You may recall that earlier in the year, only a couple of months ago in fact, I went to Royal Air Force Cranwell for interviews in the hope that I would be awarded a flying scholarship with the charity Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. You will recall that I was unsuccessful as I had enough confidence to share with others and the scholarship was designed to give people confidence and a sense of self worth. I was of course disappointed to have been unsuccessful in my application but more that happy with the reason why. I recently received an e mail from the General Manager of FSDP offering me the opportunity to go to an airfield and meet with a flying club who would show me around a microlight aircraft. There may be the opportunity to go for a flight in one and see if it generated an interest in me.
I wanted to go to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day because I know that it is the last year that so many veterans of that incredible assault would be there to celebrate it with. I was unable to attend as I could not get myself there and the logistics of the Army getting me there with my wheelchair, to accompany members of my unit, simply were not going to happen and so in light of my inability to go I decided that this day would be the day that I would take the offer of visiting the flying club. I had already e mailed the flying club to inform them of my intention to visit on the 6th and was really looking forward to it. I had never flown in a microlight but ironically enough had spoken more than a few times to a friend of mine who has started to learn and so I was intrigued as to what it would be like.
I was up and ready and left the house with two and a half hours that I had given myself to get to the airfield. The route planner said 1 hour and 45 minutes but I wanted to allow for traffic, roadworks and for me to get out of the car when I arrived assuming I had no trouble finding it. So I set off at 07.30 and as my arrival time was 10.00 I had no need to rush and was able to comfortably set the cruise control on the car to the speed limit and plod on. The roads were only as busy I would have expected for the time of the day and so I managed to avoid any stop start, at Taunton I got on to the Motorway and headed towards Bristol which is where I expected the traffic to get heavy. I did run in to some roadworks on the Motorway which had a 50mph speed limit set. Again, I set the cruise to 50mph and all along this stretch I could not help chuckling to myself. There are big signs telling you of the fact that there are average speed camera’s along the stretch of road. So many people clearly need to pick up a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the meaning of AVERAGE. Car after car would pass me in excess of my estimation of 70mph and would then brake for the camera, once past the cameras they would then accelerate until the next camera. Did make me laugh.
I arrived at the airfield a little after 09.30 and was able to park with plenty of room for me to get my wheelchair out. The weather was breezy with light cloud but overall it was a very good day. I entered the hanger which had recently had an area sectioned off and with some stud walling and windows, been turned in to a kind of pilots lounge with tables, chairs and a coffee machine. I introduced myself to one of the staff who in turn introduced me to others, some were instructors and others were member of the Band of Brothers who are training to fly the microlights to the North (I think) Pole. They have been instructed and most have achieved solo status on the flying and are completing their licenses. I was fortunate enough to talk with some of those that are to undertake the challenge and I got a real insight in to what the flying has meant for them and what has been involved in learning to fly. It was early in the afternoon when I was asked if I would accompany one of the staff who would assist me in getting in to a flying suit. This was not as difficult as I had imagined it to be as the whole thing unzips even down the legs. With me in the suit, I rolled in to the main hangar and I was asked to `roll` over to a microlight that was in the hangar. They asked for a fellow “wheelie” to come over and tell me how he gets in to his microlight so as I would have an idea to work with. With help from a member of staff I got in to the front of the aircraft and then, after letting my spasms calm down and subside, I was able to, after a few attempts, lift in to the back seat where I was strapped in and given a briefing. Then I met Tom, who would be the pilot.
With the aircraft pushed outside and Tom secured in to the front seat, I again had a pre flight briefing from Tom and he started the engine. Visor down, mic in front of mouth and Bloggie ready to record as best as it would, our take off and maybe some of the flight. It had been attached to a lanyard for me so that it could not be dropped and I asked Tom if he minded me taking any film for me to show my children. He was quite happy for me to do this and told me what the intention was for our experience flight. He communicated with the control tower who instructed him to taxi to an area of the grass adjacent to the main runway, he acknowledged and repeated the instruction back to the tower and the engine roared as we powered to initiate our taxi to the designated area. Once at the area, Tom carried out one final check that we were set to go and that I was ok, he then contacted the tower who gave him permission to take off, the engine again roared as it powered us forward and in what seemed like no distance at all, we were climbing in to the big blue yonder. Here is the video of us taking off, turn the volume down because it is a bit windy.
