Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Solving a mystery

This may surprise you, but I've always liked aircraft as much as I've liked cars. I'm also quite fond of boats as well [why do you think I have a kayak?] This is one of the factors that influenced my decision to become involved with the air cadets. Anyway, since I am also now the radio officer with my local squadron, I thought it would be rather nice if I could find some radio call signs from civil aircraft in the area, show the kids real radio use in action, that sort of thing.

What I found, was the South Wales Aviation Group's website logging all the air traffic in the area. Fantastic! Just what I was looking for. Then I spotted a posting about a new helicopter flight simulator in Cardiff...
I have received an email and some pictures from Duncan McDonald at Veritair concerning their simulator initially assumed to be G-USTA ..It appears this is partly correct however on examination of the pictures below it appears to be 2 frames merged together ..the silver and black bits are definately from G-USTAquestion is can anyone identify the rest of the machine please.

Interesting indeed, and it turns out to be the return of a television star of the late 80s. No, not Duncan McDonald - G-USTA. Which is a helicopter. That was enough to spark the interest into researching where the thing had come from in the first place.

Remember "Treasure Hunt" by Chatsworth? The one with Anneka Rice running all over the place jumping out of helicopters? Well Chatsworth went on to produce a sequel, "Interceptor"

You can find out more about the programme on the fansite, which also has details about the aircraft used in this similarly aviation heavy format, this time using a big Augusta 109 haring around the place at low level, flown by re
luctant TV star, Michael "Mikey" Malric Smith - who also featured in "Treasure Hunt" and "The Flying Gardner". The aircraft itself was owned by Castle Air Charters, based in Cornwall and a prolific supplier of aircraft for use in film and TV, both as stars and also as camera ships. Indeed one of their aircraft was recently spotted over Cardiff filming something, and another one features on one of the BBC one idents. The Helicopter used in Interceptor was a menacing black machine with a yellow stripe down the side, registered appropriately as G-MEAN.

"Interceptor" didn't enjoy the long life of it's predecessor [or it's successor "The Crystal Maze"] and the helicopter was soon declared surplus to requirements by Castle air charter. The yellow stripe became Silver, and in recognition of the manufacturer, Augusta, it was re-registered G-USTA. Then it was sold.

Then the new owners crashed it... and Castle bought the wreck back to use as spares... Well they're expensive things, Helicopters, shame to waste them!

And so it came to pass that in 2006, the producers of BBC's "Casualty" film a storyline involving an "air ambulance", which was another member of Castle's fleet, G-BVCJ - the aircraft used in "The Flying Gardner". The script called for that aircraft to crash... so what do you do? Wreck hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of aircraft, or find a wrecked airframe to substitute for it? Not hard is it? So G-USTA received yet another re-paint, on one side only to double for it's sister, why use expensive paint on something if the camera won't see it? After filming there's not much point in re-painting it back again, so it sits around in a curious hybrid paint style waiting for something to happen.

Then Veritair look for a suitable A109 to become it's flight simulator... well what's this? a stripped out airframe just ready for such a purpose! they buy it, but the paint work [and the fact that half of it looks rather more like an American air ambulance] confuse them. They ask SWAG if they can identify the other helicopter that has been mixed with G-USTA... I find the post, ask around on the Interceptor fansite... and find out what's happened.

So there's a mystery solved. And an old TV star thus finds new employment.

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