From North Sea rigs to Doncaster as helicopter firm looks to grow
NEWS  >  From North Sea rigs to Doncaster as helicopter firm looks to grow
Doncaster helicopter firm looks to grow

From North Sea rigs to Doncaster as helicopter firm looks to grow

He cut his teeth as a helicopter pilot flying in some of the most challenging conditions on the planet. But today, Matthew Rake has swapped North Sea oil rigs and air ambulance duties in the Middle East for teaching in Doncaster.

Matthew grew up near Reading, with a love of flying. But after leaving education, he got a job in retail and become an area manager for a chain of off-licence shops. At the age of 29, he took a taster lesson in flying helicopters. He loved it and decided to follow his dream to become a professional pilot. So he moved back in with his mum and dad and started doing a part time job to pay for his training. After qualifying as a pilot in the UK, he went over to America to get a qualification there too, and built up enough flying hours to be able to apply for flying jobs. Initially, he worked as an instructor at flying schools in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and spent some time working in aerial photography in France.

He then applied for a job in Saudi Arabia, working as air ambulance rescue service, and spent a year taking seriously injured people to hospital in the sort of Bell 412 helicopters the Americans used in Vietnam.

His next step saw him taking on some of the most difficult flying conditions experienced by pilots, taking passengers from mainland Scotland to the North Sea oil rigs in giant Sikorsky S92 helicopters.

“It was what you might call character building,” said Matthew. I did five winters on the North Sea, in what is arguably the most challenging environment in the world for pilots. It was flying in the sort of conditions people where you would not usually use a helicopter. There was fog, high winds and ice and you land on floating decks.” “The community was good, and it was well paid, but it was really hard work.”

With oil prices falling, along cam redundancies too. Matthew took voluntary redundancy, and planned going back to teaching – this time with his own flying school. With his redundancy pay he bought a two-seater Robinson R22 helicopter and set up his business –Hummingbird Helicopters.

He heard about Doncaster Sheffield Airport through his girlfriend, Helen Spedding, who works in the film industry and had worked with the airport in the past. “When I wrote the business plan I wanted to be at a proper, functioning airport, not just a grass strip,” said Matthew. 

“Helen put me in touch with the airport and they were keen for a helicopter school to open. I said I wanted exclusivity for two years to establish myself and they were happy with that. “It was a great place to come. There is around 1.5 million people within an hour’s travel time and it has not got the noise restrictions you find in some places. This area is going to be important in the future as it’s ripe for development – it is a real asset. “I wanted to set up a school that was customer focused and approachable, not pompous. When I trained, the staff had gold bars on their shoulders – I didn’t want that sort of thing.”

He moved on the site in August 2016 with his helicopter and wrote his training manuals, which were approved by the Civil Aviation Authority. With support from Business Doncaster from the outset, Matthew soon set about expanding the business – and moved into providing training in flying drones. He now teaches courses in Doncaster and Kent, again recognised by the CAA, which teach how to fly a drone, providing the sort of qualification that people need to fly them in building areas, or commercially. He hopes to expand this side of the business to sites in Manchester and Aberdeen. He set up the drone business because he felt that as a helicopter pilot with 16 years experience, he was beginning to feel concerned about the unmanned craft and how they were flown by some untrained individuals.

“Helicopters take off and land anywhere,” he said. “I often pick people up from their own homes. Airports are protected from drones. Not everywhere is and I want people to understand the legal aspects of drones. It is illegal to fly drones in a built-up area without the correct licence."

“A drone pilot is sharing airspace with other users. They need the skills to fly unselfishly and safely.” Matt expects the drone businesses to expand as more industries use them. Now aged 44, he has a team of three instructors and a second, larger helicopter, a Robinson R-44, a four-seater aircraft.

In the future he hopes to further diversify the business by applying for an air operator’s certificate. This would open up the door to charter flying or effectively operating an air taxi service. He believes it would allow people to make a grand entrance to venues like racecourses. “We’ve grown really quickly and I couldn’t have done it without Helen who has done so much of the administration and the audit work and the ongoing support from Business Doncaster,” he added. 

If you or your business are considering using drones for remuneration, you must have CAA permission. With Hummingbird UAV you can now become a CAA approved commercial drone pilot.

Offering an interest free pay as you go option, Hummingbird UAV offer courses. Interested? Go to for more information or call 01302 802221. 

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