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Jim’s Diary – Part Deux

Day 2 – Tuesday 8 August

It had to happen. When I say ‘it had to happen’, I actually mean, I guess it had to continue. Yesterday was a fantastic day and we were able to get up in the air. I had expected the first day to be a bust considering the weather that we had been having. Today, the weather didn’t let me down, well, actually it did let us down as it was miserable and we couldn’t fly. It had to happen, this is the UK, after all.

Not that it deterred us.

We met John outside (he beat us in today) and he suggested that we visit the shop and (jokingly (this is John after all)) that we buy a headset. When I asked how much they were, he said up to around £6000 and so I turned to Caroline and said we should get a couple each as they were so cheap! Needless to say, neither of us walked away with any headsets! We did get to see an assortment of Poolies books for sale and were even more impressed that we had been given them without cost. It’s amazing how all the seemingly little things add up!

Then it was classroom time! Yay!

The whole day. Double Yay!!

In all seriousness, because we didn’t have any flights planned, we went through the lessons with a lot more additional detail. This may sound counterintuitive but having more details made it easier for me to understand, especially considering that I had just read all about it earlier this morning. I never realised how much went into flying (obviously) and how important all the details are. It is, after all, much harder to pull over at 2500 ft than it is on the M1 if something doesn’t appear right with the engine.

Truth be told and although I won’t deny regretting not being able to fly, the day in the classroom was exceptional. The pace was much more relaxed, we had a few extra ‘John sayings’ and a lot more detail. Sitting for long periods was uncomfortable for both of us, especially now I’m off my opiates but we managed. We had lunch at a local farm shop/village centre where the tea was cold and the baguettes as large as canal boats! Back to the classroom for a little more instruction and then we called it day.

Hopefully it’ll be better tomorrow.

Day 3 – Wednesday 9 August

What a contrast! Yesterday was wet and miserable with the dew point almost at ground temperature, today is the complete opposite. No clouds, temperature almost 18 degrees at 0900 hrs. We knew we’d be flying today. Under the glorious sunshine, we headed to the airfield where our glorious leader was taking a chair outside to sit in the sun for a bit. We managed to disturb him and it was straight off to flying as we had covered the lessons in great detail yesterday. Caroline was going first again when John told me that the weather was due to deteriorate later. Just my luck.

As I was going to be on my tod for an hour, I pulled up some PA28 Warrior cockpit views and tried to get a handle over the instrument panel, the switches and controls. I was going to have to learn them all some day and there was no time like the present. As they say, good intentions and all that. I looked at pictures, I watched videos but it wasn’t sticking. I knew that I needed to do and not watch so I went to the flight shop and looked around for a bit.

Caroline returned with her now trademark huge smile on her face. I had discovered that Caroline has two different types of smiles; one was her normal, pleasant smile and the other reserved for when she had been flying. I knew that I was probably the same. Anthony had mentioned that it was an adventure of a lifetime and he wasn’t wrong. John came in and we were given and copy of the checklists, preflight and landing, had a quick lesson about aircraft movement/taxiing, the correct procedures and before I knew it, we were outside doing an external check of the PA28.

Once inside, we went through the checklist, started our taxi, more checks, moved down to the holding point and even more checks. It makes sense when you think about it (which I never had). You can hardly pull over if you belatedly notice something wrong once you were off the ground. Checks complete, John rolled us out onto the runway, we waited a moment for it to be clear and then he accelerated down into the wind and we were off.

Although I’d done it once before, lifting off was still an experience. I don’t know how to describe it, like a rollercoaster in reverse. I loved it. Once at the right attitude, John went through the lesson and then made me copy what he did. I was shocked how much the plane pitched up when we applied flaps and I learned how to keep it level and trim it out. Unlike Monday, we saw a number of other aircraft in the area and as we approached Turweston to land, John spotted a helicopter in front of us that caused a little concern. Slowing all the way down, John let the helicopter do what it was going to do and then landed the plane as if it were just another day in the office. Which for him, it was. Come to think of it.

