Showing posts with label flying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flying. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

blasting away the cobwebs

Well, I went flying again yesterday, in my own aeroplane. Yes, after nearly 3 months of work and waiting she is back in the air and boy does it feel good.

My flying was terrible and the test yielded a couple of very minor issues, but I don't think I've felt such a huge relief and sheer joy in a very, very long time. There's definitely something comforting to the soul about seeing the vast expanse of blue sky rolled out below you!

Now I can look forward to really getting back in the saddle and preparing to start competing again (the first competition of the season is at the end of March and I need some serious practice). I've managed to build up a pretty reasonable base level of fitness and strength again over the past few months, and I will continue working hard on improving it further, but at least I'm in a very good position to gain as much as I possibly can from my flying and training.

Essentially I think that physical fitness, whilst on the face of it, not obviously all that essential for a competition flyer, makes a huge difference to performance. There are some huge forces involved when flying competition aeros - my body experiences forces that can vary very rapidly between +6g and -4g and this is hugely tiring. That coupled with the extreme levels of concentration and focus required for the entire flight duration really does make for a sport that takes a huge amount out of you. Last year I was climbing out of the aeroplane after a 10minute sortie feeling like I'd just run a marathon - no exaggeration. There may not be all that many calories burned, but the mental exertion is greater than anything else I've ever experienced.

Thus, the fitter I am, the better I can cope with the demands I place on myself during a flight, and the more quickly I recover afterwards - which in turn means I can manage to undertake more meaningful training in a day (of course at the moment the real show-stopper here is actually finance, but fingers crossed that's going to change soon). My gym obsession may well come into its own!

From this point on you'll most likely find me somewhere between praying for good weather, beasting myself in the gym, at the climbing wall or out on the trails, or back up in the sky with the biggest grin on my face :-)

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


It's been over a year since I visited this old blog of mine, let alone updated it. Basically my life has changed, dramatically.

I'm no longer living in the mountains, now my life is primarily confined to the flat-lands of Cambridgeshire. A big part of me misses Wales, the hills, my friends, my old climbing/biking/running/outdoors lifestyle, but there's an even bigger part of me that knows my current course in life is where I need to be. At least for now.

So what's happened? I wrote before about my getting into aerobatic flying, and, well, that's essentially what happened and where my life is now. I own my own aeroplane, I'm the current British Female Aerobatic champion and I'm also a newly qualified airshow and display pilot. I know, wow huh?

Flying it is then!

That said, I still have the mountain bike, I hit the climbing wall in Milton Keynes as often as I can and I head to the gym several times a week too (I may have spent several months doing nothing, got a bit fat and panicked - hence I'm back to being a fitness obsessive again and actually I do rather like it). Once I've gotten a work regime sorted out and some money again I'll be heading out to the hills for some therapy whenever I can too - I know my roots.

I guess I should mention where it is that I've been in online terms, because whilst I've not been posting here, I have been posting flying stuff on my aerobatic blog - The Aerobatic Project and I've built another website for myself in order to promote and try to sell my display flying - Please head over to either and/or both and take a look - let me know what you think!

So why am I back here, and why now? Basically I wanted to come back here to revisit something of my old way of life, and to rekindle my old style of writing. I basically want an outlet again, somewhere I can write about the every day, mundane and 'normal life' type things I think about. The Aerobatic Project is really all about being a new face in the competition flying world and what that's like, so there's no place there for me waffling on about the odd thoughts that strike me in the gym. Hence, I'm back!

Apologies right now if some of the things I write about are boring, or just downright weird. Hopefully I'll come out with a few things that may actually be of interest too.

To all of you that are still here, wow. Thank you for bearing with me!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

a life of adventure

I’ve been extremely busy of late, working hard over on the Aerobatic Project website and Facebook page – it’s all going fantastically well, and I’d love to just link you guys all into two of the most exciting developments.

Firstly, I’m in the local newspaper talking about avalanches, mountain rescue and a little bit of flying:


And secondly, a rather wonderful blogger, Karlene Petitt, has just published a blog article on me and my project. It’s honestly one of the most amazing things I’ve read about what I’m trying to do – far better than anything I’ve written myself. Please head over and have a read, here.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


I apologise, I’ve been shockingly neglectful over here of late, but for good reason, I promise!

Bumblie is now returning to it’s routes as an outdoor/gear/adventure blog, with the occasional bit of aviation and aerobatic related nattering, but the vast majority of the flying writing will now be happening over on The Aerobatic Project site. I have a gear review coming up on here, and a few mountain biking and winter posts in the pipeline, so don’t you worry, things will soon start getting interesting again, I promise.

Meanwhile, please do head on over and have a look at the new site, a whole lot of work has gone into it and will continue going into it from now on.

In fact, I’ll post the latest piece of video goodness up here too – this is the kind of thing the Project is going to be featuring much more of in the future, not that I’m at all excited!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

the aerobatic project

Well this is it, it’s up, the site is live!

New blog, news page, photographs and videos. Wander over and have a look, please!

Let me know what you all think. Thank you.

Friday, 4 November 2011

who am I?

It’s about time I posted up a bit more of a profile, so for those of you curious to know a bit more about the girl behind the blog, here you go!

  • Name: Lauren Richardson
  • Age: 24
  • Location: Mid-Wales (almost North Wales)
  • Main occupation: Radio Transmission Engineer. I also dabble in Technical Training.
  • Other occupations: Blogging, Gear Reviewing, Writing
  • Hobbies: Climbing (trad, sport, bouldering, Scottish winter, ice, Alpine – pretty much the full spectrum), Mountaineering (all mountain craft – walking, navigating, wild camping, scrambling etc), Mountain Biking, Mountain Rescue (yes, it’s a hobby!), Flying and Aerobatics.

So those are the basics, but I want to talk about two particular aspects of my life that are probably the most important and basically sum up who I really am:

  • Mountain Rescue: I’m a full member of the NEWSAR, the Mountain Rescue and SaR team that covers the ‘North East Wales’ area (which is huge – we cover all the way from the north coast down to Welshpool/Newtown and right across to the M6). I’m also the ‘Comms Officer’ for the team, which basically means I spend vast amounts of time behind the scenes dealing with team radios, laptops, mapping software and all other things tech – people don’t realise just how much technology is used by teams nowadays, it’s rather impressive let me tell you. The crux of the Mountain Rescue thing though, is giving back something to the outdoor community – I’ve always wanted to help people and joining a team seemed like a great way to give of myself, my knowledge and my experience. The bonus is we save lives – it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
  • Aerobatics: I’m a private pilot. I adore flying, and this year I finally fulfilled my wish to have a go flying a Pitts Special – the trouble was it didn’t stop there. After my first ever go at aerobatics I was completely hooked, and a few months of training later I went to my first competition…and won. Ok, so it was only the Beginners class, but I still won and for me this has probably been one of my proudest achievements to date. Since then I’ve qualified to fly in the next category up (Standard class) for the next year’s season, and over the winter my aims are to train myself to a high enough standard to be able to have a good crack at winning something next year. I’m also in the process of building a new website with lots of cool pictures and video to publicise my flying and hopefully inspire others to look into the world of aerobatics and realise that you don’t have to be rich in order to experience what has been for me, something truly incredible and life-changing.

