‘It’s surreal’ – pilot’s comment as he prepares to fly the first plane ever to land on St Helena
Taken from Simon Pipe's Blog "St Helena online" Although living in the UK Simon runs a popular blog on the comings and goings on St Helena.
Posted on 11 September, 2015 by Simon Pipe Four hours to go before he was due to begin a journey into St Helena’s history books, and Stuart Rawlinson was sitting in his garden in the UK, getting some rest. He would need it.
He’d landed the job of chief pilot aboard the very first aircraft ever to fly out to the island.
“It’s a bit surreal,” he admitted. “There aren’t many places in the world you can’t fly to. It’s quite exciting to be part of making it happen.”
A large proportion of St Helena’s 4,000-population is expected to line vantage points to see the Beechcraft King Air 200 touch down, some time between Sunday 13 and Thursday 17 September 2015. Special traffic arrangements have been put in place around Longwood.
“Yes, we’ve been told about that,” said Stuart, who flies with Surrey-based Flight Calibration Services Limited. “It’s good.
“It’s a bit special. It’s got challenges because of the remoteness. It’s an excitement.
“When we’ve turned up in other countries there’s been an entourage that turns up. We know it’s important to the people of St Helena. I’m sure we’ll get a good welcome.”
There will be five people on board for the historic first landing, including three pilots and Stuart’s colleague Nick Whitehouse, who will do much of the inspection work.
“As we’re using a local [South African] aircraft out there, we take the crew of the aircraft. There will be one of their pilots and myself at the controls.
The team also includes a flight engineer who can service the plane in St Helena if needed. “If there’s a problem, we can’t just nip down to Halfords for a spare part,” said Stuart.
There’s no saying when they will be able to set out from South Africa for the flight via Namibia and Angola.
“We have to wait for a weather window to get to St Helena, to get in and get out again with a fuel load.
“There may or may not be a wait of a day or so because we are going in just on GPS.”
Though they’re going to test the guidance systems on Prosperous Bay Plane, they won’t be able to rely on them for their own landing – so no using the usual instruments.
“We have weather forecasters from the met office giving us forecasts.
“The network of people behind making this happen is quite wide. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t less than 100 making sure that flight arrives on the island.”
Once on the island, the team will begin a series of calibration flights, testing the navigation and communication systems over several days.
“The homing beacon is probably going to take one to two days to ensure it’s working correctly. Then we have the instrument landing system – a day to two days – and then the lighting system.
“There’s a lot of tech things in the background including the ground communication system, to make sure they’re set up as the engineers want them.
“Whatever we set up for the next week or two is going to be there for the next 20 years so we need to get this right.”
The St Helena job won’t be an entirely unfamiliar experience for Stuart.
“When we calibrate in Portugal we have to fly to the Azores, which isn’t a hugely dissimilar distance.
Stuart is a commercial instructor who’s been making calibration flights for six years. “It requires something different. A sense of humour, mainly.
“We go all round doing this. We’ll go from the Turks and Caicos Islands to Nigeria and Swaziland… we have a crew in UAE [the United Arab Emirates] at the moment.
“One minute you’re at Heathrow and the next minute you’re landing on an island in the middle of the South Atlantic, and then it could be a trip to the desert. I could be anywhere.”
Given the extra challenges of the St Helena job, was he nervous about it?
“What’s making people nervous is that we’ve heard the airport supply ship is decommissioned at the end of the month, so it has to work. There is no plan B
FIRST FLIGHT TO LAND ON ST HELENA
The Following text is from today's press release regarding next week's milestone event!
On Friday 4 September 2015 Basil Read was granted temporary use of the St Helena Airport runway by Air Support Safety International (ASSI). This heralds an historic milestone next week when a Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft is due to land at the Airport to carry out a series of calibration flights. This will be the first ever plane to land on St Helena.
ASSI Senior Aerodrome Inspector, Justin Rothwell, carried out an assessment of the Airport infrastructure and safety procedures. As a result, an exemption was granted until 30 September 2015 to enable the calibration flights to go ahead.
The aircraft is due to arrive between Sunday 13 and Thursday 17 September 2015, dependent upon suitable weather and other factors. The precise date and time of arrival is therefore still to be determined, but every effort will be made to inform the public as early as possible.
The calibration tests will be undertaken by Flight Calibration Services Limited (FCSL) who will travel to St Helena on the aircraft leased from TAB in South Africa. The aircraft will fly from Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg, to Namibia, then to Angola and on to St Helena, taking approximately four hours for the final leg of the journey to the Island.
The aircraft will likely arrive between mid-morning and early afternoon. We expect that it will approach the northern end of the runway (i.e. from the direction of The Barn) and that it will carry out an initial low-level pass of the runway before coming in to land.
Although it is expected that the first flight to land at St Helena Airport will generate a huge amount of public interest, the public should be aware that this will not be the only chance to see this aircraft. It will remain on the Island for around a week, undertaking several flights each day (weather permitting).
Vantage Points and Vehicles
The public is advised that there is no access to the Airport Site. Instead, Basil Read, working closely with the St Helena Police Service, has identified various public vantage points where people will be able to get a good view of the aircraft. Other vantage points, such as Woody Ridge, will be available - but there will be no traffic management available at those places. The public is therefore asked to take extra care when driving to and parking at other vantage points on the Island.
The public are strongly encouraged to car share where possible, and to be mindful of their personal safety, particularly when on foot. People should drive and park sensibly and be aware of their surroundings.
Basil Read has granted permission for part of the Access Road, normally closed to the public, to be used as part of a one way system on the day to alleviate congestion. To approach the vantage points below, vehicles will be allowed through Longwood Gate and through to Bottom Woods. To return, vehicles will be directed past Reggie’s Takeaway at Bottom Woods, along the Access Road, through to Foxy’s Garage at Deadwood and then back to Longwood Gate (See attached map).
The entrance to Fisher’s Valley will be closed to all traffic other than residents.
Bradley’s Camp/Garage Area
Enquiries about the practical arrangements on the day the plane arrives should be directed to the Police on tel: 22626.
9 September 2015