Jubilee Over Wallop

Saturday the 4th of June saw the Bell 47 Sioux leap to the skies amid some pretty blustery weather for a display at the nearby village of Over Wallop. 

Along with most of the country, Over Wallop held a party to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee after 70 years of service. They kindly invited the Historic Army Aircraft Flight to join the celebrations with our own piece of history, the Bell 47 Sioux. 

Like all good airshows, the best display to the public is achieved with the most careful preparation. I planned where I would display using a 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Map and a satellite picture, evaluated the risks and mitigated those risks with some good safety measures. It’s important to remain at least 150m from the spectators and avoid over flying any people during the display. With the planning complete, I shared the plan with the Civil Aviation Authority, who scrutinised it to ensure the public remain safe. 

We started the day with a call to the ‘Met Office’ to understand how windy it would be at 2pm … after a report of 18 knots, gusting to 25 knots, I was happy the wind would stay below the aircraft’s rotor start/stop limit of 40 knots. That said, I also knew I’d have to be careful hovering in any crosswind as our venerable 58 year old Sioux only has enough tail rotor performance for about 20 knots of crosswind.  

Princess Elizabeth
in military service

The Bell 47 was designed and first flew in 1945, while Princess Elizabeth was serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Archive picture from the 1940s

So, with a little towing assistance from an Australian team member, Jake, the aircraft was on the grass in front of the Army Flying Museum. 

Jake and Mark positioning the Sioux outside the Army Flying Museum

After a pre-flight brief with one of my fellow pilots, I walk through the display profile as if I’m flying it … this helps drum into my mind the sequence and avoid errors while airborne! It isn’t long before I’m in the aircraft starting the engine at 1:45pm, nice and early with a clear 15mins before I’m due at Over Wallop. 

Bang on 1:55pm, I take off and position near the village, waiting for the big moment… one last ‘imaginary walkthrough’ in my mind and at 1:59pm I start the run-in to Over Wallop. 

Tick … tick … tick … 2pm exactly and I enter the display area, checking the display area is clear of people and I see the Jubilee party-goers to my right in the Over Wallop church field.

First manoeuvre, a torque turn in front of the crowd, then another at the end of the display line … a 180 degree decelerating and climbing turn into wind to then climb vertically at maximum power, like a cork out of a bottle … aeroplanes can’t do that! Once at 500 ft I stop the climb and move backwards at 15 knots… aeroplanes can’t do that either!  Near the edge of the display area I descend with an S-turn, showing the versatility of the helicopter. Phase one complete, I reposition back to the start of the display and fly the same profile again!

Watched by children, adults and aircraft enthusiasts, the Bell 47 Sioux dances gracefully to the tune of its 7 litre turbo-charged Lycoming engine and the chop-chop sound of its rotor blades! (The chop-chop sound of the Bell 47’s rotor blades gave all helicopters their nickname of “Choppers”!). 

Safely back on the ground at the airfield of Middle Wallop, I shut down the engine and apply the rotor brake to bring the Chopper to a peaceful rest. 

While the rotor noise may have faded away, the helicopter remains in the minds of the good people of Over Wallop, living up to our motto, of Let their glory not fade!

Photo credit: Archive pictures, Chris Ballard and Rich Pillans