Biography

Geoff was born in Southwest London in 1948. His father was a policeman and his mother a tireless and industrious homemaker, always seeking the best for both Geoff and his younger brother Paul.

He joined the Royal Navy as an officer cadet at the Dartmouth Naval College in 1967 and began his training as a Fleet Air Arm helicopter pilot. This took him to the Culdrose Naval Air Station in the West of England and led to a life-long love of Cornwall.

He married Lesley in 1969 and their first home was a small cottage in the remote hamlet of Landewednack, close to The Lizard village. During his naval career Geoff served inn 824 Sea King Squadron on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal before attending the Qualified Helicopter Instructor course. He subsequently served with the Sea King training squadrons of 706 and 737.

After his naval career formally ended in 1975 he returned to Sea King flying courtesy of service in the newly reconstituted RN Reserve (Air Branch) during which he visited the Falkland Islands in 1984, two years after the war.

Geoff and Lesley were blessed with two lovely daughters (Tabetha b. 1975 and Milly b. 1980) who are now grown up with children of their own and successful careers to keep them busy. Grandchildren are a real blessing and keep Lesley and Geoff young at heart.

Moving from military aviation to commercial aviation offered the opportunity for work abroad and for the whole family to experience another culture. With a certain amount of trepidation Geoff accepted a training post at a flying school in Tehran run by the giant Bristow Helicopters. It didn’t work out. The beginnings of the Iranian revolution were making life difficult for ex-pats so instead of the heat of Tehran the focus moved to the chill of Aberdeen and the burgeoning world of offshore oil.

That winter the housing situation in North East Scotland was dire and Geoff and his young family had to survive a draughty, cold and lonely cottage, miles from anywhere. It wasn’t an ideal way to start a new career. Lesley was not impressed.

There was a little joy on the horizon for the following Spring the family were allocated a new house on an estate built for incoming workers. Life improved but work was not what he had hoped. There were a lot of tensions in Bristow Helicopters at that time and these later resulted in a traumatic pilot’s strike. Fortunately. before that occurred, Geoff and Lesley had once again contemplated a job abroad and were in the throes of accepting a post in Greenland flying for Greenlandair.

The job offer was on the table but delayed for six months whilst Greenlandair struggled with its own pilot’s strike. In the interim Geoff was invited to take up a short-term contract with the Norwegian company Helikopter Service, based in Stavanger. Initially Geoff, Lesley and an 18-month-old Tabetha set off for pastures new but once again the accommodation situation made life pretty impossible. A commuting arrangement was agreed and Lesley and Tabetha returned to the apartment bought in Reigate when Geoff was expecting to work in Tehran (Bristow were based in nearby Redhill).

Eventually, in January 1977, Geoff, Lesley and Tabetha embarked on the journey to their new home in Godhaab, on the west coast of Greenland. Greenlandair operated a route network up and down the west coast of that Arctic wonderland. The winter in the frozen North was long, dark and very interesting. Temperatures that fell to minus forty inland and minus fifty in the mountains it was necessary to be very aware of the dangers of such extremes. Fortunately, the Nordic folk know how to build homes for the winter, unlike Scotland. The cultural differences were challenging and there was little doubt that the population had an alcohol problem with many other difficulties caused by an ancient subsistence lifestyle clashing with the benevolent welfare state. It was not easy to adjust to the arctic way of life and when it came to light that the promises made by the company management could not be fulfilled a decision was made to leave and return to UK. After just 3 months the Newman family once more set foot on home soil.

In the Spring of 1977 Geoff began working for Alan Mann Helicopters based at Fairoaks Airport near Chobham in Surrey. Flying small charter helicopters around the UK and occasionally in Europe he flew all manner of important and famous people, pop-stars and politicians, movie stars and moguls, presidents and royalty. It was a fascinating time when every day brought a new challenge. Alan Mann also had a training department as well as a contract to supply a helicopter for the Metropolitan Police so the days were never boring.

It was at Fairoaks that Geoff’s love of woodworking turned from hobby into business. He rented the old second world war fire station house and set up a business making furniture and joinery products. It was a very busy lifestyle with flying occupying the majority of the day and what was left would be spent toiling in his workshop.

The financial climate in the UK at that time lead to rising interest rates and therefore higher mortgage costs. Feeling the pressure to earn more money lead to Geoff looking at other opportunities. New challenges were always a magnet and when British Caledonian Airways set up an offshore helicopter division they invited Geoff to join. The carrot was a return to Cornwall with a Falmouth-based ‘pilot transfer service’.  Unfortunately, this project fell at the final hurdle and left the company in limbo but with one eye on the growing number of helicopters operating out of Aberdeen. The focus shifted northwards. This would inevitably mean a return to the North East of Scotland but this time it would be an entirely different and much more pleasant experience. Geoff and Lesley built their own Swedish kit house on a hillside 25 miles west of Aberdeen.

