"Slipping the surly bonds of earth, dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings and all that cobblers....."

  My first flying instructor Barry was convinced that I'd 'be dead at the bottom of a smoking crater' before I'd logged 100 hours.  I've managed nearly an extra 3700 on top of that Baz, so there!!

  I always wanted to fly from an early age.  A career in the RAF was scuppered before it had the chance to start by very slight colour blindness but, to be honest, I don’t think the military life would have suited me anyway.  I first flew gliders with the Air Cadets and was solo at 16.  Did a bit of gliding after leaving school (Silver C) but I always found it frustrating that you couldn’t just leap out of bed one day and think, “Cor, I’ll go flying!” It always depended on whether the club was open, if anyone was there to work the winch etc, etc.  Not very spontaneous.  Glider pilots always seemed to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder too.  They always strut around, declaring “Oh, yes, flying without an engine makes you a much better pilot than someone with an engine..”  They are almost certainly right but what a lot of them really mean is, “I love flying but I’m too skint to be able to afford to fly an aeroplane with an engine…”

  My flying career began with the most incredible bit of luck.  In fact it was so serendipitous that it convinced me that it was a ‘sign’ that I was destined to do it.

  My dad was really, really late dropping me off for school one morning and I knew I’d be one of the lads who’d miss assembly and have to hang around outside waiting for the summary handing out of a detention.  About 30 seconds after I arrived though, the teacher in charge of the air cadets appeared and quickly, almost furtively, pinned something to the air cadet noticeboard.   When he’d gone, I slinked over for a look and couldn’t quite believe my eyes.  It said, “Two places available for a week long gliding course at Easter.  Strictly first come, first served.”

  I whipped one of the many pens out of my jacket pocket and put my name down at the top of the list.  I was in shock for several hours afterwards, in fact it barely registered when I got the inevitable detention.  I can still remember sitting in detention later that week grinning like an idiot.  It was definitely the ‘easiest time I ever did.”

 

  The gliding course at 644 VGS was awesome – a week of lovely weather, most of it spent arsing around at RAF Syerston.  When I wasn't flying, I taught myself to drive, thrashing the nuts off an old Landrover round the peri track.  I remember snapping the gearstick clean off one day and replacing it with a screwdriver, hoping no-one would notice.  I really took to the flying though.  We used the old Venture motor gliders like the one on the right.  Me and a really posh lad, Joe from Winchester College, got skimmed off very early on in the course and got special attention.  We were the only two on the course who got to solo and we did it in something scary like 5 hours.  A brilliant, brilliant time.

 

There was another lad on the course, Gavin (one of those bad lads that my mum was always telling me not to hang around with), who said one night, “Bugger this, anyone fancy coming into town for a beer?”

  ‘Town’ was Nottingham about 15 miles away and we were only 16 but it seemed like an ace adventure.  We sneaked off the base, hitchhiked into Nottingham and embarked on a gruelling pub crawl which left me skint for the rest of the week. After about 3 hours sleep I was preflighting my aircraft with my first ever hangover the next morning, absolutely dreading taking off as I just knew I’d end up puking during the lesson.  As it turned out I was fine, thank God.  Yep, a great week.

 

 

 

Little Bird - "Remember, each flight control has a primary and a secondary effect.  Relax and just fly straight and level for me.  Ok, you have control..."

 

 

Big Bird - "Er, blimey, er, I have control sir...  woooaaahhhh....."

 

 

 

 

 Microlights

 

  I loved microlights from the moment I first saw one.  I was on an adventure holiday in Arnside, Cumbria aged about 14.  One evening, I spotted a little microlight like the one on the right buzzing up the river estuary, chasing the incoming tidal bore just inches above the water.  The guy buzzed past wearing nothing but a T-shirt, shorts, flipflops and a huge grin.  Cor, that looked like ace fun…

  As soon as I’d got a well paid enough job at 19, I went straight out and bought one and got a local instructor to teach me to fly it for something silly like 10 quid an hour.  I solo’d in about 5 hours, although it was a bit of an old banger and broke down quite a lot.  I upgraded a couple of times and ended up with a Flash II Alpha (below) which was a real hotship in the late 80’s...

