Monday, June 15, 2009

Flying High

After a false start (turning up too late back in April) I had my long awaited flying lesson on Saturday afternoon. It was a present for my 40th birthday from some wonderful friends in Australia. It had taken me an age to get round to booking it, I suppose I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing. These aircraft are very small, the cockpit is cramped and they fly very slowly. I was allowed to bring a passenger so I took my Dad along with me. Being an ex RAF war veteran this would be a walk in the park for him. I'm sure he had worse days in Kenya back in 60's. Dad was a great passenger and took some brilliant photographs, especially when you consider the circumstances he was working under.

My instructor for the flight was Ian, a nice guy who was a very enthusiastic and entertaining pilot. He walked us out to the aircraft and we performed a pre flight check. Dad and I were wearing fetching high visibility jackets - the photo on the left shows Dad after the flight. Click on it to check out the logo on the back. He took us through the flying surfaces and gave us a brief lesson. in teh theory of flight. Then we clambered into the aircraft and buckled up. Not a great deal of space, especially for Dad who had to sit in the back but as it was only for an hour it wasn't a problem. Ian took me through the instruments and started the engine. We taxied out to the end of the runway and received clearance to depart. So it was throttles to the stops andIan pulled back at 60 knots. Then, all of a sudden we were in the air and heading towards the coast. We banked to the right as we climbed and headed north west. Ian gave me the controls and apart from 10 minutes I was flew the aircraft for the whole trip.

We picked up the A24 just north of Worthing and followed it to Horsham before turning south west towards Billingshurst. Circling the village I dipped the wing a few times so Dad could take some photos. What we didn’t realise was Abi was taking photographs of us at the same time. Judging by Abi’s pictures I think we were too far away, I should have come closer to the A29 and flew parallel to the house. However, you have to remember I’m only a trainee, so what do I know about flying? At this point we were just under Gatwick's controlled airspace. We'd been in contact with them and were told to stay south and not to climb about 1,500 feet. Unfortunately I climbed to 1,600 feet and we were told to go back to 1,400 feet. I’m sure everything was fine as the very professional young lady at the end of the radio didn’t sound too annoyed.

After a couple of circuits we headed west towards Dunsfold and flew over what most people know as the ‘Top Gear’ studio. Once again the camera operator in the back got some great photographs. Dad should see if the RAF has any openings. I could just see him in the back of a Tornado screaming across Afghanistan snapping away. Although he can't ask the pilot to hang aroung if there are missles flying all over the place. Flying makes you realise what a green and pleasant land West Sussex is. It has to be the most picturesque county in the England. While flying back I did notice a number of light aircraft in the vicinity. Flying under visual flight rules means that you are reliant on the mark 1 eyeball and not some high tech anti collision system. We passed underneath a glider, shot past a very surprised seagull and I saw several light aircraft pass underneath and over us.

From there we turned south east towards Shoreham and climbed to 3,000 feet. Ian took over and performed some hard turns through the clouds. He’d asked me to do it but I was too nervous so he showed us what the aircraft could do. I don’t think Dad enjoyed it as much as I did. Sitting in the back and not having a great view he told me he didn’t look down as we banked. It was at this point I reminded Dad I was sitting in front of him and I didn’t want to see what he had for breakfast.

We continued towards Shoreham, performed a circuit and under Ian’s supervision I landed the aircraft. I can remember him telling me to keep the nose down and watch the speed because if I flew too fast I’d rip the flaps off!!!!! I can imagine that wouldn't be good. We had a great view of Steyning College as we approached the runway and flew right over a busy A27. The landing was perfect although I had problems keeping the aircraft right in the middle of the runway. From here it was a quick taxi to the stand and a short walk back to the terminal (a fantastic 1930’s Art Deco building). I was presented with a certificate and then Dad and I then retired to the bar for a beer and post flight debrief.

I really did get the bug and I’m keen to take it further, the only problem is £££££. To get the necessary hours and tuition I would need to find over £6000. Once qualified the costs wouldn’t be too prohibitive, around £90/hour plus landing fees, so not cheap but affordable providing I didn’t fly that often. It was a fantastic experience, one that I will remember for a long, long time. I’d like to say thanks to Jules, Murray, Alexandra and Neve for a wonderful present.

I'll leave you with a picture Dad took over Billingshurst at 1,300 feet flying south towards the coast. It was a great day and I'm glad that Dad could come with me. I look forward to picking him up at Shuttleworth in the not too distant future.