Time has gone into a strange warp with this lockdown. How many weekends have we had since we were locked down now? It has all become something of a hazy memory. From the first incredulous ‘This can’t be happening’ to today’s weary, ‘Will we ever fly again? Can I even still fly?’ it seems a lifetime has passed.
In fact, I have had two lockdown birthdays – one for my blog, and one for me. It is always a good time to reminisce and look at where you were and where you are, what happened, what changed, and why. I firmly believe those small markers of success are what keep us going forwards, knowing we are tracking where we want to go, even though the winds on high aren’t what we were expecting at all. Is that destination still on our horizon, or have we rerouted to an alternate landing strip?
Flying itself feels like something that happened in a parallel universe. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto!” quipped a fellow pilot in an online chat about that very subject. There are going to be some very rusty skills that need to be polished up before we can all take to the air again. Many pilots will exceed that 90-day rule and need a guiding hand. And perhaps a flat calm day at that. It hasn’t helped that we endured an excruciatingly miserable wet and windy winter, with flying windows of such short duration that with other pressures on your time, you probably missed them.
During the winter months I experienced the pleasure of a hard runway, and suddenly understood why some pilots seem to fly all the time, while the rest of us cope with rutted, muddy tracks. This airfield is also much more procedural with its radio and circuit – the best way of having it drilled into you.
There I ventured to fly in aircraft that don’t fall into the microlight category, all of them vintage. Spam cans. I looked them up: “Economical, affordable, not cool.” It’s all relative. Microlighting beats them all for affordabilty, but there is an interesting shift moving to the GA world. For one thing, your vision is severely restricted in comparison to a microlight. Wrapped in this cocoon of metal, your very own ‘can’, you feel almost invincible. Who cares who else is out there and what they are doing? The gossamer-thin surrounds of the microlights I have flown make one so much more aware of being a very little dot in a very big sky. The weather never really played ball with my conversion lessons, so I can hardly comment, but I did manage a few great landings.
It’s been a stormy year, in more ways than one. The weather frequently stymied my plans, but there are many memorable flights – some for their challenging conditions, some for the hurdle I overcame or the new airfield I tackled. If I am honest though, there are many, if not most, flights where it is just great being airborne. Those joyrides overlay each other in the memory, like a patina of paint getting thicker and thicker, and merge into the reason why we all fly. They may be nothing more than ‘around the block’, to the water-tower and back – our regular – but every time is the chance to feel that thrill of excitement and gratitude that we can be up high looking down at the world below and out across the skies. It’s an immense privilege, and never more so than now, when its future seems so fragile, not one to be taken for granted.
This blog has made it possible to connect with other pilots, from around the country and even further afield, and be inspired by them, and their trips, and eventually, get to meet them. The scale of some of the trips they plan and execute, is very exciting, even if it is a long way off my comfort zone.
My most memorable flight of the past 12 months is undoubtedly taking my flying partner to France for lunch. As we soared over the cliffs of Dover, it was an unusually novel experience, as this was my fourth Channel crossing, two of which I had flown P1, while he had never been before. It’s not easy finding experiences that trump someone who got their first pilot’s licence in their student days! There was also the time I took him to land on a farmer’s new strip, another first, after having done it a few days earlier with an instructor.
Another notch in my belt was a holiday in Devon, flying down in our Skyranger and posting our luggage. Devon must be one of the most the most beautiful parts of the country to see from the air, and I was proud not only to fly half the trip there but get us all the way home. Sadly, after a great start to an away-stay for our Skyranger, a storm blasted its way through half our time there and grounded us.
A special memory is flying with a buddy to another farm airfield to meet that rarest of breed – a fellow lady pilot. Fearless at that! Taking a non-flyer friend up on a rather gusty day also ranks, as it’s not often I fly with other pilots, let alone people who wouldn’t be able to offer any insight into what to do should it all go pear-shaped.
And then there is the flight, logged as less than ten minutes, when we were dodging storm-clouds and seeing double rainbows. The storm appeared from a clear blue sky, but fortunately I was in the hands of a very capable pilot whom I had no doubt would put us down safely, so I could just bag some photos!
I could be wrong, but storms seem to have been a constant theme this past year. Until the day after lockdown that is! I have spent this idyllic flying weather going through the basics about engines and principles of flight, so hopefully, despite the drag lockdown has been, there will still be a bit of lift in my book knowledge.
Here’s to the day we can all take to the skies again!