“I prefer C42 to C-19, but they seem to be mutually exclusive,” quipped a fellow pilot on a busy chat forum, as the weather turned glorious and everyone was chafing at not being allowed to fly.
There seems little point in consulting the TAFs and METARs about tomorrow’s weather. Who cares if it’s gusting 25 when you couldn’t fly anyway, or that the cloud base will be 3000 feet, or that there is an icy Easterly blowing? The weather seemed to turn idyllic for flying just as the words ‘Lockdown’ sent a chill through our bones. It is easier to handle when the clouds are low or there’s a high-speed wind warning – as has happened so often over the past few months.
There was a moment where we teetered on the edge, knowing that any flight could be the last for a long time. And now we know which one it was. We just don’t know for how long, but an airfield owner told me yesterday he didn’t think we would be back to normal before October. And he’s an optimistic fellow!
“You have only yourself to blame! It’s your own fault if you haven’t flown for four weeks!” I was sharing a photo of one of only a handful of flights this year and the CFI was clearly frustrated at the number of fair-weather pilots in his club.
It’s always your own fault. The fact that the weather has not played ball, or that I had a schedule that seemed to mean I was never free on those rare days when the winds dropped off, was all my own fault. The fact that the road to our grass airfield was a series of muddy lakes, which left your car coated in mud and your nerves shattered, didn’t matter. The runways and apron that were now so soft and rutted that you slipped and slid as you taxied to the threshold didn’t make me want to fly. I fly because it’s fun, and fun is certainly not what it has been this winter. I am not even sure I could count on one hand the memorable flights I have had, while my Facebook feed kept reminding me of how adventurous I was a year ago.
I have been trying to do a conversion to get an SSEA rating now, which meant I had the fortune of enjoying a hard runway on my training flights, and there is a huge bonus in not having to go past the car wash after every attempt at flying. It also made me realise how a flying friend from up north managed to keep posting glorious pictures of his exploits – the secret up his sleeve was a tarmac runway! The only problem for us was crosswind landings, as the runway was not on the prevailing east-west axis.
One sodden airstrip after another has been completely closed to flying for much of the winter, certainly down south. As a fellow pilot put it, “If the trees haven’t been bent double in the wind, then they have been shrouded in cloud most of the winter.”
It’s only a week now, but all of that was in a parallel universe, where all a pilot had to contend with was his or her own fearless willingness to battle the elements. Now, we are all instructed to stay home. Stay put, and don’t make unnecessary trips anywhere. Even pilots who crowed about self-isolating in the corona-sphere have turned silent, mindful perhaps of the thinly veiled threats from government sources about hoping not to need to introduce a ban on flying VFR as some European countries have done. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-recreational-general-aviation/coronavirus-covid-19-recreational-general-aviation )
I go for a daily walk up to Alexandra Palace, where I can see the city of London and beyond spread in front of me. Every day, I take a photograph now to chart the visibility – some days it’s crystal clear, sometimes hazier. I must take another exam or two to get my conversion, and I have the textbooks to hand, for when I manage to settle down with them. My book learning has always felt quite shaky, so I have my name down for some online ground-school, which hopefully will mean I haven’t forgotten all the theory when we finally get to fire up an engine. There are times I wonder if flying is like riding a bicycle – something you don’t forget. I haven’t ever had to face a period of ninety days and being checked out by an instructor before I can fly again, but I figure there is a high chance of that happening.
Of course, it’s not only the Corona virus that is spreading like wildfire. The chatroom, now that there isn’t really any flying to talk about, frequently descends into farce. Conspiracy theories abound, there’s hot lemon cures and just ordinary tea, and I have lost count of the number of times I have been warned about the Dance of the Pope, from people who should realise that the very text they are sharing is the virus itself. Well, when you can’t talk flying, what else is there to do?
How about you? Frustrated? I am sure. But how else are you spending your non-flying days in lockdown? I would love to know. Please comment below.