Originally I just wanted to support the new start-up carrier flying from Berne, named SkyWork, and spend some days in London. However, somehow, everything changed...

 

 

 

Less than five minutes after having booked my 3 nights' stay, I remembered an old dream of mine: To join one of those scheduled helicopter flights that were available "somewhere" out there on the coast. An intensive research and planning effort followed, but I finally managed to squeeze them into the very limited time I had in the UK.

Finally, in mid-May, the adventure began. Starting in Zurich, I traveled by tram to the Main Station, by intercity train to Berne, by local train to Belp, and by bus to their tiny little airport. With an average waiting time of 20 minutes between each connection. A total travel time of over two hours - but yeah, part of the hobby I guess!

I had some time left to take a look around and was impressed: The observation area almost had you standing on that Dornier's wings! No wonder then, that on this Saturday afternoon, lots of spectators had gathered. How nice to see aviation being that popular with the crowds!

 

After having spent a little too much time outside, I had only 25 minutes left to catch my own flight. No problem in Berne! 3 minutes after entering the terminal landside, I left it airside, leisurly walking towards the Q400 waiting for me. Kudos to the staff for that great and unique experience!

The plane was just standing there and waiting for its passengers, who popped in in loose order. No hurry, no airport staff chasing you all across the tarmac, no standing on eachother's feet in a crowded airport bus. What a joy, what an experience! Exactly how flying should be all the time!

 

The next positive surprise followed immediately: Seat pitch was heavenly! Admittedly, my legs aren't the longest in the world, but I haven't experienced that much room in a long time!

 

When about two dozen people had found their way on board, it was time to depart. The door was closed, the two mighty props spooled up, and after a brief taxi we were ready for take-off from Rwy 32. While downtown Berne was unfortunately on the "wrong" side of the plane, I could at least catch a glimpse of our capital's football stadium, the Stade de Suisse (lower right corner)

Blue skies, green engine cowling, nice contrast - perfect!

Ready for the next great suprise? Time for the in-flight service! Adimittedly, the British-style Sandwich wasn't a real joy to look at - but it wasn't that bad actually. Free water with it, nice. The true highlight however were the iPads, that were distributed free of charge. Its multimedia library could've been a bit more extensive (and has in fact grown since...), but it still was a great change from the usual IFEs. In short: Great on-board product!

A look at the cabin - the load factor wasn't a reason for smiles yet though ;)

 

 

After a nice 90 minute flight we were already on final approach to London City's Runway 27. Its not my first time approaching that special airport, but as challenging as it may be in the cockpit, I have never felt a real difference in the cabin. Didn't mind - there were many other entertaining flights to look forward to over the course of the next few days!

 

Seven minutes after the parking brake had been set, I was already standing outside the terminal again. Feeling like a VIP! I took a short walk to the runway end, but the light was pretty weaak already, and those Embraers all departed like rockets anyway....

 

Two hours and half a dozen subway line changes after, I was already facing my next means of transport: The Riviera Night Sleeper, waiting at London's Paddington Station. This train departs six nights a week from London towards the holiday areas in the southwest, terminating at a place called Penzance, where - oh joy - the base of those scheduled chopper services is. From what I've read, the train makes a detour on purpose, to allow more time to sleep. Sounds great to me!

 

 

Welcome to my cozy sleeping cabin! At 49 pounds only, it was cheaper than most hotels - with the small difference that you wake up at a completely different place. Cool!

 

Shortly before midnight, the Riviera Sleeper pulled out of Paddington. I quickly tested out the IFE (or in-ride-entertainment rather?), but then allowed the rattling of the train rock me into a deep sleep.

 

Seven hours later: *knock* *knock*: "Good morning honey, here's your breakfast!". Wow - talk about travelling in style!

 

Outside, the lush grean countryside awoke to a bright and sunshiny day. A perfect start for what lay ahead!

 

Right on time, at nine o'clock, the train arrived at Penzance (22'000 inhabitants) at the westernmost tip of Cornwall. A little sleepy still, but otherwise happy, hundreds of Londoners exit the train and enter the sunshine of the Rivera. Kick back, relax...

