A Day In The Life…Irish Charter Pilot!

We’ve been very lucky here at ‘The Rotor Break”, we’ve had amazing ‘Day In The Life…’ stories submitted  from around the world, but there’s something that only the Irish can bring to the table, It’s that storytelling tradition that goes back 2000 years, that conversational imagination that makes you feel like you’re there, listening to the story over a pint of Guinness.
This story from Barry Ward, has helicopters, beautiful scenery, the worlds best Golf Courses and of course, that unmistakable Irish wit!
Thank you so much Barry, we hope there’s a sequel.
                                                              The Rotor Break

I get to the hangar around 0600, an hour or so before it’s time to lift. I’d fuelled the machine the previous evening along with filing my flight plans so now it’s just a case of a thorough preflight and checking weather and NOTAMS – but first things first, getting the kettle boiled. It’s late summer here in Ireland and the good spell of weather we’ve been having is forecast to come to an abrubt end. There’s a running joke that says it only rains twice a week here: first for three days and then for four. But recently it’s been glorious. We’re obsessed with the weather here. Constantly watching it and talking about it, but mostly complaining about it. Too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold. There’s no pleasing us. Except maybe with pints of Guinness. And watching England lose (sorry lads). But when I say it’s been glorious, I mean 20 degrees and above for over four weeks straight now. Blue skies too. Today is going to be even hotter, cracking 25 degrees later.  It’s like clockwork here; in September, when the kids go back to school, the sun splits the stones. This year is no exception. Luckily my Irish skin has a good base coat from a few years working in Botswana alongside the now infamous @wildfrenchy.

 

Today’s first mission should be fairly straightforward, take the mighty H120 down to Shannon Airport to meet a group of four golfers right off their jet from the United States and bring them to the world famous Old Head golf club in Cork. I’ve flown these particular passengers before, they’re old fraternity brothers from a university in the Deep South and they tend to cut loose when they get away. According to their agent, this year will be no different. In total, there are eight guys on the jet but the others have decided to take the short drive to Adare Manor for their morning round of golf. Not a bad choice either, the Ryder cup will be held there in 2027. We’ll link-up with them this afternoon in Doonbeg for another round. It’s a golf resort in County Clare that’s owned by a guy that goes by the name of Trump. He’s big on Twitter, I believe.

Gateway to Ireland's stunning Wild Atlantic Way – one of the wildest, most incredible driving routes in the world.
Shannon Airport in the West of Ireland

I get my paperwork printed, finish my coffee and push the heli out. After a quick walkaround, I hit the button and wind her up to full noise. Shannon is only 20 minutes away from base. In all the places I’ve flown, nothing beats lifting early on a still Irish morning, particularly this time of year. Up over lush green rolling hills into a clear blue sky whilst patches of low-lying fog dissipate as the earth warms. Then, heading westwards, catching the first glimpse of a calm Atlantic Ocean and the tankers moored in the estuary of the mighty River Shannon as they wait for the incoming tide. To the north of the estuary, nestled snugly between the Shannon and the River Fergus, sits the airport itself. No wonder most of our American visitors want to fly into here, even on a bad day (and believe me, there are plenty) a more picturesque setting would be difficult to find. For an international airport, Shannon is generally quiet and relaxed and the friendly ATC gives clearance for landing at my discretion.

The jet is right on time. She’s a big one too, a Global Express. It casts a cooling shadow over me as it pulls up alongside. They are usually quite punctual in summer, or even a little ahead of time with the jetstream helping them along as they push east. Another reason for timeliness being the fact that they don’t want to miss their tee time at the golf course. They may lose a whole day otherwise. Tee times get booked out months in advance and my guys are only here for a week. The FBO car arrives, takes everyone through Customs & Immigration and in a flash we’re loading golf clubs and passengers, giving a thorough safety briefing and getting clearance to start. The lads are full of chat – having Irish coffees for breakfast tends to do that. They reckon it will help their golf game too. I hope they’re drinking doubles. They’ll need all the help they can get.

EC120 on the ramp, before loading up for the Golf Course
The Airbus H120, with the lush Irish grass in the background

The H120 is the ideal platform for a group like this. Plenty of room and visibility for everyone on board and a luggage compartment that fits four golf bags easily plus some extras. She’s also smooth and quite easy on fuel and the lower noise signature helps with the ever increasing sensitivity to helicopters. Good visibility means plenty of glass which means no escape from the sun, but this particular model has air conditioning at least. And it works too! The majority of our courses are by the coast so there’s generally always some sort of a breeze to help with lift if we’re heavy. Thankfully Ireland is not the largest of land masses so we don’t have too many long sectors but, just in case, we also have a few fuel bowsers deposited strategically to help with planning. Between last minute bookings, schedule changes and passengers who are just “big-boned” it’s always good to have backup plans.

We climb out of Shannon up to 1500ft, a good altitude for this flight as it gives us safe clearance from the various windfarms and hills that cross our path. Depending on who you ask, the windmills are either hideous or beautiful but, either way, they’re popping up everywhere. The Old Head is only 40 minutes away to the south/southeast. It’s crystal clear today and within minutes we’ve already seen three of Ireland’s finest castles. Then again, there’s no shortage of them here. We also swing past Adare Manor so they can see what they’re missing out on. That place is a work of art. Moving south I get a hold of Cork Approach and request a zone transit, the passengers want to see Cork Harbour; it’s a beauty, the world’s second largest natural harbour. On a day like this we’d be foolish not to check it out. Cork airspace is busy with their flight school but we get cleared as requested. North of Cork city we turn further east towards Cobh and head out over the harbour. It is jam packed. The water looks tropical, and it seems like half of the country is out on their boats today. Shares in aftersun are definitely going to be worth a bit more by morning.