So who am I? Just a girl who likes to enjoy life and is willing to work hard at anything and everything that’s important.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

aerobatics–my first video

Here we go, my first experimental in-flight video, hope you enjoy it!

Monday, 10 October 2011


Up there we had been dodging rainbows, skimming and skipping over the clouds. I giggled as I realised I didn’t know how to do what was being asked of me, but there was no frustration, no embarrassment, just pure exhilaration. I felt like a small child who’d been handed a gift – grinning with sheer, unbridled joy as I ripped open the wrapping paper.

Playing with the clouds, chasing railway lines through my up-turned canopy. I must be the luckiest person in the world to be able to see and feel life this way.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

back to school…

…or at least that was what it felt like in one critical respect: that old familiar dread. Getting up in the morning, having breakfast and putting the uniform on knowing that in half an hour I’d be back in class sitting there feeling a deep seated, dark, black dread…

It’s not that I’m a stupid person. I always did quite well at school as it happens. My dread always came as a result of my slightly psychotic nature and a constant (if misplaced) fear of failure and humiliation. Basically I hated school, I hated being there, being asked questions, having to speak, having to be someone. All I ever really wanted to do was fade into the background and be forgotten, left to my own devices, in my own little world. To an extent my personality hasn’t changed all that much since my school days: I’m still shy, I’m still terrified of failing and am constantly worried that people will think badly of me or that I’m about to make myself look like an idiot. Of course I am a fair bit older now, more mature and have spent several years learning how to cope and survive in the real world – nowadays my shyness is hidden under a veneer of enthusiasm and implied self-confidence. Sometimes the confidence is even real and I can live life genuinely believing that I am someone and can be someone…

When it comes to flying I have a love/hate relationship with the learning process. On the one hand I love to learn, I always have. On the other hand I hate to feel like an idiot, and despise making myself feel like I’ve made someone think I’m stupid. Aerobatics is great – I came into it completely green, with no knowledge, no skill and no pre-conceptions. I knew I knew nothing and was utterly content to be guided and taught with no fear of sounding stupid, because after all you can’t be ignorant about something you’re truly ignorant of.

I have a pilot’s license. I went through the pain of learning to fly, of being taught, of sitting the exams and having someone watch me and question me and work out whether or not I knew what I was doing or if I’m actually an idiot. I’ve been through all that and have no desire to go through it all again just now thank you, just like I have no desire to go back to school to sit at the back of the class praying that the teacher won’t ask me any questions. Having to ‘re-learn’ everything in the Pitts was not something I wanted at all, to such an extent that I’d been putting off doing any real circuit work and actually learning to fly and land the aeroplane as much as I possibly could. It was daft really, my own bizarre mis-conception that because I could fly a ‘conventional’ aeroplane, I should be able to fly a Pitts Special without too much effort…

A Pitts Special is an incredible aeroplane, and at no point is she to be underestimated. Treat her right and she’ll let you play with her, treat her badly or arrogantly and you’ll soon learn your place. SKNT and I have been flying together for a while now, and I’ve been quite happy to just play with her in the upper air, letting my mentor and teacher take control to get us back down, but of course it was essential that sooner or later I’d be able to take her out by myself, and as such I’d have to learn to actually fly and land her…

Landing is an interesting matter. It’s quite well known that Pitts Specials can be a bit of a handful and a challenge to learn to land, and it’s certainly been my experience that good landings are more of an art-form rather than a science. Learning to land was the part I’d really not been looking forward to – it should be easy, it shouldn’t be hard to learn, I should be able to pick it up really quickly…every bounce, every go-around, every fluffed approach were all things I knew I’d hate myself for because of course I would be making myself look like a useless idiot, and of course Paul was going to judge me for that wasn’t he…

Paul is a great instructor, ok yes, he has his faults as we all do, and at times I find myself feeing frustrated and even aggravated with him (bear in mind we’ve spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company now, and I’m not the most patient of people), but at the end of the day if anyone asked me what I thought of him as an instructor, I’d tell them I think he has a way with being everything he needs to be exactly when he needs to be in order to help someone progress. That, to me, is the essence of a good instructor and teacher…And so it was, after I’d finally swallowed my pride and accepted that my only option was to accept that I was going to be useless, and that it didn’t matter, I started flying circuits with Paul.

It has come to mind recently that an aeroplane isn’t simply a tool or a machine, but that it has a soul. SKNT certainly does, and a character to match. Simply controlling an aeroplane isn’t really flying. Confidence is needed alongside huge amounts of respect and humility, but once you get the balance right (or more to the point, once I had started getting the balance right), and you accept and listen to the guidance you are given, everything will start to settle into the right places. And so it is, that after a few hours of flying round and round and round and round in circles, occasionally landing but more often bouncing, whacking the power on and going around (or just going around after a truly terrible attempt at a side-slipped approach), of swearing to myself, hearing Paul saying the same things over and over again until they finally went in, of forgetting where to turn, of fidgeting in my harness, of wishing my seat was more comfortable or that I was on the beach in the Bahamas instead, of wondering when it would all end, of wishing I was a better pilot, of more swearing at myself, and of finally realising that I am a better pilot, of flying perfect and near-perfect approaches, of landing and stopping and backtracking and flying again, of smiling and realising that every bit of hardship and pain is worth it, of sitting and thinking that I’m madly in love with this type of flying and this type of aeroplane, of realising and knowing that I can do this, of still stuffing it up and swearing at myself occasionally, of going out and flying and relaxing and breathing and focussing: I have finally learned to land.

And so it went, that last Thursday Paul got out of SKNT and sent me off for the first time without him. After a shaky start and one of the most incredible pieces of decision making I’ve ever witnessed from anyone (I made a fairly major mistake and landed horribly shaken and prepared to walk away), I flew a few circuits and landed a few times, and left the airfield as a Pitts pilot, no longer just a student any more.

If it isn’t hard, it’s probably not worth doing!

Monday, 19 September 2011


Terrified. Unsure. Alone and trembling, breathing deeply trying to gain composure…

That’s how I sat, in the back seat of a two seater Pitts Special, alone with nothing but the wind and my own thoughts for company.

Sherbern-in-Elmet, Yorkshire. The Tiger Trophy competition. Paul and I had headed up, he flying the Pitts and me driving my new second home (the van). This was quite a big one – all classes competing, from the Beginners (just me as it happened), all the way up to Unlimited. Lots of pilots, lots of banter, lots of flying. The whole thing was a fantastic experience for me, being only the second aerobatic competition I’d ever attended. I managed to fly my Beginners sequence on Friday, admittedly not as well as I was really capable of, but in all honesty I hadn’t prepared all that well and hadn’t really been overly concerned with the sequence – immediately before flying it and being judged I’d been practicing a sequence for the next class up (Standard). Being the only entrant I’m loathe to consider that I won (can you win a competition if there are no other competitors? I don’t really think so…), but despite my woeful lack of preparation and my somewhat distracted state, flying in some thick miserable haze of poor visibility, I still managed to be awarded a respectable 70.7% on my scoresheet.

Saturday’s competition was great. I’d hoped to be able to compete in the Standard class, but paperwork and my lack of endorsement precluded that happening. That’s not to say I didn’t fly, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The competition in itself was for me a wonderful and eye-opening experience – I got to watch some fantastic flying and meet a wide range of amazing and friendly people, pilots, judges, partners – all people enthused about aerobatics and the life that surrounds it (to any of you that were there and kind enough to talk to and make a young, shy pilot feel welcome, thank you!).