Now I thought that I would be flown around, spoken to while I enjoyed the views and then land. This was very much not the case, Tom talked me through what was happening and how the microlight controls differed to that of a fixed wing aeroplane and then told me to grasp the training handles on the wing. Once I had the handles firmly Tom told me that I had control and to keep the aircraft straight and level. I could feel that this was a very physical aircraft to fly and that you constantly had to make adjustments to keep the aircraft steady but Tom also then told me to let go and the aircraft held itself steady. As we were flying, Tom would give me reference points to aim to making it necessary for me to turn the aircraft. It was almost impossible for me to see the horizon and as such Tom did have to tell me to raise the nose or drop the nose which I did. Tom was also in control of the power but taking the throttle or power control away, I was flying the aircraft and it was such an incredible feeling. It was at this point that I fully agreed with one of the other instructors who said; “It is the closest you can get to riding a motorcycle in the air.”
After approximately twenty minutes, Tom told me that he had control of the aircraft as we would be going back to the airfield to land. I listened in to him talking to the control tower to see if I understood any of it, and spoke to Tom as we headed in and took more film in case this was the only time in my life that I would be fortunate enough to fly in this type of airframe. As we flew over the airfield on our approach to land, my eyes caught sight of a shape that I had not seen for a great many years, since I was a child in fact when I used to accompany my Dad to work on a weekend or in the school holidays. He worked at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton with the Hunter and Canberra aircraft from the FRADU. In the pictures that follow, my Dad is in the white coveralls, very much younger than he is now. The pilots of the Hunters of FRADU put some close formation flying together and created their own aerobatic display team called the “Blue Herons”, this photo is from their poster, a very proud child then and an equally proud man now of my Dad.
I had grown up around the Hunter and the Canberra since I could remember and had many fond memories of going to work with Dad and sitting in these aircraft. I asked Tom if it was indeed a Canberra and he told me that they also had a Hunter which made me smile and then came a real treat. As we flew past the hanger prior to our touching down I could see the glorious shape of an aircraft that should have been in the air on this very day more than any other, furthermore it should have been enjoying the freedom of the skies over Normandy. It was a DC-3 Dakota.
This is my video of some flying and the landing. See if you can spot the Canberra. Turn the volume down as it is a bit windy.
We landed and taxi’d back to the hangar where a member of staff bought my wheelchair to me and I got back out of the microlight. I was asked if I had enjoyed the flight which I quite clearly had and Tom told of how I had a good understanding of the flying and that he was impressed with how I had controlled the direction changes in flight. I asked about how I may be able to apply for the chance to learn to fly a microlight and how much it would cost but to my surprise they offered me a block of hours to learn to fly. In that block of hours, I had to achieve solo flight and then they presented me with my flight log book and the study material I would need.
What an amazing opportunity. A couple of pictures of the aircraft all of which are microlights.
The control panel.
Me in my flight suit.
This is me next to the flight simulator.
I removed the flight suit and spoke more with the pilots and a couple of the pilots who will be flying to the Pole and then there was a real treat, what for me would be a perfect finale to the day that I had had. It was a private flying display which lasted approximately twenty minutes, I only had my mobile phone for the camera which was a shame but I did manage to get some pictures, but the vision will stay in my head for a long time to come.
I left the airfield at around 16.30 for the trip back which was always going to be a shit one due to the traffic, it was indeed rubbish from around J16 of the M5 to J20 after which it flowed reasonably well. I got back just about 19.00 and I called my Wife to see if she would mind coming to collect me in the “Chucklebus” from my place as we had a family BBQ to go to for my Wife’s cousin. I decided I would have a couple of cans and would get collected as I knew that it would not end in a couple of cans. The evening was a good one, the kids played, and we all caught up but it did become apparent to me that I may have had the drink a bit too quick when I got home.
A long story short, I set my alarm as I had intended to go to the ranges at Bulford today to go and see members of the Battalion who I don’t get to see any more. It is the Battalion skill at arms meeting which is the shooting competetion. The problem was that I may have messed up the setting side of the alarm process and advanced the time by a little. I was woken this morning by a huge thunder storm with copious amounts of lightning. The clock radio alarm went off and the time said 07.00. It looked a bit dark for that time of the morning but there was a huge storm so I gave it the benefit of the doubt and reached for my mobile phone. It was actually 03.00. The clock radio is the other side of the room and so I can not reach it from my bed. There was no way with the headache I had woken with that I was going to get in to my chair to turn it off and so I went back to sleep. I also turned off the alarm on my mobile phone as there was no point in my going to the SAAM if the rain had been like it had as it would be a balls ache in my wheelchair.
I got a call this morning to see if I wanted to go to Yeovil with my Wife and kids to take “Pickle” to a local garden centre to see Peppa Pig. I took the offer up and had a really good time. There was lots of things going on, bouncy castles, face painting and a clown were also there. It was really good weather too surprisingly, I guess the storm cleared the air. The sun is still shining which I hope will continue tomorrow as my Wife and kids are coming down. My Wife is going to do some work on the flower beds for me and the kids are going to come and play. Hope your weekend is going well, enjoy it, back to work on Monday!
Good evening all.