HeliTrips look set to really take off
[gallery] If you have ever gazed at the glorious Shropshire landscape and paused to consider how lucky you are to live in such a green and pleasant land, then you really ought to see it from above.
A single chance to look down upon the summit of the Wrekin; the cooling towers of Ironbridge Power Station looking more like cooking pots than industrial stacks; Ironbridge Gorge glistening in every inch of its glory in the sunlight below – truly, Shropshire from the air is a county transformed.
Well now a company has been launched that offers the chance to gaze down on Shropshire's many landmarks.
HeliTrip is definitely an unusual company. Offering pleasure flights and a helicopter charter service out of Shropshire, the new firm has been set up by two local businessmen with an enthusiasm for flying.
Pleasure flights – like those offered to tourists in cities like New York and London – offer visitors the opportunity to glimpse the county from a whole new angle.
The tours range in price from the £375 (plus VAT) Scenic Severn Tour, which follows the course of the Severn through Buildwas, Jackfield, Bridgnorth and the Severn Valley Railway, to a choice of two £1,125 (plus VAT) taking in either the Welsh coast or the Snowdonia National Park. But it is with business clients that Steve Patterson and Phil Jones expect to enjoy most of their custom.
Marketing manager Jenny Histead said: "The main aim of the company is to be the number one choice for corporate helicopter charter in Shropshire, then throughout the UK.
"There's quite a lot of competition out there, but we have a good central location and want to differentiate ourselves using customer service.
"We have a good foundation in the local area as a lot of companies are based in London and there's a saturated market."
That, it's fair to say, is not a problem in Shropshire, where helicopter companies are not exactly filling up the phone book.
The initial aim of the company is to operate within a 50-mile radius of its hangar at Sleap Airfield, and with Manchester and Birmingham on the doorstep, as well as Shropshire, and with flights heading to Cardiff, they are hopeful of picking up plenty of custom, including from businesses.
It estimates a return trip from Shrewsbury to Cardiff by train would take seven hours, and for four people, taking into account the need for accommodation, the lost revenue of taking people out of work, and the cost of travel, would cost £2,405, compared with the one hour, 40 minute, £1,250 helicopter cost.
It is also looking into offering a dine-and-drop service that would let customers go for dinner in a county restaurant, before being delivered home by helicopter. It could also be used for wedding receptions, dropping blushing brides in blowy dresses to their venue in some style.
The company already has good links with the hotels trade, working as it does in the offices of Mr Patterson's existing business, the IT company Guestline, which operates in the hospitality sector all over Europe.
An open day held at the Mytton and Mermaid in Atcham attracted plenty of would-be customers too.
"We got lots of inquiries from the open day," Miss Histead added. "We are aiming for 80 per cent of our business to come from the corporate sector, and from repeat business.
"Once we are established in Shropshire the aim is to expand a bit further. Steve has ambitious plans for growing the business."
The man behind the joystick will be Captain Paul Midwinter, a pilot of 11 years who entered the trade having previously been a lorry driver. Before that, he left school at 14, but finding himself with a family he wanted to further his opportunities.
He said: "Steve approached me an said, 'Paul, it would be fantastic if we could set this up – is it something that you would want to do?'
"It was a no-brainer for me. I thought it was a fantastic idea. The scenery round here is just amazing."
It helps to choose the perfect day for your flight, if you are using the service for pleasure. As we hovered at 1,000ft above Bridgnorth, the landscape opened up before us on a crystal clear late spring morning.
The views stretched for around 40 miles in each direction, deep into Wales to our right, and staring into Worcestershire ahead of us.
A classic model of helicopter, the Jet Ranger helicopter travels at up to 150mph, although its cruising speed is closer to 120mph. As we take in the Shropshire landscape from the air, it feels far more genteel than that.
Below us lie all the familiar landmarks of the famous county – Wroxeter Roman City here, Shrewsbury's column there. Even the more everyday sight elicits a particular fascination from the air – "that's my house," shouts Jenny excitedly as we skirt over one neighbourhood.
Our 35-minute trip from Sleap airfield to Bridgnorth is over in what seems like a flash. Barely conscious of minutes ticking by, we hung suspended over Shropshire in space and time.
l We'll be publishing more of photographer Russell Davies' pictures from his trip over the coming days.
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