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Learning to Fly.I was brought up in a service family and have memories of my father taking his bone dome to work. Later when he joined B.E.A, I remember going to Heston, part of the B.E.A training establishment to have a go on the Viscount/Vanguard simulators. My appetite was wetted, probably guided by my parents hoping son would follow in Dad’s footsteps!. I gained some flying experience as an air cadet on Chipmunks and Sedberg gliders at White Waltham, and vividly remember a trip doing circuits in an Argosy at RA F Benson. But not the R.A.F for me, service life seemed too regulated and anyway this was the early 1970’s, I had long hair, played guitar & was into Led Zepplin and pop concerts on the Isle of Wight!
I kept an interest in flying and some years later, already flying as a passenger in light aircraft with friends the temptation was too great when CAA/ FAA courses were advertised in “Pilot” in the USA in the early 1990’s at half the cost of learning in UK. So I took the plunge, took a month off work and ended up at Fullerton, Los Angeles training in the proverbial Cessna 152’s.
What a breath of fresh air ( wrong expression…very claggy nicotine/ gas guzzling/ hazy/sore throat air learning was in L.A. “ Son you can expect to get disorientated (because of the smog) over L.A …just tell the controller and they will give you vectors back to Fullerton” and “ expect the Marine Corps F18’s to come along side and say hi ,… Do Not Panic… just hold your height and heading” ! The worst part of a glorious month was mastering the American radio calls : ATIS, ground start up/ permission to taxi, tower and 4 frequency changes on the way out and in everyday to and from the basic training area over the Pacific. Later the x/country flying up into the mountains and landing at mountain strips was a joy. PFL’s like you could never do them over here, touching your tyres on a Pacific coast beach and then scraping over the palm trees!
Back home in the UK with new PPL in hand, a big shock awaited!, flying was very different and nothing like so easy going, gone were the smiley faces and the “have a nice flight” and the filing flight plans from your hotel phone with the controller saying “ if you come across any weather on your flight we’d sure like to know, so dial up (xxxx frequency) while you’re in the air and tell us”. Instead there was a distinct feel of “ give us your money mate”. Booker on finals looked so small compared to those large American runways,,,,and where was the radar?….Fullerton had radar and I had foolishly thought all reasonably large UK airfields would have the same !!......and then there was the English language to get used to again….”Circuit” rather than “Pattern”, no 45 degree joins, we never had “dead sides” or “overhead joins” in the States, and the twins and jets flew a parallel but larger pattern,.. inches mercury not hectopascals etc etc…….. and then there was the weather…well there wasn’t weather in L.A, at least not English weather…. which took me ages to get used to on returning home. So the “American Way” was very different although enjoyable.
I opted to do some retraining straight away at Booker in Cessna’s.!
After spending nine sorties in x/winds & poor UK viz to acclimatize I was taken up by a new young AFI, only to find ourselves near an RAF fly past at Strike Command High Wycombe !...”what shall we do?” asked the instructor totally flummoxed as two Nimrods and 4 Jaguars winged it past. “Hold your height and heading” I said repeating parrot fashion what the Americans had taught me (hoping this was the right thing to do and feeling very good saying it!)……but I thought he was instructing me?.... So the RAF missed us, but a mental note to check NOTAMS more thoroughly in future! (Technically I think I was PIC as I had my PPL so it was my fault I suspect!) I’d had enough of Booker for the present although it was essential to go through some retraining after the USA.
I figured a bit more fun and independence was required and anyway I seemed to be telling the instructor where we were most of the time so he could get used to the area !
Only thing to do was to join a flying group, which I promptly did on a farm strip near Dunstable. 450m of grass/mud and obstacles meant a thorough check out first without which the group would not let you fly solo. Then came some fun years flying Rallye’s around UK farm strips and occasionally abroad.
“Oh my god”.. you’ll all say! “a Rallye ugh”…I know…but the Rallye is safe, easy to fly, superb short field ability, fairly cheap to run aircraft, and has an incredible all round view. After awhile though its safeness gives you a distinct lack of feel for the controls. Some other challenge was needed.
The group started to go their separate ways, as tends to happen and two of us opted out and purchased a Bolkow 207 tail-dragger, converting first by way of a Piper Cub at Redhill and Sywell. The Rallye had a constant speed prop and so did the Bo 207, so I didn’t need that type conversion again, but I did a general type conversion onto the Bolkow (done at Turweston) especially as everything was in German! Being German registered we took it back to Deutschland once a year for its annual. How efficient the German system is. Paperwork signed off in engineers hangar on the computer link to the German CAA, jump in after flight test and back we come.(was’nt always quite so simple). Great fun flying dual and solo there and back, stopping in Holland either for lunch or the night when the weather clamped down. Having once in the Rallye routed the long way over the North Sea (Cromer to Texel Isle) we decided that the shorter Dover/Calais crossings were less strenuous on our nerves so routed that way and then usually via Midden Zealand and into Germany.
Well all good things come to an end, and I was not getting up to Turweston enough to take good advantage of flying the Bo 207 (having started up a new business shortly before the purchase). I’d always admired the Luscombes at Popham and Compton Abbas and had an inkling that was the way to go, so purchased G-EITE without flying it and during the winter! Not the best way to buy an aircraft, but having now bought a total of 3 aircraft all of which still needed maintenance/repair even after full engineering pre sale inspections I thought “what the hell” it has just obtained its new Permit to Fly so what can go wrong! I did not understand the differences between the CAA system and the PFA system well at that time, and having been used to the efficient German way assumed that a new Permit to Fly meant the aircraft was in good order. Well it was flyable but in good order ..no. How naive can you get! So we ended up doing maintenance which I suppose was expected to some extent, and in retrospect an education. I am now glad I have a better insight of this aircraft (me being a non-engineer) mainly down to the patience and helpfulness of engineers, Luscombe folk and the PFA.
Having converted on to type on some long runway in the Midlands, my first thought was “will I ever get used to this, well you have to mate after all you have bought it”! The Bolkow had a lockable tail wheel and 60 degrees of flap, so I had been spoilt! The first few landings and take offs and handling flights in the Luscombe taught me a lot about its capabilities and more particularly my own lack of experience!
Well a few years have gone by, and “TE” has a bigger engine now, we’re based on a farm strip again and I have learnt loads about spar replacements etc etc,…. and the flying?...well I’m still learning !....but there’s nothing quite like flying a Luscombe…. its just a lovely way to take to the skies.