As short to medium distance travel goes you cannot do it much better than in a chopper. Even the little ones look cool; they travel literally “as the crow flies” and you can go as fast as you like, which is significantly quicker than the national speed limit of your pedestrian/ taxi/horse cart-riddled road. And for a little more fun, you can hover, strafe and even barrel roll them, if you don’t mind spilling the in-flight beverages a little, that is…
As playboy travel goes, this is it. Drop in at the wine farm, pop your kid down to school on the soccer field, then off to the city for a grape-wrangling meeting (many layers to that image, most of them disturbing) and then lunch at Cape Point on the beach. Or wake in Pretoria, hop down to Jozi for a morning Board meeting before flitting off to a lunchtime round of golf at Sun City.
We aren’t interested in all that rich businessman stuff right now, though; we’re after the crazy buggers, the guys who make choppers do things that most people spectate upon with jaw resting firmly on shoes. We want the Airforce men, the movie stunt pilots, the fire chopper guys and the, well, unsafe at any speed, if you get my drift. The Top Guns of Choppers.
Okay, so if you’re a chopper pilot, generally you aren’t that keen on flying where you can’t see, because flying by gauges in a chopper is not the easiest thing on the face of the planet to do… but here you are, flying into the smoke plume of an out-of-control veld fire, not only reducing your ability to see, but to breathe as well. Add to this the huge water hopper hanging from the chopper’s underbelly, lurching from side to side like an overweight drunk wearing only one heel, and this is not the most calming place to be a pilot!
They are often volunteer professionals with thousands of hours under their rudders, meaning they have pretty much mastered what it is to get one of these things as close as possible to a target of choice. Even so, high winds and variable loads make flying one of these missions a highly hazardous job, with the possibility of catching the water hopper on trees/powerlines/ houses an ever-present risk, as is scooping up an errant swimmer while replenishing your water supply at the nearest reservoir. Okay, that might just be a Darwin Award story…
Offshore Construction Pilots
These guys are busy building the latest island in the gulf of Arabia, and they are using giant, multi-ton blocks of concrete to provide the base upon which to lay their sandpile. You’re the guy flying these concrete blocks into position, before lowering them into place like an airborne game of Tetris. You have millimetres of clearance, and there is a ground team working below you, with many limbs to
crush and maim with Chuck Norris’ bowling ball. You’re hovering in pretty much the same place for about 10-15 minutes at a time, which basically means a constant dance of all four of your limbs just to maintain stasis. There is no room for error, or things can go big wrong, fast. Like pressure much?
These guys are the closest you’ll get to an attack pilot in civilian times, with their prime focus being: get there as quickly as possible, land in the most unfeasible of spots to load an injured person, and shuffle the patient off to the closest stash of bandages and morphine.
The practice was first started in the Korean War of the 50s, where it was found the soldiers treated within an hour of injury had a recovery rate as high as 90 percent, whereas when they only received treatment after being transported out of the war zone their survival rate dropped to around 25 percent. Medivac allows both to happen: quick transport and immediate medical care. This means the pilots need to be fast, accurate and smooth, allowing life-saving to happen in the back while getting you to the nurse on time. These guys don’t understand the concept of hanging around, unless it’s fetching someone off the side of a mountain after they’ve done a little no-strings-attached bungee and broken their face in half…
Film Stunt Pilots
Now these guys are basically all of the mad buggers who got shot at too much in the war, and tend to fly their choppers like they have just stolen Hades’ smoking jacket. Flying between buildings, ultra-low level flight and stuff like barrel rolls come naturally to these rebels of the air, who fly their craft in the same way racing drivers pilot their vehicles: fast and close!
Either they are used in front of the camera, blasting up baddies while dodging skyscrapers, or they are camera vehicles, used to provide a Point Of View (POV) that would otherwise be impossible to capture, like a panned zoom around a yacht, or a remote mountain location. Their range of talents run the full gamut, from super-precise control of the craft to wild, sweeping high-speed charges under bridges. These sky-boys boast the most complete balance of all of the skills to be found in the art of Heli control, like toreadors that actually ride the bull, instead of just waving their hanky in its face…
Top 5 Chopper Films Of All Time
If you’re into seeing whirlybirds being thrown around like gravity doesn’t exist, these are generally accepted as fi ve of the best-filmed movies either about choppers, or featuring great chopper scenes.
Blue Thunder: (1983) This is an early 80s film about a super-chopper that uses new military tech to control crowds, and one man’s efforts to wrest the control of this super-weapon from the hands of evil. Some of the most insane non- CGI chopper sequences out there.
Apocalypse Now: (1979) Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal war epic features one of the most impressive helicopter sequences ever fi lmed, with wave upon wave of Bell UH-1 (Huey) choppers falling into the skirmish from all sides in a chaotic rain of whirling blades, as well as rescuing some PLAYBOY bunnies from the over-eager ground troops at one point!
Black Hawk Down: (2001) This massive Ridley Scott thriller chronicles the story of two US Forces Blackhawk Helicopters shot down during a mission in Somalia, and the subsequent rescue efforts of their fl ight crew. The chaos and carnage shown is widely regarded as some of the most realistic such footage ever fi ctionally captured on film.
Rambo III: (1988) In this instalment of the franchise, ‘ol John J Rambo is enlisted under duress to rescue his mate, Col Sam Trautman (played by Richard Crenna), from them pesky Soviet forces, who were engaged in bombing the crap out of the Afghan rebels. Features a lot of great chopper scenes, including a number of crashes.
Airwolf (1984 – 1987) Okay, so it’s a series not a film, but it is the coolest series ever involving a helicopter, ever. Jan-Michael Vincent plays Stringfellow Hawke, a reclusive pilot charged with stealing back an Airforce superchopper from its builders, who ran off with it. He does so, but then, instead of returning it to his bosses, he hides it deep in the desert in an eroded mesa, and then makes a deal to fl y it on missions in return for protection against those still looking for him. Some awesome footage, and one of the coolest opening tunes ever created for TV! I remember shaking hands once with Jan Michael Vincent as a kid, and refusing to wash my hand for about three days afterward…
By Tim Houghton
Published by Playboy South Africa