Helicopter Hire Ltd

widgeon-g-aptw-hhire

Operated from c.May 1972 to Dec 1986

Founders/Directors – Gill Aldam & John Crewdson

Helicopter Hire Ltd was established at Elstree in the early 1970s by the real world dynamic duo of immensely talented pilot Captain John Crewsdon (Director of Flight Operations) and his wife Gill whose many exploits included working as a stunt woman, model and racing driver, not to mention that she was the driving force behind both the founding and the business side of the company. Having outgrown their site at Elstree, the company subsequently relocated to Southend during March 1974 where it went on to become the airport’s largest operator of rotor craft. Located in ‘Hangar 2’ on the north side of the airport, this company provided just about every service that was possible to offer with helicopters which included everything from the mundane such as leasing and aerial advertising, to extremely specialised work which included network interference trials and seabed survey work. A separate engineering division was also set up and came to be known as Helicopter Maintenance Ltd. This part of the company was based in the same hangar from where it provided a multitude of engineering solutions, rebuilds and conversions.

However, it was within aerial photography and film work that Helicopter Hire and its previous incarnations had initially made a name for themselves and as a result, such work remained a large part of the company’s remit. Indeed, to enable truly unobscured camera shots, the Alouette would later be fitted with a ‘Paravision Rig’ or in other words, a parachute type harness that enabled a cameraman to be suspended underneath the aircraft. Marshall’s of Cambridge was tasked with building this rig which would get its first outing during the filming of the 007 film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and enabled cameraman Johnny Jordan to capture various sequences, such as the bob sled and helicopter attack scenes. However, it would often fall to Gill to reprise her roll as a stunt woman and strap herself into the rig for various publicity events, one of which included the opening of the H.A.M. at Southend.

Quite naturally, with John Crewdson having been involved with both fixed and rotor wing film work since the ’50s, this company would continue to take on such tasks not only with the aforementioned rig, but also by continuing to source or provide flight crews and period aircraft, the latter of which would go on to play a starring role in the films themselves. Indeed, Capt. Crewdson would continue to apply his well honed skills to either piloting the aircraft or providing the aerial shots. Airframe transformations were also undertaken too with one of Heli-Hire’s Widgeons being temporarily converted into a ‘Dragonfly’ for use in the film ‘Eye of the Needle’. Whilst filming would often take Helicopter Hire overseas, the company would also be called upon to carry out survey work in foreign climes. One such contract witnessed all of Heli Hire’s Bell 47s being dispatched to the Sudan for three months where they worked alongside two other British survey companies, Fairey and Hunting surveys.

Oil and gas rig support would also become an important part of the company’s work load which would ultimately see it performing a number of vital tasks primarily in the waters of the North Sea. Apart from general surveying, these tasks also included the monitoring of the eco-systems around the rigs to ensure that the local fauna and micro-organisms were not being affected by drilling while sea bed topography scans were also undertaken to determine the safest and most effective route for pipelines with inspection patrols taking place not long afterwards to check that the newly laid pipes were secure and leak free. With work of this kind becoming more common, a new heliport was eventually established at An Aird, Fort William and an associate company was formed to carry out this work, namely Highland Helicopters Ltd.

Over the years, an entire glut of rotor craft would pass through the doors of Helicopter Hire, including an extremely rare Kamov Ka-26 which was trialled by the company during June 1976, although this eventually came to nothing. Indeed prior to this, Gill and John had been to Moscow to evaluate the heavy lift Mil Mi-6 helicopter as nothing had been designed that could lift the same weight in this aircraft class. The plan was to use the type for sea bed surveys which would involve the helicopter carrying a wide range of equipment such as Doppler, sonar and a pinger for taking readings, while core samples could also be taken from relatively shallow water by a corer or grab. The Mi-6 didn’t make it, but the Russians offered to bring over the Ka-26 primarily to see if it could be used in the UK for crop spraying. It then did a promotional tour of the UK with Capt. Crewdson’s presence being required on board at all times so that he could keep an eye on the Russian crew and the proceedings, especially considering the delicate state of affairs between the UK and Russia at the time.

