Chocs Away Ginger

As a gift for my 40th birthday Steve & Liz very kindly paid for me to have a thirty minute flying lesson from Caernarfon airport.

I really didn't know what to expect. Was it going to be classroom bound session covering the principles of aerodynamics, or was I actually going to get my hands on the uh ... wheel? (or is it called a joystick?)

As it turned out I was allowed to go all the way and it was such a thrill !

 
We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to complete a membership form which probably had some disclaimer about crashing in the small print somewhere. Steve had to fill one in as well because he was coming along for the ride as the official photographer.

 

After the fomalities were concluded we followed our teacher across the tarmac striding like fighter pilots towards what looked like a Cuban MiG jet.

Before I wet myself with excitement we stopped at the little plane next to it and clambered ungainly into its cockpit.

It was apparently a very new (six months old) Piper Warrior III light aircraft and whilst it may have felt tiny it certainly wasn't the smallest plane on the block.

After our pre-flight checks of making sure all the gadgets were working and that the elastic band was tightly wound the pilot then turned the ignition.

The propeller blade spluttered to life then blurred out of view. To the untrained ear it sounded only slightly more powerful than a lawn mower engine!

We taxied down the runway waving to our loved ones gathered to watch us take off. Now this would not have been a good time to crash, not that there ever is a "good time" but now most definetly wouldn't have been.

As we turned onto the runway, he flipped his flaps, pushed the throttle up to max, and off we went hurtling down the strip at a tremendous speed. He pulled back on his stick and up up and away we went.

Within no time we had climbed to 1200 ft where we levelled off and he turned down the revs. I thought for a moment we were going to stall and plummet to the earth like a swotted fly but I guess he knew what he was doing.

So we started our pleasure flight over the Menai Straits, travelling along at a sedate 120mph!

On such a grey day the mountains of Snowdonia were shrouded in cloud. It was a shame but we had plenty of things to see on the ground.

The first landmark we saw was Caernarfon and its stunning castle. It were as if we were looking down on Toy Town, with little cars and toy boats.

Looking around the area it made me realise what a beautiful part of the world we live in. It was interesting to see how near the villages were to each other. I suppose as the crow flies is always the shortest distance.

"Do you live locally?" asked the pilot.

"Yes, near Bangor"

"Would you like to fly over your house?"

"Oh Yes!" I over-excitedly replied.

So I pointed out the cluster of houses on the hillside that was Rhiwlas and he made his way over in the direction.

Following the main road we then spotted Felin Uchaf. It was strange sensation looking down on your own house!

Then came the moment I'd been waiting for!

"You can fly it now" he said and after a simple instruction of left, right, up, down and please no rapid movements, he took his hands off and I took over control.

For the next minute we flew in a straight line!

I eventually built up the confidence to turn.

"Can I go anywhere ?" I asked.

He nodded so I tentatively turned the wheel and we banked a little to the left.

 

My horizon monitor showed me that we were heading nose down so I pulled back on the stick and levelled it off. Back into a straight line over Beaumaris.

"You're a natural" I heard him say.

It was such a buzz!

I then turned the plane around with greater confidence heading back over Menai Bridge.

After we flew over the two bridges we heard on the radio that we should be aware of other traffic in the sky above Felin Heli.

"That's not good. We're over Felin Heli" said our pilot.

Another plane and six microlites were up here somewhere so most of the return journey was spent keeping an eye out for them.

(Incoming. Two o'clock.)

 

By the time we reached Caernarfon airport we had accounted for them all.

We were made to wait for our landing to allow the microlites time and space to get down and get off the runway.

So we followed the other plane out towards the Llyn Peninsula. (I was still in control at this stage) Then we turned very sharply back towards the airport. (We both had our hands on the controls for that manouvere)

It felt like we were in a stunt plane but we'd only turned about 15 degrees!

After circling around the airfield once I then handed over control and the pilot took us in to land.

Gathered at the start of the runway (on the access road to the airport) a gaggle of plane spotters were taking photos as we flew at what felt like only feet above their heads. I was relieved that we didn't plough into them.

 

As we touched down reasonably smoothly our minds turned to the next step which was of course slowing ourselves down.

To the untrained pilot the method used appeared to be a frantic scramble at pulling levers, flapping flaps, crossing fingers, everything but throw the anchor out the window.

"Sierra, Hotdog, Idiot, Tango" !

We did eventually slow down enough to perform a nifty handbrake turn and taxi off the runway.

The whole experience was absolutely superb and if time & money wasn't an object I could easily find myself going for a pilot's licence!

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