I wanted to leave my bungalow with plenty of time to get to RAF Cranwell on Sunday morning, I had punched the postcode in to the route finder on the internet and it gave a journey time of a little over four hours. My intention had been to leave no later than 10 am which would also mean that I could I simply set the cruise to 70mph and roll with the traffic getting the best fuel economy out of the car and also having left two hours almost for delays, I could stop and get a brew and a sandwich in the services along the way if time was on my side. With a slight delay at the bungalow it was a little before 11am before I actually left after my Daughter checked the fluids in the car for me under the direction of myself. Not something you would normally ask a 13 year old girl to do but she did it and I have to say, did it very well. After topping the washer fluid up, making sure the oil dipstick was pushed back down and securing the bonnet, I left and headed for the local garage where my Brother Darren was to meet me and check my tyre pressures for me. Finally with all of the “pre flight checks” complete I headed for the Motorway at J25 of the M5 Taunton.
The traffic was busy on the roundabout at Ilminster which was to be expected for the kids holidays. Campervans and caravans were the main order of the day heading down the A303 towards London, on the road towards Devon and of course towards the Motorway which was the road I would be using. Thankfully there were not too many on my required road and I was able to keep to a constant 55mph, even at the Motorway roundabout it kept moving smoothly aside from having to stop for the traffic lights and in no time at all I was on the Motorway and heading North. Much to my surprise the Motorway was a lot quieter than I thought it would be but I was not going to think too much about it as I wanted to be able to keep moving, with the cruise control set I was on my way. I was making really good time despite my not leaving quite on the time that I set my sights on but as my Daughter had made me a sports flask of squash to take with me and I was not hungry, I decided to keep on going while the traffic was good and get to RAF Cranwell sooner rather than later. The joining instructions had said to be there no later than 16.00hrs and as it was looking I was likely to get there at around 15.00hrs or so, perfect. This would give me the chance to get my bags to the room I would be in and also to meet with my mentor and the other candidates, all was looking good.
I was feeling really good about how things were going, the directions I had pulled from the internet were serving me well and the traffic was as I said being extremely kind, the sun was out and the sky despite having some cloud was predominantly a beautiful blue. The fuel gauge was looking good, the distance to empty was extremely healthy and although only on very quietly as background music, the radio was kicking out some decent music. With time on my side to make the journey so far a really good one it was time to turn on to the M6….which is where it all went wrong and landed on its oversized ass. Gridlock. Bumper to bumper. Stopped. Stationary. A car park if you will. I had not even exited the M42 and I could see the traffic at a standstill, there was probably a way that I could have stayed on the M42 and got off on to another road or Motorway but in the absence of SatNat or a map I had to stick with the directions that I had printed off, and so now the waiting game started.
The standing traffic cost me the best part of an hour, for the best part of that time I was sitting with my engine off and the window slightly down as it was quite sunny but when we finally got moving it cleared really quickly, and the cause of the tailbacks? When I reached the cause there was but one vehicle, a Focus shaped car looking a little worse for ware and as the two outside lanes were not being used by any one I can only presume that it had occupied those two lanes until the Police had removed it and put it on the hard shoulder. In no time the traffic was freely moving and I was once again on my way to my destination all be it now a lot less of a comfortable timescale. Despite my hold up I was still able to keep the speed comfortable and after negotiating several roundabouts and turns which were bringing me ever closer to the end of the printed instructions, I finally reached RAF Cranwell.
