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Jim’s Journey – Part 3

Days 6 & 7 – The Weekend

Hope is difficult, apathy, cynicism and failure are easy. This is something I’ve come to realise during my first week of this scholarship. My mentor called this weekend and we had a very frank chat about how I’m coping with the flying scholarship. I admitted that I have found the pain very difficult to cope with and I’ve had to dig deep not to succumb to despair, to keep pushing through, remaining positive. This is, from my perspective, the aim of Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, to give people like me the ability to hope again and not give up when faced with what may appear to be an insurmountable disability. That and helping Caroline (she helps me too) creates a team spirit that allows us to face down the pain, the moments of doubt and indecision. We got this.

Ok. As they would say in the army, ‘dry your eyes princess!’ Diametrically, it’s with some truculence and reluctance that I’ve added this bit and even considered leaving it out, but I know that I’ve not been the only one to go through some form of self-doubt. None of us would be here if we were all as supremely confident as we used to be. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and being alone during the weekend can make us doubt ourselves sometimes.

That notwithstanding, not the worst weekend ever and I got some homework done (I’m doing a diploma in proofreading and editing). I’m still trying to get the radio procedures straight in my head. I keep reverting to the way I did it in the army and it feels as if I’m learning a new language. Hopefully I won’t mess it up too much this week. I cannot believe we are on week two already! Looking forward to it!

Day 8 – Monday 14 August

Overcast. Wet. Miserable. Typical British summer, then. Looking out of the window just before setting off to the airfield, I wonder if we’ll be flying today. Maybe another day in the classroom. I hope we will be able to get up, this afternoon may be clearer and we may be able to do some practical lessons then.

Getting to the airfield early, the wind was gusting pretty fast and it started raining again. I knew we weren’t getting up today. Caroline arrived and we went into the classroom waiting for our glorious instructor (he had to drop the dog off). As I suspected, no flying today, the wind was gusting up to 30 knots and the cloud was too low. Classroom work. Yay!

We went over the next exercises in detail with a load of anecdotal information thrown in for good measure. We also got to revise a few things we had already done. It was time well spent as before we knew it, it was time to call it a day. I’ll admit to having a bit of a headache and I’ve set myself a challenge to complete and pass the Aviation Law exam before the three weeks are up. I’m a glutton for punishment!

Tomorrow the weather will be much better and we can get flying again.

Day 9 – Tuesday 15 August

As Mario Lanza would sing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning..”, I lost you on the Mario Lanza reference didn’t I?

Another contrasting day. A clear warm day with gusts of only 5 or so knots. We’ll be flying today!

Caroline wasn’t feeling too good but a walk outside helped clear her head and she went flying not long after we had arrived. That gave me time to revise. Anyone who tells you that Air Law is dry is lying, it’s soul-sappingly soul destroying! I developed a headache that wouldn’t go and decided to give it a bit of a rest. I’ve got two weeks to get it sorted and I need to make some flash cards especially for some of the meteorological parts of the test. Fortunately, I’ll get a chance to clear my head when I go up later.

Caroline returned with her…. Yep, you guessed it, trademark grin but this time, with a vengeance. During the first week she had been tense but today, she had relaxed more and thought she had done much better. She was happier than normal and it’s fantastic that she’s able to relax more and fly more easily. She’s certainly mastered getting in and out of the PA-28!

Just before my flight, I met the technical director of the Mercedes F1 team as he’d flown his RV-6 into Turweston and was getting some fuel. John knew him of old and introduced me to him. We had a moan about the F1 fiasco a couple of seasons ago and generally chatted about fast cars. I had a look into the RV-6 and thought that I’d never be able to get into that! Fortunately, it’s not something I need to worry about for a long while yet.

My turn to go up and what a day. Now, I’m going to try and go slowly to find the words that can best describe the start and end of my flight.

Firstly, I didn’t fluff the radio procedures (too badly), taxied OK and parked up for the pre-flight checks. John took us to the runway where we waited for a plane to leave before I accelerated for the take off. It was brilliant. I was worried about keeping the aircraft straight as we picked up speed and I don’t think I did a too bad a job of it. John took over and the lessons began.

