1 2 3 4

Martin Rutty and Simon Lichtenstein an appreciation


Martin Rutty and Simon Lichtenstein died in an accident before Christmas, a catastrophe for their families and a grievous blow to all their friends in the Helicopter Club and beyond. As well as being world-class helicopter pilots they were larger-than-life characters who made a deep impression on everyone they met, and the shock of their deaths spread out right across Europe. In competition, and in Club events, nothing will be the same.


As has been well rehearsed, they died in the South of France in the crash of an R22 they were bringing from Italy to England on behalf of their helicopter brokerage FlyQ. They didn't often fly together outside competition or practice, but Simon was a last-minute stand-in when Martin's original co-pilot dropped out. The cause of the crash can safely be left to the warriors of the websites and the French accident investigators, who have asked for the help of Club member Richard Mornington Sanford, Robinson's accident investigator in Europe. It is likely to be a long time before the reasons for the accident are known.


Martin and Simon were buried before the turn of the year at small family funerals, but it is expected that Club members will be able to pay their respects in some way in the future. Martin's partner Laura, and Simon's partner Sally, hope to arrange a gathering in their memory when the time is right. Laura says: "We are going to have a celebration of their lives, and when things are a little easier we want to talk to the Club to see if we could arrange a fly-in and a party for all of their friends. We were hoping people could bring photos and mementos. I've discussed briefly having a trophy or cup made, the Rutty and Lichtenstein Cup for newcomers, perhaps - but it would have to be a large one because Martin was such a peacock!"


You'd know Martin by his ever- present Akubra hat; also omnipresent was his wide grin, which lit up like a lighthouse and lifted the most jaded spirits. Simon, tall and urbane, cool and unruffled, was the consummate navigator but he shared Martin's zest for life, and when the competition was done, he too was ready to rock 'n' roll.

As Team GB Manager, John Matchett had many occasions on which to appreciate the extra dimension Martin and Simon brought to the team. "They were both extremely committed and took competition incredibly seriously," he says. "But they were also absolutely central to our team spirit, and I'd say that they were one of the most important crews in the team. They always had something positive to contribute, even when times were tough, and they'd have an encouraging word for other team members who were down in the dumps - you only had to look at Martin's grin to start to feel better.


Martin had natural ability as a pilot and Simon was a supremely talented strategist and planner, and together they made a perfect team.

"More than that, they were a magnet for other people - they were genuinely curious about others, and wherever they went in the world they made good friends. Socially they would dive into anything, and they were a big part of the reason why, when competitions were being organised abroad, they said the Brits simply had to be invited because they were such fun to have around. To say that the team will miss Martin and Simon doesn't really cover it. Personally, I feel a great emptiness now that they're gone, and I'm sure the team feels the same way."

MartinAndSimon MartinAndSimon

Martin, 50, and Simon, 49, were both family men - Martin had four children, Simon two. They lived only 15 minutes from each other on the Hereford-Shropshire border and had both begun their flying careers in hang gliders and microlights, graduating to powered aeroplanes and then helicopters as circumstances allowed. At the Brits, they had won the Club Class four times in five years up to 2008, and they'd been part of Team GB in four World Championships. They'd travelled far and wide competing in Open Championships across the world and had made an indelible impression on pilots everywhere - Sally and Laura have received hundreds of cards and letters of condolence from all over the world.


Simon had a reputation for being a mechanical genius - if you wanted something fixed, he was your man. As a child he could mend watches and tie his own flies, and he built a Meccano contraption by which he could turn his lights off and on without getting out of bed. He was only eight years old when he built his first car, which had a lawn mower engine; he'd had a certain amount of help from his father, but a surprising amount of the work, and of the concept, was his own.


His father Hans had come to England on the Kindertransport, the Quaker-organised network which saved thousands of German and Austrian Jewish children from the Nazis before the war. His patron sent him to Gordonstoun, and after Hans qualified as a doctor he was sent to Malaya with the SAS. There he met Simon's mother Beryl who was working as a nurse. Later Hans became a GP in Llandrindod Wells, where Simon was born.


