Last weekend I had the great honour of taking part in an extra-special flight to celebrate the wedding of Jo and Mike, who got engaged on a flight in our dear Wilhelm (read the full romantic story on the MotorGlide blog here). Mike was kind enough to give us a flypast in Wilhelm for our wedding last year (see photo to the right!) and we couldn’t have been more delighted to be able to return the favour for his and Jo’s beautiful wedding on Saturday. Having been watching the weather forecast as diligently as no doubt the bride and groom were all week, we were relieved when the rainy weather of the preceding days took a turn for the better for the day of their wedding. Operation Wedding Formation Flypast could go ahead!
We decided it would be fun to take all three of our aircraft on the flight, so before we went out to the aircraft we sat down for a briefing, discussing our plan of action and plotting the route on the GPS and charts. It was quite cool, a bit like what I imagine it’s like being in the Red Arrows (except, of course, that we were only planning the simplest of flypasts and not an elaborate display!). Then it was time to clamber into our respective planes for a practice run – me in the Robin, Lee and Josh in the Dimona and Nigel in Wilhelm. We all completed our checks and taxied to the runway together, and I took off first as I was in the fastest aircraft and could get out of the way quickest.
After take-off I headed straight for Stratford-upon-Avon while I waited for the other two to take off and climb out. We chose a quiet radio frequency so that we could communicate with each other and then made for the biggest local landmark, namely this massive solar farm (pictured here on a different day).
Getting into formation was going to be the trickiest bit of the whole flight, as my aircraft was a fair bit faster than the other two. That meant I would be at the front, but I would have to fly much slower than usual to enable the other two to keep up with me. It was a challenge to hold the slower speed for a sustained amount of time, but it worked out well as first Wilhelm and then the Dimona flew up to the back right of me. It was so cool to look back and see them right there behind me!
I couldn’t resist getting a quick pic of me on my first solo formation flight!!
And in this one I managed to get at least one of the other two aircraft in the background. We started by just flying in a straight line, and then we practised a couple of gentle turns and a descent. We also did a practice break of formation in case anyone felt uncomfortable; me being at the front in the most powerful aircraft, I would speed up and climb away to the left, Wilhelm would descend and turn left and Lee in the Dimona would turn right. Lee tells me that the practice break looked pretty awesome from his position at the back of the formation!
Needless to say, we had to do this practice away from the venue so we wouldn’t be seen by the assembled wedding party, but before landing Lee quickly snuck a bit closer to see if he could spot the venue again (we had also flown over it a few weeks ago so we knew what to look out for).
By the time we’d all landed, we just had about ten minutes or so on the ground to freshen up before it was time for the real thing. Apart from my solo cross country, I’ve never done two solo flights one after the other like that, so that was another first for me. Once again we clambered into the aircraft, went through all the checks, and I took off first. This time it worked out that to get to my position I needed to overtake the other two, who were already in formation, as you can see in this grainy zoomed-in photo below. It was an interesting manoeuvre, as it meant putting a bit of speed on to overtake them and then slowing down so that they could keep up with me. You can see the Malvern Hills in the background of this shot.
Once in formation, again over the solar farm, we started heading for the venue, gradually descending as we got nearer to it. We crept round the back of the venue on fairly low power so that the wedding party wouldn’t hear us coming too much. I didn’t spot the venue til I was quite close to it, but luckily there’s a big lake right next to it, which made it easier to see from the air.
I went in first, as low as I’m legally allowed to, as I was in the noisiest aircraft – we thought it would be good to have the louder aircraft go first to get everyone’s attention! I put the power on and climbed away immediately after flying over the venue, and then Lee and Nigel did two or three passes in the motorgliders while I orbited near Bredon Hill. It was so cool!
The bride sent me these photos to include in this post so you can see how we looked from the ground – this is one of Lee’s flypasts in the Dimona. If we get any other photos, I’ll update this post at a later date!
Mission complete, Nigel headed back to the airfield in Wilhelm and I met up in the air with Lee and Josh in the Dimona so that they could take some air to air photos of me flying the Robin, which I’ve been after for ages. This was how they looked from my perspective (taken on the iPhone)…
…and this is how I looked from theirs, taken on the big camera!
I can’t tell you how surreal it is to see yourself flying a plane, in the air! Lee says that even after 20 years of flying experience it still sometimes feels weird that he can fly. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away!
And a closer-up version just to prove that’s definitely me in there!
After that we all landed and reconvened by the Dimona.
After we put the planes away and hung round chatting for a while about how well it had all gone, we made our way to the wedding reception, where the tables had names including ‘Wilhelm’ and ‘Dimona’ and the guests we spoke to were very kind and enthusiastic about the flypast. Beautiful bride Jo even said we made her cry! So that definitely gave us a warm and fuzzy feeling and we’re just so pleased we could do it. From the point of view of my flying, I also felt that the experience was a great confidence boost, as it challenged me to try something new. All in all, a brilliant afternoon. :)