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APRIL 2008












LOOP Features


The record breaking MD500E

Jules Verne did it in 80 days. Phileas Fogg made it in less. Then came three helicopter guys, surprisingly, each named Smith. Dick Smith made the first solo 'around the world flight' by helicopter... a Bell Jetranger. The tough Texan, Ron Bower, also flying the Jetranger, lowered Smith's record, only to be beaten by the enigmatic Englishman, Mike Smith, flying a McDonnell Douglas 500.  

Mike's son Quentin Smith came next in a Robinson, but it was an intrepid Shoreham Airport pilot, Simon Oliphant-Hope, who, in 2004, sped around the world in a bright orange MD500. He captured the world record in 17 days 14 hours, two minute, and for the pedantic... 26 seconds. Of course, I know Simon's MD500 model fairly well. 

On the last occasion, it looked something like a Christmas tree, as it proudly displayed the record route and a full complement of sponsor's logos set against the orange paintwork. Some of you might know there are mighty few IFR certified, single engine helicopters in the world, but this 500 is one of them... in fact, the only one.

So, a telephone call to Eastern Atlantic's Shoreham base where I met up with Jamie  Chalkley, a writing colleague and highly qualified rotary man. Jamie greeted us enthusiastically and was soon demonstrating the awesome looking helicopter... still bright orange but bereft of the 50 or so sponsor adverts. Remember, the machine Simon Oliphant-Hope flew around the world is the civil version of the awesome AH6, anti-tank attack helicopter and the model I flew for Ridley Scott in the film, 'Black Hawk Down'. But, with such a machine at our disposal... what to do with her? The Ferrari of the air!

Let me tell you straight away that the current MD500E helicopter IS the fastest civil helicopter in the world. 180mph True Air Speed at altitude is yours for the asking! Faster than most fixed-wing singles! But as the three of us drank coffee waiting for the weather, I'm not sure who said, "Let's race it 'point to point' across London... perhaps establish a record time for the flight?" 

So out came the London Helicopter Lanes chart and the calculator. Now it is necessary to say the London Control Zone rules, very sensibly, don't permit helicopters to barrel at speed through our finest city willy-nilly.   Permission is required via special non-standard flight numbers. Our cameraship pilot, Ian MacGregor, was soon on the phone to his Operations, firing instructions.  "Two machines please for a 'Photex Sortie' over London. Camera and Story ship, close formation for Heli-Lanes H3, to H7 and H4 on the river Thames to Docklands and the Millenium Dome."

The record flight was to start at Bagshot Mast and follow an almost straight line run along the M3 motorway through Sunbury and Teddington to Richmond Park.  Then a sharp left turn joins the H7 Heli Lane from Banstead to the old Castleneau Reservoir at Barnes. 

There we would join the H4 lane that follows the River Thames, taking in London's suburbia. Fulham Football Club's Craven Cottage, the Battersea Heliport, around the sharp curve of the river over Albert Bridge to the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.    

The Tower of London and Tower Bridge would be in view as we passed the Festival Hall and Saint Paul's Cathedral. Another minute and the HSBC building at Canary Wharf would be beneath us as we speed on to the useless Millennium Dome, where we should cross the finishing line to complete our speed run.   

Fourteen and a half minutes to cover 38 miles, the whizz wheel tells us, always assuming we could squeeze the manufacturer's published top speed from our Orange Chariot. 

We flight brief to commence the max-speed section of the run at 1644 hours and our rendezvous time with the MD520 NOTAR cameraship. 

The London permissions and Non Standard Flight Numbers are approved. Winding up the rotors to 500rpm, we lift from Shoreham at precisely 1618 hours. Flight time to Bagshot is 26 minutes.  We fly VFR at 2000 feet to the Farnborough overhead, where we track north to intercept the M3 Motorway and the run-in to our starting point, the 760-foot mast alongside Bagshot.  

I count down the seconds to Jamie as he winds up the speed in the descent to an indicated 170mph as we approach the London Zone. The stopwatch is clicked. The MD500E has a five-minute, max torque limitation, which we planned to use in increments to achieve its maximum speed. This would give the full 420 Shaft Horse Power.

Now, bear in mind this is the civil offspring of the military helicopter the Yanks designed to bust tanks, using two wire-guided missiles. Indeed on an early visit to the Hughes Culver City plant in California, I was cheerfully advised that the mast-mounted gun-sight version was a proven tank killer.

Their considered advice to any tank commander in the field was that if he should spot the MD 500 mast sight appear on the horizon, then his only chance of survival was to get out and run like hell!  The MD500 missile system had a 100% successful strike record !  

So with maximum power set, we watched as the ASI needle moved steadily around the dial to the 'Barber's Pole' towards VNE. The following westerly breeze added a few knots as the GPS indicated a healthy 175mph groundspeed. The sidescreen air vents were howling. We were on our way! With Jamie flying, I called Heathrow for the H3 clearance. "You're cleared to enter the London Control Zone on H3," came the nonchalant reply. "Maintain standard operating altitudes. QNH... Wun-zero-wun niner... next report at Barnes."    

