Up, up and away - Cyprus Sunday Mail 7.8.2004
JILL CAMPBELL MACKAY on the delights of Cyprus’ newest service: a helicopter charter
LOOKING at it purely from a layman’s point of view, a helicopter could be seen as a collection of rotating parts with reciprocating parts going up and down, all of them trying to become random in motion.
The very first mass produced helicopter appeared in 1946 and since then, this revolutionary mode of transport has progressed at a rate even eclipsing that of fixed wing aircraft. Once thought of as more of a flying agricultural machine, top of the range helicopters currently on the market are sleek, smooth, reliable and comfortably quiet.
They are also the most versatile flying machines in existence. They can fly almost anywhere, set down almost anywhere and fly backwards. The entire aircraft can rotate in the air and it can hover motionless like a predatory hawk in the sky.
The other comforting news is that even if the big whirly thing on top (the rotor blades) dies on you, a skilled pilot can still bring his bird down safely. “If the engine quits, it doesn’t mean its over, it just means its going to get more interesting,” said pilot Robert Steiner.
By contrast, a fixed-wing pilot learns to guide his airplane treating his craft as a partner, nudging it along its most natural path to produce smooth results. Not so with a helicopter -- the only proper relationship is one of firm command and total control. Helicopter pilots cannot afford to be daring ‘throttle jockeys’ as with every slight change in pitch, bank, power or yaw there’s a new mini adventure, requiring constant pilot input to maintain stable flight.
The pilot who also has complete access to three dimensional air space, in a way that no fixed wing aeroplane pilot does, has to be able to think in three dimensions and must use both arms and legs constantly to keep his craft in the air. It’s a bit like the level of concentration and co-ordination needed to keep on patting your head whilst rubbing your stomach. It’s these extra degrees of freedom and the consummate skill you must have to master them that makes flying helicopters so exciting, and nowadays an exceedingly safe mode of transportation.
I AM a long time fan of helicopters, having flown in them regularly when on trips in the USA and Australia. My most recent ‘hover’ experience was two years ago when a police helicopter took me from Larnaca to the Akamas peninsula. Then, I was flying in a real work-horse helicopter, used primarily in search and rescue missions and the noise level was deafening.
Then, last week I was invited to ‘go up’ again by Wolfgang Leeb from the Austrian Heliteam Helicopter Company, the first commercial helicopter company to invest in Cyprus with helicopter tours.
Chris Neophytou was my companion on the flight. A virgin as far as helicopter flying, he was extra keen to prove yet again that even if you are disabled and normally confined to a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on trying to fly like a bird.
We met up with the Heliteam at Paphos airport and, after the usual paperwork and showing of passports, we drove out to the airport apron where we were introduced to our pilot. Robert Steiner is a big handsome bear of a man who has probably accomplished more lift off and landings than most civil aviation pilots. He was initially trained on commercial passenger jets before moving over to helicopters and these have been his love for the past 23 years. Robert then with consummate ease lifted Chris into the helicopter as if he was a piece of delicate porcelain. We belted up, headphones were clamped around our heads and off we went. The other great thing about helicopters is the ‘instant gratification thing’. One arrives, luggage is quickly loaded into the storage compartment, you get in, fasten your belts, and after about five minutes whil the rotors get on turning and the control tower gives you the off, that’s it; no need for taxiing around the runway, no interminable waiting for a take off slot. This is flying as it should be. OK there are no in-flight drinks, nosh, or movies, but who the hell needs these unnecessary distractions when you have such a vista in three dimensions, with the clearest and most superb views of the island laid out all around you.
Robert handles his craft superbly well, not once did we feel anything other than a smooth ride, with the added bonus being the diminished sound level -- this EC Colibri 120 was definitely no clattering egg beater, having been designed to be environmentally ‘soundproofed’ with a newly designed low noise fenstrom (tail rotor).
This quite beautiful ‘bird’ has an average cruising speed of 195km per hour and a range of 675 km, depending upon prevailing winds and the payload for the flight.
After our short but super trip around the coastline, I asked Wolfgang what type of customers he has had to date for this luxury service. “We have had golfers who want to eliminate the stress of driving to the gold courses, holiday makers keen to see the island from the air -- that’s why we do short tour trips for visitor. We also take guests from Larnaca airport and from Paphos to their hotels or villas, then there are small groups who want to be airlifted to certain spots, such as archaeologists, bird watchers, divers, film makers, TV crews, and of course, we have a service for people in a hurry to get to the other side of the island. We will soon be arranging flights to Egypt and Rhodes with a much bigger helicopter.”
Wolfgang went on to reassure me, after I asked, that if Heliteam were the first helicopter company to start up in Cyprus, where then did they recruit experienced mechanics from? “The helicopter is inspected every 100 hours of flying time, and we fly in our own specially-trained mechanics from Austria every few weeks to give a complete service. Our pilots are also very much at one with their helicopters and because the flying of them is such an intimate experience in that they feel everything the craft is doing, they also have the experience to note every slight change or subtlety that is taking place.”
With many millions of euros having been invested in such sophisticated machinery and man power, Heliteam are confident that their highly professional venture will indeed take off, and, who knows, we can then be confident in the knowledge that it could well be Posh and Becks hovering above us in the big yellow and blue bird enroute to the Anassa Hotel for their bucket and spade holiday. All I can say is this particular business has been a long time coming to the island and, even if the price is not within everyone’s pocket, it’s somehow good to know that when a bout of ‘island fever’ strikes and you feel the deep need to just get off and up and away for a time, then it’s just got to be this helicopter that takes you –it’s the best!
Wolfgang Leeb, Cyprus Helicopter Tours, Tel:99 764 270, www.heliteam.at
Prices start at £65 per person (children up to five years old free of any charge, children from six to 12 pay half price)
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