...nope, no time to relax for me! In one hour's time, I will be up in the air again!

A shuttle bus from the helicopter company (British International Helicopters) picked me up at the train station, and took me to the small Penzance Heliport a mere five minute drive away.

I had just enough time to buy some hiking maps of today's destination, Tresco Island, at the terminal's caféteria, before the passengers were called for the safety briefing (which actually felt more like a publicity spot, but anyway). Shortly afterwards, the door was opened, and soon we were standing face to face with that huge monster, its idling turbines already (or whatever that is - I'm no helicopter guy) emitting shrill noises and a hot jetblast. Here it is, the SeaKing, or Sikorsky S-61N, as its civil variant is known. This airframe, built 1978, seats 28 passengers in a very airliner-like cabin.

Gotta love those huge windows!

Yeeeha, here we go, on my second helicopter ride ever! We hover from the apron to one end of the take-off area, perform a 180, and finally climb steeply into the early morning sky.

By the way, here's a video about a take-off from out of the cabin (not by me).  [url]http://tinyurl.com/3lw5vjm[/url]

After a few seconds we're high enough to see the town of Penzance spread before us - a little more than an hour ago I was sleepliy vacating the train at the station down there, and now I'm already high up in the air (and much more awake). Feels brilliant!

We climb further and slowly make our way west. Nothing compared to the fast movements known from action movies - but quite comfortable for photography. Here's Penzance's second part of town

Two tries at artsy scenery pictures ;)

 

Just two hours from home, but the farms look distinctly different!!

After a few minutes the Sea comes in sight again...

...and we pass England's westernmost tip, Land's End - including a huge tourist area, obviously.

The next ten minutes of the flight lead over the choppy open seas, where far below the crashing waves and the circling doves complete the picture. Finally, the Scilly Islands come into view - here's St. Martin's, home to 142 people...

...and some strange but beautiful areas of water!

This British island scenery never fails to impress me! I've been to many of their islands, and they all look so gorgeous! Looks like low tide, and it almost feels like you could actually walk between the two islands. Amazing!

 

 

And here it is, my destination for today: The island of Tresco, making a great first impression, too!

 

On finals, I could already snap a shot of the main attraction (for normal people visiting, not plane-geeks that is): Tresco Abby and the Abby Gardens, which, thanks to the sunny and warm climate on the islands (haha, compared to what, exactly? The North Pole?), are home to a large selection of plants and flowers from around the world.

 

We slowly touch down on the take-off/landing spot, lift up again to about 2 meters (6 feet), and hover to our parking position. And I thought the advantage of helicopters was that they don't need anything like a runway...

Anyway. Welcome to Tresco Heliport!

 

I had about six hours till my return flight. While the other passengers (average age between 60 and half-dead) climbed upon a tractor trailer and were carried to some place of interest, I opted to explore the twisting paths of the island on foot.

 

Everything's abloom! Looks like I'd accidentally selected the best time of the year to come here!

 

No idea, what all that colourful stuff is called (not even in german!), but it was impressive nonetheless!

 

 

As a result from the islands' remoteness, the birds have almost no fear of humans - more than one actually ate potato chips out of my hands!

 

Yet more flowers, including a member of the Heathrow heavy outbound wave high up in the blue, blue sky!

 

Soon I had to bid that sky farewell, as high clouds started moving in. But it was still quite nice

 

Looking over to neighbouring Bryher island

 

While Treso's South is covered by lush greenery, the north looks very barren and windswept.

 

Looking out at a dozen more of the Scillies

 

Obviously back in the South :-)

 

A last sunny spell, before the clouds closed in. The approaching front is already looming in the back...

 

After having walked more or less once around the island, I returned to the lovely little terminal building. And no, that's not the community chapel on the right, but the room for the safety video!

 

Ahhh, the afternoon wave kicks in! Here's its first half, the 3 o'clock flight!

 

Don't mess with me!

 

Actually looks quite friendly and tame, on a bed of flowers!

 

Takeoff! And contrary to how it may seem, or how you would expect, this is a very, very slow thing. Check out this video to see what I mean.  Video

 

An hour later, it was my turn to take to the skies again. Catching a last glimpse back to Tresco, the heliport is located on that green area left of the lake

 

Back over the mainland, another try at a close-up...