Geoff began life in Aberdeen with five colleagues and one helicopter and was responsible for all the training commitments of what was becoming a rapidly growing concern. Promotion to Chief Pilot Aberdeen put an extra burden on his shoulders and by the winter of 1981 the pressure was beginning to take a toll. Fate delivered an opportunity to work in a new training school planned by Westland Helicopters at a new facility in Weston Super Mare. The job opportunity required leaving British Caledonian and moving to Somerset. The requirement to be available at short notice was a difficult problem to solve but it came to light that his previous employer, Alan Mann Helicopters, was looking for a temporary pilot to work the summer period.

The job required him to fly a wealthy businessman around Europe and act as instructor, pilot and companion. Most of the summer of 1982 he was based in Switzerland and Greece whilst the family lived in a cottage near Langport in Somerset. The highlight of the year was a visit by Lesley to Athens during which the businessman made his yacht available to them for a day then financed a road trip back to Switzerland.

The year ended in a damp squib when the Westland Helicopters contract with Iraq collapsed leaving everyone involved high and dry. The family decided to relocate to their spiritual home in Cornwall and thus began another phase in Geoff’s aviation career.

Geoff and his young family built another Swedish house on the hillside at Gillan near Manaccan and the children went to nearby Manaccan Junior School. Geoff’s love of woodworking was ever present and when he had the opportunity to acquire a 3000 sq.ft workshop In nearby St Keverne he began another business venture focusing on the manufacture of bespoke English Country Furniture.

At the same time, he decided to begin working for any company willing to hire him as a freelance pilot. When Bond helicopters arrived at Newquay Airport to support the drill rig Ocean Kokuei Geoff was offered some work as copilot and then a local company, Castle Air Charters, expressed an interest in using his services. 1983-4 was largely spent with them. This involved Geoff with the Treasure Hunt TV programme and a six-week spell in Sarajevo flying for the American TV network ‘ABC’ at the Winter Olympics. It was another fun job but it proved impossible to join the company full-time because the owner demanded Geoff’s presence every day. Unfortunately, the travelling time was just too long to make it a practical proposition on that basis.

Around this time Geoff was approached by a London-based consultancy called ‘HELICAS’. They wanted to use his offshore experience on various projects. They sent him to China as an advisor to the embryonic offshore oil industry and also involved him in projects in Russia, Congo, Canada and Italy as well as in the UK.

1986 involved more work in China but by summer Geoff was working on the initial research that was to be the foundation of the Cornwall Air Ambulance Project. Having brought this to fruition in 1987 he flew the first 400 missions before taking a well-earned break in 1988 and returning to the corporate charter world with Air Hanson as well renewing his acquaintance with the offshore world but this time in the Southern North Sea.

The freelance world provided Geoff with a variety of gainful employment throughout the next few years. This included three consecutive winters working for Brunei Shell in Borneo. It meant that the family spent three exciting Christmases visiting Geoff during the school holidays.

In March 1990 Geoff was asked to work in Glasgow to help rebuild the Strathclyde Police Helicopter Unit following a fatal accident. He spent the next 6 months as Chief Pilot and Instructor, commuting between Cornwall and Glasgow, He then recruited a full-time replacement and went back to the world of freelancing.

In 1993 he joined the Dutch company KLM Helicopters who had a contract with the United Nations supporting the United Nations Protection Force in Zagreb, Croatia. Geoff later took over managing this contract before it came to an untimely end in 1995 when the Serbian rebels started throwing missiles at Zagreb.

The KLM Zagreb project came to a sudden end, but at the same time a new project was getting under way in Norwich in the UK in the shape of a Shell North Sea support contract. Geoff was appointed the Base Manager and ran the contract successfully until 1998 when it passed to rivals Bristow Helicopters who were able to offer a base in Aberdeen which KLM could not.

Geoff then found employment on the west coast of Ireland flying Search and Rescue from the base in Shannon. The family stayed in Norwich for the remainder of the 1998-9 school year. An opportunity for work closer to home arose in mid 1999 when the London Air Ambulance needed a new Chief Pilot and they decided that Geoff was the man for the job. The family moved to Teddington and made the most of being ‘townies’ for the next two years. During his time at the LAA Geoff was able to make the necessary arrangements for a new, more capable helicopter to be acquired – the MD902 – as well as various organisational improvements. The vagaries of working in the big city and the internal politics of the NHS eventually persuaded Geoff to call it a day and contemplate yet another move.

The siren calls of Cornwall eventually became too strong to resist however and in 2000 Geoff and Lesley returned to the Falmouth area and Geoff found work abroad with another Dutch company, Schreiner Helicopters. They were operating in Cameroon and Geoff’s contract provided for a six week on-six week off rotation. The task in Africa was to support the construction of a 900 km oil pipeline to bring oil from Chad to the Cameroon coast. Geoff was able to experience the wonders of Africa from the sandy beaches to the rain forest and up onto the savanna. Interacting with the people and their culture was a real eye-opener for Geoff and when writing books became a part of his life he felt compelled to include a book that featured his African experiences.

