‘Sorry, no, I only take up other pilots.’ Neil was responding to my request to go up in his flexwing one day. ‘Maybe I will make an exception for the wife of a pilot though.’ Neil was one of the most experienced pilots on the airfield and now that I have my wings, I take great comfort in that sentiment.
It’s worth considering who your passengers are and what they bring to the flight, especially when you are new to the game.
I may be on my own here, but I am aghast at stories where a pilot adds ten hours to his current 50 on a long-haul flight with his young son. Of course, everyone’s confidence levels differ enormously, but I am quite happy that my adult son wants to be my hundredth passenger. ‘When you are quite comfortable in this Mum, and the pressure of having your own family on board doesn’t affect you,’ is his subtext.
With an instructor you trust, you are almost invincible. Then he gets out, and you must go it alone. Most people count down the hours of solo until they can take someone up with them. The plane behaves better for one thing, certainly when it is a microlight, and it’s so much more companionable.
Another pilot can help you with the lookout, at the very least, they can remind you when you have forgotten the flaps, or fiddle with the radio. It’s got to be someone you trust though. Someone whose piloting skills you admire. Don’t go up with a person whose attitude is, ‘All you learn from going up with other people is their bad habits.’ You are going to sense that sneering criticism and tense up. Or with someone who is very hesitant, or too gung-ho. I have seen a confident newcomer go through a major crisis of confidence when a brash older pilot started playing the instructor and telling him what he was doing wrong. You want a boost here, for your self-assurance, not theirs.
Of course, as Greg Burns of Two Two Fly reminds me, one has a duty of care to any passenger, ensuring that they are briefed about the flight and that you are aware of the issues they may face, such as fear of flying. He recalls the day a good friend failed to reveal their own terror of the skies until they were in the air. The relationship between instructor and passenger is indeed about their ego, not yours, but for a new pilot, it’s important to make sure you keep growing in confidence.
Initially when I struggled to handle my plane without the ballast of the instructor, someone suggested strapping in a weight. I am so pleased that I chose instead to go without and learn to handle how it flips up on the right, how it takes off in an instant.
I remember when I offered my husband, who had just been signed off on our plane, the solid bulk of a total stranger to him as a first passenger – a man who had been helping me clear a barn. I thought that it would be easier having someone who couldn’t pick up any of the little mistakes we make, who had never been in the air and had no expectation of what a smooth ride could be. In some ways I was right, but I would never now want to fly with someone simply for their bulk.
I was lucky enough to have a true gentleman of the skies as my first passenger, and 97-year-old pilot Ted Barrett gave me the greatest praise one could have asked for. ‘That was a perfect flight,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t have done it better myself.’ Ah Ted – thank you. It still makes me smile.
By the way Neil did take me up that day for an unforgettable ride, never realising that unlike most pilot’s wives, my flying hours with my spouse totalled nil.