By Rich Pillans, Bell 47 Sioux pilot.
One lucky winner at a recent Boeing UK charity raffle, in aid of the Prince’s Trust, won a flight in the mighty Bell 47 Sioux and I had the pleasure of hosting her on Saturday!
In the spirit of our motto, “Let their glory not fade”, I flew Sham M. on a re-enactment of how the Sioux would have been flown on operations in the jungle during the 1960’s and 70’s. Sham’s partner, Barry, joined our ground team for the day…
Sham and Barry were given a safety brief and a pre-mission brief:
Phase 1: Algenon-the-Mannequin is deep in the sweltering jungle and suffering from heatstroke; he needs to be airlifted to a Field Hospital in order to save his life.
Phase 2: We are to be an Air Observation Post, in order to support the artillery by directing their fire onto an enemy target.
This was Sham’s first flight in a helicopter; immediately she’s marvelling at the panoramic view and manoeuvrability as we dance through the air. Onward for our mission, we descend and land at the rendezvous point, to see Algenon’s human colleagues caring for him in the trees.
Algenon looks pretty lifeless to us, but the Doc tells us he just needs to chill a little. Under the watchful guidance of our ground team, Sham disembarks to help with the stretcher, loading Algenon onto the “litter” on the right hand side of the aircraft while the 435 cubic inch engine roars and the 18ft long rotor blades beat the sky above her.
Now suspend disbelief for the moment… we’re not flying with Algenon… so in walks Barry to re-enact a scene from M*A*S*H, extracting Algenon from the litter to deliver him to the Field Hospital. Meanwhile the aircraft launches behind him for the next phase of the mission!
It isn’t long before I return to pick up Sham, staying at low height to avoid detection by the enemy. For our Phase 2, I stay low and use the folds in the ground to mask the helicopter en-route to the Observation Post (OP).
Once in a hover, we pop up to peer over the treeline and observe our pretend enemy, unbeknownst to them! With the target location reported to the artillery (I do a great WW2 artillery officer impression), we descend down behind the trees again while we await the mighty artillery to fire.
Cue a story… my first squadron after joining the Army in the late 90’s was 663 Sqn. Formed in Italy in 1944, the squadron was staffed by Polish aircrew doing exactly this Air Observation Post role for the artillery in the Auster aeroplane, a role which helicopters took on from the late 1950s.
The squadron motto remains to this day, “We fly for the guns” and I still wear the Squadron patch on the back of my flying helmet.
The countdown is over… we pop up again just in time to imagine the artillery shells landing right on target — well done the guns!
After reporting a battle damage assessment, we retrace our route through the low ground and in no time at all are back at our base in Middle Wallop, Hampshire, for tea & medals!
Re-living this mission with Sham and Barry, once again we keep alive the glory of the pilots, engineers and ground crew who operated these historic aircraft.
Let their glory not fade . . .