Two days previously, I’d spent the day at Shobdon flying circuits with Paul, gradually feeling more and more confident that I actually was starting to get the hang of landing at last. The good landings had continued all day until a moment of insanity clearly struck my normally sane instructor – he got out of the aeroplane and sent me off alone for the first time. (Quite how wise a decision this had been on his part came rapidly into question as I had a rather shocking near crash experience on my first landing, but that’s another story – ever cool, calm and collected, Paul managed to talk some sense into me and sent me back out to make less of a hash of things and as a result salvaged a good chunk of my confidence and esteem, and as such I left the airfield having been signed off to fly the Pitts solo, albeit by the skin of my tightly clenched teeth…). Anyway, my point here is that on Thursday I’d managed to achieve my aim for the winter, somewhat sooner than anticipated, and had solo’d the aeroplane.

Preparation is quite important to me in life. I like to know, as far as possible, what is expected of me and what I have to do, so at the end of the day hearing Paul ask me if I’d consider flying my ‘proficiency endorsement’ flight solo in the competition box, instead of with an examiner in the front seat acting as safety pilot (as I’d been led to believe would happen), I spent a good few minutes stunned and wondering whether this was genuinely the most ridiculous idea I’d ever heard, or if his belief in me was justified (could I really do this? Was I really capable? Could I really be ready for this?).

Terrified. Unsure. Alone and trembling, breathing deeply trying to gain composure…

That’s how I sat, in the back seat of a two seater Pitts Special, alone with nothing but the wind and my own thoughts for company.

After a good deal of procrastination and thinking, I eventually swallowed my lack of self-confidence and listened to the voices of the pilots willing me on, and the voice of the man that really knew what I was capable of. Paul and Ron saw me to the aeroplane and then headed to what had been the judging line earlier in the day, off to watch me fly the 2011 Standard Known sequence to prove that I was capable of safely flying and competing at this level. This was my first ever solo aerobatic flight…

Take-off scares me. A 200hp Lycoming engine attached to a big propeller on the front of a relatively light-weight aeroplane with only me in it is not something to be underestimated. Rudder inputs to compensate for the gyroscopic effect of such a big propeller on such a short fuselage, changing as I change my attitude to lift the tail to allow myself to see the runway ahead of me, lumps in the grass throwing and bouncing us around as we rapidly accelerate – it’s a relief when I can finally pull her up and take flight. I start to breathe again.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve caught the aerobatics bug, but caught it I have and I doubt I’ll ever be cured – not that I want to be. Flight is something special, and aerobatic flight seems to me to be the embodiment of the focus and freedom I’ve spent my life searching for. The mountains are the only other place I’ve ever found such clarity of thought through sheer necessary focus, and only then for an instant at a time. In the air the challenges aerobatic flight presents me are everything I crave – clarity, focus and emotion all folded into one.


The Standard Known Sequence for 2011 – my first solo aerobatic foray

“The box, just find the box. Get higher, just relax, get it done.” My thoughts are my own, my emotions personal and private, but in the following moments they are nothing but crisp, logical necessity.

“Shit, there’s cloud. Ok just keep circling outside the box and wait for it to shift, it’s only momentary…”

Nothing went exactly to plan. My mind was full to beyond capacity, I couldn’t remember the sequence, everything happened too quickly. All I knew was I had to stay in the box, maintain the heights I’d calculated for each manoeuvre and fly everything safely. It all happened in such a blur I barely had time to realise what I was doing and that in those moments everything I’d been striving for over the past year of flying were suddenly being realised…

Landing at a strange airfield is always something that I find mildly traumatic, and being in a high-performance biplane that I’d only solo’d once before wasn’t something that was particularly helpful to my already broken nerves. Yes, my nerves were broken, but clearly not yet shattered as my eventual landing was as perfect as I could ever have hoped for – not so much as a skip, just a nice settled gentle touch down allowing me to roll the nose forward and see where I had to put my feet to keep myself in line. The relief was immense but very quickly replaced by the horrible knowledge that I’d landed on a runway from which I had no clue of where to taxi. Having to ask stupid questions over the radio is something I suspect I’ll get used to doing, but at the time I found myself chattering away to myself in private in between said stupid questions, just to maintain some semblance of sanity as I meandered my way back across the airfield, parking and shutting down my engine.

A few questions later, Ron told me he was happy and that he’d sign me off. Next year I’ll be flying alone and competing with the others at the Standard level.

Still terrified, but now sure. Standing alone and trembling with excitement, I have composure. I am an aerobatic pilot.

Monday, 5 September 2011

filler in

So what have I been up to of late? Just general life business I suppose, you know, van building (I have a transit I’m converting into a ‘stealth camper’ of sorts), aerobatic flying and general Pitts Special flying, mountain biking, looking for work…

Yes, I did say looking for work. Depressing as it is, the only way I’m going to be able to keep up the flying and attempt this mad career change thing (which, incidentally is still a notion open to options…current thinking is centring around possibly trying to get a commercial license and flight instructor rating, although I’m investigating everything else I can think of too), is to get more engineering work. More contract days would be ideal and we shall see what happens.

If anyone knows of anybody in need of a Radio Engineer, then let me know, please!

Also partially related to the career change and flying thing, is my latest major acquisition – the ex-police Ford Transit I’ve just had a bed built into the back of. It’s fabulous! I’ve always wanted a van camper, ever since I can remember seeing one a few years ago on a climbing trip. All hardcore outdoorsy people seem to have them – climbers, bikers, guides etc. Up until now I’ve never been able to justify the extra cost of owning and running one (over the cost of running the estate car), but with plans afoot to do more consecutive flying days, it makes no sense to be driving backwards and forwards to the airfield everyday (a 2.5 – 3hour round trip), and hence the van has become a hugely sensible option. It will also give me somewhere to chill out before and in between aerobatic flights AND somewhere to cook dinner/brew tea etc, thereby also saving on the amount I spend in the cafe. It all makes sense, honest!

The current build project, now that the bed is mostly done, is the ‘mountain bike quick access storage’ thing. I have some cunning ideas in the pipeline and some interesting bits of hardware on order, so hopefully in a week or so it’ll all be sorted and I’ll be posting up a complete set of ‘pimp my ride’ style photos for you all to yawn at.

Speaking of mountain bikes, this weekend just gone Matt, Philip and I finally managed to get over to Bwlch Nant yr Arian (near Aberystwyth) to try out some of the trails there, and I must say we were mightily impressed. Stunning views, a great little cafe, brilliantly fun sections of fast, technical singletrack, scary exposure and relatively sociable fire-road climbs all made for a fantastic day out. We will be going back I’m sure!


Fantastic view from the cafe deck. The Red Kites are great to watch too.


Somehow, despite deliberately taking the camera with us, we failed to get any good photos on the trails, but the big grins on our faces here tell the story – a truly fabulous day out on the Pendam and Summit Trails

Oh yes, and I probably should just mention that flying-wise, plans are afoot for me to be competing at the Tiger Trophy up at Sherbern-in-Elmet (near Leeds) on the 16th and 17th of September. Hopes are that I’ll be able to enter the Beginners category again on the Friday, and also enter the Standard on the Saturday. So right now I’m studying like mad to make the very most of my flight time in training over the next couple of weeks. I love it.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

aerobatics–some people say nice things!