Simon went to Atlantic College on the Gower, a famously experimental establishment where he fitted the educational ethos perfectly; he was captain of one of the College's lifeboats, and following in his father's footsteps he was destined for Guy's Medical School. But Simon suffered a back injury which orthodox medicine could not cure. When an osteopath fixed it for him, Simon decided that was the career for him. During his training he met fellow student Sally, an adventurous young lady who had already taught English abroad and travelled the world as part of a theatre group. They made a formidable couple, and over the next 30 years built a thriving and profitable osteopathy practice in Leominster.

Simon had always felt the urge to fly and had hoarded his pocket money to pay for flying lessons in his teens. He graduated from hang- gliders to microlights and was always adventurous, competing in several round-Britain events; in 1995 he took part in the Great Madrid to London Adventure, a microlight race in which he crossed the English Channel with a lilo folded beneath his seat, just in case. Sally used to fly with him, and they spent many nights out under the stars. While she had worries for his safety, Sally says that flying was so much a part of him that she wouldn't have dreamed of trying to stop him. "I have always been aware of the danger, of course," she says. "Our boys (Max, now 17, and James, 19) were very small when Simon took part in the race from Madrid, and obviously I was concerned, but he was very meticulous and careful. In the days before mobile phones I had a few scares; we would arrange that he would call at certain times, and occasionally it was not possible. Once he missed a call, and I feared the worst when his friend phoned instead - but it was only to say that Simon had landed his microlight in a potato field and couldn't get out.

"But he couldn't have enjoyed life without flying. He'd had asthma, and I think he just loved to be in the open air, he loved the adrenaline rush. Flying was simply part of Simon."


The trip to Italy came at short notice when Martin's original co- pilot dropped out. "I got a text from Simon saying he was going," says Sally. "I thought it would be a good trip for him; I rang him at lunch time on the Tuesday and said he needed a break, because he hadn't been very well. I knew that if he was with Martin he'd be having a laugh, which would be good for him. I spoke to him again on Wednesday night, then on Thursday I heard about the accident."

Sally and the boys were taken to the road above the scene of the crash. "We didn't go down to it because it was a huge ravine and a 15-minute climb down to the site," she says. "We planted a little cyclamen by the road - it was Simon's favourite flower - and the gendarmes promised to water it for us. It was very peaceful there, a beautiful, calm sunny day, just the same as on the day of the accident.

"Simon and Martin just wanted to enjoy life, to compete and try to win, but above all to make friends and have fun, and that's what they did, wherever they went, all over the world. Only now do I realise how many friends they had - I've had more than 300 cards and letters about Simon, and they're still coming in, and everybody says he touched their lives, and things won't be the same without him.

"Despite everything - his full career as an osteopath, and his fantastic experiences as a helicopter pilot and champion navigator - he was principally a loving partner and devoted to his family, which always came first."



For most of his adult life Martin was a double-act with fellow club member Tim Gilbert; they met at school and from a standing start they built Speed Couriers into a thriving national business with a turnover of £20 million.

Not a complete stranger to accident, Martin broke his neck crashing a hang-glider in 1990. When the doctors looked at the X-rays they told him he really ought to be dead, but his strong neck muscles built up over years of swimming - he swam 100 lengths most mornings - had helped save his life. Laura, who was with Martin for eleven years, says: "From that day he vowed that every day was a bonus, and so he grasped each new challenge with glee. He always was a man whose glass was half full. He was a maverick who had his own take on things; he drove me crazy, but he was cheeky and he had a way of wrapping me around his finger. He had a unique sense of humour he was always up for any kind of adventure. He always had a smile to greet people, and hand on heart I can say he smiled every day."

At the age of eight Martin was given the book 'Reach for the Sky', a biography of Douglas Bader, which inspired in him the desire to fly. Laura says: "Bader's charm, charisma and determination was a huge inspiration to Mart, and I believe Mart inspired the same attributes in people around him. He was a very sensitive and compassionate man, he loved the freedom that flying gave him and he often spoke about how privileged he felt. He wanted to share this with people, and whenever the opportunity arose he would give someone a ride in his helicopter.