I checked the watch. 1644 hours precisely. Good. Right on the money! London's posh houses and pretty parks sail by... Virginia Water and Laleham Abbey, with Hampton Court and Richmond Park coming up fast. Height as required at an environmental 1000ft, but below us, the park deer are scuttling.   At 1652 hours, the rotor blades slap fiercely as we bank sharply left to join H7 on our way to Roehampton. We race on past the Gas Holders at Morden and Ceasar's Camp on Wimbledon Common. Eight minutes gone. Less than seven minutes to make the Dome and our rendezvous with Ian MacGregor's MD520 NOTAR.  

Next a sharp bank right to hug the majestic river at Craven Cottage as we join Heli-Lane H4 and London's wonderful skyline comes into view. The Thames bridges whizz by below, Hammersmith, Putney, Wandsworth and Chelsea.

Two more minutes gone and with another bout of blade slap, we bank for the Houses of Parliament on our left and the London Eye on the south bank. Dave Spurdens is snapping away continuously. I think what terrific pictures he will be shooting. 

Now only three minutes to go. Tower Bridge appears. I feel a fleeting temptation to fly under it, but quickly recall what happened to the RAF Hunter pilot who did the same when celebrating our Queen's 25 years as Monarch in 1977.

Another check on the GPS... now showing 165mph groundspeed as we hit some headwind. Bang on our planned flight time as the last few seconds tick away and the infamous Dome is reached. As I scan the area ahead, there's the dark shape of the 520 cameraship. Total elapsed time for the London crossing - 14 minutes and 30 seconds. 

Now in formation with Ian MacGregor, we plan to photo our return trip at a more leisurely speed. Hope you like the pictures. So, you might well ask... Why on earth race across one of the world's finest cities and miss all the views? But that misses the point. Try asking Michael Schumacher why he doesn't stop to admire the view at Monaco!  

1. Fuel gauge
2. Engine oil pressure (left) and G-meter (right)
3. digital OAT & timer
4. N2/NR (turbine/rotor speed)
5. AI (Coupled with auto-pilot and flight directors).
6. Altimeter
7. Bank of stanby instruments
8. Skymap III Colourmap GPS
9. VSI (coupled with auto-pilot and VS bug)
10. HSI
11. Radar altimeter
12. VOR
13. Auto-pilot
14. Fresh air vent
15. Fuel cut-off
16. Garmin 530 with Stormscope, TCAS and Terrain overlay
17. Circuit breakers
18. Collective
P1 sits on the right in this helicopter.


Top speed: 175mph
Stall speed: Zero  
Cruise speed: 145mph
Range: 400 miles with auxiliary fuel
Rate of climb: 1900ft/min
Fuel burn: £45 per hour
Seats: Pilot plus four 
Gross weight: 1363kg   
Payload: 701kg
Max hook load: 907kg
Hover OGE: 9400ft
Hover IGE: 12,800ft
MD Helicopters Inc
4555 East McDowell Road
AZ 85215
Eastern Atlantic
Hangar 9
Shoreham Airport
BN43 5FF
T. 01273 463336

A HUGE THANKS ...ARE due to Eastern Atlantic Helicopters, the Shoreham-based distributors for the MD500, 600 and 900 range and Enstrom 480 and 280FX models.  Call the enthusiastic Simon Oliphant-Hope. He could sell you a good, used MD 500 for around £200k. Or take one million off you, if you fancied something new.  This time next month you could be flying the Ferrari of the air ! More thanks to Fast Helicopters and Ian MacGregor for their support in providing the cameraship and Jamie Chalkley for his pilotage.  Those of you out there who have been thinking of learning to fly rotary will receive more than a warm welcome at the Fast Club premises. Call Ian MacGregor or Mark Little. Pop in for a chat and see how easy you can join the wonderful world of helicopters.    

THE MD520N Notar was put in production in 1991 and 100,000 hours were flown in the first three years. They were flown by the Phoenix Police Department with nine machines operated.  The type shares many of the dynamic components with the 500E model, but includes the Rolls-Royce C20 RS 450 SHP engine and patented NOTAR tail rotor anti-torque system and control stabilisation system as standard.

The NOTAR (No Tail Rotor) system is operated by an enclosed variable pitch fan driven off the main transmission. It has an air circulation control boom which provides the majority of directional control in hovering flight utilising the boundary layer principle and downwash airflow from the main rotor. The direct jet-thruster at the port side tail boom provides additional anti-torque for yaw control and directional changes. In forward flight, directional control and balanced flight is provided by the vertical stabilators in conjunction with the direct jet-thruster.   

Due to the absence of tail rotor blades, tail rotor vibration is eliminated and tail rotor noise reduced resulting in increased passenger comfort and reduced pilot fatigue.     American FAA and NTSB figures show that 20% of all serious accidents are due to tail rotor strikes and loss of tail rotor effectiveness. The NOTAR system eliminates these types of accident.



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