Above-­iously

Norfolk from above. On a helicopter flight.

  • Interview & Photos
    Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

Alistair Mackinnon, known to us as A.J., is a friend of ours here at ramp. When we visit our friends, we don’t usually bring along any gifts, but we always carry a camera with us. A.J. offered to pick us up at the airport in Norwich himself. Naturally, we were expecting a car. But A.J. had something different in mind. 

We’re going by helicopter?

Correct. You got here at just the right time.

Sounds great. What kind of helicopter is it?

It’s an MD 500D from McDonnell Douglas, manufactured in 1982. Well, parts of it at least. 

Parts of it?

All components are replaced based on time or condition and are checked accurately and regularly. Every part that is necessary for operating at one hundred percent. Throughout the years, the parts have to be changed depending on life and condition, so effectively only the hull of the aircraft is original.

1/2
What’s so special about the MD 500?

Some people may recognize this model from the TV show Magnum, P.I. back in the 1980s with Tom Selleck with the black, yellow and red stripes of the Island Hoppers livery. So there is a kind of story behind this model. Everyone who flies rotary aircraft describes them as the Ferrari of the sky. To me it’s the most exciting model to fly; it’s a pure, mechanical machine, the flying is an analog experience, there’s no fly-by-wire, no electronics, no autopilot. The only digital elements are the navigation that I use on my iPad with Skydemon and some recently installed primary flight information instruments. When you look back at the early aviators, honestly, I don’t know how they could fly and not get lost back then. [laughs] Though, of course, you’re still taught to use maps and so on when you get your license today – for safety reasons, if ever the electronic nav fails. The flying is a bit like riding a motorbike but with the third dimension of height and without the restriction of roads and speed limits. It’s literally about you and the machine, absolute freedom. But there’s also an element of danger if you don’t follow the rules.

Why do you use a helicopter?

It was always a dream for me to be able to fly. I’ve always been fascinated by helicopters, ever since I was a child, but academically I was never strong enough to make it into the industry, so I had to do it the hard way. I’ve never really been attracted by old cars, horses or whatever. I’ve got an older 911, but I don’t collect them like some of my friends do. I love driving and have raced competitively for over twenty years, but flying is a completely different skill set. It gives you a kind of freedom that you just don’t get doing anything else. As a businessman, it makes it much faster to get from one place to another. I’m involved in six companies in the U.K., and it’s often necessary to be at different locations frequently and at short notice. Organizing and planning my meetings with all of them is so much easier than by car, so the helicopter becomes a kind of no-brainer looking at time efficiency. Although sometimes the weather does make things difficult.  

But do you just fly for business?

Primarily it’s for business use, yes. But I have associated business colleagues that also fly, so we sometimes fly somewhere for slightly more social meetings.

A bit like a motorbike gang?

Kind of, but I’ve made some amazing friends and done some great business through this very tightly knit gang.

No tattoos? No leather jackets with bad stickers?

The “Hells Air Angels”? No, not yet, but we’re working on it. [laughs] As soon as we get something, I’ll let you know.

“Flying is a completely different skill set. It gives you a kind of freedom that you just don’t get doing anything else.”
Do you prefer flying by yourself or with passengers? And what challenges you about flying?

It depends. Flying a helicopter isn’t difficult, but the definition of something difficult is lots of easy things all at once. Once you have your license and have got over the initial stress when you learn, it has a kind of meditative sensation. You’re experiencing a three-dimensional space and have to check and balance everything. You learn so much about yourself, about your discipline, your strengths and your weaknesses. There are days when you instinctively feel like you shouldn’t fly, if you’re sick and under the weather, for example. But I would say it helps you to become a better version of yourself whenever you do fly. Some people say that I’m a very different character in pilot mode, which is probably a good thing. You never stop learning with every single flight you do. Also, flying with other aviators really stops you from ( . . . )

→ Read the full story in ramp #61 "Love Is in the Air".

Matthias Mederer

Matthias Mederer

Editor & Photographer
One car. One camera. A driver. The location? Gladly a city like New York, Cape Town, Berlin or Tokyo. If, on top of that, a typhoon passes through, the conditions are almost ideal. Matthias Mederer may swear like an ill-bred bare-nuckle fighter, but he also delivers. Compulsory and freestyle. His style: cinematic. "Basically, it's like a harmless Tarantino film for me: good soundtrack, a few crazy dialogues and with a few little tricks, in the end it's mainly the story that makes the mark." Well, and he can also write more than remarkably.
ramp #61 Love Is in the Air + Porsche LeMans-Special

ramp #61 Love Is in the Air + Porsche LeMans-Special

Ein blauer Himmel, der Duft des frischen Grases, Sonne und die Wärme des Augenblicks, vor allem Licht. Das Licht der Sonnenstrahlen, erklären die Wissenschaftler, ist der entscheidende Faktor, wenn uns zu Beginn der warmen Jahreszeit ein flotter Gute-Laune-Mix aus Glückshormonen energisch in den Sommer lockt.

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