Starspeed’s luxury helicopter keeps VIPs flying
Capable of flying 16 passengers, the Sikorsky S-92 is the largest helicopter on the charter market. Although the helicopter is mainly used for carrying groups of oil workers between offshore rigs, the S-92 that is operated by Starspeed – the only S-92 operator in the UK – is a luxury shuttle aircraft, with soft leather executive-style seats and a lavatory tucked discreetly behind the cockpit.
The helicopter has a maximum range of 999 km, making it possible to fly from London to the south of France or even Italy without any stops, but it is popular on much shorter trips, flying VIPs from the centre of London to further afield airports where a private jet is waiting.
Previously operated by Air Harrods – which continues to maintain the aircraft – Starspeed’s VIP S-92 (G-LAWX / msn 92-0007) is the seventh model to come off Sikorsky’s production line. It is the only S-92 in Europe to be fitted in this luxury 16-seat configuration and today, Starspeed has invited Helivestor Investor to fly on the aircraft during a rare day off from ferrying the likes of Will Smith, who was latest celebrity to fly on board the helicopter.
The day starts in an aircraft hangar at Fairoaks Airport (around 25 miles outside of London), where Simon Mitchell, accountable manager and director at Starspeed, gives a safety briefing and Ian Field, director of the company, speaks about the in-house training that Starspeed offers.
We board the helicopter and we are promptly lifted and airborne, hover taxiing to the small runway as we start to build speed very quickly and head towards the centre of London.
First, we fly over landmarks such as Kempton Park Racecourse and Hampton Court Palace. Heading towards the City of London at what feels like incredible speed, we travel along the River Thames. Soon we are abeam Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge and in the distance, England’s Wembley Stadium.
We pass over the London Heliport at Battersea and through the large windows of the S-92 we have a prime view of St Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard to our right, turning over London Bridge, backtracking and flying a reverse route back to Starspeed’s base at Fairoaks.
As we descend we can see a number of Beech King Airs and Pilatus PC-12 turboprops parked on the grass, before landing next to an eight-seat EC155, barely 25 minutes after take-off.
We re-enter Starspeed’s hangar, where a Bell 429 – the only of its kind in the UK – is on display, along with a six-seat fitted EC155. According to the company, the Bell 429 has flown most days since joining the fleet in January 2014.
Starspeed, one of Europe’s oldest VIP and corporate helicopter companies, operates 18 helicopters in total, including three Airbus Helicopters AS350 aircraft, which are operated by its Starspeed Training subsidiary based at Kemble Airfield in the Cotswolds.
“Our plans are to look towards the introduction of the AW169 next year,” Mitchell tells us later while sat on board the Bell 429. “Our first one arrives around April and then we have a second coming one around June.”
“We are also looking into extending public transport towards operating from yachts and offering specialist services to film companies,” he adds.