The Mal­one Col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Pat­malone Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and for­mer he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT

Long-lived fly­ing ma­chin­ery and last­ing mem­o­ries

Os­car Kilo is alive and well, and fly­ing out of Som­er­set

T’was a dark and stormy night. I’d been plan­ning to fly and had left the evening clear, but it was not to be... the wind hissed in the chim­ney and the hail rat­tled the glass. I be­gan re­turn­ing my fly­ing doc­u­ments to their proper place in my of­fice cup­board, look­ing for­ward to an evening in front of the think­ing man’s tele­vi­sion – the fire. But I stopped short as my old log book fell open at page one, and there at the top I saw my first-ever en­try: Septem­ber 30 1984, in­struc­tor Gor­don King, Big­gin to Big­gin, Cessna 150 G-BEOK.

The mem­ory trig­gered warm feel­ings. ‘Os­car Kilo’ was a shop-worn con­trap­tion fin­ished in a cracked colour scheme that might once have been pur­ple or might once have been brown. Her Per­spex was crazed, her panel tatty and her trim torn, but to me she was quite the most gor­geous, so­phis­ti­cated fly­ing ma­chine ever to grace the heav­ens. She had lovely di­als and clocks, one of them a baf­fling in­stru­ment called an ADF, which one day I was told I would learn to use; she had a loud­speaker through which you could hear air traf­fic con­trol, and a mi­cro­phone with which to speak to them, if you knew the se­cret lan­guage. I re­mem­ber sit­ting be­hind that long nose and think­ing she looked and sounded like a fly­ing Massey Fer­gu­son, just beau­ti­ful. I went solo in her on 11 De­cem­ber that year. In the bar, they said that I’d get bored with her and I’d want to fly big­ger planes with more en­gines and lots of neat kit to fid­dle with, but I was sure that be­ing air­borne over Kent in Os­car Kilo was the acme of achieve­ment, and my avi­a­tion am­bi­tions could now rest.

Sud­denly, on this stormy night 33 years later, I wanted to know what had be­come of Os­car Kilo, my first avi­a­tion love. How did she meet her end? Prob­a­bly a cack­handed stu­dent like me, I thought, one of hun­dreds who’d used and abused her, tak­ing ad­van­tage of her for­giv­ing na­ture un­til fi­nally, she snapped. In modern times it’s the work of sec­onds to track down an air­craft – I don’t know why I’d never done it be­fore – and would you be­lieve it, I find that Os­car Kilo is alive and well and fly­ing out of Som­er­set, wear­ing a fetch­ing coat of blue and white, with go-faster stripes! I see that Gor­don King sold her in 1988, since when she’s been through sev­eral hands – in Southend, Derby, Rother­ham, and from 2013, Yeovil. Who knows, god will­ing I’ll run into her again; per­haps I’ll get to pat her on the nose and re­mem­ber the good times.

How rare is it for an in­ten­sively-used train­ing air­craft still to be fly­ing at the ripe old age of forty, as Os­car Kilo is do­ing, I won­der? Once again, I’m sur­prised at what I find. The first five train­ing air­craft I flew in 1984 – all 150s or 152s – are still tak­ing the air 34 years later. Here’s G-BCUH, no longer a rather in­sipid yel­low but a fetch­ing red and white, in the care­ful hands of a Lon­don-based group who’ve looked af­ter her for 26 years. G-BEIG is alive and well at Bec­cles; G-BFLK is liv­ing un­der an as­sumed name, G-ENTW, at El­stree; G-BHMF is at An­drews­field hav­ing had two changes of name. Of the seven air­craft I flew be­fore get­ting my PPL, only G-KAFC (King Air Fly­ing Club, ged­dit) and G-BIOM have fallen by the way­side – the for­mer, I re­call, de­stroyed in the Great Storm of Oc­to­ber 1987, the lat­ter per­ish­ing from un­known causes af­ter be­ing sold to Por­tu­gal.

So now I’ve got the bit be­tween my teeth and I want to know more. I sit down with the lap­top and em­bark on a jour­ney through his­tory. G-BIIB, my first grownup aero­plane, a C172 with four whole seats, now ap­par­ently works for an aerial pho­tog­ra­phy out­fit in Cheshire as G-OPMJ. My, she and I had some fun! The old Grum­man AA5 in which I used to do booze runs across the Chan­nel be­fore they dug a tun­nel is now domi­ciled in Ger­many on the D-regis­ter. The twins have fared less well – yes, the bar-room wis­dom was spot on and I couldn’t re­sist the lure of pret­tier things; G-BAWB, an old Aztec that drank av­gas like a Lan­caster, has van­ished from the scene, as has G-BRAV, last seen in Liver­pool, and G-OXTC, pic­tured for­lornly with­out en­gines, un­der­car­riage or any­thing much of use be­hind Singh’s hangar at Big­gin. G-BHCT, an­other Aztec, was sold to the Mid­dle East a gen­er­a­tion ago, and un­less the new owner also owns an oil well, it too will have left the stage – who could af­ford to fill the tanks of those old gas-guz­zlers at to­day’s prices? The Brit­ten Nor­man Is­lan­der G-BJWO, the big­gest air­craft I ever got a ticket on – and be­side which the Aztecs looked pos­i­tively tee­to­tal – is still go­ing strong, ap­par­ently as an oil pol­lu­tion spot­ter with the cog­nomen G-NOIL.

Now it’s 1989 and we’re into the he­li­copter era; G-BNKX, an R22HP in which I had a mi­nor­ity share, came to a sticky end at Black­pool, but other friends from that time are still at it. G-CHIL, alias G-RALD, was sold to Ger­many in 2009, G-GSFC to Italy; G-OLAU still works in Scot­land. Of the R44s, G-OKES – my first ro­tary four-seater, one small step for mankind but a huge leap for me – was sold to the USA, as was G-THEL… but my first tur­bine, the Je­tranger G-WLLY, was lost in a fa­tal ac­ci­dent on a pipe­line in­spec­tion job in Scot­land. But now we’re get­ting into the modern era, where mem­o­ries are tainted by re­cency, so I will leave off.

The fire had gone out by the time I put my lap­top away; the wind howled on. I was heart­ened to dis­cover how many good friends had sur­vived the years, slightly con­cerned that the re­newal of our train­ing fleet op­er­ates on such a long cy­cle. And what of our­selves? As Richard Dawkins writes, over such a span of time not a sin­gle cell or mol­e­cule re­mains of the bod­ies we once had, and all that en­dures are amor­phous mem­o­ries. But it’s good to know that to our sur­prise, we can still touch some of the me­tal on which those mem­o­ries were forged.

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