The week in flying

I had designated the month of May to finishing off my PPL, but with my workload having increased by 100% this month, I’ve not been able to work as intensively on it as I’d have liked. However, the weather has been so gorgeous this week that I’ve been taking my laptop down to the airfield and doing little bits of flying here and there to try to make some progress.

On Wednesday I had my RT (‘Radio Telephony’) written and practical tests. This was rather an ordeal and I’m so glad it’s over! Whenever you fly anywhere, you can’t just fly wherever you like; you have to negotiate various different classes of airspace and also let other air traffic know what you’re doing. So you have to talk on the radio a lot, tuned into various different frequencies of airports you’re going near to request permission to transit through their zone, and that kind of thing. So the practical exam was me sitting in front of a flight simulator programme with a headset on, and the examiner in the room next door acting as Air Traffic Control, and I had to fly the route and do all the umpteen radio calls correctly, saying the right things, at the right time, in the right order. It’s all very formulaic but has to be done in a certain way, using a precise phraseology (e.g. “wilco” means “will comply”), much of which stems from the Second World War. The test included flying through a military air zone, an airport of a similar size to Birmingham, making a mayday call for an engine failure, making a pan call to say I’d seen some people in distress on a liferaft, checking the weather for my final destination and then doing a weather divert and direction finding into the divert airfield. Nightmare! It went well, however, and the examiner said that I was the best he’s seen! So a resounding pass for both that and the written paper (which I got 95% in), and another couple of things to tick off the big list of stuff I need to do in order to finish my PPL.

I spent the rest of that day working in the (unmanned) control tower at the airfield, and had a glorious view of this beautiful old Boeing Stearman doing circuits. This photo really doesn’t do justice to how close it seemed – imagine you were in an air raid and a biplane was dive bombing towards you, and you get the idea!


I went to the airfield again on Friday, and it was very quiet first thing so Lee and I went up in the Venture, which is the aircraft on which I have done most of my training. Here I am at the controls!


I haven’t been able to do very much training over the winter (although I have done a fair bit of other flying to keep my hand in), so the main mission was to start working towards going solo again. Lee had warned me that this could take two or three days, as I’ve not done many landings over the winter. We started with a practice engine failure (field landing – you don’t actually land in a field, you just do everything but!) and then climbed high and went over recoveries from various scary things like stalling and spiral dives. I hate doing that! Then we went back to the airfield and did four circuits, and I was really surprised when Lee said that he was sending me solo again! After only an hour – yay! Here’s me lining up by myself about to take off.


I had such a lovely flight. Only 20 minutes or so, but the feeling of freedom is wonderful and it was a nice reminder of why I am subjecting myself to the totally arduous process of getting a PPL! I flew over to Chipping Norton, which is the furthest I’ve flown by myself so far. It’s not very far, and I made sure I always knew exactly where the airfield was in relation to me, so that I wouldn’t get lost! I didn’t feel at all nervous during the flight, though I did get a slight tingle of fear on final approach, as the landing is always the most daunting bit. It was fine though.

It was back to the airfield again yesterday, though I spent the day working on my laptop as I had a hangover from dinner with my family the night before!! By the end of the day, however, I felt a lot better and more human, and when Lee had finished work for the day we went for a very brief flight in the beautiful Super Dimona just so that I could get off the ground. This aircraft is supremely gorgeous – sleek, easy to fly, fast. Basically, imagine the difference between a normal Ford car and an Aston Martin, and that’s the difference between what I normally fly and the Super Dimona. Naturally it is mega expensive so we only went up for about ten minutes, but it was a nice treat. Lee gets to fly it all the time as he instructs on it, lucky thing! This is a pic I took of it a few months ago, so you know what it looks like:


We took off in parallel with the Boeing Stearman, which you can just about make out in this photo:


Here’s me at the controls. I have flown it once before, quite a while ago, and I’d forgotten how much more sensitive the controls are than what I’m used to! Also, you have extra controls like adjusting the propeller, which I’m not used to.


It was such a gorgeous day, and by that point the thermals had died down, so it wasn’t as bouncy. The evening or early morning are the best times to fly for this reason. As you can see, most of the cloud has dispersed. You can tell when it’s thermic because there are lots of fluffy cumulus clouds caused by warm air rising, cooling and condensing.


Here we both are!


When we landed, we were about to get ready to leave for an evening out (seeing the comedian Jimmy Carr), but moments before, a glider had landed out and we ended up giving him an aerotow back to his club, over near Kemble. So it was back in the Dimona (YAY), with the glider attached to the back by a rope. I was lucky to be able to go too, as normally it’s only one pilot in the cockpit for an aerotow, but they let me go too because I hardly weigh anything. I managed to get this rather splendid self-portrait in which you can see the glider being towed in the background!


This is the view from Lee’s side – it’s a rear-view mirror bolted onto the wing!


Here’s a close-up to give you a better idea:


SO cool. Anyway, the glider pilot released somewhere near Cirencester, as he was high enough to get back to his home field, and we turned back for the airfield, got changed and headed off for our evening’s activities (coming soon to the blog). I’m having a day at home working today, but it’s still quite aviation themed, as there’s a plane flying round today towing a banner advertising the airfield open day.


I’ve also just seen Lee fly over in the Dimona with a trial lesson!

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It’s hard to believe that just a few hours ago we were flying that together. Still a fair way to go before I get that much-coveted pilot’s licence, but I’m getting there and it won’t be long now.

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