I booked in and was given my personal and car passes and shown on the map where we would be staying and where the meeting room was, then I got back in to my car and made my way to the meeting point. The time that I had booked in at was 16.15 but I did manage to get to the base at the 16.00hrs which had been suggested. I made my way in to the building to meet with the other candidates and to finally meet my mentor Pauline, we had spoken several times on the telephone but now I would be able to put a face a name which would be nice. Upon entering the room where the candidates were gathered and chatting I recognised a guy called Sean. I had met him at RAF Brize Norton while waiting for the same flight to Cyprus and this is where I had been approached by a lady called Julie who had travelled to Brize to see Sean off and had come over to see me while I was chatting to introduce herself and tell me about the disabled flying scholarships. Julie was also in the room obviously and did not hesitate to come over and welcome me to the process. I also met with Pauline who would be my mentor, the person who would show me around and make sure I was where I was supposed to be during the process. With the pleasantries dealt with and a briefing from Pauline I decided to meet some of the other candidates who would also be trying their hardest to get one of the scholarships on offer this year. Three people had already dropped out which whilst it is a shame as they had been short listed, it meant that there were three less people that were in the process which would clearly increase every ones chances.
There are many different kinds of disabilities here that the candidates are suffering from but all have one thing in common, the want of a challenge. The want to show able bodied people that with some modifications to the controls of the aircraft, disabled people can also fly. The desire to prove that you don’t have to be able bodied to achieve things which most people will instantly write off the very thought of someone with a serious disability being able to do. The Flying Scholarships For Disabled People give disabled people the opportunity to learn to fly with the aim of allowing the student to fly solo. After a few drinks in the evening with a few of the candidates I have had a really good laugh with I turned in to my room at around 21.00hrs aiming to be settled by 22.00hrs ready for the early start in the morning. Breakfast is at 06.30hrs and we have to be ready for a group photograph at 07.30hrs which will be nice. I am hoping that it will be something that they will let us have a copy of as it would be a nice keep sake. My first appointment in my process is at 09.30hrs where I have to see if I can get in to the aircraft. If I can transfer on to the wing I am confident I can get in to the aircraft and back out. Getting from the wing to the chair will also be OK I think but I will have to see the aircraft first, potentially this could be the first hurdle where the horse falls down! From here I have to go for a medical and finally I have my informal interview, to give you a feel for it I guess, a practice if you will.
I did indeed manage to be settled by 22.00hrs but woke at 02.30 and was unable to get back to sleep so I took the opportunity to use the bathroom before anyone else got up and as I was not sleepy I decided to write this entry despite not being able to upload it until I return to my bungalow as there is not only no WiFi here but no phone signal either, which is actually quite nice in a way if I’m honest. Now the time is 04.55hrs and I would imagine that people will start to wake very shortly so as not to end up queuing for the bathrooms and making themselves potentially late for the breakfast. Well, that is the first of them up by the sounds of it so I’m gonna finish up here for now and I’ll write about how toady goes later.
The aircraft did not arrive in time for my 09.30 appointment which would see me try to transfer on to the wing of the aircraft and in to the cockpit and so I stayed in the large room where all of the candidates were patiently waiting for medicals, the informal interviews and chatting. It was 10.00 when I was called forward to head upstairs where I would fill out my medical questionnaire and register my weight and height. Thankfully I have just been to Stoke Mandeville and was weighed there so I knew this and my height is on my military ID card so this part of the medical took no time at all. Then there was the obligatory `pee in a bottle` which was perfect timing for me as I properly needed to go and then it was simply waiting for one of the Doctors to have a space for you. Whilst waiting I saw a key in the lock of one of the examination rooms. Instantly I had an overwhelming desire to lock the door, it is nothing more than would have been done had I been in uniform and waiting for a medical with our medic Michelle at the Army Reserves Centre, a `schoolboy error` that can only be compared to leaving your mobile phone or camera unattended. This was neither the time nor the place for this to happen. I had to put the idea out of my head. I was here to try to get a flying scholarship, best behaviour had to prevail. I remember the amount of times I had been told about diplomacy by Captain Barnes, the countless times I had been told to `engage my brain before my gob` or to think before I acted. This is one time that I surely had to take the advice, the one time that I simply had to pause and think before acting. If only I had not seen the key, but the Doctor was ex forces, surely this had to be classed as a schoolboy error, the funny side will be seen wont it? AAAARGH! How difficult can it be to just be a little mature and act my age just for once in my life. Don’t do it you prick, you could completely mess everything up, just ignore it……AAAAAARGH, what to do? What the hell should I do??????