I’ve recently been pointed toward the British Aerobatic Association website and their write-up of the Gunpowder Trophy event, and I was delighted to read this:

“A very stylish and assured performance from Lauren Richardson secured her the Beginners Plaque”.

There are also a couple of nice photographs to look at (including a rare one of me that I actually really rather like!), so if you are so inclined have a click here:

Sunday, 21 August 2011

it’s the taking part that counts…the Gunpowder Trophy, Leicester (beginner aerobatics, part 2)

Well that was fun. Yesterday was the big day – Paul and I headed over to Leicester for the Gunpowder Trophy Aerobatics event in G-SKNT. This was to be my first foray into competition aerobatics, and not only was I over to watch Paul compete, but I was entering the Beginner’s category myself alongside Rob, another of Paul’s students and two others.

Being woken at 6am isn’t exactly my idea of a good start to a day, especially when I’ve failed to actually get to sleep until about 4am (was it nerves? Being in a strange place? Maybe I shouldn’t have had that Gin & Tonic?), but fortunately I think Paul is beginning to get to know how is best to handle me – being woken at 6am to be handed a freshly brewed cup of tea is about as good as it gets! Frustratingly we arrived at the airfield at about 7am be greeted by a steely grey sheet of low cloud and drizzle…

Sitting around at airfields is an integral part of the flying experience, and actually in this case despite the fact that we were meant to be at Leicester for an 8am briefing, being forced to relax for a few hours while the weather cleared may well have been a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to get rid of the “oh my god can’t I just go home and not do this??” butterflies, AND I was even bought breakfast when the cafe opened at 9am…I’m really not sure quite what had gotten into Paul…

Anyway, enough of the boring stuff, eventually we crawled into G-SKNT and made our way across country beneath the grey gloom to Leicester, where we were met by a somewhat mad rush as Paul was asked if he could fly straight away to get his first sequence done before they started on the Beginners. Frustratingly I missed his flight as I was busy being briefed by the organisers, but I’m led to believe that despite the rush and lack of ‘chill out time’, he flew quite well…

The whole experience was all quite alien to me but I found myself made to feel incredibly welcome – the organisers clearly keen to encourage and include us newbies. I’m not sure if I made a bit of a pain of myself, but no-one seemed to mind all the stupid questions I was asking, in fact I think they rather enjoyed it – I was keen to find out as much as I could about the whole thing and how it all works, and what better way than to ask the people involved?!

I was also joined by Phil and Adam, who made the whole day even more enjoyable by just being there and having a good laugh – thanks guys.

The mad rush continued as the Beginner’s event kicked off – I managed to watch two of the other three competitors, (including Rob who had a great crack at it but unfortunately had a bit of a “bollocks!” moment flying his Half Cuban), making mental notes to myself about how the crosswind seemed to be affecting them, and just basically making sure the sequence was totally clear in my mind. All credit to Paul – the poor sod was overloaded to begin with by firstly flying us in, then immediately having to fly his first sequence, then upon landing having to go straight back up with Rob and then me once again straight after…hectic.


Strapping in…not nervous at all here…

Ok, I admit, I was terrified. I knew exactly what I needed to do, what I needed to fly, how I needed to fly it and what I had to avoid doing. I also for once felt it was all pretty clear in my mind – I knew where the ‘box’ was, I knew what the wind was doing, I knew where my decision points were going to be and what my decisions would need to include. I’ve always worked well under pressure, and happily it seems that yesterday was no exception.

Once we were airborne the tasks were simple – get the aeroplane trimmed, get to the side of the box, fly through it and do the warm-up manoeuvre…

This was probably the part that made me the most nervous – on the first pass through the box I needed to fly a roll in two halves – flying inverted for a few seconds checking everything was all ready for the sequence to be flown. Frustratingly, I’ve had a mental block on rolling back upright from inverted, always managing to stuff something up so rather than being all in balance and flying a nice straight half roll, it usually all goes a bit squidgy and feels horrible. My ‘midnight’ reading during my insomnia of the night before may have paid off though, as this time it all felt pretty good and I switched into business mode…

Apparently I ‘wasn’t hanging about’ as I flew my sequence, and this was no bad thing. In my mind it all happened in a nicely paced, controlled manner, and for once I actually flew the way I was meant to – everything clicked, it all worked. Of course their were mistakes and things I should have done better, but this time I just flew, I didn’t dwell on the mistakes, and I just did what needed to be done; remaining aware of where I was in the box, where the wind was taking me and making the decisions that needed to be made with time to spare. Nothing was rushed, and I enjoyed every second of it, every sensation and every movement.


Yellow is the best colour

Once we’d got back down my mission was to find a drink and to find the toilet, whilst indulging in a mode of ‘super faff’ in between, all of which meant that by the time I went down to the registration office to find my score sheet, I was being accosted by all manner of people asking '”was that you flying the last one?”, or simply saying “congratulations!”. My responses were all along the lines of “Huh? What?” until I was told that I’d just won my category

The rest of the day was spent watching the pilots in the Standard and Intermediate categories, which in itself was an enjoyable and really informative experience, especially as I had the chance to watch Paul pull out a performance good enough to win him the silver medal in Standard (well done mate, it was really inspiring to watch you fly like that, even if I didn’t tell you at the time).

Before the rather lovely transit flight back home, there was to be one more painful part to the day however. The award ceremony. I hadn’t realised that as I’d won a category I’d have to go through the trauma of being presented a prize and having my photograph taken several times. Yes, I am quite dense sometimes.


I think Paul (seated on the left) may actually be smiling here, I did have to zoom in and check though as it came as a bit of a surprise


“What?! Drape myself over the plane here? But I’ll get covered in oil!” (Genuine conversation)


God I hope the photos going onto the British Aerobatics website don’t actually include the ones like this.

All in all the day was a fantastic experience, and one that I’ve learned a whole load from. I’m super keen to train more and start competing in the Standard Category next year and just have a great time with some more great people. Thanks everyone, the event was ace!

Special thanks must go to Paul Stanley of Altered Attitude Aerobatics, firstly for flying with me, secondly for putting up with me and all my nonsense, and thirdly for being a fantastic and inspirational instructor. I can only encourage anyone who fancies seeing what it’s like to look at the world through different eyes, to check out his website and consider coming over to Shobdon and having a go – you’d never forget it. and for all you Facebook users check out (and ‘like’) G-SKNT here:

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

aerobatics, the beginner’s perspective (part 1)

2011 has been a bit of a strange year for me all told. Several events have led to major changes in life, lifestyle and perspective – the most significant of course being our catastrophic house fire back in January. Nothing I’ve experienced works quite as effectively to focus the mind on what is actually important, than losing all your possessions (although I can’t say I recommend it to anyone). The events following the fire also served to change a few of my views on life – living in a borrowed caravan on my own driveway for instance, led to me realising that actually houses and home comforts, whilst being nice, aren’t actually really necessary. Being seven months on from the fire and having still not had all of the [frankly piffling amount of] insurance money we are owed has taught me that insurance companies are generally pretty damned useless and should not be relied upon (and also that having a nice comfy sofa to sit on is something we all tend to take for granted). The list goes on and on and on, but at the end of the day, no matter how negative the events of life, all of them can be used to have a positive effect on your perspective if you allow it. All of them.

