fuel burn of 140kg, and full electric taxying only 40kg for the same 20 minute taxy.  

 Using the same fleet data as before, the savings are considerable. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 2kg/min = kg = 42.00 tonnes!

With fuel in our example currently costing £361.25 per tonne, 42 tonnes costs £15,172.50, a massive daily saving of £79,655.50!

Naturally,  there is a weight penalty for the eTaxi equipment, consisting of motor, gearbox, wiring harness and software and control equipment, but Airbus Industrie quotes this as being about an extra 400kg, and over a 500nm sector, this would require an additional fuel burn of 16kg.

Overall the use of eTaxi with both engines shut down, and including a 5 minute engine warm up and a 3 minute engine cool down, will offer a trip fuel saving of about 3% on a typical A320 sector of 700nm. 

So, the airline accountants will be happy with the considerable direct financial savings.  However, there are many other associated benefits by using an eTaxi. 

During taxying operations, aircraft frequently have to stop, accelerate, turn and hold in position.  This places wear on the brakes, and incurs fuel penalties every time that the thrust levers are opened to recommence taxying.  

As eTaxi is a direct drive system, the normal wheel brakes become redundant, the braking being delivered through the gearbox itself.  

 Environmentally, eTaxi makes a lot of sense.  The use of clean electricity for ground movements will significantly reduce the amount of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide) and CO (Carbon Monoxide) found in the local atmosphere.  Noise levels will also be significantly reduced. 

An additional benefit is a reduced exposure to the risk of the engine ingesting foreign objects, and extending the time between mandated engine inspections and checks.  

Bearing in mind that the biggest cost for an airline is fuel. Last year British Airways spent £3.5 Billion pounds on fuel. Most large national carriers will be spending about the same.  The figures are almost too large to contemplate. 

It would appear then, that any additional costs in retrofitting such devices to an existing fleet will pay for itself many times over, and any airline that specifies new deliveries without this option are potentially wasting millions.

Facts from Airbus Industrie publication FAST 51

Fuel costs from IATA Fuel cost analysis 2015

BA fleet data from http://www.ba.com

BA Fuel costs data from http://www.iag.com

Mark Charlwood©2015. Mark Charlwood is the owner of the intellectual property rights to this work. Unauthorised use is not permitted. If you want to use this article please contact me for permission. Thank you. 

Stars In The Sky

Yesterday, I was sitting in Costa Coffee in Petersfield, trying to warm up and dry out.  The morning outside was, in pilot-speak “Claggy”, and the mist was draping itself seductively over the landscape.  I had just travelled the best part of 80 miles to get my scooter inspected prior to applying to get it onto the British vehicle register. 

The journey on the motorway was dull, boring, and miserable, and the continental trucks buffeted the bike around, competing with the blustery wind to make me work hard to keep the machine following a straight line.

So I decided to stop in Petersfield to get out of the fine misty rain, and glug back some Java.

I pulled out my trusty IPad, and started to write this article.  The subject matter has been playing on my mind for a good few months now, and having a few minutes spare, I will launch into it without further ado.

The catalyst for this sudden desire to get the article written was the news that Harrison Ford, a man for whom I have great admiration, had crash landed his vintage aeroplane whilst taking off from Santa Monica airport. 

Our Mister Ford is a keen pilot, and holds both single engine and twin engine licences, together with a helicopter licence.  He owns a number of aircraft, and is in love with flying to the extent that – in his words “I will fly up the coast for a cheeseburger”

As an aviation enthusiast (anorak) I love any films related to flight, flying, or aeroplanes.  My film collection is littered with films such as Top Gun (which must be the seminal aviation movie for the 80s) Air America, The Great Waldo Pepper, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and the Flight of the Phoenix.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many other Hollywood stars who appeared in such movies actually had piloting experience.

There are one or two well known high profile pilots, such as John Travolta, who owns a number of aircraft, and has a home on an air park in Florida.  He also operates a Boeing 707 bearing Quantas livery, which he flies regularly.

His nearby neighbour in California, one Clint Eastwood has been a qualified helicopter pilot for over thirty years, as well as being a keen environmentalist. 

Fellow actor and song wright, Kris Kristoffersson was also a helicopter pilot, having been taught by the U.S. military, and serving in Germany.  Leaving the army in 1965, he became a commercial helicopter pilot, serving oil platforms in Southern Louisiana for three years before making it big in the music industry, and then more latterly, the movies 

The diminutive Tom Cruise, who played the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun is a pilot in real life as well.  Having qualified in Canada, he owns a P51 Mustang, and a Pitts   Special. Not content with just flying aircraft, he also likes to jump,out of them, and in a keen parachutist. This, in my opinion, makes him a certifiable lunatic – but, hey, each to his own. 