...and after another 20 minutes we're back in Penzance. Finally I can have a short look into the cockpit of this beast! 99 punds for two 20 minute flights in such a unique means of transport and half a day on a picturesque island - not too bad!

 

But beware: A shopping center is supposed to be built on the premises of Penzance's heliport, threatening operations. Better do this trip while you can! And take photos, too. That's why I sticked around for another hour, until the helicopter had completed yet another trip out to the islands and was returning back to base...

Pax out, Pax in, head to the take-off area, 180-turn...

...and off again, for the last flight of the day. Bye bye!

 

Freezing, I walked back to the town centre and to my hotel. Passing this side-street, which looks a tad repetitive to me :)

 

Penzance is rolling up its sidewalks pretty early in the off-season, and it wasn't too easy to find something for dinner. Thank god for Subway!

So, was that it? No, of course not! I still had one more day to spend, and decided to visit the Scillies' main island, St. Mary's, next. It's the only of the islands to feature a little airport, and therefore the services aren't limited to the S-61s, but also include the fixed wing planes of "Isles of Scilly Skybus", a small airline based at Land's End Airport. Their fleet includes Twin Otters and Islanders - so yet another chance to finally get my first Islander flight.

Wasn't to happen though - a DHC-6 was prepared for the morning flight. Not that I'd have anything against them - they are actually my favourite 19-seater by far, and I've experienced many adventures on the trusty Twin Otters. I love them! 
Sooo, we taxied to one of the three grass runways and took off facing west - nothing spectacular ;)

 

My regret about not getting my Islander had quickly vanished. I'd grabbed a front row seat, and since it was the first time of flying the real Twin Otter since I purchased Aerosoft's Flightsim version, I was eagerly following every movement in the cockpit. 75% RPM, 40PSI - just like in the Aerosoft manual. Yay! We're still 12,7nm out from EGHE, which is of course St. Mary's Airport, today's destination.

 

On finals for Rwy 27 - as a curiosity, after half of its length, it turns from concrete into grass. No big deal for our Twin Otter of course!

 

Baggage handling, the Scilly way - I like!

 

Shortly after, my plane takes off again and heads back to the mainland...

 

I, too, leave the airport behind, and start the half-hour walk into town. Pretty idyllic...

 

...and sleepy...

 

Another bird which was happily feeding out of my hand (too bad today's Chips I'd brought were of a hot chilli variation, but it didn't seem to mind)

 

The flora isn't as impressive as over on Tresco, but still quite appealing

 

Here we are, the island's main settlement of Hugh Town, home to about a thousand people

 

Back at the airport, waiting for the "afternoon wave" - consisting of 3 Skybus and 3 chopper flights spread over 5 hours, in cloudy skies and chilly winds. Yeah, sometimes our hobby just istn't that much fun...!
So I was very grateful for this little surprise here dropping by for a visit, an AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin of the RAF, quite often used on aircraft carriers, too.

Back to the familiar choppers, BI's other Sikorsky (G-ATBJ, built in '65) said hello!

Same like this Twin Otter, arriving from its kind-of longhaul flight all the way from Southampton

Refuelling, very british!

Time for the chopper's return already! (well, actually, an hour of standing in the freezing cold was in between these two, but never mind...)

Only 20 minutes later (wow, now it's really picking up!), a new sight on the fixed-wing side. Looks like the Islander's active today - a good sign!

Another chopper, this time FJ of yesterday's trip to Tresco

Take off...

same for yet another Twin Otter from Land's End...

 

Terminal views from inside and out

Like most small terminals, full of historic documents (I like the one landing on the golf course!)

 

Finally it was time to check in for the return flight - and from the moment I had to step on a scale, a small smile was growing on my face. Not really because of the numbers it showed, but for what it implied: One of the W&B-sensitive Islanders was to be me ride home! After chasing that type from New Zealand over the Channel Islands all the way to St. Barths and never getting to fly on it, finally the day had come. Here it is, the tiny Islander G-SBUS, built 1986. Yay!

