When a Perth man started playing around in flight simulators, he never dreamed of running his own flying school.
Now Kevin Whitehead’s customers at Alba Airsports can travel like James Bond.
Starting with flight simulators on a computer, he evolved to flying model planes and helicopters.
While working offshore, Kevin was encouraged by a colleague with a pilot’s licence to try out a microlight.
After a 90-minute lesson, Kevin was hooked.
He got his own licence for a flexwing microlight and flew the lightweight aircraft for two years.
His dream however, was to one day fly helicopters.
Alba Airsports takes off
Back offshore, he told another colleague about his dream, but that it was too expensive to achieve.
Kevin’s colleague suggested a gyrocopter – which looks like a small helicopter.
The only gyrocopter Kevin had seen before was Little Nellie in You Only Live Twice, the 1967 Bond film starring the late Sir Sean Connery.
He travelled to York for his first lesson, and again, he was hooked.
To get his gyrocopter licence, he spent five days in York every time he had his four weeks off from work.
With no instructors in Scotland, Kevin realised there was an opportunity for a business there.
After achieving his instructor rating in early 2011, he started running gyrocopter flights from Perth Airport.
“I was running it in my four weeks off, then going back offshore again for a rest,” Kevin laughs.
“After about four years of running the gyrocopter flights I was offered the flexwing microlight school.
“I started thinking ‘is this the point where I can leave offshore and start running my own business?’
“I got myself re-qualified on flexwing microlights and took over that side of the business in 2015.”
Kevin’s business expanded and he named it Alba Airsports.
Flying lessons and experiences over Perth
Today, Kevin runs Alba Airsports with his wife Elaine. Also on the team are instructors Bob Tadman and Richard Osborne.
The business operates out of the Scottish Aero Club at Perth Airport, Scotland’s oldest and largest flying club.
While the three instructors take on flying lessons and experiences, Elaine is in charge in the office and on the ground.
Since coming out of lockdown, the Alba Airsports team have been busy.
Kevin says: “We’ve had a steady trickle of people.
“One finishes training and then another one starts, so it is quite good.”
The flying school offers two types of pilot’s licence in three different aircrafts.
For a microlight, a national private pilot’s licence is needed.
A microlight is either fixed wing or flexwing. The fixed wing looks like a normal plane, whereas the flexwing is a pod with an engine and a hang glider as wings.
A private pilot licence (gyroplanes) is necessary to fly a gyrocopter and it takes 40 hours to achieve.
James Bond, Mad Max and Postman Pat
The gyrocopter was invented in 1923, but lost its popularity due to accidents and the invention of the helicopter.
In the late 1990s, they were grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Safety improvements have been made, with the gyrocopter now back in fashion thanks to three popular brands.
Kevin says: “The gyrocopter is famous from three franchises – James Bond, Mad Max and Postman Pat.
“At the moment, there are probably about 300 gyrocopters in the UK.”
‘The motorbike of the sky’
In the Perth Airport hangar, Kevin has his own gyrocopter he uses for flying lessons and experiences.
The club owns three microlights, and the rest of the planes belong to Alba Airsports’ past students.
Investing in your own gyrocopter will set you back anywhere between £60,000 and £170,000.
Kevin says a cheaper alternative would be to buy a motorbike – with a big crossover between fans of the two.
He says: “We seem to attract people that like motorbikes.
“We call the gyrocopter the motorbike of the sky.
“It is like a bit like riding a motorbike, but you’re flying.
“You can have a lot of fun with the gyrocopter, it’s really quite manoeuvrable.”
What’s it like to fly a gyrocopter? The Courier’s Maria Gran finds out
Before heading out to Perth Airport to meet Kevin and Elaine, my colleagues asked if I had life insurance.
My mum’s message was simply: “Be careful.”
However they had no reason to worry – from the moment Kevin held his pre-flight safety briefing it was clear I was in the hands of an excellent pilot.
The thrill of flying past Scone and towards Perth – and catching sight of so many landmarks – made me realise why some people choose to invest in an enclosed gyrocopter, as it gets a bit chilly.
Thankfully I had my flight suit to keep me warm.
Hovering above the Broxden roundabout, Kevin even threw in a spin, making me laugh with excitement so much I suspect he turned down the volume on my microphone.
We also caught a glimpse of the Tay Bridge before taking in a beautiful view of the mountains.
The only time I felt slightly nervous was when I could see both of Kevin’s arms sticking out of the little pod as he was explaining to me how the free-spinning rotor works.
He was soon bringing the gyrocopter to a halt on the runway from a speed of well over 100mph.
Bumpy? Not at all, although I don’t know if that would be enough to persuade my colleagues who are scared of heights – and also my mum – to climb in a gyrocopter.
But compared to a normal flight or even a helicopter flight, this was far more exhilarating.
You’re close enough to the ground to recognise buildings and places yet so high you get a beautiful, and unique, view.
Who needs sightseeing when you can have flightseeing?