Whilst working in London Geoff decided to add an LPG fuel system to his old Jaguar. He was so impressed by the system that he decided to attend a training course and qualify as an installer of LPG systems in petrol-engine vehicles. He then rented an industrial unit and set up an LPG Installation business. After a while the opportunity arose to acquire the lease on an existing MoT garage business and so Geoff’s six weeks at home would be full of car-related activities. Of course, when Geoff was away in Africa the burden of running the business and looking after the three employees fell upon Lesley. It wasn’t really Lesley’s cup of tea so after two years of trading Geoff sold the business to his foreman and domestic bliss was restored.

When the attractions of commuting life-style eventually palled and six weeks became too long to be away from home Geoff returned to freelancing.

In 2003 Geoff was offered the chance to work on the Penzance to Scilly Isles run with British International Helicopters. The summer’s routine shuttle activities led to additional work flying the S61 in support of the military. BIH had a contract with the Royal Navy to provide logistical support during the major naval exercises that took place around the UK coastline.

During the early ‘noughties’ there were many gaps in the flow of steady contract work but Geoff was usually able to return to the offshore world in order to fill those gaps and keep the family income flowing.

In 2004 an opportunity came along to work in a place called Ceuta. It was a 6-month operation with an S61. This North African enclave belongs to Spain and is a semi-autonomous region that has a special tax status. It has become a popular banking centre and is connected to the Spanish capital, Madrid, and the commercial centre, Barcelona via a helicopter link to Malaga airport. The existing AB 412 helicopter was proving to be too small for the task and the operators wanted to try a larger machine. They chartered an S61 from Schreiner Helicopters and hired three British pilots and a British engineer for the task. Geoff was one of those three pilots. A merry time was had by all and the entire crew lived in the local Parador. They learned the meaning behind the expression ‘Spanish practices’ on that operation but nonetheless delivered the service for the client and took the machine back to the Netherlands when the job was over leaving everyone happy with the result.

The Schreiner connection led to the next project which was a safety audit on behalf of the Brazilian National Oil Company – Petrobras. Geoff was hired by Lufthansa Consulting who had been awarded a contract to conduct various technical and operational audits following a series of fatal accidents involving helicopters in their onshore and offshore fleets.

The Petrobras project turned into a major commitment that continued into 2005 but later that year Geoff teamed up with one of his Ceuta colleagues to fly a Schreiner S61 from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. This epic 5-day transit across Canada was a memorable trip and worthy of a few pages in Geoff’s memoirs if they ever get written.

When 2006 came along Geoff once again turned to freelancing for the offshore operators. He worked in the UK for Bond and CHC then in both the UK and the Dutch sectors with Bristow. Sometimes he was based in Norwich, sometimes in Den Helder and occasionally based on an offshore platform. Life on a platform in the middle of the North Sea is just like being on a cross between a Navy ship at sea and a prison.

By the end of 2006 Geoff was looking for something that would enable him to keep working despite passing the magic 65 mark. At this age a pilot was deemed too old to fly carrying passengers so another aviation pathway was required. An opportunity arose when the helicopter manufacturers, Agusta Westland, opened a new Simulator Training School just north of Milan, in Italy. Geoff was accepted as a staff member and began teaching on the new AW139 Full Flight Simulators.

In 2009 Geoff was asked to help with a project to create a national air ambulance network in Saudi Arabia. He then went on to work in Abu Dhabi helping to produce training material for the Abu Dhabi Police Air Wing. This was a rotation based on a six-week cycle and during the six weeks back in Europe he returned to the Agusta Westland Training Academy to continue teaching on the AW139 simulator.

By 2011 the job in Abu Dhabi with the embryonic company ‘Navcon’ came to an end so Geoff returned to the AW Academy in Sesto Calende and resumed his role as Simulator Instructor but this time on a full-time basis. The two weeks ‘on’ two weeks ‘off’ schedule gave him time for some external consultancy work for Lufthansa Consulting in Russia and Brazil. In Russia it involved training a team to become the organic aviation safety specialists within Rosneft, the Russian national oil company. The work involved lectures in Moscow and training audits in Ukhta and Usinsk. The Brazilian project involved an assessment of the helicopter pilot training conducted by the offshore operators working for Petrobras and the design and implementation of an Evidence Based Training programme aimed at improving the quality and effectiveness of the Flight Instructor workforce. Regrettably the Petrobras corruption scandal put an end to that project.

2017 saw the 30th Anniversary of the formation of the Cornwall Air Ambulance. Geoff’s contribution to this, the nation’s first such unit, was recognised by its patron HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. During this meeting Geoff was able to present the Duchess with a copy of his book telling the story of how it came about.

In May 2017 Geoff was 69 years old and decided that having taught over 400 students in the AW 139 simulators in Italy and in Kuala Lumpur it was time to retire. At this time, he had accumulated 11,150 flying hours and 4,000 hours in the flight simulator and had the pleasure of students from 58 different countries.

Later that year Geoff was persuaded to return to simulator training and to work in Norway teaching on the Leonardo Merlin SAR Flight Simulator. He attended to excellent technical course at Yeovil in September and October but unfortunately a series of family tragedies prevented him taking up the position.

In 2018, on his 70th birthday Geoff decided to retire and to spend his time writing books and enjoying a life away from aviation with his wife, children and grandchildren.