EARLY DAYS TO FIRST SOLO
From the exhilaration of that first trial lesson the hard work began - but it was so exciting. I learned to read what had looked like a mesmerising array of dials, how to put on flaps and keep the plane 'in trim' and so much more. We did 'steep turns' with the wing at seventy degrees angle to the ground, we did the drill for emergency landings - look for a suitable field, check wind direction by observing smoke from chimneys etc, don't forget to put in a radio call to alert air traffic control, and so on. We did stalling practice, which was really scary. 'Stall' is wing stall, not engine stall, and is usually caused by climbing too steeply, so of course, I had to do just that. We'd climb to 3000 ft and then lift the nose again, more, more, more until we stalled - those minutes (or seconds, most probably!) I found really nerve wracking. Once I was able to do something to correct that horrible plunge downward I felt much better!
And then of course there were the take-offs and landings. 'Touch and goes' we called them. I'd take off, fly a circuit of the airfield, land, and immediately put on power to take off again. We'd do five or six of these circuits in succession. Sometimes we'd pop over to the BAe runway at Filton, cheaper and less busy than Bristol Airport, sometimes we'd fly down to the grass strip at Compton Abbas in Dorset and practise there. But I have to confess I liked Bristol Airport best, with its lovely long runway and familiar surroundings. And it was there that I did my first solo.
I knew the time for it was approaching fast, and tried to prepare myself. But my tummy churned all the same when, after three or four 'touch-and-goes' one afternoon, my instructor asked: 'OK, do you want to go round on your own?' My first thought was No! No! I don't! Once I'd taken off there could be no going back - I'd just have to land all by myself. But I knew if I showed the slightest hesitation he would think I wasn't ready and I'd have to wait for another day. Terry had done his first solo a few days before - I couldn't get left behind! 'Yes, all right,' I said. 'Pull over then,' he said. I duly pulled over to the nearest holding point. My instructor spoke to the control tower, telling them he was sending a pupil on first solo, and got out, leaving me alone in the plane. And the funny thing was I was suddenly quite calm and confident, as if I was in my car. Take-off came easily to me now. I flew a perfect circuit, turned and called in 'Finals' and concentrated on the heavy workload that is landing. I came in at just the right height and speed over the A38 and touched down with only the smallest of bounces. I'd done it! Been in the air all alone and got back in one piece to tell the tale! It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life - and the certificate I was given to prove I'd done it became one of my most prized possessions.
But of course there was still a long way to go to get my licence. In reality, the adventure had only just begun ....