And just like that, she flew the nest. My baby. The plane I loved. The one I learnt to fly in. The one I felt completely at one with.
“It’s just an aeroplane, for heaven’s sake!” said a fellow pilot. “Nothing special. You have flown others.”
But India Alpha was special, certainly to me. There is a level of confidence you get knowing just what to expect from your aircraft, how it will respond. A bond of you and me against the world.
There was not even the chance of a last goodbye, a farewell flight. It all happened so suddenly, perhaps because I had been resisting the inevitable for quite some time. I knew it didn’t make sense to keep this plane, when James had built another that was nearly ready to fly. But somehow this one was mine, that one would be his. He’d taken three years to finish this project. I couldn’t deny him the chance of enjoying the fruit of his labour. Every nut, every bolt, he’d put in, he’d lain awake at night working out how to fix the struts, or what to do with a myriad of things. Of course he had to fly it now. But where did that leave me? Out in the cold? One plane simply isn’t the same as any another.
More than three years ago I had resisted getting this fast and powerful aircraft when I was on the brink of going solo in the more sedate club aeroplane, and for a long time I wished I had finished getting my licence in the C42, before changing to our new sporty short-wing Swift. It felt as if I had gone right back to the very beginning. I can still recall doing a solo and feeling like I was way behind the plane, it was all happening too fast. Eventually, however, I caught up.
Pulling India Alpha out of the hangar was my job, and mine alone. Almost every time there would be some guy with more muscle than me, itching to give a hand, because there was a wee uphill before she rolled down the slope. But that emotional bond I had with India Alpha was what helped me cope in an alien world, a world of physics and principles of flight. Maybe that’s not something to admit to, but it helped boost my confidence when I wasn’t feeling it.
I suppose our paths started parting when I took up with the Colt, a more solid and sedate lady, but a demanding one nonetheless.
I haven’t flown India Alpha much recently. This year the focus has been on getting my SSEA, which meant many hours getting comfortable in the Colt. I had planned one last flight across the Channel, exploring new farm-strips and some trips to friends up North, but those were minor in the plans that Covid-19 messed up across the globe. That and the weather, plus this pesky new plane making its own time demands and ousting India Alpha from the hangar to another airfield, busier and more formal than the one I was used to.
And suddenly now, that big gaping hole in my life is there. It’s up to me how I fill it. Undoubtedly, it’s the end of one chapter and the start of something new. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a plane that’s fun to fly, that they can really get to know, but the disadvantage of course is, what takes its place?
It’s a moment to pause and enjoy remembering the adventures we had – that first solo, the freedom of flying alone, the flights ‘around the block’ when getting in the air was all that was on the agenda and building up to trips like a holiday on a Devon airstrip or the magic of taking a more experienced pilot for his first Channel crossing.
And then, hit the play button and let the next chapter begin. What new adventures lie ahead? Only time will tell.