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A Day in the Life – Jim’s Diary

FSDP Flight Training – Turweston, Northamptionshire 7 Aug – 25 Aug 23
Day 0 – Sunday 6 August

Ever since I had been told that I had received a scholarship, I had been looking forward to this day
with a mixture of trepidation, dread and excitement. A heady mix and one not easily explained. As
you already know, after being cared for for over fourteen years, going out on my own is a challenge.
Without my wife to look after me, make sure my medication is sorted and help me when I inevitably
fall, going solo is always going to be risky. I have to be more careful, something my brain still hasn’t
come to terms with over fifteen years after my injury. It still thinks I can run marathons and am as fit
as a fiddle. My mind is deluded and in denial.

So, trepidation as I was nervous, dread because I was afraid both of failure and of facing my disability
on my own for the first time without immediate help around me and excited because I’ve wanted to
learn how to fly for decades. And privileged. I forgot to mention that one. I hadn’t expected a
scholarship and being offered one is a great privilege.

Travelling down from West Yorkshire took a few hours and was relatively uneventful. I got slightly
anxious as I realised that I would be away from home (read safety) for a long time, the longest time
since I had left the army. I stopped and calmed myself down before continuing down to the hotel.
The Paisley Pear – who thinks of these names? I had arrived before my partner, Caroline and moved
my kit into the room.

Not too long after my arrival, I had a knock on the door and thought that it may be Caroline arriving
and wanting to let me know but it was a member of staff who informed me that John, our instructor,
was in the bar to welcome us to an actually sunny Brackley. I grabbed my stick, glad to finally be out
of the wheelchair and walked the short distance to the bar. John was waiting by a table and even
before we had ordered some drinks, Caroline entered with a huge smile on her face.

Drinks purchased and us all sat at the table, John started by telling us to have fun. That’s a good start.
We started chatting about the course and what we would be doing over the next three weeks. For
some reason, beyond my understanding, I had thought we were doing two weeks. I don’t know why,
I just blame the meds I was no longer taking! I hoped that I had enough of the others with me!
We chatted for over an hour, John and Caroline talking about flying and me looking on like an idiot.
Unfortunately I hadn’t had the opportunity to read much of the manuals we had been given and did
not have an iota of comprehension when they started talking about secondary control effects. I did
the idiot impersonation perfectly, though.

John had to rush off to grab the take-out his wife was expecting and I left Caroline to get some food. I
hadn’t eaten for a few days now because of whatever reason and didn’t want to stop Caroline from
getting something to eat. Returning to my room, I had a brew, grabbed my IPad and started this. The
bed is far more comfortable than a chair and helps with the pain. I’ll do some light reading and
prepare myself for the adventure that starts tomorrow.
I’m apprehensive but I can’t wait!

Day 1 – Monday 7 August
Anyone with any sense would have known that the first night would have been rough. Clearly I have
no sense whatsoever. The room at the hotel is comfortable but with being away from home, going up
in a light aircraft for the first time and a ton of other minutiae was going round and around in my
head making sleep impossible. So, I read instead until it was time to stop reading and get ready for
my first day on the scholarship.

Caroline and I met outside the hotel at 0900 hrs (0800Z) as agreed the night before. We knew it
wasn’t far but as this was our first time trying to find the airfield, we wanted to have some leeway
just in case we got geographically dislocated. Fortunately, we didn’t and we arrived with time to
spare which was just as well as we had no idea which building we were supposed to be in. We
walked (slowly but at least neither of us were in our chairs) to the tall, flash building, had a quick look
around and decided to try the smaller one where we had parked the car. Just before we got to the
entrance, John arrived and saved us the trouble.

We were shown around the Flying School and got right down to the first lesson. Although I had been
at a loss the night before, I had read the first part of the book during my restless night and was able
to keep up with the two erudite. John explained things very clearly and informed us that we would
be performing the lesson when we were airborne. However, this was John and nearly every other
sentence had a joke or three in. The propeller is the big fan at the front that (apparently) has nothing
to do with the air conditioning! It helped with calming the nerves and I had enough nerves for all
three of us.

Caroline went first as I was in a little too much pain and I headed up to the control tower to learn a
thing or three. Gary was at the tower and he showed me around, explaining things to me until I heard John’s dulcet
tones over the radio as he prepared to taxi and finish his pre-flight checks. With binoculars kindly
provided by the tower, I watched as the plane taxied to the end of the runway and then take off. I
spent an hour with Gary learning about the comings and goings of various aircraft. It’s surprisingly
busy for a small airfield. It wasn’t long before I heard John’s dulcet tones again and Gary pointed the
plane out to me. I watched as they approached and landed. I thanked Gary and went down to greet
Caroline and John.

Caroline was grinning like a Cheshire Cat and that grin remained throughout lunch. She told me that
she was tense but all I could see was her being happy. Don’t get me wrong, Caroline is not dour and
smiles often but this smile was plastered on her face and it wasn’t fading any time soon. We had a
drink and waited for John to join us. He ordered some lunch but was a lightweight and unable to eat
it all. It was a large sausage!

All too soon it was my turn in the pilot’s seat. My stomach was doing somersaults, but I tried to
maintain an air of calm. I don’t think I was kidding anyone. As John had shown me how to climb into
a PA-28 when we were at RAF Cranwell, I just repeated what he had shown me then and got myself
settled and strapped in. Headphones plugged in and I waited with a degree of nervous anticipation. I
had never been up in a light aircraft before. I’ve been a passenger on nearly every single piece of
military transportation that flew, including helicopters but never in the pilot’s seat of a light aircraft.
This was going to be my first.

John exuded an air of calm that was infectious. It managed to calm me down, anyway. If anyone
should have been nervous, it should have been him if he was going to trust the aircraft to me! But he
was unconcerned and quickly went through the pre-flight checks. He explained what he was doing
and why and also what we would be doing prior to taking off. Steering a plane on the ground with my
feet may be one of the strangest things I ever do in my life! Checks over, we were ready to take to the

As we accelerated down the runway, John was still explaining things to me but, I’ll be honest, I was in
a kind of trance as the plane gathered speed and before I knew what was happening, we were
airborne and gaining altitude. A few expletives may have escaped my lips. Ok, more than a few. John
initially thought that I was unhappy but nothing could have been further from the truth, I was elated.
I wasn’t in control of the plane but that didn’t make it any less exhilarating for me.

While we were up, we went through the practical version of the lesson we had had in the morning.
We did pitch, yaw and roll as well as the secondary effects of roll and yaw. It’s one thing to read the
theory but experiencing it made it so much more obvious. Being in control of the aircraft, moving it
about in the air and learning to see the horizon and keep the wings level felt more like fun than
instruction. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and this was only day one! We flew around for around
an hour before we headed back to the airfield to land.

John talked me down to the approach to the runway and I was quite happy with the (adequate) job I
had made of it. However, my concern levels reached critical when he made no move to take control
of the aircraft for the final part of the landing. We were lined up ok, our altitude was dropping evenly
but this was my first time flying and as much as I wished I were Biggles, even I’m not deluded enough
to think I can land a plane on my first outing. I asked John if he was going to take control and he
casually asked if I wanted him to. I’m fairly sure I shrieked the reply several octaves higher than I
would usually speak at but I saw him grin. I later discovered that I had been the only one to cave and
asked him to take control. I feel no shame. Ok, maybe just a bit.

Overall, it was a fantastic first day. Caroline and I, although tired and hurting, have been smiling since
we landed and we are looking forward to the coming days. Hopefully I wont embarrass myself too
many times over the coming days!

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