There’s a ceremony about starting the big Aston DBS that is akin to aviation. Not quite a pre-flight, perhaps, but more than just turning any old key. Slide the crystal fob into the centre slot at the top of the dash, insert. There’s a moments delay, then the instruments light up. Push further and hold, a click, then the started whirrs with that high pitched whine that all V12 starters seem to make, than a bark as it bursts into life. I have the driver’s door cracked open a little to gain better access to the noise, which reminds me of a vintage Riva powerboat. Shades of Richard Burton’s deep, cigarette toned voice about it, the exhaust has a smooth richness that can change to a bark as the volume increases.
We’re with Simon George, Evo contributor and CEO of 6th Gear Experience in his Aston Martin DBS. The 6.0 litre, V12 DBS is positively understated by his standards, his metallic orange Murcialago being the car he is well known for both by magazine readers, Yorkshire police forces and also Valentino Balboni himself. Today, though, we’re sinking into the Englishness that is the character of the DBS, it’s turbine like V12 far smoother than the Lamborghini. And we’re going to visit another icon of Englishness, a James Bond movie star. A helicopter.
[quote]No Mr Bond, I expect you to die![/quote]
The very first Bond movie I ever watched was Goldfinger. To this day, I still recall the first time I ever saw Connery strapped down, that laser beam moving remorselessly upwards, the words of “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” coming from the best baddie I’d ever seen at that point. And I’d never seen a helicopter pilot quite like Pussy Galore either. Not a name you’d see on an EasyJet name badge these days, Miss Galore was responsible for flying the helicopter we’re going to visit. This Hiller was the very machine that starred in Goldfinger, the one used to fly Goldfinger into Fort Knox, complete with atomic bomb, in the best baddie tradition.
Little is known about G-ASAZ’s history after the movie but today, she’s cared for by helicopter pilot and instructor Rob Heilds. Rob discovered G-ASAZ, a Hiller UH-12 E4, as a basket case and over a period of a decade, painstakingly restored her to the original specification, as she left the Hiller factory in California. She’s probably the love of his life, based at Sherburn In Elmet airfield in Yorkshire, the Hiller is flown regularly by Rob both for fun and also in his capacity as an instructor. He’s one of the very few pilots in the world certified to instruct on the Hiller and while there are few left flying these days, if you aspire to flying one, you’ll need Rob’s skills to teach and certify you.
[quote]if you aspire to flying one, you’ll need Rob’s skills to teach and certify you. [/quote]
The Yorkshire A Roads from Simon’s home to Sherburn airfield highlight what a superb machine the DBS is. I’ve long been a fan of the smaller, agile Vantage V8, it’s small-block-American-engine sound fantastic between dry stone walls. And while there’s no doubt the big DBS is long and very wide, it doesn’t feel that way once you’re moving. Power steering weighting up quite a bit after turn in, giving plenty of feel and still requiring effort so that, after a mile or so, I’m tweaking my power seat that little bit closer for more leverage. In traffic and halting at roundabouts, the clutch pedal is similarly weighted, giving that ‘machined from billet’ feeling. Over the broken road surface of tighter Yorkshire lanes, there’s a bit of waggle around the rear axle, tightened up by triggering the electro-magnetic dampers, at the expense of a little ride quality. The short drive over, I’m left with the impression that I’ve only scratched the surface of the DBS, we need to spend more time together.
We roll onto the smooth Sherburn helicopter pad. In typical club airfield tradition, no security fences, none of the hi res vest Jobsworths that you’ll find at large airports these days. Just a sign explaining that propellers will kill you. Rob’s there to greet us. He’s a Yorkshireman and calls a spade a ‘Fucking Shovel’ if you get my drift. ‘Fook me, Simon, that’s a smart car, let’s go and have a brew…’ Rob’s passion for flying helicopters is surpassed only by his love of his Hiller. He personally rebuilt her and funded the whole thing himself. And she’s a demanding mistress. ‘Everything is manual, there’s no power assistance and no governor on the collective” This means that, unlike more modern designs that have a governor to match and feed in power as you raise the collective and ask the machine to lift, in the Hiller, you need to twist the throttle grip and feed in the power to match the demand for lift. While you’re also balancing the torque on the pedals. And while you’re using the cyclic to hold a hover. There’s a lot going on… We discus photos. We have an idea of having the Hiller hovering just over the roof of the Aston. Rob points out the minor issue that an engine failure at that point would have him down onto the roof of the car, with no Plan B. Like most good helicopter pilots, Rob likes having a Plan B, he’s been a helicopter pilot for many years on the basis of always having one. Even for a minor gig like a photo shoot on the airfield, he’s quick to assess margins. We decide that hovering very close to the rear of the car will give us the effect we’re after while giving Rob a margin. He climbs aboard.
[quote]as the engine comes up to temp, Rob builds up the power, the blade slap takes on a harder edged sound[/quote]
Snap, snap on switches and circuit breakers, a whirring from inside as gyros spin up. A call through the open door, “All clear?” We respond. Rob cracks open the throttle slightly and cranks the engine. The big, six cylinder Lycoming barks into life immediately. For the second time on one day, I’m reminded of a Riva powerboat. Only far louder. The Hiller has open pipes and as the blades spin up to speed, Rob gives a small blip and the 540 Cu Inch Lycoming sounds wonderful. We watch as the engine comes up to temp, before Rob builds up the power, the blade slap takes on a harder edged sound and the blast of downdraught takes over as Rob pulls on the collective and the Hiller lifts into a hover just feet from us. He rotates around and we jump into the Aston and head to Sherburn’s runway for the pictures. Using hand signals, I gesture Rob into position and he holds a perfect hover. I take a moment to admire the feel required to hover in such a natural way, recalling my own clumsy efforts from my attempts at piloting so far, then get on with the photos as I remember that actually, he’s probably working quite hard.
A few minutes later, I’ve exhausted the picture options and Rob’s wanting to move off, rolling the Hiller forwards into transitional lift and flying a tight circuit before setting down outside of her hangar. Rob’s watching the CHT gauge as the temps come down before shutting her off. Silence as the blades slow enough for us to move closer and take a look. There’s a beautiful blue tint to the canopy transparencies, clear with a complete lack of the crazing that you see on old perspex. Inside, immaculate seating for three behind the pilot, with a single seat dead centre for flying. The left rear position has basic controls for Rob when instructing. Simon climbs into the pilot seat. Honor Blackman sat here once. Now there’s a thought. It’s hot inside and there’s that lovely aviation smell of warm leather, hot oil and a whiff of high octane aviation fuel. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor visited the Goldfinger film set and sat right here. Rob has a signed photograph of Burton in his office, standing alongside the Hiller.
Historic aviation doesn’t have many helicopter stars. The conventional route is more the Spitfire, Hurricane, P51 Mustang path. But this machine was at the beginning of the most famous picture franchise of all time. The Hiller makes me smile, reminds me of sitting in front of the TV as a kid, it’s right up there with Odd Job’s bowler, the solid gold Rolls Royce and the final scene when Connery stops the bomb. With just 007 seconds left on the timer….
Words and pictures copyright Neill Watson
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