So I started over toward the door absolutely set on doing one of two things, turn the key or turn the key, when a second door opened and out came another Doctor who is also ex forces, perfect. I asked the Doctor to remove the key and made no bones about telling her the reason why she should do it. She laughed and agreed that it was an error that could have been embarrassing and agreed that it would be a very “squaddielike” thing to do, excellent, the temptation had been removed from the situation and my thoughts turned to more constructive things like trying to work out how I may try to get on to the wing of the aircraft later on in the day. A very short time later the first door opened, the door that had been dangerously close to being locked in a very immature but equally amusing (for me) way and the head medical examiner walked out and called me in to her room, lucky escape there I thought to myself! My medical went well, the diplopia (double vision) will have to come down to the instructors say as to whether or not a solo flight would be possible (if I was awarded a scholarship) but other than that the only thing that may need to be addressed would be the spasms. The M.E did say that one thing that may go against my getting a scholarship would be the fact that I have come a long way in short space of time since my accident and that because I was a confident person there may be others who were more needy of the scholarship for confidence reasons. This is something that I took on board and agreed that there were definitely people who would be more in need of the scholarship if that was a reason. All that I was waiting for now was the informal interview which would be in the same building. I had to wait also for a nod from Pauline to say that I could go and visit the aircraft.
I was collected for my interview by an older Gentleman who walked with and directed me through the corridors of the building until we reached a room, this open door was the room where my `informal` interview would take place and the Gentleman gestured for me to enter the room. In the room waiting for me and the gentleman was an older lady and a middle aged Gentleman. I was introduced to the other two members of the interviewing team and a brief explanation as to who they were. The second Gentleman was a retired Air Commodore who would be simply observing as he has been asked to become a trustee. He would be watching the process that the shortlisted candidates go through and obviously sitting in on interviews. The lady was the Wife of the Gentleman who started the scholarships (no pressure then eh?) and I had already met the first Gentleman who had collected me. The `interview` was really to allow the interviewing people to find out a little about me, to find out some background and obviously because you should really be able to talk about yourself with confidence it showed how confident you were talking to people. I spoke about my interest in aircraft and my wanting to fly from a young age as I had grown up around aircraft due to my Dad’s employment as an aircraft engineer. We spoke of the FRADU aircraft, (Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit), those being Hunters and Canberra’s and the Blue Herons display team. This struck a cord with the lady and Gentleman who were from the board as they knew of the Blue Herons and were personal friends of the team leader. They asked about my Dad and wrote his name down as they wanted to ask their friend if he remembered my Dad. Small world eh?
Anyway, the interview continued and the question was put to me; “Do you feel you need a scholarship?” I did not hesitate with my answer, it did not need thinking about or considering.
“No Sir, I do not NEED a scholarship. I would like, wrong, love a scholarship as it is something that I wanted to do as a child. I tried to achieve my plan of becoming a pilot by applying and provisionally being awarded a place in the Army Air Corps as a Junior Leader which unfortunately fell through for medical reasons. I would like nothing more than to receive the news that I had been given a scholarship and would work hard at it but I am under no illusion that there are others who have more of a need than I. I am a confident person. I can take knock backs and I will regroup and attack the challenge or task again, it is what the Army had taught me to do and for that I am thankful and grateful but I know that others are not as fortunate. There are others who maybe feel that they are unable to achieve things and they would be more NEEDING of a scholarship than I for the confidence building. If I was not successful in my application for a scholarship then it would not affect my confidence, in fact it would simply register in my head that there was someone else who, it was felt by the board of trustees, would benefit more personally than myself.” I was happy that I had answered the question fully and most importantly honestly and hoped that the trustees who had just received my answer would appreciate that I was not being ungrateful for the opportunity that I had been given but would hear and understand the answer for what it was, honest and true. Next came a question from the lady. “How did you find the book that you were asked to read the six chapters of?” No hesitation, no thinking (and that was the bit that was wrong, no thinking or engaging brain before gob;bugger.) “It was easy Ma’am, it came through the post in an envelope so when I opened the envelope it was right there.” Shit. I actually just said that out loud. That just actually happened didn’t it. Oh well, hope they find it amusing and note to self, cut it out and control the mouth.
