Best seats in the house
They say the Shard offers the best view over London. We were sniggering at the patent absurdity of this claim as we bimbled past the city’s contentious new landmark in something that offers a far better vista than any building: a light aircraft, and a single-engined one at that.
Without the photographic evidence above, most private pilots could be forgiven for not believing it. Other than the BBMF’S historic flighters, single-engined aeroplanes have long been prevented from flying over central London. The secret is to do it in a private helicopter, as our pilot for the day, Pat Malone was demonstrating.
I must own up to being in on this one for many years: Pat first told me about the Heliroutes — aerial paths that cross London and meander, like a tow path, along the Thames — years ago, when I was editing the AOPA journal he used to publish. However, while I was incredulous to learn that you could take an R22 — a little machine with much the same performance as a Piper Cub — right into the centre of Town, it wasn’t until late this October that I got to ride the route myself.
We started from, and returned to Denham — a familiar launching point, as I had done my PPL there in 1989. HQ Aviation provided the R44 we flew in. (A word about Robinson helicopters: don’t believe the bar room legend or small coterie of prejudiced nay-sayers that still exists — these are robust, exquistely engineered and ultra-reliable machines with an impeccable mechanical safety record.) Anyway, I digress: the day was wonderful and the view as spectacular as the picture suggests. And HQ treated us to lunch on our return (thanks, ‘Q’ — and thanks, Pat!) What a way to fly and what a way to see London. GA doesn’t get any better than this!
Pat takes the R44 back along the Thames from our turning point at the Isle of Dogs. Off to the right we see the Gherkin and the Walkie-talkie, and to the left, the Shard. Tower Bridge is just passing under the nose