Today was one to tick off the old bucket list, taking the controls of an areoplane. To be precise a Robin R3000 as pictured below.
We’ve made a whole weekend around this event, taking in a show at the Minack Theatre (for the good Lady Wife to tick off her own bucket list), eating fish and chips in Padstow, ice cream in St Ives and even buying our first bonsai tree. More on that later.
My journey began at Newquay airport in Cornwall at FLYNQY’s flight school first thing in the morning. The weather was somewhat cloudy with a chance of rain so we had already phoned ahead to be sure of the experience going ahead. Upon arriving we met Marshall our experience pilot and comic. He was a genuinely nice guy and loved making jokes about his crippling fear of heights amongst other things. He put us at ease and answered all our questions about what the plane was like and where we’d be flying.
I always thought that flying was strictly controlled and all flights, of any nature, needed to be planned in advance and scheduled with the air traffic control. Apparently I was wrong. He let us decide if we fly north towards Boscastle or south towards St Ives. The wife wasted no time in deciding on St Ives as it’s her favourite place down here. One quick phone call to the tower seemed to sort it all out and we were off toward the tarmac. The light aircraft was pretty cool really. Brown leather seats and an awesome 70’s looking dashboard with an egg timer stuck onto the Captains yoke for some reason that was not fully explained even though I specifically asked.
This was only a taster flight not a real lesson so I played no part in taking off other than getting to push the throttle full forward to send us roaring up the runway. I did have one hand on the yolk and both feet on the pedals which were mimicking the inputs of the pilot so I had a vague sense of what he was doing.
We climbed up to about 1500ft, high enough to be airborne, low enough to be below the clouds. High enough to manoeuvre the plane safely, low enough to get a crystal clear view of Cornwalls stunning scenery. Once we were up and flying I took the controls and Marshall gave me a quick tutorial on banking the plane.
What I learned very quickly is flying a plane is not like driving a car, nor is it like driving a steam train. It is much, much simpler and more casual than both. There’s no obstacles, no imminent danger to avoid, no traffic lights or junctions. It’s mostly gentle imputs on the yoke to start and stop a turn. If you steer a car left and let go of the wheel, it will straighten itself up. Steer a plane left and let go, you’ll be going round in a circle for a long time. It’s easy to get back to horizontal and once there the plane takes care of business. Once airborne, as long as you have velocity, the plane is happy just to chug along. The only vigilance required is to correct for the bumpiness of the air, the price you pay for the excellent view beneath the clouds.
As we flew over St Ives we decided to head up above the clouds, another aircraft was in the area with parachute jumpers on board. Once again, the pilot took control as more advanced skills were needed to make the plane climb safely. Flying up through the clouds was an experience. They were just right there out the window, then we were in them, then above. It reminded me of the scene in the Never Ending Story where Sebastian is riding on Falcor. The clouds are there and you just go through them and amongst them. It’s majestic.
We went up as high as 3000ft. Nothing compared to commercial aircraft but then you wouldn’t get the views we had. Going up through the clouds actually drives home the fact you are in the sky more than just looking down on the world. We didn’t stay up for long. The experience was coming to an end so we had to descend, braving the few moments where you have no visibility whatsoever diving through the clouds before emerging back into the rough air and bouncing through a steep bank round St Michaels Mount.
Now, I’ve flown many planes over the years in all manner of video games, from pilotwings on the N64 to the GTA games and most recently in Ghost Recon Wildlands. In all these cases one thing was the same. Taking off and flying around is easy. It’s landing that takes all the skill and effort. Marshall was very calm about it and making his customary jokes about never having done it before. I was concentrating on lining up the runway, a task that is significantly easier in real life, I can only assume that rendering happens much quicker in reality. Whatever the reasons, I got the plane lined up for the landing and felt that I had done it myself whether my pilot had helped or not. As for the actual landing, well he humoured me by saying we would do it together but I could feel all the controls moving without me and there was all sorts of button pressing and lever pulling going on. Regardless, we landed well with only a minor bump and taxied back to base. I can now add aeroplane to my growing list of vehicles I’ve driven. If I’m honest, whilst there is almost no comparison of the two, the steam train footplate experience just wins it for me. The sheer power available in a steam locomotive is second to none and bringing one to a halt right where you want is not only scary and difficult but extremely satisfying as is getting the coal to land evenly in the firebox. That said, you can’t rival the view or the tranquillity of flying and aircraft. Both are things I’d very much like to do again.
If you want to read Part I, which is me rambling on about my views on my views flying over England and Scotland then click this link – Come Fly With Me
Also, if you want to visit the website of the nice people who let me have a jolly in their plane, do so here – FLYNQY