Morgan Freeman also flies, and holds a Private licence.  He too has experienced the thrill and freedom that flying offers.  As a younger man he was an aircraft engineer in the USAF, and had aspirations of being a fighter pilot. I think he made the right choice, because as a successful movie star he can afford to fly whatever he likes….

The late, great James Stewart was a full Colonel in the USAF, and flew many combat missions during the Second World War, and was a highly decorated pilot.  He also appeared in the famous film The Flight of the Phoenix, and appeared in the starring  role in the biopic of Charles Lindburgh. However, his wartime experiences affected him profoundly, and he was averse to appearing in war films. 

Now, let’s move on to Star Trek.  Stark Trek epitomises the pinnacle of what aviation could become;  flying in what is effectively four dimensions.  The cast of this show is positively filled with an abundance of pilots.

James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer “Scottie” flew during the Second World War as a liaison pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster single engined aircraft, liaising with Canadian Artillery units. He was a natural and exuberant pilot, and was reprimanded for slaloming his aircraft between telegraph poles in around Salisbury Plain, when operating from RAF Andover. 

Creator and director of the Star Trek franchise, Gene Rodenberry was a bomber pilot during the Second World War, flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific theatre.  He flew 89 combat missions, and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Air Medal. He retired from the USAF holding the rank of Captain.

Subsequently, he went on to work for Pan American, flying Lockheed Constellations.  Strangely, he left his aviation connections behind, and before creating the series, he enrolled as a police officer in the LAPD. 

Michael Dorn, (Lieutentant Worf) is an accomplished and experienced pilot too. – and has owned a number of classic American ex-military jets, including a T33 trainer, and F86 Sabre, and a Sabreliner.  He is also very privileged to have flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.

Kurt Russell, joins the ranks of celebrity aviators.  The star of films such as Backdraught, and Vanilla Sky, and long time partner to Goldie Hawn holds a private licence for both single and multi engine aeroplanes.  He is also heavily involved in the aviation charity Wings of Hope. 

Action man Steve McQueen was also a very keen aviator. Having had a very dismal and fractured childhood, Steve developed a love for motor racing, fast cars and motorcycles.  He owned a collection of both, and performed a lot of his own stunts.  He is particularly renowned for the motorcycle chase sequence in The Great Escape, and for the high speed car chase in the film Bullit.  

It must be a hand-eye coordination thing, because he also fell in love with aviation.  

Or it could possibly be because his natural father was a stunt pilot with a Barnstormer Flying Circus!

Steve owned and flew a 1945 Boeing Stearman biplane, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a very rare Pitcairn PA-8 which was used by the U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker when he flew for the U.S. postal service.

George Peppard of “The A Team” fame was a talented pilot, and flew most of the aerial sequences in the film “The Blue Max” in which he starred as a German Air Force pilot.   He also piloted his own Learjet, which he used for commuting.

Jack Pallance, was selected by the USAF for pilot training, but a serious aircraft crash, which severely burned his face prevented him from flying thereafter.  

It’s also important not to forget the ladies in aviation.

Angelina Jolie is a qualified private pilot and flies a Cirrus SR-22. The model Giesele Bundchen has gained her wings, as has the British TV personality Carol Vorderman.  

Hilary Swank who, coincidentally, played the part of Amelia Earhart has also got a licence.

It’s not just the movie and TV personalities that have been gripped by the thrill of flying. 

Country Singer Alan Jackson has a private licence for both single engine and twins, and ex Van Halen rocker Dave Lee Roth has a helicopter licence.

Gary Numan, the Techno-Pop icon of the 1970s and front man of Tubeway Army is passionate about flying.  He qualified as a pilot and operated a North American Harvard for 15 years on the UK Airshow circuit. 

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy rock group Iron Maiden is also a flier.  However, his enthusiasm took him one stage further than most of his contemporaries, who are, in the main, private pilots.  He decided that he would gain his commercial licence, and in fact flew for the now defunct UK based airline Astraeus, flying Boeing 757/767 types. He now owns an aviation company based at St Athan in Wales. 

Probably the most famous musician with a licence is John Denver.  During a musical career that spanned a couple of decades, he too fell in love with flying.  Taught to fly by his Father, a record breaking USAF officer (who flew a B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber) he also owned and operated many different aeroplanes, including a Learjet, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane, and a pair of Cessna 210 utility planes.  

