A bird's eye view of Cheshire by helicopter (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 11:18 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:48 20 February 2013
We take a tour of well known Cheshire places from the air and Amanda Griffiths discovers why helicopters are fast becoming the only option when it comes to travel<br/>Photography by John Cocks
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Picture the scene. Its a beautiful sunny day but instead of wandering around in the glorious sunshine youre still sitting in a baking hot car, in the middle of three lanes of traffic on the M6.
Or perhaps youre milling around a railway station, watching the information board take the expected sign for your train (already 30 minutes late) be put back another 15 minutes, then another, as the connecting train you should be catching in another part of the country leaves on time. And then theres the spiralling petrol costs, speed cameras, traffic jams and that Icelandic volcano to contend with.
Its no surprise then that more and more people are turning towards helicopters as the way to travel.
As we zip across the Cheshire landscape, from Liverpool airport flying over landmarks like Beeston, Peckforton and Cholmondeley Castle; Michael Owens racing stables and the home of the Duke of Westminster in a matter of minutes theres nothing stopping us!
Helicopter pilot Captain Paul Rodgers who is at the controls of the Robinson R44 were flying in, explains that at the height were travelling at (between 1,000 and 1,500 feet) we can more or less fly where we want, our only restrictions are when entering airspace at Hawarden airport and at Liverpool.
Although I'm assured that anyone who can drive a car can fly a helicopter and more and more people are learning to do so, whether its for commercial or private use.
Paul, who has both his commercial and private licences as well as being a fully qualified instructor and examiner, learned to fly about 10 years ago.
He was given a taster flight as a present, got the bug for flying and embarked on obtaining his private pilots licence. For your licence you have to pass a number of ground exams - things like aviation meteorology, air law and radio procedures on top of a minimum of 45 hours flying experience, then once you have your licence you can buy or rent your own helicopter and fly from your garden, or a neighbours field and land at any suitable site as long as you have permission from the owner. Simple. And totally feasible if you have half a million or so to spare!
The Robinson R44 is a four seat helicopter capable of 135 mph with a range of 400 miles, costs 270,000 (excluding VAT) and around 220 an hour to run, says Captain Guy Cowper, sales and marketing director at the Helicentre, Liverpool. On top of that youd need to add insurance (around 50,000) and hanger fees (if you dont live in a house with plenty of room for a helipad and hanger), perhaps 1,500 a month.
To obtain your private licence costs between 15,000 and 20,000, says Guy, but you can learn at a pace that suits your schedule. For some people this is an hour or two each week, others have a more intensive schedule.
As we head back up the Lancashire coast Paul asks me if Im going to have a go at flying. Why not I think! He demonstrates the controls - theres a central stick, with two controllers, one in front of me and the other that Paul is using. Its these individual controllers not the stick itself that controls whether you go left or right, up or down.
Paul hands the controls over to me and I can hear photographer John Cocks sniggering in the background through my headset as two minutes later I beg Paul to take control once more.
I cant get my head round the fact its the stick in my hand that is controlling the helicopter, not the one I can see moving in between us, that simply holds the controls.
Apparently its a very common reaction which makes me feel slightly better for wimping out!
The Helicentre, Liverpool has been based at Liverpool Airport for the last 15 years, although last year it was bought by three local businessmen, Chairman Andrew Tyrer who was originally involved in North Sea oil and gas submersible logistics, Captain Guy Cowper who has been involved in commercial aviation for more than 25 years and Captain Jonathan Ryner, one of the most experienced helicopter instructors in the country.
As well as employing four full time instructors, the Helicentre also arranges private charters and pleasure flights.
Getting several of your business team together and travelling by helicopter is not such an extravagance these days when you consider the huge time savings, says Guy. A recent charter from Chester to Mansfield took 48 minutes and the land based team who elected to drive took three and a half hours each way, struggling over the M62!
Helicopters at a glance
A new helicopter costs from 250,000 to 300,000. A good condition R44 (like the one we flew in can cost around 150,000). It costs around 220 per hour to fly.
Used helicopters are not like used cars though. All helicopter parts have a specific timed life so when you buy a used one it is always maintained to the standard demanded by the Civil Aviation Authority and will have all the timed parts replaced accordingly.
Your private licence will cost between 15k and 20k. You'll need to pass ground exams as well as have 45 hours of flying time under your belt.
If an engine fails on a helicopter they do not fall out of the sky. They can glide by a process called 'auto rotation' and can land at zero speed in a very small space.
See our stunning photos of Cheshire and further afield below