Gerry takes to the skies once again

Gerry McCloskey, Monaco Bar, with pictures of his wing walk experience. (1109PG23)
Gerry McCloskey, Monaco Bar, with pictures of his wing walk experience. (1109PG23)

When the clock hits five this afternoon, Gerry McCloskey, owner of the Monico Lounge in the city centre, will be looking down on the Portrush beach crowds from the open door of a classic Russian biplane.

For the eighth consecutive year, Gerry will be a part of the Portrush Air Show’s commemorative ‘poppy drop’, a non-denominational remembrance parade for all those who have lost their lives in conflict throughout the world.

Speaking to the Journal, he describes the importance of playing the role of “poppy putter-outer”, in the words of organiser Jeff Brownhut, and how he came to find himself in this fascinating and humbling position.

“I’ve been involved with the Air Show since it started at Eglinton”, explains Gerry, “and then I was the first person to do a wing-walk (which involves being strapped, standing up, to the wing of a flying air craft) over the Irish Sea, from Scotland to Ireland, raising money for Children in Crossfire.

“So I became good friends with Jeff Brownhut through these things, and then found myself doing the ‘poppy drop’.”

Describing the commemoration, which will involve a drop of over four million poppies in a falling curtain across the beach, Gerry points out that it is a “sombre moment, with all the religious bodies on the ground.”

Present in Portrush for the parade and a two-minute silence will be a Catholic Priest, a Church of Ireland Minister and a Rabbi.

Aboard the plane, in contrast, things can be hectic, and the moment of reflection comes later.

“It can get a bit shaky, sometimes, the height we’re at. It depends on the wind but we try to get as close to the beach as possible, and because we’re in the Antonov AN-2, we can come to almost a complete stand-still mid-flight, which would be impossible in other planes.

“We can’t see a lot of it, of course, but when we get back down and have a look at some of the photographs of the poppies coming down across the bay, it is very dramatic.”

There will also be an added poignancy to this year’s Air Show, as it will see the return of the Red Arrows, whose display was cancelled in 2011 following the tragic death of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging.

After eight years, Gerry has become a stalwart of the Air Show, and is in fact one of the very few individuals who is registered with the CAA to perform the task, which he describes with surprising calmness.

“There’s two pilots, then myself and one other man. I’m tied in to a seat at the door, which on the Antonov opens inwardly, then I’m able to just lean out and distribute them, fairly evenly I hope.”

Despite all this, Gerry’s role is not widely known around the city.

“I don’t say too much in general”, he jokes, “it’s just something that’s very nice to be asked to do, and it’s a bit different from standing behind a bar all day.”

Having completed several wing-walks in his time, as well as a charity sky dive, Gerry is showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

The parade will take place at approximately 5:00pm this afternoon, and entrance to the Air Show is free to the public.

For more information see www.niinternationalairshow.co.uk