Embracing the spirit of early aviation

Yesterday I ticked off another thing on my list of 30 things to do before I’m 30 when I took to the skies in a vintage biplane. The flight was a birthday present from Lee and we flew down to Gloucestershire Airport in Wilhelm yesterday to do it. We had a nice flight down to Gloucester, dodging some impressive clouds.


This was the view on final approach into Gloucester, coming in over Cheltenham. The big round building on the nose is GCHQ, and at this point in the flight both that and the runway looked much bigger and closer than this photo makes them appear!


When we got to the flying school – Tiger Airways – we had to watch a safety video about what to expect, what not to touch etc. It was very back-to-basics for a qualified pilot, but we loved the idea of doing something similar for Lee to show his students. The first surprise of the day was that I was going to be flying not a Tiger Moth, as we had booked, but a 1946 Stampe SV4, which is, from what I can tell, pretty much the Belgian equivalent. I’m guessing that the experience is much the same, though!

This was the view of the aircraft as they were getting it ready. They have a very sweet dog at Tiger Airways, which was wandering around the hangar. The next few photos were taken by Lee.


After being kitted out in a vintage-style flying jacket and cap, and having lowered myself carefully into the front seat, we were ready to go.


I don’t think I can pull off a flying cap as elegantly as Amelia Earhart et al!

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This photo shows just how little I could see out the front when on the ground! Because the tail sits on the ground, the nose is very high, which means that the aircraft has to weave from side to side when taxiing so that the pilot can see where they’re going!


Taxiing to the grass runway. I couldn’t believe the amount of vibration from the engine – it was very different to Wilhelm.

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I was absolutely gutted that I wasn’t allowed to take my camera on the flight. I’d brought the GoPro and was hoping to get some awesome photos for the blog, but alas – it was not to be! They had a camera on board (which apparently they had to pay £4,000 for the CAA to approve!) and offered me a DVD of my flight for £45, but I thought that was a bit steep. So I’m afraid I only have ground-based pics of my flight, courtesy of Lee.

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The flight was good fun but was over almost before it had begun. It was meant to be a 20 minute flight with some time for me to have a go on the controls, but I found out that this includes taxi time, and since Gloucester is massive, taxi time takes a while. So basically we climbed out, and then immediately returned to the circuit to come back in to land – and I didn’t get a go on the controls. Pretty disappointing, but I wasn’t prepared to pay an extra £45 to stay in the air for ten more minutes just so that I could have a go on the controls!

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I was warm in my flying jacket and cap, but overall, the open cockpit was as cold and drafty as you’d expect.

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Here’s a better view of the flying jacket. It was masses too big for me, but it was very warm!

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My instructor was Tizi Hodson, who’s well known in aviation circles. She’s pretty awesome and inspiring, as she’s not only one of the UK’s best-known vintage aeroplane pilots, but she’s also an airline pilot, bush pilot and aerobatic display pilot! It was also the first time I’d flown with another woman. It’s a massive shame that on the day of my flight she had all but lost her voice, as I would love to have asked her loads of questions!

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After the flight she filled in this certificate for me. She also gave me the information I needed in order to log the flight in my pilot’s logbook. It’s always nice to be able to log a new type in one’s logbook.


My overall impressions from my very short flight were that I don’t think vintage biplane flying is for me – I think I prefer the comforts of a more modern aircraft! But it was a great experience and I think I will try to get up in a Tiger Moth or Boeing Stearman sometime this year, perhaps through one of Lee’s contacts, as I would like to have a go at the controls.

After my flight we walked round to the airfield cafe for coffee and cake before heading back to Wilhelm, who was parked near this King Air.


That towering cloud with the wispy top in the background is a cumulonimbus, which are to be avoided in flight. It’s those that were sending bits of hail everywhere yesterday!


As I hadn’t had the chance to use the GoPro during my biplane flight, I took a few photos in Wilhelm on the way home…




The final photo of the day back at Wellesbourne, with some impressive cumulonimbus in the background. We timed our flight well I think!


2 Comments on Embracing the spirit of early aviation

  1. Tom bunting
    March 25, 2015 at 3:46 pm (7 years ago)

    Hi Rachel, I love reading your blogs, I’ve reached 25 hours of ppl training, but due to money I’ve had to put it on the back burner for now. I love most 80 percent of the learning to fly experience but certain things really leave a sour taste occasionally, things that you touch upon sometimes like, the odd aviation old fuddy duddy and today, taxiing not included, £45 extra to stay up for ten, and £45 for a vid. I know these are businesses but I’ve had too many experiences now to make me really question wether it’s worth continuing.
    Any way, sorry to rant. Keep up the good work.

    • Rachel McCombie
      March 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm (7 years ago)

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks so much for your comment, I really appreciate it! I can totally relate to what you’re saying about things leaving a sour taste. I too have had a lot of bad experiences of the aviation world, both the rip-offs and the fuddy duddies. I will drop you a quick email as you might be interested in my fiance’s flying club, which aims to cut out all of the above and just be an affordable and enjoyable way of learning to fly…
      Rachel :)