Flying without Wings

Just the other day, I had the pleasure of test-driving the new Porsche 911 Turbo, a car with few equals in the performance stakes. Yet, I found myself duelling with a Transit van on a local section of dual carriageway.

The three chaps aboard their utilitarian transport obviously appreciated me demonstrating the ballistic acceleration and aural delights of 'my' 911 as they cheered and offered the universal 'thumbs up' sign of appreciation as we parted our ways at the roundabout, which signposted the end of our brief dalliance.

But then, we both arrived at the same point at pretty much the exact same time-the traffic, road conditions, speed limits and my own law-abiding nature meant that I couldn't just let rip and disappear over the horizon, blurring the six gears up to the potential top speed of 194mph. So, as they headed off in search of a burst water main somewhere, I was left with a nagging feeling-what really is the point of having all this performance available in everyday commuting?

Horses for courses I suppose. The Porsche is great when the roads are clear(ish) and your favourite driving tune is playing through the speakers or when you bump into an old school friend at the local filling station. But if I spent my days crossing ploughed fields, the Porsche would have been somewhat out of its depth, despite the four-wheel-drive system, so I would invest in a Land Rover. Similarly, the boot space would have been no good if my life involved lugging around antique furniture, so a good old Volvo estate would be the vehicle of choice. Yet, aside from Inspector Gadget's very own Gadgetmobile, there isn't really a vehicle currently available that can make commuting on our busy roadway network easier-some cars can make it more bearable, others more economical, but none can make it quicker. A motorbike perhaps? My mother would kill me if I didn't first manage it myself!

To quote Yazz, it appears that "The only way is up."

Despite my schoolboy dreams of travelling via jetpack, a trawl of the Internet revealed that there isn't really a readily available supply of such things yet available to us in 2007. There were several mentions of flying cars, for which, I could stump up a not insubstantial deposit against an, as yet, unreleased vehicle that will eventually cost a cool $1 million plus, but as I am looking into time-saving devices, it didn't really seem the way forward.

And what exactly would a flying car actually offer? The ability to take to the freedom of the skies or to be stuck on the M25 in something that looks like it escaped from the pages of Dan Dare. Well, if you can do without the second element of 'functionality,' then perhaps a helicopter could be the way forward for you.

It is one thing having access to a Porsche through a fractional ownership programme or asset-sharing club-it is bound to impress the neighbours and friends and relatives alike-but it is quite another thing to get around via helicopter! It may be difficult at times to compete with the office car park one-upmanship, but regardless of what kind of exotica your colleague has, a helicopter is the trump card to end all trump cards.

So, the first stumbling block is that you can't fly! Well, find out how in the next thrilling instalment of our helicopter guide.

Flying without wings 2

One particular US site claims a 98% success rate in training helicopter pilots, so how hard can it be?

Well, assuming that you have an aptitude for it (and the above statistic suggests that almost all of us have!) and can dedicate yourself to putting in the requisite flying hours, it should just be a matter of time and money before you can take to the skies solo.

Time-wise, it will take at least 45 hours of flying time (with an average of around 70 hours generally necessary) to achieve your licence, with prices averaging around the £250 mark. No small investment, but keep your Thomas Magnum self-image in mind and just pay the man! It's going to be more than worth it.

But perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here-your first step should be to undertake a trial lesson. Once you start looking into it, you will find that there are a surprising number of helicopter schools out there and many offer a discounted first lesson, fully aware that, once the bug has bitten, folks generally return for more!

Such introductory courses allow you to familiarise yourself with the major controls of a helicopter and get a feel for flying, all within the capable hands of a qualified instructor, ready to restore composure and safety if you are a little ham-fisted or unsure.

The next step is to obtain a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) class 2 medical. Unfortunately, some conditions, such as diabetes, will mean that you are medically unfit to fly solo-something worth finding out on the outset rather than several thousand pounds down the road. You can find details of CAA-certified doctors at

In terms of the particular craft in which you will be learning, the training helicopter of choice is the Robinson R22. In helicopter terms, it is the Ford Focus of the skies (but no less glamorous for it, this is a helicopter remember!); reliable, easy to get to grips with and a good starting point from which to move up its bigger brother, the R44.

The specifications of the R22 include a top speed of 118 mph and a cruising speed (70% power) of 110 mph, with a derated engine developing 131 hp. The more powerful R44 has a cruising speed of 130 mph or 135 mph, dependent on whether it is a Raven I or II, respectively. Although this may not be gob-smackingly quick by automotive standards, this is in the very traffic-light and generally congestion-free blue yonder, so such speeds can be maintained comparatively easily.

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