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The Bateleurs and their Aircraft: Helicopters

In this feature, the second in our series on ‘The Bateleurs and Their Aircraft: Helicopters', we delve into the invaluable role played by rotorwing types – helicopters – or, as they’re affectionately known, helis, choppers, whirly birds, and egg beaters.


At The Bateleurs, we often encounter the well-meaning but somewhat naive assumptions of our Environmentalist/Conservation (EnviroCon) applicants, who seem to think that all utility flying should be done by a helicopter. Clearly influenced by TV documentaries and war stories, we frequently have to caution our applicants that requesting a helicopter might not always be the best approach. The scarcity of Bateleurs members with helicopters, coupled with the sky-high operating costs, often results in a zero-response situation – exactly the opposite of what they’re hoping for. We ask our EnviroCon applicants to request a helicopter only when absolutely necessary.

 

Our Bateleurs helicopter members are a microcosm of the heli-to-fixed-wing ratio for South Africa as a whole. With just 19 helicopter operator members out of 216 total members, making up 8.8%, this ratio is similarly reflected in the overall SA Aircraft Register. The reality is that helicopters are rare in every aspect of aviation. However, one undeniable fact remains: when a helicopter is specifically required for utility work, there is simply no substitute. In our field, helicopters can perform tasks that are impossible for any other form of transportation, making them indispensable for various EnviroCon missions.


To illustrate, we’re delighted to share insights from Gauteng pilot members Grant Brook, who has flown several recent missions, and our long-serving stalwart Eugene Couzyn. Thank you, gentlemen, for sharing these mission and utility examples:


  • Getting up close and personal with raptor nests on Northern Cape power pylons for census data on species and egg/chick proliferation. The same has been done in the Kruger National Park with treetop vulture nests.

  • Conducting a game count in mountainous terrain where no fixed-wing aircraft could operate safely.

  • Searching the Cape Fold Mountains for escaped Cape Mountain Zebras – thanks to Dennis Venter.

  • Replacing radio repeater station batteries for Cape Nature atop mountains inaccessible by vehicle, the alternative being a three-day hike.

  • Investigating a burst in the Durban/Johannesburg petrochemical pipeline with serious environmental consequences, only reachable by helicopter.


The list goes on, and we’d love to hear your experiences and additions – shoot us an email.

The rarity of helicopters, combined with the specialized skills required in the rotorwing world, means that sometimes our efforts fall short. For example, we recently had an unsuccessful call-up for a Cape Mountain beetle search. While disappointing, we knew it was a long shot, hoping for a Bateleurs pilot with both availability and a mountain flying rating. Similarly, we do not engage our members in game darting or hoisting operations, as these require specialized ratings on one’s license, which we leave to commercial operators.

 

The Bateleurs is perpetually grateful for our invaluable handful of helicopter operators who have provided indispensable aviation support over the past 25 years. We look forward to continuing to nurture this key element of our support to conservation and the environment.


And now, a little heli joke to close on a light note – because we know our helicopter operators have a great sense of humor:


Official Description of a Helicopter:
A great collection of counter-rotating parts, all hell-bent on self-destruction!




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