After my `interview` I ate my packed lunch and then I went to one of the hangers to see the aeroplane and attempt to first off get from my chair to the wing. I met with one of the pilots whose name was Sam and he took me around the outside of the aircraft explaining what checks needed to be completed and whether they were visual as in a glance over or visual involving a practical task first like checking the fuel and the engine oil. I was sceptical as to how successful I would be in checking the fuel for water contamination as two of the drain plugs are situated under the wings of the aircraft. I found though that I was able to reach the drains and was able to release fuel from them in to the glass tube which is for checking the fuel. I was also able to get under the wing to check the pitot head which I was very happy with. So with the external checks completed it was that time that I had been wondering about. Would I actually be able to get on to the wing of the aircraft? I positioned my chair to the rear of the trailing edge of the starboard wing and I did indeed manage to lift on to the wing, result. I spent the next twenty plus minutes trying desperately to make my way up to the door of the aircraft to get in but it was not happening. My right leg was having none of it and just repeatedly went in to spasm which meant that I could not move my legs on to the wing of the aircraft. I tried for over twenty minutes as I said to make this happen and I realised that it was not going to happen and so I called it quits. Despite others trying to encourage me to keep trying I knew that once again my legs were going to stop me achieving something that I wanted so desperately to do and no matter how long I would spend trying, it would just make me more and more angry and then I would suffer mire with the spasms eventually locking my whole body, now was time to quit. I would retry the next day.
After tea we had our `test` about the six chapters of the book which I have to be honest, I struggled with as it was nothing like what I thought it would be and my memory had remembered a lot but not the right stuff it would appear. Anyway, I handed the test in and then we were invited to the bar area for a music quiz. I have made a few friends here who are like minded and don’t but bells and bows on what they say, two of them who I will refer to as “Shrill” and “Carolinn” as they were taking the piss out of each other’s names, (in a friendly way) who truly are mad as a box of frogs on heroin when they are together and are a fantastic laugh. As I have had such a good laugh with them we teamed up with some of the other candidates and mentors and our team was sorted. The 70’s quiz did not go too well although we did not disgrace ourselves, despite the twosome trying with their dancing efforts and then it was the 80’s quiz. Here we did really quite well, the twosome were singing (using the term loosely) and dancing (same applies) and Mary bless her was scribbling as neatly as possible the answers we gave her, it was going really well and the answers were readable despite Mary’s comment about our answer sheet resembling a ransom note.
The answers came from almost every member of the team and then there was the song “Only You” which I immediately recognised, no musical instruments, it had to be The Flying Pickets. A disagreement ensued. “Shrill” was adamant it was Yazzoo and I was adamant it was The Flying Pickets, we kept putting our reasons and justification across and eventually we agreed to leave it as Yazzoo and the loser would buy the other a drink. I had it in my head that Yazzoo was a ridiculously tall leggy woman with blonde spikey hair but of course this was Yazz. Yazzoo had Alison Moyet as the lead singer. I was sure that there had been no instruments in the song and was convinced that it was the ‘Pickets. Answer time and we swapped papers with the next table, the answers were read out and I eagerly waited for the answer to the question that “Shrill” and I had been competing over. The answer….”Only You” (one point)….the artist…..So I bought “Shrill” her G&T and we spoke of it no more. Bollocks.
Tuesday. Day 2.