Many of Johns songs were about aviation or space travel. 

Sadly, John died in an air crash, when flying  his recently acquired Rutan Long EZ which crashed on a Californian beach, killing him instantly.

So, next time you watch a film, and think that the actor or actress is a “Lovey” and a soft shrinking violet, you may be doing them a great dis-service. Not only may they be doing a good percentage of their own stunts, but they may be better qualified than you are!

 

  

No Flying Today – Ops Scrubbed

I wrote this after wasting a day at a little grass airfield in Southern England, waiting for the grey overcast, and the heavy rain and showers to blow through. – typical cold front weather. The airfield – Popham in Hampshire was, and still is the home of the Spitfire flying club, and on that morning it was pretty atmospheric, and I just got to thinking. This is the result.

For those unfamiliar with the UK flying licences, the reference in the poem to the IMC is the Instrument Meteorological Conditions Rating, held by pilots who are qualified to fly on instruments, in cloud.

No Flying Today – Ops Scrubbed

The weather at the airfield, was gloomy wet, and grey,
The rains lashed down, the clouds whipped past, a dreary, soggy day,
I mooched about the clubhouse, and heaved a mighty sigh,
And cursed the fickle gods above, who wouldn’t let me fly.

So I sat there glum, dejected, and sipped my tepid tea,
When a rheumy eyed old warbird, plonked down next to me,
And as he sat, I glanced around, and there I chanced to see,
Proud but faded, on his chest, a single DFC.

I turned away, and sipped my tea, which I add, was weak,
I made to go, and drained my cup, and then I heard him speak
“Don’t feel cheated old chap, this weather will soon pass by,
And if you fly this morning, then you will surely die”

“What makes you so sure?” I asked, “Why should it be me?”
“I have flown in cloud before, I have my IMC”
He chuckled quietly, and then, before he spoke,
He looked at me, and politely cleared his throat

Alone, inside the club house, with the rain still crashing down,
I noticed that my new companion’s face was creased up in a frown,
He grasped my arm, leaned forwards, and peered closely at my face,
His voice was low, insistent, then he rushed on a-pace

“It was on a ropy day like this, in the summer, of ’43,
When I scrambled in my Spitfire, to patrol the cold North Sea,
I was supposed to track a warship, the best the Hun had got,
Then pass my observations to the Navy, for them to make a plot.

Once airborne, I was soon enveloped in solid looking cloud,
Which as I discovered later was to be my burial shroud,
I stared upon my gauges, nailed airspeed and AI
And then I saw some green above, where I should have seen the sky

It took a few eternities, before it all sunk in,
I was fully inverted, sir, and also in a spin,
I pushed the stick, I kicked the bars, and pulled every stunt I knew,
But nothing could recover it, there was nothing I could do

The next thing I remember, is sitting on my arse,
watching as my kite burned out, scorching, black, the grass,
It was just then that I noticed, with a feeling of sick dread,
That the pilot was in the cockpit, and he was surely dead

So, old son, take note from me, advice that you should heed,
Don’t trust to luck, or the instincts of your breed,
Instruments, like people, sometimes fail, or lie,
and if you blindly follow them, then, like me, you’ll surely die.

So, One pilot to another, I say to you, old chap,
Don’t bugger about in clouds, watch the landscape, and your maps,
Only fly when birds do, don’t take needless chances,
don’t fly in bad weather, or in iffy circumstances

I considered all his comments, and thought perhaps he’s right,
I turned to thank him for his guidance, and he’d disappeared from sight,
I looked around, but he was gone, or was he there at all?
Then I saw his young and carefree face, staring from the photo on the wall

I read the caption, inscribed upon the frame, and this is what it said

Pilot Officer Jim Smithers, DFC
Killed in Action 1943, aged 19
And, I realised he Was Dead

Mark Charlwood © owns the intellectual copyright to this work. Unauthorised copying, distribution or publication is prohibited. Please contact me if you wish to use my work. Many thanks

Celestial Lady

I wrote this in April 1989, after enjoying a wonderful, blissful day of gliding at the mighty 615 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, Royal Air Force Kenley

Celestial Lady

Dew lies on the velvet baize of the grass, like carelessly strewn fragments of glass,
Thin mist, drapes itself lovingly around the stark limbs of the trees, like a shroud,
My breath, smokes about my face as I peer across the field, in tune with dawns nature

