Thursday, 9 January 2014

INTO THE BLUE

First, an apology - I have been very busy finishing a new book, a family saga - and so haven't blogged for a while. More exciting news about this later, on my home page.

But at last, here I am again. I'm taking a break from my stories of life as a real-life Heartbeat Wife to tell how I came to learn to fly and gain my Private Pilot's licence. I'm calling it:


Me in the left-hand seat.

I'd always wanted to learn to fly. I'd gone on a 'Pleasure Flight' as they used to be called when on holiday in Scarborough with my sister when I was in my late teens and absolutely loved it. Before going I was pretty nervous, especially when we got to the airfield and I saw the size of the plane - so tiny! with the wings just about the height of my chest. But the moment we took off I was hooked, loving the sensation of freedom and the fields cartwheeling under that little tilted wing.

It was an unfulfilled ambition, though. Until my 50th birthday. Terry, my husband, kept me in suspense about a "surprise present" until the day came. We were 'going somewhere', and perhaps he'd better explain as I might want 'to wear something suitable'. When he told me he had booked me a trial flying lesson at Bristol airport I was so excited, and even wondered briefly if the 'something suitable' should be a leather helmet and long scarf ... well, it was late November ... I settled, however, for trousers and flatties.

At Bristol & Wessex Flying Club I was shown the plane I would be flying - a PA28 - and then given a briefing in a very official looking office. I must confess I was quite bemused by all the technical terms, explanations of how a plane actually flies, and so much more. Then my breezy and cheerful instructor took me on a 'walk round', checking fuselage, flaps, etc, and installed me in the 'left-hand seat' - in a plane the captain sits on the left hand side of the cockpit. He climbed in beside me. Terry, I should mention, was already installed in one of the two seats behind us. And then we were on the runway and taking off, the ground gently dropping away beneath us, looking down on treetops, bouncing a little in the turbulence over the wooded area, then turning towards the Somerset levels with Cheddar lake sparkling in the bright sunlight and Glastonbury Tor rising ahead.

My instructor, Mike, took off, of course, but once we were over open countryside he invited me to take over. All he wanted me to do was fly 'straight and level' - which is easier said than done when you've never flown before. The most magical and scariest words I'd ever heard were 'You have control' .... I had control! Jeepers! (Of course, his helping hand was never far away, otherwise I doubt I'd be here to tell the tale).

It lasted a bit less than an hour, that first flight, but I was hooked. And so was my passenger, Terry .... He'd recently retired from the police force, and so we made the momentous decision .. we were both going to take the lessons we needed to get our private pilot's licences. And what a decision that was! It took over our lives, cost us a lot of money, meant we had to spend hours and hours poring over the manuals that taught us about everything from air technical to meteorology, navigation and air law and the etiquette and jargon needed to use the radio to talk to air traffic control, and know it all well enough to pass seven written exams. There were plenty of times when I wondered what on earth I was doing - such as when I had to set off for my first solo land-away, or when I thought I was lost over the wilds of Wales (I wasn't). But we never for one moment regretted it. And I think gaining my licence is the achievement I am most proud of. Often I was scared to death, but I did it. (Conversely, Terry relished every moment). And there were so many adventures along the way!

I'll tell you about some of them soon ....