Otherwise, further arrivals included more common fare such as the only fixed wing type, namely a Britten-Norman Islander which was used during the mid-70s for Ordinance Survey work around the Shetlands, (this being operated by Nautic Air Services, a small associate company) while a couple of ex-Army, Westland Sioux helicopters were procured in 1981 for spares breaking. Prior to this in late 1980, a Bell 212 arrived from the US and was put to work in an attempt to gain route certification for North Sea rig operations, although it wasn’t really utilised and was withdrawn within a year. Sadly though, July 26th 1983 would witness a huge blow being dealt to the company. Alouette G-AWAP under the command of Capt. Crewdson had arrived over The Wash to undertake a second day of seal surveys and tagging. The fishermen in the area were then said to have heard what was likened to a ‘rifle shot’ after which the helicopter was seen to pitch hard to starboard and impact almost inverted with a sand bank from a height of around 50ft. Tragically, both the pilot and three observers from the Mammal Research Unit would lose their lives, with the subsequent AAIB report later concluding that the crash had been caused by the failure of the main rotor nut and mast due to corrosion.

So, it was left to Gill and the company to soldier on alone. Under her sole tenure the company trialled a new helicopter that had recently been launched by Westland Helicopters in the form of the Westland 30, a civil development of the Westland Lynx. In August 1983, Helicopter Hire leased G-KATE which was named in John Crewdson’s memory and she was put to work on route trials in support of oil and gas rig operations. However, this particular aircraft proved to be unsuitable for the task demanded of it, lacking the range to get to the rigs and back, while the type itself was known to be beset with technical problems including vibration and horizontal stabiliser issues. Needless to say, after the trials had been completed, the helicopter was dispatched back to Helicopter Services Ltd.

A replacement for the Alouette, which had been the company workhorse was also looked into. Helicopter Hire had had a Bolkow Bo-105 in its fleet since July 1982 and this aircraft was subsequently chosen to take over this roll. Having already played a staring role as a US Navy aircraft in 007 film Never Say Never Again, it would seem that filming work would remain its primary task, although this helicopter would from this point onwards, remain firmly behind the lens. As such, the airframe eventually had a large, ball shaped ‘Heli Tele Cam’ fitted to its port side which would be used to film live sporting events such as the London Marathon and the Cambridge – Oxford Boat Race. However, roughly three years after the tragic loss of Capt. Crewdson, the company finally began to wind down and as such, sold off all of its equipment before closing its doors at Southend for the very last time sometime around the end of 1986.

With many thanks to Gill Aldam and Jeff Rice for providing a good deal of the information above.

 

Helicopter Hire fleet from 1974 to 1986

Westland Widgeon

G-ANLW – 11/74 to 1/90

Sold to Sloane Helicopters Ltd

G-APTW – 7/73 – 10/75

Donated to the H.A.M at Southend after CoA expiry

Enstrom F28

G-BBRS – 7/75 to 11/79

Sold to A.G Christmas Ltd

G-BCEV – 8/74 to 7/75

DBR – 20/7/75

G-BDKD – 9/75 to 12/77

Sold to Spooner Aviation Ltd

Bell 47

G-AYAE – 1/74 to 5/85

Sold in Greece

G-AZVW – 5/72 to 11/82

Sold to Adela Aerial Services

G-AZVX – 5/72 to 11/82

Sold to Adela Aerial Services

G-BAYX – 7/76 to 8/84

Sold to Farm Helicopters Ltd

G-BFOH – 3/78 to 4/86

Sold in Cyprus

G-BFOI – 3/78 to 2/83

Sold to CKS Air Ltd

G-BHOI – 2/80 to 4/86

Sold to CKS Air Ltd

Bell 206 Jet Ranger

G-BBCA – 3/78 to 2/83

Sold to Hecray Company Ltd

G-BBUY – 3/78 to 2/83

Sold to Hecray Company Ltd

G-BGYF – 7/79 to 8/81

Sold in the U.S

Bell 212

G-BIDC – 12/80 to 1/82

WFU and reg cancelled – 1/82

Aerospatiale Alouette

G-AWAP – 10/74 to 7/83

Destroyed after crashing into The Wash due to rotor failure – 26/7/83

Bolkow Bo 105

G-BFYA – 7/82 to 12/86

Sold to Veritair Ltd

Westland Sioux

XT499 – ?/81 to 7/83

Spares use only – B/U at SEN during 1983

XT563 – ?/81 to 7/83

Spares use only – B/U at SEN during 1983

Britten Norman Islander

G-BAKZ – 12/72 to 9/76

Leased from Britten Norman

 

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Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.