Going up and down may seem like a pretty normal thing to do, especially as the whole point of an aeroplane is to go up, fly, and then come back down, preferably all in one piece. Doing it, with all the checks and bits and pieces is something else entirely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great doing it all but there is so much to do! Imagine learning to drive a manual car again, then multiply it by a lot. So, up and down we went. Turned. Up and down. Then we rejoined the circuit. Fortunately, John noticed a plane to our right and veered away, doing a 360 before we rejoined the circuit.

John gave me control and I took us down and toward 27, heading to the centre of the runway as instructed. It was controlled and methodical and I wondered when John would take control for the actual landing. Remember, I had chickened out the first time we flew and so I wasn’t going to say a word this time. John didn’t take control. He talked me down, told me to keep the nose up, reduced power and keep the plane up before we touched down. I had, for all intents and purposes, landed a plane! What a rush!! This is the part where I have no words to describe how I felt. John knew it was what I wanted to do but I had thought that I wouldn’t be achieving it within the three weeks we had. Five flights in and I had been guided into it. What a rush! I’ve said that already. Oops.

I may have shed a tear, mainly because we were both still alive. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

Day 10 – Wednesday 16 August

Another glorious day in paradise! Actually, it was quite nice, not a clear sky but clear enough for flying and warm enough not to wear my fleece all day. We set off to the aerodrome a tad earlier than normal as we were going to fly to another airfield, land and return. Always something new. New is good, isn’t it?

As usual, Caroline went first. She was a lot more confident today and (I think) looking forward to the flight. As it was going to take longer than usual, I settled down to revise Air Law and do a load of mock tests. Those of you in the know understand how dry this subject is and after 15 back to back tests, my brain felt as if it were dripping out of my ears. And I had a headache! However, I had a pass rate of 53% so (hopefully) I’ll be able to sit the exam proper next week.

I tried a few of the other exams just for a change of pace but my brain decided that enough was enough and shut down. I started drooling. Getting away from the screen, I went and had a look around some of the hangers. There are some very nice and very expensive planes here.

Around 1400 hrs, our plane had arrived (we were taking a different plane from normal as we were heading to Hinton that has a short runway) and whilst John did the external checks, I started pre-flight checks. I waited until John was clear of the propeller before I even considered turning the battery on, I have nightmares about propellers! Checks done, we started up, taxied, more checks, radio checks, runway checks, power checks, lots of checks!

Checks done, I powered up and completed my first take off. Another rush moment. Then we were off with John showing me the lesson and me copying what he had shown me. The air was full again (which shouldn’t be much of a shock considering that everyone was making use of the good weather) and I discovered how difficult gliders are to spot. Lessons complete, we headed toward Hinton and John set us down. I didn’t even see the airfield until he had banked onto the approach!

I got to see where we would be having the BBQ on Saturday and got to meet some aerobatic pilots and we had a good chat. Before I knew it, we had to head back. John did the honours as we were on the clock and off we went. He handed control to me and we headed back to Turweston. Approaching 09, I had to ‘crab’ the plane down as we had a little crosswind. Unfortunately the landing wasn’t as smooth as yesterday but it was all experience and the undercarriage didn’t break off. I think. It was a close thing, though.

Another great day and another entry into our pilot log book. Even Caroline has the massive bug and is checking out continuing training when we are done here. Hopefully we will both get our PPL, being part of the same team should make it pretty unique. I just hope we get instructors as good as John (that’s the creeping done for the week!)

Day 11 – Thursday 17 August

As it started getting brighter, around 0500 hrs, it looked very overcast, threatening to rain. I began to think if we would be able to fly today. I had had a bad night (and I discovered later, so had Caroline) and was looking forward to getting in the air and concentrating on flying. The weather didn’t get much better when I headed to the aerodrome at around 0900 hrs. John was already there so we had a cup of tea and discussed the BBQ on Saturday. We sorted out WN (the PA-28), putting a ‘quart’ (whatever that is) of oil in and basically first parading it. Caroline came in a little later than usual as she wasn’t feeling great and then we had the day’s briefing.