So, here we go, perspective. It’s all too easy to get bogged down and focussed on little things and miss out on the bigger picture – losing perspective. This applies to pretty much any aspect of life (as well as life itself of course), and flying aerobatics is no exception. The biggest learning curve I am currently going through is very definitely one of perspective, or perhaps perspectives [plural]. Let me explain:

Flying itself is a fairly complex pastime to take up – you have all sorts of things to learn and think about and eventually you kind of have to do them all at the same time. The controlling the aeroplane bit is actually a relatively small part of what it is to fly – you have to navigate, talk to people on the radio, maintain heights and headings, listen to people on the radio, look out for other aeroplanes, keep track of how much fuel you’re using, keep an eye on how the engine is performing and a good number of other things, and all of that is just in straight and level flight. It sounds like a lot doesn’t it? When you’re first starting out learning to fly (actually, no matter how experienced you are this all still applies) it can all seem quite overwhelming, to the point where the big picture can end up blurred or lost as you fixate on perhaps just one or two things at a time – for instance concentrating on maintaining an altitude and spending far too much time looking at the altimeter and trying to make micro-adjustments can all to often mean you fail to spot that other aircraft heading toward you…

Learning to fly aerobatics is something that gives me immense amounts of satisfaction, primarily because it presents such huge challenges – learning how to handle a high performance aeroplane with precision and accuracy is enormously difficult and as a result incredibly rewarding. It can also be hugely frustrating at times, and sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by this and lose sight of the sheer joy of it all.

I’ve always been a perfectionist in everything I’ve ever done, and to me mistakes are the enemy, things to be analysed and understood so that in future the causes can be resolved and the consequences eliminated. This is at once a really good way to approach aerobatic flying, and also a really bad one because I often end up fixated on what I’ve just done wrong in a manoeuvre in the middle of a sequence rather than focussing on what should be coming next (which as you can probably imagine then usually leads into a spiral of more and more mistakes and frustration). The big picture in this case is really quite simple – what does it look like? I need to be thinking “what is it looking like to the judges on the ground?”, and if I’ve screwed something up, “ok, what can I do to minimise the impact of my mistake on the rest of my sequence?”. I should NOT be thinking “bollocks, bollocks, bollocks, arse, that was shit…oh crap I can’t remember what’s next”.

Next weekend I’m heading to Leicester to be judged in my first aerobatic competition. This will be the first time anyone will have told me what my flying looks like – the first time anyone will have told me their perspective on my big picture. I’m excited.beginners sequence notated

Recently I’ve been doing some fairly complex flying, learning manoeuvres and sequences that are far beyond any that will be expected of me in the beginner’s (or basic) category. Hopefully this will mean that I’ll have a good chance of not screwing things up too badly. In the next category up (the Standard category), the sequences are about 10 manoeuvres long, including one that is “Known” and one or two “Unknown” that are given to you on the day to be learned and memorised. Next year I will be entering the Standard category and hoping to do quite well, but right now the single, 5 manoeuvre “Known” sequence of the Beginner’s class is feeling daunting enough…

The 2011 Beginner’s Known Sequence, the Beginner’s Perspective

The diagram above is the sequence I will be flying, with some of my ‘notes to self’ included. Allow me to attempt to explain:

  1. The whole thing will start at an altitude we’ve worked out taking into account all the height gains and losses of the manoeuvres to come. We’ll be flying parallel to some form of line feature (probably the airfield runway at Leicester) – this will be what I use to make sure we’re not changing heading during the manoeuvres. Three distinct wing rocks (dipping one wing to one side) then herald the start of the sequence – the first wing rock being just before we start to dive to gain airspeed, the final two being carried out during the dive. At approximately 160mph we will pull to straight and level for a moment or two before we pull into the first manoeuvre: the Loop.

    Pulling sharply at first to begin the climb, I’ll be looking out to each wingtip to make sure we’re pulling up straight. I’ll relax the pressure a tiny bit and allow the aeroplane to pull upwards through the vertical, pulling slightly harder to gain the second, slower part of the circle. At this point I’ll be looking up through the canopy watching the horizon come into view. I’ll be making sure our wings are level as I’m also really relaxing the pressure to allow her to float gently over the top and begin her descent. We’ll drop gracefully downwards through the vertical, gaining speed, tracking parallel to our line feature. A sharper pull out during the fast bottom section will bring us back to straight and level flight after we’ve hopefully drawn a perfect circle.
  2. Next, the Half Cuban (half Cuban 8) starts exactly the same as the simple loop we just flew. I’ll pull until we’re floating over the top, but then, just as begin our descent I’ll push the stick forward and arrest our loop so that we’re end up flying downwards at 45degrees, inverted. At this point, I’ll have been looking at the sighting frame (a piece of metalwork that lets us judge angles against the horizon) on the left wing to know where to stop, and looking up through the canopy I will see the ground below us with our line feature running parallel to us. We’ll pause at this descent attitude for a moment before a sharp roll to the left will swap our horizon back to normality (blue up, green down) and we pause again, now in a 45degree [upright] descent. After another pause we’ll pull back to straight and level flight and will hopefully now be flying in the exact opposite direction to which we started (still watching that line feature).

  3. Next, we have yet another looping manoeuvre, but this time with a twist (quite literally). The Quarter Clover starts just the same as our other loops have, still making sure we’re not going all egg shaped by pulling too hard over the top, but this time as we’re pulling through and diving downwards, I’ll start a slow roll to the left, very carefully watching my line feature – I will be stopping the roll when we are at a 90degree angle (perpendicular) to this feature, at the same time still pulling out of the loop. This is a difficult one to explain, but basically we should have done a loop, but ended up flying out on a different (90degree) heading – we’ll be flying towards the [runway] line feature at the end of this, once again perfectly straight and level.
  4. We’ll be coming out of the last manoeuvre quite fast, which is good because the next part of the sequence is the energy sapping and somewhat intimidating Stall Turn. A very sharp pull back on the stick will see us pulling about 5g until I arrest the movement with the sighting frame showing me that we are flying vertically upwards. Its important that we are actually vertical and not slightly over on our back here (an accidental inverted spin is very easy to get into in this one). Taking a look at both wing tips, I need to make sure we aren’t yawing (nose dropping to one side) or rolling off heading – as the aircraft slows I’ll be needing to input a bit of right rudder to stop the yaw, and some right aileron to stop us rolling left due to the engine torque effect (this becomes greater the slower we are flying). Flying straight up means we slow down pretty quickly, and just before our wings stall I’ll kick in full left rudder to make the aeroplane seemingly pivot around the left wingtip. Well, this is the plan – if I get the speed wrong it’ll look a bit weird. Immediately after I’ve kicked the rudder left, I’ll need to push in full right aileron to stop us rolling in the turn, and push the elevator forward. Once we’re round, I have to make sure we fly a perfectly vertical down line for a few seconds (the ground will start coming up to meet us pretty fast as we accelerate), before pulling out sharply to straight and level again. The pull will be quite high ‘g’ again and I’ll need to make sure I’m using my core muscles to make sure I don’t grey out too badly. We should also end up heading straight away from our reference feature.
  5. Assuming I haven’t screwed everything up, the final manoeuvre in the sequence is one that I regularly manage to fluff up in isolation, although oddly when I’m not over analysing what I’m trying to do, my Slow (aileron) roll technique is often pretty much spot on. I guess the trick is to just fly this one and not think about it too much!

