Quentin Smith, 42, has twice flown a helicopter around the world and won the world freestyle helicopter championship in 1992. Passionate and fascinating, he has chosen to fly to be free.
“I have been 40 years old two years ago but now I am 37. In my mind, I am 16.” Quentin Smith, also known as Q., is not very tall and not very hefty. With his red hair, his moustache and his irresistible humour, he is … so British!
He is also an explorer - who landed his helicopter in both poles of the world in 2002 and 2005 -, a world freestyle champion, and an examiner in the family helicopter company.
For his father, Michael, was one of the three famous helicopter pilots in the sixties, Q. started to fly at the age of 4 or 5.
He confesses that he first “became bored with flying” because he grew up with it. “It is only when I realized that normal people were in prison down there, he explains, that I found it so beautiful. Within the human condition you are like in a prison… it is like a spider web. In contrary, it is like freedom to fly in helicopters. There are no barriers in the sky. Isn’t it an interesting idea?”, he laughs heartily.
Q. is a dreamer (to him, everybody should use helicopters instead of cars) but he is also a level-headed. For he considers that “what you need to fly a helicopter is to have a realistic understanding of your capabilities.“
He became a top private pilot in the British championship at 17 and he got his pilot licence at 20. After having studied physics, he applied for a job in a bank thinking he had to find “a normal job“.
But he quickly realized that he could not spend all days sitting in a chair. “I knew I had to fly, he says. I knew that flying was anything I could do in a special way that people could not live…“
Q. became the world freestyle helicopter champion in 1994. He is now an instructor and an examiner in “Heliair”, the helicopter company held by his family. His own office is located at Denham, twenty minutes far from London .
“To live first or to die slowly”
On a map hanging in his office, many narrows indicate where he has already flown. That is: all around the world.
In 1996, when one of his students said she would have loved to join a friend of her in eastern Europe, he broke his moorings for the first time: “Why don’t going there?”, he asked.
They flew through , … and they reached the northern point of Europe in the longest day. “We knew that if we kept going we would go behind horizon, Q. says. It was really unusual. We did every single thing, regardless of its risks.“
Q. was the first man to fly a Robinson R44 around the World. This helicopter is not a very large one and people were rather sceptical. ”It is a great freedom to run around the world. You have to make it easy“, he claims with a big smile on his face.
Does he consider that one need to be crazy to do all that? “You are crazy if you don’t do it!, he answers. The question is: are you going to live first or spending your time dying slowly?“
Quentin chose to live first. In October 2002, he drove the Union Jack in the North Pole soil. In January 2003, he fell to die with his co-pilot Steve Brook when their R44 plunged into the sea off Antarctic.
After having spent ten hours on a raft in icy water, the two men were rescued by the Chilean navy. Two years later, in January 2005, they finally reached their goal: the South Pole. “It is an incredible feeling to stand at the centre of the pole asking what time of day it is, he remembers. In fact, it is every time. 12 am is a direction. It is where the sun is.” Once, in Alaska , Q. saved an Eskimo who was lost in the ”great white desert”. He describes this moment as his best memory.
Q. is an unyielding man. The sparks in his eyes instantly faint when he talks about crashes or jealousy.
Last year, he was to enter again the world championship in Rouen (France) but people who care about him prevented him from doing so. “I don’t like doing displease to people, he explains. I am not proud of this championship and I don’t think it’s the right type of flying.”
Four years ago, he married a French woman and got three children with her. In 2007, France celebrates the centenary oh helicopters. Does Q. feel a bit French? He quotes an English proverb: “You are only as old as the woman you feel” And concludes that, “perhaps he feels a bit French.”
There is still one major thing he plans to do, but “There is only one French pilot who tried to do so, and he did not succeed”…