The single pilot asked us to hurry, since the weather was deteriorating at a very fast pace. Don't mind that! Quick taxi to Rwy27, full throttle, rumbling, rumbling, bump (entering the grass half), rumbling, lift-off - wow, what a takeoff!

Cabin Shot

In order not to enter the clouds, we were flying quite low, and I just hoped the Captain would see more than I did...finally, it went very quick: We rushed over the cliffs...

...were darting through the fog (are those VFR conditions?)

...scared some cows passing low over their heads...

...and somehow touched down in the wet grass of one of Land's End's three runways. No idea which one it was in the end - completely lost my bearings!

Actually, there were three more scheduled flights, but the airport closed right after our arrival. Once again I was very lucky to make it back at all - and didn't really mind having to wait half an hour out in the drizzle until my bus back to Penzance finally pulled up.

Back in Penzance, I had to kill time till the departure of my train back to London, so I walked three times through the deserted shopping area before heading to a pub and indulging in some Fish & Chips. Finally, 9PM had arrived, and the doors of the Riviera Sleeper opened. Bye bye Penzance!

Conversation with the train stewardess:

"So, I wake you up at 7.30, alright?"

"Oh, I'd thought we'd be in London by 5.45 already?"

"We sure are honey - but the train will remain at the platform for another 2 hours, so you can sleep a litte longer"

How great is that? Imagine joining the holding at Heathrow for two hours ust so your passengers can catch some extra sleep!

 

And that's exactly how it was. After another relaxing night rattling through the country, we came to a stop at Paddington, I guickly looked out of the window, turned around, and enjoyed another two hours of sleep. Amazing!

And it didn't stop there. The train ticket gives you free access to Paddington's first class lounge - where you can free internet and help yourself to a yummy breakfast. Paradise! Never in my life have I appreciate rail travel that much - and coming from a Swiss, spoiled by a perfectly orchestrated network of fast and efficient trains, that does mean a lot!

 

I was in no hurry - I hadn't yet seen the sky, but the METARs looked rather grim. Still I headed out to Hatton Cross to do some spotting (what a nice contrast to the Scillies, movement wise!).

Back to City airport in the evening. Oops, what's that? My SkyWork flight is already lining up? What happened?

 

Nothing to worry about! When I checked the weather forecasts that morning in Paddington's lounge, my eyes almost teared up. After having fought with rain and clouds and fog for the past days, the next two days were expected to be sunny from dawn to dusk. Did some searching, and found out that an Easyjet flight to Zurich two days later wouldn't be much more expensive than my booked SkyWork flight to Berne plus the train ticket to Zurich. Even more, since SkyWork returns 30% of the money when cancelling a reservation. How nice of them! So that's what I did - 2 more days in London, yay!

 

Used it to spend some more time at City airport with its lovely setting...

...return to Heathrow the next day (which was pretty sunny indeed)...

...and wrap it up at Gatwick the second day, before flying home

 

...und fern

 

What a good choice that was! Okay, Easy once again disappointed me with a delayed flight and dirty windows, but anyway - two sunny days in London are hard to beat!

 

 

Conclusions:

- SkyWork: A great pleasure to fly! A start-up company on a very high level, and a great addition to the swiss airline market. And nope, I haven't received any money from SkyWork for these statements - except the 23.70 CHF for my cancelled return flight *g*

- Riviera Sleeper: What a great way to travel! I loved every minute of it, the adventure it was, the comfort provided, and the reasonable price it cost. Definitely recommended!

- The chopper flights: Not as action-filled as I had anticipated, but a very exotic and unique was to travel nonetheless - even more considering the very fair price. Tresco island, too, was definitely worth a visit!

- The Skybus flights to St. Mary. Well, if you're there anyway and like to fly another puddlejumper, go for it. But definitely not as special as the choppers, and since I'd already taken many such flights in the past, not that exciting for me personally. Didn't like St. Mary's too much either - too large and "normal" compared to Tresco. But, admittedly, the dull weather and my lack of sleep the nigtht before sure didn't help either...

 

Hope you had fun reading this report! And please bear with me for any wrong descriptions concerning the Helicopters - they're still a mistery to me, and I remain a fixed-wing guy!

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