As I was lamenting last week, I spend a lot of time on aircraft as a result of the need for me to travel on business. I often think that it is odd that I subject myself even more of this treatment in my personal life – although we do not tend to take long vacations, we do make 3-4 leisure trips by air each year. For example, we just had a long weekend in Berlin.
All of my air travel is normally in commercial aircraft, but recently I thought that I would try something different …
I am in a mode just now – it is something to do with my age – of trying new things. I have dabbled with lots of stuff, many of which I have written about here: glass blowing, ballooning, stained glass making, drawing, blacksmithing – the list goes on. Recently I got a voucher giving me the option of a half price offer, which got my attention. I had wondered about taking a trial flying lesson in a light aircraft and here was a very affordable opportunity. So I thought that I would give it a go.
So, last Monday [a public holiday in the UK], I set off to a nearby flying club to have my lesson. I arrived in good time, even though the traffic had been heavy. However, everything was running late, as a previous pupil had been delayed. This gave me the chance to chat with a knowledgeable member of the club, who explained all about controlled and uncontrolled airspace and lots of background on light aircraft flying generally. They had a radio on in the background, monitoring ground/air communications. We heard that the airspace was being cleared as something was coming through. In due course, the “something” flew by. It was a vintage Lancaster bomber – apparently there is only one still airworthy – on its way home after a show. It looked very large as it roared by a couple of hundred feet up.
In due course, my instructor returned and we were off. Initially I was disconcerted, as the instructor, Lucy, looked about 15. I guess she was actually in her 20s, but anyway, to me, she seemed very young. However, it was very soon clear to me that she knew exactly what she was doing; she had a confidence, but not cockiness, and a competence that was very reassuring. Although I was nervous, she ensured that I never felt any fear during the course of the experience.
My first [and lasting] impression of the plane was that it was cramped. It seems that these ageing 2-seaters are really designed for people about 5′ 9″ or less and Lucy was tiny. I am 6′ 2″ or so and never quite got comfortable in the cockpit. But anyway, after going through all the pre-flight checklists, we set off and I was almost immediately given the chance to drive the plane, steering it for a while while we taxied to the runway. We took off and Lucy flew us up to something like 2000 feet. Then it was my turn. I suppose I got about 15 minutes where I actually had control [nominally, as Lucy could adjust anything at any time], during which I executed a couple of turns and kept us pointing in the right direction during most of the descent.
I would say that I enjoyed the experience, notwithstanding the discomfort of being in the small aircraft. I was intrigued by the enthusiasm of the folks at the club – they are all passionate about flying. Lucy said that some of the best advice she had ever been given was when she was very young at school. Someone told her to work hard and get qualifications, as that would offer the widest range of options later in life. She said it worked, because now she spends every day doing things she loves [flying and meeting/teaching people] and gets paid for it!
So, will I do it again? I received another half-price voucher, which has a limited validity, so I need to decide in the coming days. For only a little more money, I could go in a 4-seater, which not only has much more room, but I can take a passenger. Guess it might be fun …