Day two in the air complete and I was in agony. That notwithstanding, loving every moment of it. Not the pain bit but the flying. I probably had my post flight ‘grin on’ as we went inside for our debrief and a heads up on tomorrow’s lesson. Another day of flying complete, another entry into our log book and more to come tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

Day 4 – Thursday 10 August

Thursday already and the sun is shining, the weather is warm and neither Caroline nor myself are feeling 100%! Caroline isn’t great in the heat and I’ve had a few bad nights since we’d arrived. That being said, it’s going to take a lot more than that to ground either of us. Caroline, as usual, took the morning slot and is flying even as I write this bit. There is only so much revision you can do before you look outside longingly and wish that you were in the air. As it’s going to get hotter this afternoon, it makes a lot more sense her getting up as soon as possible. I don’t mind the heat so much but then again, most of the aircraft I’ve been up in when it’s been hot have had air conditioning. The PA28 has got a big fan at the front but that’s about it!

Today is more practice of level flying to a set point. Easier than it sounds. Before you know it, your small plane has hit a thermal and you’re up a few hundred feet before you level off and adjust your attitude. If you can’t feel your legs and you’re accidentally causing a little yaw then you’re flying sideways which is never good. So, practice makes perfect or (especially in my case) not so dangerous. At least John hasn’t screamed at me and taken control – yet. There’s still plenty of time.

Pre-flight checks completed, I had a go radioing the tower (not great) and we taxied off. Take off was a little more challenging as there was no wind but John made it look easy – he made everything look easy! We had to keep our eyes peeled as there were other aircraft all around us, one even popped out of the cloud in front of us at one stage. That said, the lesson went well and I managed to fly straight and on a heading, keeping the right altitude and not yawing too badly on my turns. Landing was a repeat of yesterday. Aircraft approaching the airfield at a rapid rate using numerous different landing strips. Gusting was pretty bad and John approached the runway sideways until the last moment, proving, once again, that he is disgustingly well qualified and experienced. Maybe, one day. In my dreams – he has a 40 year head start!

Day 5 – Friday 11 August

What a day! Confusion, consternation and other words beginning with ‘con’. Turweston was hosting a ton of bi-planes over the weekend and they had all decided to arrive this morning as well as taking off for demonstration flights. Unfortunately it was all a bit of a mess with the tower staff working overtime just trying to keep order. It was a very busy day.

As usual, Caroline went up first and did her level flight exercises. She was getting more confident and still enjoying. As usual, she returned with her Caroline Smile™️ and had thoroughly enjoyed the flight. Just as John suggested lunch I received a call from an Armed Forces charity and had to hold back. Caroline and John left me to my phone call.

After lunch it was my turn to go up. John had done the external checks and I did the pre-start checks. For some reason I keep reading ‘Pitot’ as ‘Pilot’ and John kept correcting me. Trying to get a radio check into Turweston tower proved an exercise in patience and when I finally managed to get through, I fluffed it – again. I’m going to be spending the weekend getting my voice procedures right. Engine started, we tested the brakes, rudder etc and set off. John took control and we headed for the skies.

Even though it was very busy, we managed to get through the exercises in good order. John even got to take a few photos. Before I knew it, we had been up an hour and we started to head back. Lowering altitude, we heard all of the confusion at the airfield. John took over and the pair of us scoured the skies for planes out of position and even a helicopter that passed underneath us. John tried to get through to the tower a number of times before he succeeded and we landed on 27. As usual, he made it look so very easy. Post flight checks done, we taxied and parked the plane.

That’s the first week done and it’s gone so quickly. It has been amazing and I’m still coming to grips with the fact that I’m flying. Both Caroline and I are very lucky and we know it. It’s not easy for either of us but supporting each other throughout the week has made it more manageable. The flying is the highlight of every day and John exudes so much confidence we rarely doubt ourselves. Roll on next week!

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