Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Goal 5: To learn to fly

I was a wanna be fighter pilot. I never simply wanted to fly a plane, I wanted to dance, to dodge; spin around and gain the upper hand on my opponent.

If I'd been serious about becoming a pilot I'd have read up on what was required. Would have tried to understand why geometry and algebra are necessary skills. Would have tried to get the A grades I'd have needed to increase my chances of joining the RAF.

I wasn't serious though. Flying was a dream. Not something I was willing to put real effort into achieving.

On Saturday, despite putting in no effort; having done no study or preparation other than watching the first five minutes of Top Gun the week before, I flew a plane for the first time.

It was an incredibly odd experience. I forgot to ask what type of plane it was - a tiny, two seater prop plane that was relatively easy to fly. I was able to bank, turn, lift and dive all the while thinking I must not be getting this. It can't be this easy, can it?

It was easy at 1500 feet. My only semi-legitimate worry was that I'd over steer or over compensate and we'd stall or start to spin but my instructor would never have let me get anywhere close to endangering us. I can't imagine how flight instructors cope with noobs like me at times tentatively banking and at other times, pressing the rudder too hard and attempting to fly backwards. 

1500 feet doesn't sound all that high when I think about flying. It was high enough to practise increasing and decreasing height and also high enough that judging distance and speed became extremely hard. We seemed to be moving incredibly slowly all the time... Right up until it was time to land.

Remember Maverick and Cougar approaching the aircraft carrier from five miles out? My instructor let me carry out a trial landing. Very quickly every little movement seemed too much. I'm sure from the outside I was doing a great Cougar impersonation!

We did our trial flypast and then, my hands still on the controls, my instructor got me to take us down a second time for real. I'm fairly sure I made landing the highly manoeuvrable prop plane look like landing the space shuttle - I was terrified to move the controls for fear I'd take us into the field. We came in at an angle, seemed to be too far forward and aiming for grass most of the way in and yet landed smoothly. Good job these planes have dual controls so the instructor can do all the hard work!

Flying a plane was a child hood dream and only ever a vague 'someday' goal and I am extremely grateful to my family and friends who made it reality!

I was half terrified the entire time, never certain whether I was handling the plane safely or not and extremely glad when we finally landed but it was an awesome experience and one I'd like to repeat.

You can view some highlights through the wonders of YouTube:

Editors note: Filmed and edited entirely on my HTC One X (apart from still images provided by my lovely wife). I never want to edit film on my phone again! Just because I can doesn't mean it is easy or fun... Rant over.

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