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Old Head
Old Head Golf Links is built on a 220-acre diamond of land jutting out over two miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

For the first time all morning the passengers go quiet as the Old Head comes into view. It sits at the end of a long, narrow peninsula. The end of the road. The only thing further south of it is the lighthouse that it overlooks. It’s a stunning backdrop. This is the stuff that Instagram stories are made of. No wonder people flock to it every year. We do the customary couple of circuits overhead so the guys can suss out the course and get some photos and videos. We keep it nice and high so as to get the whole course in shot and also keep the decibel level down for the people already on the course. Then I check the windsock at the pad, it has a habit of swirling a bit here, and begin my approach. The grass pad sits just below the clubhouse and is kept almost as good as the greens. It’s quite roomy too, allowing three or four others to land depending on size of aircraft. Although helicopters are in and out of here regularly, our arrival draws quite a few spectators onto the balcony.

Landing site with a view
Landing site with a view

The passengers are delighted with themselves, arriving like rock stars and waving like royalty. I tell them not to worry, the course will bring them back to earth pretty quickly. She’s a fickle one and the wind is picking up nicely too. Shane Lowry needs not worry just quite yet. Two caddies arrive on buggies to fetch the guys and their clubs. I make the introductions and arrange a take-off time for later and they head off excited to go spoil a good walk. I’m equally as excited as the chef here makes the best eggs Benedict in the country and it would be rude not to. I pull the bowser over and top-up my fuel. As I head up the steps to the clubhouse in anticipation of the aforementioned feast, the phone rings. It’s the boss. Cancel your cruisey breakfast plans, there’s a forest fire kicking off out west and we’re being tasked. But that’s a story for another day.

The elegant and modern EC120 Cockpit
The modern cockpit of the H120 from Airbus

Fast forward a few hours and I’m back at the Old Head albeit a little smokier. Luckily the guys from this morning wanted to grab lunch after their golf game. We tend to allow four hours per round unless requested otherwise. Just as the blades come to a stop, a caddie on a buggy pulls up next to me with the clubs and gives me a heads-up. They’re done with the solid part of lunch and inbound to the pad, takeaway pints in hand. Sure enough I hear them before I see them. The morning doesn’t seem to have taken any toll on them. Maybe it’s the source of rehydration. It’s all back slapping and “you shoulda seen it….” . If it were fishing, basically everything got away.

The flight to Doonbeg is noisier than the first. We route over the famous Blarney stone, these lads must’ve all spent some quality time with it at some stage. There’s no room to get a word in edgeways, not even for Cork Approach. The “Isolate” button gets located and pressed. It’s all picture and no sound now. Cork ATC hands me over to Shannon and on we head towards the west coast.

We pick up the coast just south of Doonbeg at a place called Kilkee, where lies the lesser known cliffs. Somewhat smaller but equally beautiful, they are almost a baby brother or sister to the larger Cliffs of Moher to the north. I unmute as we cruise along the contours of the coast and the guys are astounded at just how many beachgoers there are scattered along the way. Not to mention how clear the water is. It does look inviting and I say as much. They all say they’re keen for a dip but it’s all talk. The temperature is nothing like the bath water they’re used to.  At least ours is shark-free.

Image Courtesy: Creative Commons, Toki3001
Kilkee Cliffs, on the way to the next Glof course at Doonbeg. Image courtesy:Wiki Commons

The main building at Trump International commands attention from a long way off. A mass of mason-perfected dark stone sits raised above a rugged coastline that softens into a crescent shaped beach. I climb to 2000ft so we can get a look at the course from overhead and to avoid the group galloping on horseback down the beach. The course draws a lot of comments from the guys on board. One or two of them have played here previously. Pointers are given and notes taken. It’s busy out here today as expected. As we come around to complete the orbit and begin letting down, they spot the rest of their party at the heli pad. Waving furiously. They must’ve had a similar lunch. Hopefully it stays with them until they’re finished. Two rounds of golf in one day isn’t for the faint of heart.

On the ground it’s like clockwork as always. Caddies on buggies do the meet and greet and the group reunites. Double the trouble. Stories getting swapped from the morning’s respective outings. I get them all to line up for a photo with their caddies in front of the heli. It’s like herding cats but tougher. “Everybody say potatoes”. All smiles. There are handshakes and high fives and they all head on their way to get started all over again. I’ll see them tomorrow morning for a trip to Donegal in the Northwest of the country. I get the machine tidied up and give her a good postflight inspection. She’s clean as a whistle. I’ve scored an overnight here at the hotel. The lap of luxury. It’s not an everyday occurrence but a much welcomed one. One of our groundcrew pulls in with the pickup towing the fuel bowser and I get tomorrows uplift sorted. He’s got a room sorted too. It’s well deserved after all the miles today, driving half the country to bring fuel while we fought the fire. We get the tie-downs on and head to get checked-in. There’s plenty of paperwork and planning to get through before we do it all again tomorrow.  But first, where’s the bar……

Barry ward has been a Helicopter Pilot for almost 15 years.

Trained in the USA, Barry has worked in the US and Southern Africa but is now back in Ireland operating the Airbus H120 Helicopter owned by Executive Helicopters.  

Besides Heli-Golf Charters, Barry also does Fire Fighting, Aerial Photography & Film and  Powerline Patrols.

To check out some of the places mentioned in this story visit the following links…

Most beautiful Golf Courses PGA.Com 

Old Head Golf Club OldHead.Com

Doonbeg Golf Course, Course Info

Executive Helicopters

Barry Ward
Author: Barry Ward

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