"Martin had flown practically everything - microlights, hang-gliders, gliders, fixed wing, you name it, he'd flown it. He was passionate about competition flying in the helicopter championships and he always tried to communicate his passion to other pilots, helping them get ready for competitions and taking real pride in their achievements.


He won championships with both Simon and with Tim Gilbert, and he and Tim flew 14,000 miles from Cambridge to Sydney in an R44 in 1999 in support of the charity SOS Children's Villages.

"He was a deep thinker and loved reading, and he soaked up knowledge - he amazed me constantly with his wide range of knowledge of politics, literature, art etc. He loved music but was stuck in the seventies; the house would always be rocking to Pink Floyd, Genesis, Bowie - Mart would grab my hand and dance me around the room, sending the dogs, Boots and Socks, ballistic. He loved the dogs and would walk them most Sundays with his friend Julian, but Martin was so competitive that they used to walk at a staggering pace and were both red-faced and out of breath, but neither one would ask to slow down because that was not a manly thing to do! We would laugh about it and Mart would say, 'He's got ten years on me, but I am still fitter!' At the swimming pool he used to say that even though he was 50, he was the fastest swimmer there.


"Mart's dream was to own a narrow boat, providing it could have a helicopter landing pad! Knowing him, he would probably have made it happen, landing pad and all. He didn't believe in the word 'can't'. He accepted every challenge put in front of him and battled for all he was worth. He took several knocks, in business, in flying, and personally, and he always carried on with determination to succeed. He was my all-round action man. I spent eleven fabulous years with him and I feel privileged to have been part of his life."

Tim Gilbert knew more about Martin than anyone outside his immediate family. He recalls: "The hat theme first saw the light of day when he was a motorcycle courier in the form of one of those old motorbike helmets made of cork and leather, with, unaccountably, a large plastic carrot sellotaped to the front above the peak. Within days Martin was known to both the courier community and to his many customers as 'the guy in the hat with the carrot'. He learned from that the value of personal brand differentiation, and never forgot it.


"The helicopter flight we made to Australia, for which Martin was honoured by the Air League for outstanding achievement in aviation, was a classic case of how Martin reacted whenever anyone said something couldn't be done. The idea first took shape at an Army Air Corps Helimeet competition (at which a lot of prizes came his way, much to the frustration of the brass handing them over) where he met in the beer tent a chap who had done it in a Tiger Moth. Given that machine's similarity of performance and endurance with those of an R22, it set Martin thinking. Everyone said it couldn't be done in a helicopter, which just goaded him further. Eventually an R44 was sensibly decided upon, but everyone around him still said it couldn't be done. But it was easy to under-estimate Martin, and the outside world sometimes did. If ever there was any shortfall in his planning, he generally made up for it in quick- witted flexibility of mind, and astonishing charm. Martin was a firm believer in getting permission in advance where possible, and where it wasn't, in getting permission afterwards, which he always did with great sincerity and warmth."

Last year, Martin and Simon were competing in Minsk when they saw the Austrian pilot Günther Zimmer die while doing an aerobatic display in his Hughes 500. Both men were deeply affected by what they had seen. Afterwards Martin wrote an article for Rotor Torque in which he reflected on Günther's accident.


"The public started to melt away, quietly and without a fuss. Grown men, mostly pilots, were yet again in tears, but this time it was very different. We'd lost a friend, a competitor and a fellow aviator. This terrible event brought a premature close to the weekend's competition. The official closing ceremony was cancelled; the prizes were given out without gusto and were received without enthusiasm by shocked winners in a small side room.

"For me, Günther's death has completely changed my view regarding the validity of doing displays at the Helicopter Championships. As some of you know, I've done my R22 version of this type of display at several Championships, and I've thoroughly enjoyed doing so. But I won't be doing it again at a competition: having seen the effect on people when things go wrong, it just isn't worth it. It's not just those you know and (of course) your family: complete strangers were deeply scarred by seeing what happened so quickly to someone who was just seconds previously having such fun."

Only months later we all lost two friends, competitors and fellow aviators, and we all now share something of what Martin and Simon experienced first hand on that day in Minsk. Our thoughts go out to Laura and Sally and the families, whose loss is so much greater than our own.

Rotor Torque Spring 2011