 

  I did loads of flying for a couple of years, did a few competitions and even ended up at international events but slowly got a bit bored with it all.

  Then, I had a long stint away from aviation, concentrating on things like cycling and being a student.  I did look up enviously from time to time and watch microlights buzzing through balmy summer skies though and I always knew I’d be ‘up there’ again one day.

  Indeed, I did take to the skies again.  In my third month of my first job after graduating, I bought another Flash II Alpha!  It felt different second time around and I appreciated it for what it was rather than just a chance to show off and upset people.  But I did get bored after a while though so when a nearby instructor suggested I ought to think about getting a Flying Instructors qualification so I could help him out at weekends, I didn’t hesitate.  Within a year I was upgraded to a QFI and I’d outgrown my part-time status and reckoned I had enough business to take the plunge and go full-time.  I set up my own school at another airfield and did just that for 7 years.

 

  Mixed memories of my time as a ‘professional pilot’.  I remember the pots of dosh every time I sold an aeroplane or had a really busy weekend.  I also remember being on-my-arse skint for 3 or 4 months every winter, every year.  I always got the impression that punters saw you as some sort of eccentric millionaire who was just doing it for fun, rather than it being my 'job' and was what I did to feed myself & family!

  Pretty indifferent recollections of most of the people I taught to fly, a few were a complete bloody nuisance, but I’m left with fond memories of a handful who remained good friends afterwards.  I can safely say I learned as much from them as they learned from me during those hours cramped up in the drafty cockpit. Flying really seemed to change peoples’ lives, it really liberated some people.  I was at an airfield recently where a group of blokes were huddled around their aeroplanes laughing and joking and swapping tall stories excitedly.  I’d taught most of them to fly and it was a real heart warming moment to watch them.  Little things like that make it seem like it was all worth it.

  One of the perks, however, was that I always had pretty much state-of-the-art new aircraft to teach in.  Great for teaching of course but even better for going on big adventures in!  Me and Sue had some mega long-distance flights, quite beyond the reach of the average old bangers flown by most people.  I'll always remember one trip down to Salisbury (Old Sarum) when I nearly had a fight with Rick Wakeman at breakfast in the hotel because he wouldn't stop staring at Sue's boobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  I love this pic of Sue.  I think this was her first flight in the Thruster - she doesn't look too impressed by my flying skills!  Looks like were up towards N Norfolk somewhere

 

 

  But, unfortunately, it’s like any job and it does get a bit dull, especially when you’ve done the umpteenth pleasure flight that day and have had to pretend to laugh at all the predictable comments about crashing or soiled underwear for the millionth time.  There are only about a dozen lessons you can deliver to people too, so it can get repetitive and hence difficult to stay motivated.  Having to spend 12 hours trying to teach someone with little ability to just fly straight is soul-destroying.  So, I got a bit jaded and my only regret is I didn’t pack it in a year sooner.  I despised that last 12 months.

 

  I also have to confess that, in spite of all the strange stuff I’ve done (and continue to do), the only two times I’ve been genuinely terrified ever have been when flying.  Once was very early on in my instructional career when I was a bit green and a student froze on the controls, taking us into a full power climb into thick cloud.  I had to be very ‘physical’ with him to get him to let go (a colleague always recommended keeping a small fire extinguisher on board to batter the student with if necessary - which I did from that point on!).

  By the time I got my hands back on the controls we were completely whited out, in a steep turn with the airspeed increasing quickly.  I had absolutely no idea which way ‘up’ was and honestly thought I’d had it.  There’s a poem called ‘178 seconds to live’ or something which is the average time it takes for even experienced pilots to lose control in cloud without the right instruments.  The end result is that you over-control and either the excessive airspeed kills the aircraft or the excessive G.  Either way, you die.  And I honestly thought I was going to die.  But I remembered words of wisdom I’d once overheard in a flying club bar one day about just ‘letting go’ and trusting that the inherent stability built into the aircraft would save the day.