I woke this morning a little dehydrated having drunk an inappropriate amount of Barcadi and coke and Southern Comfort. No hangover to speak of but not exactly the freshet daisy in the garden shall we say. I got up and squared the admin away before going over for breakfast. Needless to say that the twosome were not in attendance as they had nothing that needed to be done today as their interviews were tomorrow, a lay in I believe they call it and why would you be up eating breakfast at 06.30hrs if you did not have to! After breakfast I returned to my room for a short while before hooking up with Luke, a mentor who I met at Stoke Mandeville which is where he works as an education coordinator, and we went to the hanger where I would try to get in to the aircraft again. This time I would have some hints and ideas put to me by Luke. The physio was in attendance to assist where required also and so I listened to Luke, took some advice from the physio and had a go. I did indeed manage to get on to the wing and get up to the door. I got in to the aircraft and got in to the correct seat, a massive goal achieved and a big sense of achievement from me. I was joined in the cockpit by one of the pilot’s who spoke about positioning of my seat to give me the view I needed and obviously what that view was. With my seat adjusted he asked me to reach several buttons and switches and then we ensured the control surfaces were clear of people and I moved the controls through the full range of movement ensuring that the fact that my legs were crossed did not interfere with the movement of the control column. Over the next thirty to forty minutes or so the Pilot explained to me what the various dials and instruments did and asked me to adjust various things to aid in the explanation of the dials.
With my tour of the cockpit and instructional overview complete the pilot left the cockpit and instructed me to shut myself in so as to ensure I was able to secure the door shut. From here then I dismounted the aircraft which was a case of trying to reverse the way I got in. It was not the most graceful way of getting back to my chair but I did manage it, I thanked the crew, Luke and the physio and asked if I may be able to try again in the afternoon as I was not happy with exactly how I had done it and wanted to try an alternative idea. This was agreed and so with the time approaching my interview I made my way back to my room to get changed, then with this done I had my lunch which I chose carefully to avoid anything that may end up on my shirt. After lunch I waited in the common area to be called for my interview which I was called for in a matter of only ten minutes. I rolled in to the large side room where there four trustees who were sat at the front and would be asking me questions, behind them were a number of trustees who would just be listening and behind them were some observers who are potential trustees or board members, a proper little gathering. I was asked a number of questions which I answered straight away and was happy with how the interview was going. Then I was asked a question which I responded with “I don’t know how you expect me to answer the question”. The question was asked a couple more times but I had to think of the answer which I don’t like doing as it is not an honest answer. There were a couple of other questions which I thought were a bit random but answered them anyway. I ended as I had in my previous interview by telling them that if I did not get a scholarship then it would be OK for me knowing that there was someone in more need of it than I in the view of the trustees. Bottom line, I am not holding my breath for a scholarship but I am happy that I answered honestly, rather than trying to secure a place by maybe worsening my situation to show me as more needy. I am not insinuating that people would do it but there will be people in a worse situation than me and so I do not need to compete.
This afternoon after my interview I went over to the coffee shop across the road to have a cuppa with a couple of the mentors where I also spent some time talking to two of the candidates who were leaving after their drink. I gave my details so as I may be able to keep in touch if they would like and so that we can let each other know how we faired in the scholarships. The twosome came in for a brew also which was the first time I had seen them as they had been out, they have really struck a friendship which is part of what things like this are about, it is quite funny to see as they could be old school mates that have known each other for years which is also nice. I made my excuses and said goodbye to the two who were leaving and rolled my way to the hanger once more to see if I could find an easier way to mount and dismount the aircraft. I tried a slightly different way which was so much easier and quicker both mounting and dismounting and more importantly, the dismount felt more controlled which made me feel more comfortable and safer, RESULT!
And so the sun is still shining, the drone of the training aircraft has come to an end for the day and I have packed most of what I bought with me ready for my off tomorrow. I am staying over tonight for a final night so as I can leave in the morning having had breakfast and also allowing me to drive in the day rather than the dark, although it would be quieter, it would be boring as hell so another kip in the RAF base it is, cheers for that.
After another early breakfast this morning I said TTFN to those who had not already left and had got up for breakfast and then made my way back to my bungalow. After 4 and 3/4 hours though I made it back and with my case unpacked, and the washing on it is time for a brew. I will find out tomorrow if I was chosen for a scholarship and when I know, you will too. Have a great day in the sun.
Good afternoon all.