Chomping Chinooks

Grim Reaper Two © David Forward

Grim Reaper Two © David Forward

Sandra and I hopped into the Grim Reaper and went to Hullavington, where there is a lay-by next to the airfield as a result of the road’s course being changed when the airfield was built.

The lay-by being part of the old road is therefore quite long and has very large piles of summertime anti-skid top dressing for the gritting of the local lanes.

We left the car with its doors wide open in an attempt to keep it cool, as it was an exceptionally hot summers day. We had come to see the Chinooks in action.

Having climbed to the top of the chipping pile, we could see over the bushes and perimeter fence into the grass area on the very edge of the field, away from the hard runways.

Eight Chinooks were dispersed about forty yards apart and the crews were undergoing their flight preparations. A man had climbed up on the rear of a helicopter and was opening the panels on its relatively small jet engines.

A more senior man arrived by Landrover and walked over towards the fence, and told us that the temperature for the field had just reached 98 degrees, which is exceptional for this part of the world.

Now the Pilot and co-pilot were climbing aboard through the forward starboard door just behind the cockpit. Next the load master walked up the rear ramp, followed by two more men at the rear and two more at the front.

Having checked the engines, the man on top by the engines clambered down. Now two crew members came out holding fire extinguishers and stood back 10 yards, one at the front and the other at the back both to the starboard side, closely followed in the same fashion by the other two, who carried black boxes trailing wire back to each end of the craft.

The two men with the black boxes now remotely controlled the rotors, checking their movement twisting and flexing the huge blades drooping towards the ground. When satisfied, an exchange was made with the pilot who gave the OK for the black box men to press more switches and buttons to start the engines, then a few more checks before they climbed back aboard, closely followed by the fire extinguisher men.

The forward door was pulled up, turning it from steps into a stable door, with a crew member leaning out. The rear ramp was raised partly and one crew member sat with his legs dangling out. The engines were now up to speed and the signal was given to lift.

It began to get draughty on top of our pile of gravel. Just eighty feet away, Chinook one, rose ten feet above the ground facing to our right, it turned towards us in a right U-turn manoeuvre facing back into the field.

In the process we were suddenly unexpectedly hit by a solid wall of air, which drove a cloud of road grit at us with great force, closely followed by the noise of the poor old Grim Reaper’s doors being blasted shut, so hard it was a surprise to see it in one piece, as we emerged from our crouched position with arms over our heads.

All eight Chinooks were simultaneously lifting and turning into the field in a ballet routine, leading to a single file procession close to the ground, completing a figure of eight manoeuvre bringing them all rising back over our heads at low level, leaving the field for their destination across Salisbury Plain on exercise.

With a final goodbye tornado of road grit as a farewell present, watched with pleasure by those dangle legged ramp sitters, connected to their safety harnesses.

The stable lads still leaning out of the side doors, oblivious to the huge thumping noise, as each rotor blade closely passes its partner revolving in the other direction producing a large bang of air, giving the impression of a huge piston engined monster, drowning out the high pitched whistle of the twin Lycomings.

Then with their noses down the aerial juggernauts swiftly became small specks upon the horizon.

Chinooks in Flight © Netherlands Ministry of Defence

Chinooks in Flight © Netherlands Ministry of Defence

23 August, 2014
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License