a journey skywards…

Originally posted on Medium, so although it says "I no longer maintain a blog", I clearly do...

As many friends, family and acquaintances will know I recently embarked on a journey to get a PPL (Private Pilots License). Yes, not content with causing chaos on the roads I had to add a third axis...

I actually had my first ‘trial flight’ in 2007, and since then had longed for a time I could afford to continue training. That opportunity presented itself in early 2014 when I started flying more regularly.

I’ve seen a few good aviation blog posts dotted about and although I no longer maintain a ‘blog’ as such I thought I’d share some thoughts on the experience that might turn out to be beneficial to others considering their first steps to the sky.

I should probably have started back then, and written the below, around 2007 really!

Your First Flight

Do it! I would encourage anyone with even a passing interest in aviation or even just pretty scenery to take advantage of a ‘trial flight’ at a local airfield.

Airports are surprisingly approachable and friendly places when you’re not a passenger being herded through security and on to yet another low-fares flight to some exotic destination — visit them, talk to your local flying club, there will invariably be people more than willing to talk to you about flying and show you around various aircraft.

Although billed as an ‘experience’ this is actually recognised as a lesson in the course syllabus, and your first hour logged as a pilot under training — so counts towards final license issue.

When booking, be prepared to be disappointed, light aircraft flights are very weather dependent and — particularly in Scotland —I find flights cancelled more than once before you actually fly. Always call the flying club / school in the morning before traveling to make sure the weather’s good enough to fly.

On the day

On the day itself, you will probably spend about an hour in the aircraft, with a short briefing beforehand that explains the principles of flight, the forces acting on an aircraft, the primary and secondary effects of the controls (ultimately, how to fly), and the instruments you’ll look at (many cockpits are cluttered with loads of cryptic dials and switches, most of which you can safely ignore for now)

The aircraft

Most flying schools (at least near me) still use traditional trainers such as Cessna 152, 172 or the Piper PA28. These aircraft have their design roots in the 1960s, and many of those still in service today are from the 70s and 80s. There’s a reason why the first question many people ask is “how old is this plane” or “is this still safe”.

The answer, invariably, is yes. Any aircraft used for training is maintained to a very high standard, however I can’t help but think they’d attract a few more regular students with newer and more modern aircraft.

My first trial flight was in 2007 in a De Havilland Chipmunk, and old RAF trainer built in 1950. It was a fantastic experience, but I moved onto more conventional (and cheaper to hire) aircraft.

My first flight. WP808 (G-BDEU)

This aircraft was sadly destroyed when parked in bad weather in 2012

The instructor will handle the take off and departure from the airport (and controlled airspace if you’re in it) — then utter those three daunting words, “You Have Control”.

Then the aeroplane is yours to fly, they will demonstrate the controls and have you perform simple maneuvers but you’ll get the opportunity to fly over places you know, perhaps take some pictures, and enjoy a birds eye view of the world that so few people will ever get to see.

Again the instructor will take over for the landing (and if you’re anything like me it’ll be a while before you do this yourself reliably) and taxi back to the apron.

What's next?

For some people, this will have been a fun experience — one more thing to tick off the bucket list. For others, including myself, da Vinci was right;

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

- Leonardo da Vinci

Here began a very long, expensive, and - at times - frustrating journey…