  As luck would have it, the aircraft suddenly popped out of the bottom of the cloud in a steep spiral dive.  Roll wings level, raise the nose…  and back on the ground as soon as possible for a bloody good clear out in the gents.

  I gave the student the bollocking of his life:

  “When I say ‘I have control’, it effing well means I HAVE CONTROL, ok?  If you’re not happy with that then eff off and don’t come back.”

  Surprise, surprise, I never saw him again!!

 

  The second time was exactly the same scenario but completely self-induced.  I hadn’t flown for weeks because of the weather, was skint and was in the suicidal mindset of needing to earn a few hundred quid by the end of the day or I was in all sorts of trouble.  A bloke had been hounding me for weeks about a trial flight for his girlfriend.  Easy money, I thought, so I invited them to come along.  The weather was appalling, 'even the birds were walking' as the saying goes.  As a naive customer, the lady had no idea about high lapse rates, embedded CuNimbs, crosswinds, icing and all those things that batter aeroplanes, so off we went.  As soon as we left the ground sideways in a crosswind gusting to 25 knots, all I could do was worry about getting the thing back on the ground again in an hour's time.

  Halfway through the flight I found myself totally boxed in by the weather with no way under or above it.  The cloud was closing in and pretty soon I'd be IMC in an aircraft with just basic flight instruments - back in the '178 seconds to live' scenario again.  The turbulence was horrific and it was starting to chuck it down.  This was shaping up just like one of the stupid fatal accident reports you read in the clubhouse thinking, “What a clown.  What the bloody hell was he up in those conditions for?”  Check out this video....

  Through the cloud above me, one patch was brighter than the rest – that was obviously where the sun was.  I decided that all I could do was head up into the cloud keeping the sun dead ahead on the windscreen and hold the speed as steady as I could.  I applied full power and was in a white out immediately.  The only useful flight instrument I had was the sun – it was the only reference I had to keep the aircraft climbing straight and the right way up.  After what seemed like minutes, the vague glow started to develop a crisper disc shape, got clearer and was much easier to track.  It got brighter and brighter until suddenly we popped out ‘on top’ into a beautiful blue sky with fluffy white cloud completely surrounding us below.  I navigated back to the airfield by snatching the odd glimpse of the ground through holes in the cloud and, again, found myself very, very glad to be lining up on final approach.  The landing was rough as hell but by then I'd past caring.

  The customer had loved her flight and went away completely oblivious to the fact I nearly killed her.

  That was pretty much the end of me flying for a living.  I never, ever wanted to have my judgment clouded so badly again by financial circumstances.  It wasn’t worth it.

 

 

 

 I still instruct but do it part-time, very low key.  I do just enough to maintain my interest and my qualifications, that’s all.  I do it ‘cos I want to, not because I have to and I’m enjoying it again.  The only ambitions I have now involve learning to fly helicopters oh, and owning a paramotor…

 

 

 

  Left is the best pic I think I've ever taken.  It was at sunrise, summer solstice 2005 above Avebury.  Sheer fluke, just point and shoot.  We took off from the Mendip Gliding Club about 15mins before sunrise, overflew a few chums at Glastonbury Tor and got to Avebury about 15 mins later.  Fabulous flight.  We were in my Pegasus Quik 912S G-FLEX.

  I still try and fly without an aeroplane now and then. If you get the chance, have a go in one of these freefall simulators.  It's basically a wind tunnel stood on its end.  This one is at Airkix in Milton Keynes.  There's also a real snowboarding slope with real snow in the same building, so you have two completely different ways of abusing gravity in the same afternoon!!  Simply persuade the missus to go by promising her a few hours in Ikea.  Everyone's a winner...

  This was my second flight.  I'd just about got the hang of staying stable in the first one but in this one I do my first 360 turn!!  Bloody fantastic feeling!  You can watch it all here....

 

 

 

  Andy was delighted that he'd finally got his new anti-gravity overalls to work....

 

 

 

  A magazine article about an exciting jolly me and Sue had....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                

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