The rising sun has stabbed the sky, causing its blood to stain the puffballs of cloud vermillion,
A bird, like a muezzin, calls the world to awake, from the minaret of the ancient oak,
And the mouth of the hangar gapes, to eject the sleek, yet sleepy residents onto the warming meadow,
The silence, suddenly shattered by the metallic snarl of an irritable engine

I stroll towards my chosen mount where she lies, recumbent on the grass – dormant awaiting the life giving breath of the gods,

Like an osteopath, I check her joints, and probe her taut yet pliant skin, her secret places, and diagnose a clean bill of health,
In the manner of a well bred woman, she demands my respect, and I duly escort her to her position

Strapped in, bound up, my cocoon is secure, an I perform the ritual of setting the instruments.
She moves a little, as we attach the cable, anticipation quivering in her shapely frame,

The cable snakes taut through the grass, a tug, a rumble and she joyously relinquishes her love affair with terra firma, for her true love. – the sky

A brief and wistful farewell to the tug, as he dives away, and at last, my my graceful friend and I are alone in empty acres of cerulean blue, United in a love that no ground bound man can know

We are as one. – her diaphanous wings mere extensions of my arms, bent to my thought and will,
Together we romp and roam the sunlit heavens, our playmates the birds and infant clouds

Like a true lady, she excuses my mistakes, and my callow ham fisted efforts, and doesn’t seek revenge, just gently admonishes me for my ignorance of manners, insensitive to her needs
Her effervescence bubbles like champagne, playful, her sense of humour to the fore,

Plunging me fifty feet, then tossing me one hundred higher, testing, teasing, but I’m still safe

Eventually she tires, grows bored with me, and slowly, imperceptibly, inexorably sinks back towards the land,
Exhilarated – yet yearning more, I gently steer and guide her down
Shamefully she bows her aristocratic head, as if in defeat, dull acceptance that the end is near,

Descending back to the scolding arms of gravity, the field expands, it fills my eyes, trees and meadow a confused blur, grass reaching up to pluck us from the sky

As we descend she moans out loud, rising to a screaming crescendo, as I ease her nose up. – be proud my Beauty! We lightly touch, kissing the unyielding ground, once, twice, thrice, then, totally spent, she drops, once more in slumber

And I am once again a mere mortal

Copyright Mark Charlwood April 1989

Mark Charlwood owns the intellectual copyright to this work. Unauthorised copying is prohibited.

The Cessna 152

The Cessna 152 is a two seat high winged basic training aeroplane. This is my tribute to this little workhorse of the sky. Any pilot who has flown one will recognise some of the points referred to!

THE Cessna 152 design,
Is not by any means, sublime,
With clumsy struts, and angled fin,
And a fuselage, made out of tin,
A cabin, small, just room for two,
You really have to know your crew!
For safety’s sake, may God be praised,
The undercarriage can’t be raised,
Full flaps drop down, forty degrees,
Like twin barn doors, into the breeze,
The seats move smoothly, fore and aft,
If the catch unlocks, this happens fast,
The cabin vents are curious things.
Like aerosols stuck in the wings,
They’re firmly fixed, without a doubt,
Until you climb, the they drop out,
These things you’ll recognise, and more,
But what’s the rear view mirror for?
This little ‘plane has given much,
Withstood the student pilot’s touch,
And carried me through miles of sky,
And in her charge, I learned to fly,
She’s no classic, that much is true,
But, deep down, she’s great, my 152

Mark Charlwood
Pilot, Instructor, Poet

The Halcyon Days of Flying

Halcyon Days

The Halcyon days of flying are past,
When forty five knots was considered too fast,
When aircraft were made out of fabric and wood,
And cockpits were open – no Plexiglass hood.

A hardy breed, those pioneer flyers,
Exposed to the rain, and the wind in the wires,
Their only guide for keeping for keeping on track,
We’re their two old faithfuls – a compass and map.

Those early machines that aspired to flight,
We’re nothing more really, than a motorised kite,
When the cardinal rule book was terribly thin,
With just two commandments – don’t stall and don’t spin.

Men were starting to probe the mysterious sky,
And a very large number were sadly. To die,
Others came back having had a bad fright,
Giving the warning that “Aeroplanes bite!”

As I sit in my cockpit with its array of dials,
And see the flight manual, (two very large files)
With its gyros and gauges, and radio stack,
I muse we’ve come a long way, and there’s no going back.

So wistful, at dusk, I leave the flight line,
Wishing I’d flown in that glorious time,
So, back to the club house for one or two beers,
And to the pioneer fliers, raise my glass and say “Cheers!”

Mark Charlwood
Pilot, Instructor, Poet.