    This type of roll isn’t as simple as you might think – unlike a ‘ballistic’ style of roll, you can’t just pull the nose up, whack the stick to the left and let the aeroplane do it’s thing in a nice ballistic zero-g arc (this is the simplest type of roll and one of the first things you learn when you start flying aerobatics). No, this type of roll requires that you remain straight and level and just roll round the longitudinal (nose to tail) axis of the aeroplane, which means that you need to use the rudder to offset the differing amounts and directions of lift that the wings are giving you at the different points of the roll…yeah, I’m struggling to explain this…

    Ok, try to picture an aeroplane as it’s momentarily flying in a ‘knife-edge’ attitude – say with the right wing pointing vertically up and the left wing down toward the ground. At this attitude the wings aren’t producing lift, and in fact the most lift is being produced across the fuselage of the plane (yeah, that one was a revelation to me too). At this point the weight of the engine will be pulling the nose of the aeroplane downwards because of the reduction in lift. The way to stop the nose dropping earthwards (which will actually be to your left as you sit in the plane), is by putting in some right rudder. Of course as the roll progresses, the wings are constantly changing angle, and as such the elevator and rudder inputs also need to change to maintain that straight line…so yeah, it’s one of those things that feels utterly impossible until it clicks and starts to just work by instinct – I still tend to balls these up when I’m trying them in isolation and thinking too much!

So there we have it, that was the sequence I’ll be flying next weekend. Hopefully I won’t get too bogged down by details, and perfectionism, or fear or stress, and will be able to simply enjoy the dream of flight. Wish me luck. 

Sunday, 10 July 2011

slacker than slack

I’ve just realised how long it’s been since my last entry here. Guess I’ve had a bit of a bloggage blockage. Admittedly I’m still nursing my ankle injury from the Saunders last weekend, and as such I’ve done nothing outdoorsy of merit. That said, there are some big changes afoot for me.

This week I’m going to be over in Llanberis with Phill George doing my Mountain Leader training (about bloody time too), with the hope of being able to get to assessment as soon as possible, my main thought being to have another potential source of the odd bit of pocket money. Let’s face it, when it comes to the whole outdoorsy thing I have been doing quite a lot for quite a long time. I hope to have some time to think and work on some strategies this week too. This isn’t the biggest news however.

The biggest news surrounds a huge decision I’ve been pondering for a while now – whether or not to commit to flying as a career. Now, I’m not talking about becoming an airborne bus driver (although that would be pretty cool), no. I’ve got my sights set on maintaining the narcotic rush I get from flying aerobatics, and finally, after much thought I’ve decided that the only hope for my sanity is to get off my backside and commit to giving everything I have to trying to make it work – I want to be an elite level aerobatic pilot.

Soon you’ll start seeing a new series of writings being added to Flight of the Bumblie as I train and flight for the Flight of the Aerobatic Bumblie. I’m not 100% sure what form these postings will take, but they will begin to form a catalogue of interesting perspectives, tips, tricks, photographs, videos and experiences of what it feels like and what it takes to devote your life to something completely improbable.

It has been said that I have a hint of insanity about me, and indeed I must do, but it’s this insanity and the drive that comes from it that is what my life is really all about. I need challenge, I need flight, I need improbability. I live to fight the odds, to push myself and my limits, and I don’t mind taking a few risks in order to do so.

I’d rather give everything in a gamble and lose, than to look back on my life regretting never trying.


Monday, 6 June 2011

by the mountains and by the sea

are where you’ll find me.

I’ve wanted to fly to Caernarfon ever since I first started learning to fly – a trip over the mountains and over the sea was always going to be something special. This weekend I found myself with a four-seater aircraft, two keen passengers and 2.5 hours of ‘Pilot-in-Command’ time to make up, so the decision was made to finally make that special journey.

From Shobdon we chose a route over the Cambrian mountains and the wilds of Mid-Wales, across to the coast at Aberystwyth and then up, past Cadair Idris, the Rhinogs and Snowdonia, with miles of deep turquoise sea glistening off our left wingtip until we crossed the Lleyn Peninsula and reached the Menai Strait. We floated down into Caernarfon Airport for a well earned cup of tea and an ice-cream in the sunshine as we contemplated where to choose for our route back.


One of the Elan Valley dams and reservoir in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains

The journey home was to be a near heart-breaker. The mountains are buried deep in my heart and soul, without them I wouldn’t be the same person I am now, and the chance to experience them from such a unique vantage point – at the controls and in command of an aeroplane, with the total freedom of the skies to take me wherever and to whatever perspective I could best dream of, was something truly special.

We climbed out of Caernarfon, over the bay and the crystal sea, circling back across our haven runways and out, up, ever climbing, striving to pull ourselves onwards to be able to reach above Snowdon’s halo.


Looking back and toward our mountains

It was as we were still climbing over Llanberis and Llyn Peris, that I began to become quietly concerned. Snowdon had a layer of cloud providing a ceiling beyond which we could not go, and which wasn’t high enough for us to safely cross her flanks. I began to worry that we would have to head back, missing out the mountain crossing I was craving.

Looking onwards the weather had changed and we no longer had the clarity of vision that we’d been blessed with earlier in the day, and we could no longer cross via our planned route. A diversion was in order as I hoped that my intuition would be right, that we’d get through to be able to safely descend below the gloom. We headed successfully around the murk and over the Carneddau to then follow the A5 past Tryfan and the Glyders, over the base of Ogwen Mountain Rescue and onward to Betwys-y-Coed before heading back onto our planned course across to Bala and Llyn Tegid, then Lake Vyrnwy and on down across Shropshire on our way back home.


Tryfan through the haze


Two of my dreams laid out before me, hand in hand, the mountains as I am in flight


The photograph may not be much, but this is the memory of a distant Snowdon on my wingtip, with Mother Nature’s grace drawing her silhouette before us

We had no real trouble finding our way home, flying over the counties and hills that form my home, back into more familiar territory and a waiting runway. The weather allowed us through, despite having changed from a clear blue sky into an unsettling grey murk beneath which we had to pass before reaching safety on the ground.

All three of us enjoyed the day, both Matt and Phil taking the controls for a while so that I could just enjoy the surroundings, and they could experience a small part of what flying means to me.

I would just like to say a big thank you to Matt for the use of his photographs here, his patience and his enthusiasm. Oh, and thank you to Phil for generally putting up with me.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

all in a spin


I admit it, I’m messed up. Stupid, deluded, obsessed, whatever you’d like to call me – I won’t deny any of it, nor will I defend it or try to pretend otherwise.

I learned to fly back in 2008/9 because it was something I’d always wanted to do, it was something I never thought I’d be able to achieve, a challenge financially, motivationally, psychologically and intellectually. I loved it, even the nerve-wrackingly terrifying parts of it, all of it was amazing and despite the immense financial burden it placed on me, I don’t regret one single second.

Of course the financial burden became too much when I left my secure full-time engineering job in the middle of the recession, and for well over a year I didn’t fly at all. At first it was tough, I felt like a junkie going cold turkey, but after the first couple of months of pain I eventually found I could live without the buzz and the pleasure I got from living a part of my life in the skies.

