The rain was lashing down. One of those days when you really can’t be bothered to go outside for anything, never mind thinking of flying. But the weather report had said it would clear later. I looked out and saw nothing but dark clouds. At one point a smidgen of blue showed through for a moment, and just as quickly the rain started up again. All that was clear was that we weren’t going to fly.
By the time I got a text to say, ‘It’s lovely up now. Get in your car and come for a fly!’ all I could think about was the rush-hour traffic I would be facing. ‘It’s not dark until 8.30 now!’ If it hadn’t been that a four-day course boxed up in a room was looming while the weather showed more promise than it had for ages, I probably wouldn’t have bothered.
The rain cleared and it was one of those exquisite calm evenings. ‘Let’s go somewhere different,’ John said as he punched in the transponder code. We tracked over North Weald but didn’t need to bother with the radio as it was after 7pm. Straight down the second runway. The joys of late evening light!
The fields around there were crisp and clear. Ahead, the City loomed, its sprawl starting just inside the M25, which we were tracking. “Where would you land here if you had an engine out?” I idly wondered. “That’s a very good question. Let’s find out, shall we?” Stupid me. Never ask an instructor a question like that, even if you’re not having a lesson. I have only just got to the stage where I can even contemplate an engine failure without heart failure myself. I did need a few prompts, but we found a field I would have got into, on the other side of the motorway. I was surprised at quite how long it took to get down, as we were flying at 2000 feet, rather than the 1500 from which I more normally practised engine failures.
We climbed out and headed for the Dartford crossing, but not before being given another forced landing, this time onto the runway at Damyns Hall.
Flying alongside the bridge, looking down at the stream of cars below, the Thames snaking away in the distance, sunlight glinting gold on the water to the west – total magic. I had a moment where I couldn’t resist handing over control, to snap a few photos to treasure.
Heading back was sheer pleasure. There was a point where I was about to ask, “Now where would you land if you came down here,” but I caught myself in time. Sure it’s good to sprinkle a bit of learning in with the pleasure, but those calm and peaceful flights are what keep us going through the days when the best you can hope for is practising your cross-wind landings. These late summer afternoons and evenings when the air has smoothed out and stilled, are delightful flying times. Far too often by then we are all heading back to get the dinner, instead of taking the gift on offer.