The Malone Col­umn

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

Give Pat a he­li­copter over a horse any day! Even cir­cuit-bash­ing is less bor­ing

It’s al­most thirty years since I learned to fly a he­li­copter and be­gan the de­light­ful busi­ness of boldly go­ing where no fixed-wing could fol­low. I was con­stantly on the look­out for off-air­field op­por­tu­ni­ties: ho­tels, restau­rants, fields, gar­dens — no friend was safe if he had a few flat me­tres. An early in­vest­ment was a share in a sec­ond-hand Robin­son R22HP which cost so lit­tle that my wife could not have ob­jected even if I’d told her the truth (I once cal­cu­lated that my por­tion of G-BNKX was worth one-eleventh of the whole).

At the time I was a ju­nior ex­ec­u­tive on a Fleet Street news­pa­per where the news­room had formed a syn­di­cate to own a race­horse. There were dozens of peo­ple in this syn­di­cate, and from mem­ory it cost us each about £400 a year to in­dulge in the Sport of Kings as own­ers. De­spite the fact that my in­ter­est in horse rac­ing was to say the least cir­cum­scribed, I joined the syn­di­cate with the in­ten­tion of fly­ing to the places where these beasts per­form. Thus it was that with my mis­er­able out­lay, my eleventh share of a he­li­copter and one hock of a horse, when asked what I’d done at the week­end I was able to say: “Oh, I flew my he­li­copter down to New­bury to see my horse run.”

Most race­courses are keen to ac­cept he­li­copters — raises the tone, don’t y’know — but get­ting the most out of horse-re­lated avi­a­tion takes in­side knowl­edge. Avoid, for ex­am­ple, fly­ing to Royal As­cot. Quite apart from all the brief­ings and the has­sle, they land you some dis­tance away in the woods and you ar­rive at the course in the back of a Tran­sit minibus, and where’s the per­cent­age in that? Good­wood is bet­ter — you can land within view of the stand, puff out your chest and walk in non­cha­lantly, as be­fits your sta­tion.

Bear in mind, too, that you have to ar­rive be­fore the rac­ing starts and they don’t like you leav­ing un­til af­ter the last race. Even with own­ers’ priv­i­leges giv­ing you ac­cess to the pad­dock and all the best din­ing fa­cil­i­ties, you’re go­ing to feel trapped if the thrill of watch­ing near-iden­ti­cal brown an­i­mals run round and round be­gins to pall. I re­call a day out at Ling­field, in the Gatwick zone: fly­ing time from Red­hill, four min­utes. Fly­ing time back again, four min­utes. In be­tween… seemed like about a year. Be­fore all-weather cour­ses came along the Flat sea­son started in April and ran to Novem­ber, and while it was sup­posed to be a sum­mer sport there were some cold and mis­er­able meet­ings. I think I was at most of them. And here’s a tip — if you’re an owner, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the name of your horse. In the pad­dock I was asked: “Which is yours?” “The blue one,” I replied. “Not the he­li­copter… the horse.” And for the life of me I couldn’t re­mem­ber. Its name was Me­di­ane, you see, but in the syn­di­cate we al­ways re­ferred to it as Fred, and when the ques­tion was sprung sud­denly upon me, its nom de

guerre to­tally slipped my mind. “We call it Fred,” I mum­bled, fran­ti­cally check­ing the race­card. And as for recog­nis­ing the an­i­mal by sight — get real. De­press­ingly of­ten it was the one at the back; as a race­horse, Me­di­ane was never very good at the job.

Of course, one al­ways has to bet on one’s own horse, and gam­bling is one of the very few vices I have sin­gu­larly failed to cul­ti­vate. Even when you get your money back — and I once saw Me­di­ane place at Kemp­ton Park, which sits un­der­neath H9 on the Lon­don Heliroutes — it felt like I was ex­pos­ing to un­nec­es­sary risk per­fectly good money that might use­fully be spent on fly­ing. For the sake of form I would back the thing, but grudg­ingly. The turf ac­coun­tant, not­ing my owner’s badges and the piti­ful wa­ger I was prof­fer­ing, would lengthen the odds on Me­di­ane as soon as my back was turned.

Even when the race was in progress my eyes would wan­der out to the cen­tre of the course where the he­li­copters were parked. I didn’t mind hav­ing the cheap­est ma­chine in the field. They’re all the same to the in­no­cent ob­server in the stands, so the fact that mine was worth about the same as the un­der­car­riage leg of the 109 next to it was im­ma­te­rial. I didn’t envy the life of the char­ter pi­lots fly­ing the heav­ier metal ei­ther — some­times they’d sit for the whole af­ter­noon in the he­li­copter, to­tally un­in­ter­ested in the rac­ing. Bit like me, then.

With Fred per­form­ing mediocrely, vi­sions of his­toric vic­to­ries in Clas­sic races faded to noth­ing and it looked in­creas­ingly likely that no­body was go­ing to get any of their in­vest­ment back. Even the most pas­sion­ate mem­bers of the syn­di­cate, the ones who signed up more than once for the day out to the sta­bles — and if you’re ever short of some­thing in­sanely dull to do, I can ad­vise — started to flag.

So my race­go­ing ran its course. I qual­i­fied as a he­li­copter in­struc­tor and bought a half share of G-BROX to teach on, and in­stead of swan­ning off to the races on a Satur­day af­ter­noon I spent my week­ends hap­pily bash­ing the cir­cuit at Red­hill. Sadly, Fred went lame and was sold for a hunter, and al­though a ster­ling at­tempt was made to re­vive the syn­di­cate with an­other horse, it came to noth­ing.

I won­der if any pi­lot feels en­tirely at home in the com­pany of hard­ened horserac­ing types? I never did. The uni­forms are wildly dif­fer­ent — vel­vet lapels don’t suit me, and in a trilby I look like that bloke out of Mad­ness on his day off. I’d hardly know a filly from a fur­long, and I could never read tic-tac. Worst of all — and as­tound­ingly — these peo­ple just weren’t in­ter­ested in he­li­copters. Many’s the time I tried to in­form them, back­ing up my state­ments with ir­refutable sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence, that rid­ing a horse is thirty times more dan­ger­ous than fly­ing a he­li­copter. Were they in­ter­ested? Not a bit.

Slow horses and fast women I can cope with; oth­er­wise sen­si­ble peo­ple who look at you blankly when you talk about fly­ing are be­yond the pale. Horses for cour­ses, I sup­pose; I’ll stick to the course I know.

My por­tion of G-BNKX was one-eleventh of the whole Worst of all these peo­ple just weren’t in­ter­ested in he­li­copters

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