Moving on a few months to the point where I started doing contract work and found myself with some ‘disposable’ income again: I vowed to get back into the air – despite no longer ‘needing’ the rush, I never stopped feeling the pangs of desire each time I drove past an airfield or watched a Cessna float overhead. It should have ended at that. I should now be blogging about flying cross country, meeting people in different airfields across the UK and nearly getting lost in poor weather, but if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve upped the ante somewhat and flying for me is no longer simply about being in the air, but about testing my limits and seeing the world from a whole different perspective.

On Saturday I went ‘normal’ flying again, for the first time in far, far too long. In fact, I’m currently desperately trying to get enough hours in to retain my license currency, having failed to pay attention to the fact that it will lapse next Sunday if I don’t get my finger out – and if that happens it will mean a repeat of the Skills Test. Frankly I’d rather just keep myself current, and so I’ve been flying in a PA28, going cross country and just generally trying to get back up to speed in conventional aircraft so that I can go and log some solo time again. Of course there’s a good chance I’ll fail to get in the necessary hours and will still have to repeat the test, but c’est la vie – at least I’ll be back up to speed enough to cope with it by then!

Normal flying is ace, I still love it and want to do more. My friend Matt came with us on Saturday and sat in the back whilst I flailed and fannied about trying to learn to fly a new aircraft type in some of the most windy and turbulent conditions I can remember ever flying in. Not once did he complain, but in fact seems to have really enjoyed the experience – so much that he’s now trying to talk himself out of wanting to learn to fly himself…Of course for me, knowing how much enjoyment the trip gave him, and how much he’s been buzzing about it afterwards is a truly magical feeling.


Saturday’s flight tested me mentally, in that suddenly I’d had to remember how to do everything I’d not done for a year an a half – plan a flight, do the calculations, prep the aircraft, fly it (whilst learning the nuances of another different aircraft type), navigate, cope with sub-optimal wind conditions, fly into an unfamiliar airfield without damaging anything or making myself look like a useless dweeb, all whilst also trying to convince an incredibly experienced and talented instructor that I’m not totally incompetent and can in fact pilot an aircraft by myself. I was nervous and not a little stressed, but I still loved every minute of it. I do have to also admit that the time I’ve spent flying the Pitts with Paul seems to have given me a degree of confidence I would otherwise have been lacking…

The previous day (Friday) was when I’d realised my somewhat urgent license scenario, after I’d been flying the Pitts again. Friday’s flight itself had been something really quite special for me though…I’d overcome a couple of mental barriers and been left feeling invigorated, positive and just a tiny bit sick.

Actually, I’ve understated that last part – Friday’s flight had left me feeling sick as a dog for the whole of the rest of the day in fact. My head had been in a spin, along with the rest of my body and the aeroplane. Several times…

Dread. Fear. Sheer bloody terror. When Paul looked me in the eye on Friday and told me I’d be learning to spin and recover, fear was what gripped me. Fear, verging on panic. There was nothing I’d been dreading more – I knew that I was going to have to learn sometime, not just from an aerobatic point of view but from a safety point of view too, yet when the moment came to climb into the cockpit and head off to deliberately start stalling and throwing the aeroplane into what for all the world feels like a uncontrolled tumble, I wanted nothing more than to run away and never fly again.

Being forced to sit down and talk it all through on the ground, to explain what it was that scared me and what I actually thought a spin was proved to be a revelation. Having someone explain in simple terms exactly what happens and why, and how you are actually controlling the manoeuvre and choosing to end it (as opposed to ‘recovering’ as if something had gone wrong, when sometimes it’s exactly what you’ve been intending) was exactly what I needed. I needed to understand, to know what I was going to be feeling, and to trust. I was still scared when it came to the first spin in the air, but knowing I was in good hands and trusting that those hands were pushing me forwards to progress was an exhilarating feeling. Finally gaining a degree of understanding of what was happening and then being encouraged and guided into a knowledge and a new capability of control meant that by the end of the flight I realized I was actually enjoying myself. Laughing and grinning uncontrollably, I was enjoying the feeling of pushing things, forcing myself forwards out of my old comfort zone and on into a realm that had been a closed door a few hours before.

I am addicted. I’m hooked. I never want to let this go again – I want to fly, to push myself, to push my limits and find out how good I can be. I want to be helped, guided, cajolled, pushed, pulled, bullied, coaxed, comforted, cuddled and held, beaten, battered and forced out of my comfort zone over and over and over again. I want to understand who I am and what I can be, I want to know where my limits really lie and how far I can push them.

My head hasn’t stopped spinning despite the rest of my body stopping, and I love it. All of it.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

life, the universe and aerobatics

Sadly the answer is not 42.

I’m not sure there really is an answer actually, but some slightly more specific questions will, of course, have slightly more specific answers.

Living life in the short-term is easy. You just think about what it is you want to be doing today, tomorrow, maybe even next week. You plan trips and holidays for later in the year and you think about ways to pay for everything and just focus on a means to survive. The medium-term isn’t much different. For me, the medium-term covers the next couple of years, the time during which I have definite contract work scheduled, time during which I know for sure I’ll have some form of income, as sporadic as it may be.

My dilemma comes in a variety of guises and eventually, when I finally focus enough to see through the outer layers, is revealed to really be a question of what happens in the long-term.

What has gotten me questioning things like this? Well it’s simple really – I’ve found a new love, something that has captured my imagination and my soul and is something that with things the way they are happens to be completely unsustainable.

Anyone that knows me will know that I tend to not do things by halves. A symptom of a chronic lack of self-esteem perhaps? A product of being bullied as a child and never feeling like I could ever be good enough? However you choose to look at things/me from a psychological perspective, the end result is that whenever I find something I feel is worth doing, I tend to throw everything I can at it. I’m a constant underachiever inside my head – no matter how others may view me and the things I do, deep down inside I know it’s never enough, which is why I keep on trying, fighting and flying.

And this is where we get to: flying. I’ve always wanted to fly. Gaining my Private Pilot’s License was one of my life highlights. Never before had I worked so hard for something that meant so much to me, which is why having to stop flying after I quit my job was so painful. Finally getting back into in the past few months has been something of a trial though – I’ve felt at once incompetent, useless and unconfident. Meeting Paul and taking my first few flights in the Pitts Special started to change those feelings though, and hence I now find myself in a short/medium/long-term dilemma…

I want to fly. I need it, this is a big part of who I am. It’s an odd thing to do though – many of the days I’m due to fly I tend to wake up in the morning full of dread, wishing for bad weather so I don’t have to go. I don’t understand why this should be, because upon climbing into the cockpit those feelings instantly start to melt away. Feeling the weight of your fears dissolve as the cushion of lift pushes you off up into the sky is something quite special, for me only topped by the challenge that finding a focus in the freedom of aerobatic movement has started to give me. I need this, like a junkie needs their next hit, somehow I can’t let go and in fact, I don’t want to.

Ok so it’s not as simple as just wanting to fly, I don’t just want to fly, I want to fly aerobatics. I want to learn to fly the Pitts Special, and by that I don’t just mean becoming able to get her into the air and back down onto the ground again safely (although these two elements are a major challenge in themselves), but being able to understand how she handles, feel instinctively how to treat her and fly in partnership with her, carrying out manoeuvres and sequences that at first feel impossible, but upon learning feel unlike anything else you could ever imagine.

