Flying altitude today: zero.
Transport Magazine

Flying altitude today: zero.

Helicopter transport made simply: with the Actros Heli‑Shuttle from Airglaze Aviation.

Helicopter flights are expensive. Very expensive. Which is why, when you calculate carefully, transport by truck makes sense. It is for that very reason that Airglaze Aviation developed the heli‑shuttle based on the Actros.

The heat shimmers over the asphalt on the apron of Kassel Airport. The H225 “Super Puma” slowly starts moving. Good flying conditions – if it were to fly. On its journey, the Airbus helicopter will stay less than a metre above the ground. Instead, it will hover just a few decimetres above the ground – Graham Clarkson is there to push it on to the platform of his special low‑loader with his pickup.

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Specialist wanted: driver Ingo Graul, Graham Clarkson and his son of the same name.
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Part of the team since the first heli-shuttle: driver Ingo Graul.
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Part of the team since the first heli-shuttle: driver Ingo Graul.

Clarkson is CEO of Airglaze Aviation Heinsberg, North‑Rhine Westphalia. The main business of the company is helicopter paintwork and UV protective coatings for paints and cockpit windows and windscreens. There was only one thing: the flying machines have to get to Heinsberg one way or another. “Because flying minutes are prohibitively expensive, it’s cheaper not to fly the choppers to be serviced or painted, but to take them there overland,” says Clarkson.

And because organising road transport with an outside freight company became too time‑consuming and unreliable, the Scottish founder of the company Graham Clarkson and his son with the same name simply organised transporting the helicopters themselves. “We wanted to be independent of external companies,” explains Graham.

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A good eye and precision: damage to a helicopter can quickly get really expensive.
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A good eye and precision: damage to a helicopter can quickly get really expensive.
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Teamwork is crucial when dealing with such an expensive, sensitive load.

For the design, years ago the engineer sketched a low‑loader with loading ramps that was wide enough to take the largest helicopters with their undercarriage. “The important thing was that loading shouldn’t require a crane,” says Clarkson. He took the sketch to an aviation trade fair. “The interest was overwhelming. We came home with our order books full, and the low‑loader wasn’t even completed,” the contractor reminisces. The first “heli‑shuttle” from Airglaze Aviation, towed by an Actros 1848 with a GigaSpace cab, then started transporting freight all over Europe at the beginning of 2018.

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Dismantled and properly secured for the journey: the rotor blades.
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Dismantled and properly secured for the journey: the rotor blades.
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Dismantled and properly secured for the journey: the rotor blades.

20

metres is the length of a “Super Puma” H225 airbus.

“The important thing was that loading didn’t require a crane.”

Graham Clarkson, CEO of Airglaze Aviation

The driver of the “low flyer” from the start: Ingo Graul. Graul knew all about transporting valuable freight. He had been transporting yachts for years – so he has plenty of experience with demanding customers and valuable loads. With helicopters, things can soon get expensive. Whether it’s an anchoring lug, protective plate or a sensor for a measuring instrument – any damage can quickly reach a five‑figure euro sum.

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“Convoi exceptionnel” – that’s obvious from the start with the heli‑shuttle.
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“Convoi exceptionnel” – that’s obvious from the start with the heli‑shuttle.
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“Convoi exceptionnel” – that’s obvious from the start with the heli‑shuttle.
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“Convoi exceptionnel” – that’s obvious from the start with the heli‑shuttle.

From Norway, Hungary and all the way to Gibraltar, Graul fetches and delivers helicopters. He often goes to sites of Airbus helicopters in Romania, France and Germany. He regularly does aircraft‑on‑ground operation for German air rescue services. Then it’s a case of getting grounded helicopters back flying again as soon as possible. “If we need a crane to where the rescue helicopter is first, that wastes a lot of time,” says driver Graul. Orders for various police forces in Germany and England are also received.

The load capacity goes right up to the H225 from the “Super Puma” family from Airbus Helicopters; one like the one Graham Clarkson is just getting ready for transport in Kassel. After a complete technical overhaul at Airbus, the freshly painted Super Puma is ready for export. The rotor head and the rotor blades have been removed for transport.

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All through Europe: Ingo Graul appreciates the comfort of his GigaSpace cab.
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“When I drive to Spain or Norway – those are amazing trips.”

The first heli‑shuttle has already transported hundreds of helicopters. “The demand is extremely high, so that’s why shortly after we got the first one, we bought a second shuttle,” Clarkson explains. As if to show what he means, his phone rings and the next order comes in. So it’s no wonder that recently a third heli‑shuttle joined the fleet.

“Today’s tour is going to Bremerhaven, then I’ll be up in north Norway,” says Graul. He has about 430 kilometres to go. From the overseas harbour in Bremerhaven the helicopter will continue its journey two days later – again, not flying, but by freight ship to Shanghai in China.

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Photos: Sebastian Vollmert
Video: Martin Schneider‑Lau