Press Review

Top Gear



Noise of the Aston DBS V12 engine is lost in roaring of the Black Hawk blades. Two black machines stand up against each other at the Mielec airport.




For the Black Hawk, perpendicular flight is just like a warm-up.


Machines like this one have been recently ordered from Poland by the Sultan of Brunei.


Black Hawk can have as many as 4000 HP at its disposal. Aston will have to make do with 517 HP.


Combat colours for a combat vehicle.


Good planning is half the battle. At least half. For an hour we have been sitting in the pilots' room adjacent to the H-21 PZL Mielec hangar, and discussing all details of the operation. Almost like a briefing before a secret mission. I have in front of me Mike Skaggs who has piloted Black Hawks for last 29 years and Leszek Pawuła, the first and so far the only Pole with the authorization to fly this unique machine. They are the air elite of the world. Skaggs got his experience in the 82nd Airborne Division in the U.S. Army, and for 14 years now, he has been with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Pawuła, with over 5000 hours logged flying helicopters and planes, is a first class test pilot and one of three Poles certified to examine other helicopter test pilots. Both, wearing light brown suits, run down the list of shots that we have prepared in the last 60 minutes. We all know the risks. If pilots make a mistake, they will ruin their careers, at best. If I screw up, I won't be writing any more stories. We only have one shot and the time is ruining out since the Mielec airport, closed specifically at our request, needs to resume its operation very soon.


Skaggs and Pawuła want to show what the legendary Black Hawk, named officially Sikorsky S-70i in this version (produced in Mielec for two years now), has in store. This multi-purpose aircraft won its fame in military service on all continents, from the Balkans to Haiti, and the lead role in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" secured its everlasting renown in the pop culture. Black Hawk comes in multitude of models that patrol borders, rescue survivors from the water, put out fires, and even transport the U.S. president and his entourage. Pawuła compares Black Hawk to the enduring Hummer that is both comfortable to steer and comes equipped like the newest Mercedes. With such outpouring power, he could make most of the manoeuvres using only one of two General Electric T700 turbine engines with power up to 2000 HP. He jokes that the second engine is needed only when the helicopter is fully loaded and... for fun. Today, we'll be using both, although the crew will be supplemented with only two members, who will take place just behind the pilots.


The battlefield for helicopter manufacturers is what starts in races are for car companies. It is a testing ground, literally and figuratively speaking. Aston, entering their cars in races, from the very beginning of the brand managed to gather relevant experience to make DBS a worthy opponent for battle-seasoned Black Hawk. At least in theory, because the car parked next to the bulky helicopter makes the impression of a meticulously crafted scale model. The game will be a great farewell for DBS, which for the last few years (until One-77 model emerged) was Aston Martin's top road achievement. The roadster version is called Volante, meaning "flying", what brings the car and the Black Hawk even closer. The first DBS had been produced still in the 60s of the last century, before Sikorsky developed his helicopter for the U.S. Army. Over the years, both companies have perfected their machines so that today they have become one of the most desirable objects in their categories.


Armed with a copy of the manoeuvre list prepared meticulously by Mike Skaggs, I slip into the DBS leather interior that smells expensive. My heart is thumping away like a drum, but I have to trust the pilots as they have to trust my skills. The pulsating sound of Aston's V12 soothes my nerves, but it doesn't take long for it to be muted by whining of two Black Hawk engines that a moment later are dampened by the rotor blades furiously slitting the air. By raising their thumbs, the pilots let me know they are ready. I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a moment. Here we go.


The helicopter is flying so close I can't hear my own thoughts, not to mention the roar of the DBS engine going into the tachometer red zone. I have to go for the Aston's automatic transmission since I have no time to look at the clocks and change gears myself. Asphalt on the Mielec runway sneaks away under the wheels faster and faster, and the Black Hawk's black shape stays in my mirror, taking more and more incredible angles. At one moment, I see the titanium-alloy rotor, while a second later the machine exposes its underbelly with the slogan "Do boju" ("To battle"). When the pilots position their machine at right angles to my lane, while still keeping my pace, I can finally retaliate. With the stability control off, I manage to get my DBS ​​in a long, fierce skid by putting my foot down with a slightly turned wheels. You just have to overcome slight understeer, and the rear wheels begin to put up a smokescreen. However, the 7-ton Black Hawk is not impressed whatsoever. With massive rotor blades, it disperses tire smoke, and blows off my cap, while taking position behind the DBS for a tight hairpin. I was going to take off the cap anyway to bow my head before two amazing machines and before two outstanding pilots. Aston's successor, Vanquish, is already shimmering on the horizon. We will be there to see if Black Hawk takes it down as easily.


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