There is another element to this dilemma though – being the way I am, just learning to fly aerobatics won’t be enough, I know I’ll want to do more. Is this something I could be good at? Really good? I don’t know, but I need to find out. Somehow.

Sounds simple so far doesn’t it? I know what I want so I’ve just got to find a way to do it right? Well this is where the long-term issues start to rear their ugly heads. How on earth do I afford this? In the short to medium terms, I have the means to continue but not for long, and in the long-term I have no way to sustain the habit, financially it is crippling.

“If you want it enough, you’ll find a way.”

So here we are, I need to find that way. I’m not sure my field of engineering can sustain me in the long-term, the radio industry is evolving rapidly at the moment and I can see it changing into something that no longer captures my interest, and I’m not someone who can live life working a job that I hate – I need to be inspired, I need to enjoy what I’m doing, especially if my life is dominated by the time it takes. It’s all well and good having hobbies that grant you freedom and satisfaction, but if the work you do in order sustain them leaves you resenting the need, then what is the point?

I’ve got some big decisions to make – I’m not looking for any sympathy here, this isn’t that kind of blog posting. I’m incredibly lucky – I have a life that has options, I have a husband willing to support me in whatever I decide and I have the chance to learn a skill that is truly breathtaking. I just need to find a way to make it happen.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

backseat drivers

What exactly is a backseat driver? Well, according to that well-known font of all knowledge, wikipedia, “A backseat driver is a vehicle passenger who is not controlling the vehicle, and seems to be uncomfortable with the skills of the driver and/or wants to tutor the driver while the driver is at the wheel.”

So what about a backseat pilot? Well, in a Pitts Special S2B (you’ll see where I’m going with this in a second), the pilot actually flies from the back seat, and if they have a numpty student or simple passenger, they sit in the front.* So I guess we could quite happily modify the wiki phrase to be: “A flying instructor is a vehicle passenger who is not controlling the vehicle [unless their student is useless and cocks up (or is being demonstrated something just before they cock up, or being shown what they should have done just after they cocked up)], and seems to be uncomfortable with the skills of the student pilot and/or wants to tutor the student while the daft idiot is at the wheel.”

I am of course the numpty student, and up until today I’ve quite happily sat in the front seat of G-SKNT and attempted to learn to fly aerobatic manoeuvres from there. The advantage to being in the front is that life is pretty simple really – you don’t have a vast number of instruments to be distracted by, and you don’t have all that many little knobs or levers to fiddle with – they’re all being dealt with by the superstar instructor in the back seat! One of the disadvantages to being in the front is that you that know at some point you’re going to be put into the back seat and expected to actually fly the damned thing…

You guessed it, today I sat in the back for the first time.

I’d already made myself feel sick by flying a variety of aerobatic manoeuvres in either a ‘quite well’, ‘slightly wonky’, ‘I think that one was ok…wasn’t it?’, or ‘meeeuuuurrrghhh………..oops!’ fashion from the front seat, when, after a period of stomach re-stabilisation, I was asked if I wanted to have a go from the back…

Silly question really.

Of course, circuits can be really boring when you know what you’re doing and are flying well. They are actually bloody terrifying when you’re presented with the concept of flying a few in a high performance aircraft of a type you’re unfamiliar with and whose propeller could very easily be buried in the tarmac if you fluff up either the take-off or the landing, and which aircraft also has zero forward visibility, extra controls you’ve never used before (or not to a great extent), and a seating arrangement that means you can’t quite reach the rudder pedals optimally (thankfully this last bit will change), oh, and both the take-off and landing procedure are completely different to anything you would ever do in a Cessna 152.

Basically, I’m not yet qualified to fly either tail-dragger type aircraft, or 'complex prop’ types, of which the Pitts is both. Not only am I learning to fly aerobatics, I’m learning to fly a Pitts Special, and today heralded the start of my actually getting to grips with this beautiful aeroplane, rather than just being a glorified passenger with a joystick. Did I enjoy flying from the pilot’s seat? Hell yes. Was it hard work? Of course! I’m learning several new skill-sets with this aeroplane, and as with any learning process, feeling when things start to ‘click’ and make sense, suddenly understanding how you need to be doing something in order for it to work properly, is one of the simplest and best experiences in life in my view, and for me the process of learning to fly aerobatics and learning to fly the Pitts is something greatly rewarding and truly special.

Off course, with the numpty being in the back seat, the wiki definition went right out of the window, as all of the discomfort and fear was shared equally between both seats!

Bring on more good flying weather!


*For anyone interested, the reason for this is to do with balancing the main chunks of weight (no offense Paul) to maintain a reasonable centre of gravity (CoG). The engine is by far the heaviest component of the aeroplane, and it sits right at the front, so the pilot sits way back in the tail to help counter this. Any passenger (in the front seat) will be much closer to the aircraft’s CoG and so their weight will have less influence on balance and weighting.

Monday, 29 November 2010

i have a problem…

Disclaimer: I deserve no sympathy. I am actually an idiot who cannot afford another expensive hobby, hence the problem!

Last week I met Paul. Paul is a pilot and owns an aeroplane called G-SKNT. G-SKNT is a Pitts Special S-2A.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly. For a very long time learning to fly remained a mere pipe dream, until I found the means to actually do something about it back in 2008. I undertook my training at RAF Halton, which was conveniently just across the road from where we were living, and in 2009 I passed the skills test to gain my PPL. During the time I was training I quit my job as an engineer and then moved to Wales (I actually passed my skills test two days before we handed the keys back for the house in Aston). Since then I have worked the occasional contract, but primarily relied on my ever-so-long-suffering husband to keep me in clothing, cake and chocolate (the bare essentials), hence I had to stop flying simply because there was no way to afford it.

My most recent contract in Devon has given me the chance to get back into aviation – something I’ve been longing to do for…well…ever since I last stepped out of the cockpit back in 2009.

Brilliant! Fantastic!

So…where is the problem?

The problem originates with the deep rooted desire I have harboured ever since I first went to Halton and saw a tiny little stunner of an biplane in the hangar…I wanted to fly a Pitts Special.

I had no real thoughts of doing anything other than simply ‘having a go’ in one at some point, so when I got chatting to Paul, heading down to Shobdon to aquaint myself with G-SKNT seemed like an excellent idea – I was only going to have a look after all, with a view to one day maybe going for a spin.

Aerobatics. Seemingly an activity designed to provide a terrifying and expensive method of simulating the kind of hangover you wake up with the morning after having drunk two bottles of wine at your husband’s cousin’s bonfire party…So not something you’d particularly want to put yourself through really is it? A bit like winter climbing…and well, we all know how that goes (in case you aren’t a regular reader – winter and ice climbing are my greatest obsessions.)

Last Tuesday I flew G-SKNT.

I will admit now that I was terrified when I climbed into the front seat of that aeroplane, I knew that Paul was going to put me through something terrifying and traumatic, and I had a good idea that I was going to find it as horrifying as the rollercoasters my niece dragged me onto at Thorpe Park a few years ago (I don’t like rollercoasters). Somehow though, I also knew the real reason I was so afraid: I knew wouldn’t be able to just walk away having ‘done it’…

I had no intention of even trying aerobatic flying, let alone deciding I wanted to learn to fly aerobatics. A superb instructor, and his beautiful little aeroplane G-SKNT have changed all that.

Damn you Paul.