More upping and downing with turning thrown in for good measure. John briefed us on the lessons and before we knew it, Caroline was out of the door and headed skywards. I decided to try and learn more Air Law whilst I was waiting. I managed to do two mock exams (both fails) by the time Caroline returned. When she was sat down and John was filling in the flight paperwork, I showed her the exam and actually passed it. Typical! It was just another mock but I was trying to show her how inane some of the questions were.

John and I went out for lunch whilst Caroline had to head back to the hotel. As we were enjoying our sandwich, a very fast prop plane flew over us. John looked up and told me it was a P-51 Mustang flying at around 300 knots. We cruise in the PA-28 at 90 knots! When we got back to Turweston, the P-51 had parked up and the pilot had gone for a coffee (as had we as we had another hour to kill before the plane was back). Fortunately, the student in WN was doing circuits and I got to watch them touching down and lifting off again. It was good seeing it from a different perspective.

At 1400 hrs, we had completed the pre-flight checks and were waiting by the runway when the P-51 requested to pass us and take off. It’s a huge plane with a massive engine up front. It was also loud! With the P-51 fading fast into the distance, we took off and did the exercises, avoiding gliders as best we could – they’re like wasps around here!

Another landing and that was it. Another day over. It’s still difficult to believe that we’ve nearly completed our second week already.

Day 12 – Friday 18 August

All good things come to an end and it appears this is the end of the good weather for this week. As I bleakly look out of the window, I see nothing but low, grey clouds smothering any hope of flying today.

Wow, that was dark!

Another classroom day. They’re not as bad as they may sound, unless you’re a classroom aficionado, in that case, erm, ok. We do get the chance to go into some of the more mechanics of flying that can help us understand what we are actually doing in the air a little more clearly. It does for me, anyway. Not only that, it also gives John the opportunity for more ‘dad’ jokes and magic tricks (there’s still a couple I haven’t figured out yet). Obviously, there are downsides too. We don’t get to fly being one of the major ones but trying to sit still can be uncomfortable for us both. And we don’t get to fly – I think I mentioned that already.

As we know we’re going to be in the classroom today, we’re setting off a little later (hence the reason I’m writing this in the room prior to leaving). We may learn the circuit today but I’m not sure. John mentioned that we may do them next week. I know that I have to pass my Air Law exam and will probably do a few more of them today.

Well, that was a bit of surprise. We did do classroom work, stalling and recovery. Apparently stalling is bad when you’re in the air and, ironically, worse when you’re closer to the ground! We worked until lunch time when we took a break and went for a coffee (and toast for Caroline, and no coffee, just tea). Afterwards John said that it looked like a bust and we could call it a day. Caroline said she was going to have her lunch and head back, I opted to stay at the flying club. I didn’t want to sit in my room and I could study better at the club. We arranged for me to sit my Air Law test on Tuesday, going through the nightmare that is the CAA portal.

At around 1400 hrs, the sky cleared and I was asked if I wanted to fly. I declined. Not. I jumped at the opportunity and when I say ‘jumped’, I don’t mean it literally. We had to fly one of the instructors to another airfield to pick up one of the school’s planes. I had never flown with a passenger in the back as it added a fair bit of weight to the aircraft but, like a true pro, I panicked! John asked if I wanted to take off and I said that he had better do it – momentary lack of confidence before my brain kicked in and told me not to be so stupid – then I said I’d do it.

All in all, it was a great flight. Once we had dropped our passenger off, we did some exercises on the way back to Turweston. So the day I had thought would be a bust turned out pretty well in the end. Tomorrow is the BBQ and I’m looking forward to meeting some friends from the FSDP. Another week has drawn to a close and it doesn’t feel as if a fortnight has passed. Only one more week to go, unfortunately as we’re both enjoying it so much.

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