In addition to being an experienced flight instructor, my father was a gifted handyman. The shed where our car normally resided now became an aviation facility. Briefing boards were mounted on walls and aircraft models crafted and soon a fully fledged flight training facility had emerged.
Each week the next lesson would be thoroughly investigated and procedures and principles of flight drilled into my brain. I was trained to memorise cockpit procedures and to use the checklist to ‘check’ those actions once complete, in much the same way as airline pilots operate. By the time I arrived at the airport I would be thoroughly versed in the day’s flight and struggling to keep my excitement in check.
My first flying school was very small. It was a rectangular brick building with a counter, a few tiny briefing rooms and one toilet. Outside sat four ‘Piper’ aircraft; two PA28 Cherokee ‘Cruisers’ a Cessna 152 and a PA28 ‘Arrow’ with a larger engine and even wheels that retracted into the wings! All of the aircraft hailed from the 1960s and showed their age by their ‘window-winder’ style trimming system that was located on the ceiling and the hand-held microphone for communications.
The prelude to each flight included another briefing that was shorter and practical in nature. It revisited the key points of the longer lesson and served to quiz me on the required level of knowledge before I took to the air. My father would then accompany me as I walked around the aircraft, carefully inspecting every aspect of the airframe to ensure that it was safe for flight and correctly ‘fuelled and oiled’. In patches the paint was chalky and there wasn’t anything particularly sleek about her form, but she was still mine to fly. And inside the carpet was worn and the upholstery was very retro, however I loved these aeroplanes with every ounce of my being.
Each time I strapped into the left hand seat and looked at the array of dials ahead of me I couldn’t believe that I was actually beginning my aviation journey. Finances would restrict the pace I could advance, but as long as I was moving forward I could live with that.
When I was ready, Dad would slide into the seat beside me and silently monitor my every action. His presence took a little getting used to as his logbooks and steely-eyed stare could be somewhat intimidating. However, underneath the tough old-school military flight instructor exterior was a dedicated professional. Second best was never good enough, but mistakes were most definitely tolerated and seen as a source of learning.
His dedication extended into the hours of the evening when our training shed had grown cold and lit only by a series of portable lamps. He would relate anecdotes and and the idiosyncrasies of the vast array of aircraft he had flown. I would be both educated and captivated. But now, here I sat in my ‘own’ aeroplane.
My eyes would scan and my hands would confirm. Between the seats, flap levers and trim wheels....left to right...fuel selectors, radios, instruments...controls...full and free movement. The list went on. Finally, when all was ready I would open the small window beside me and yell, “Clear Prop!” to warn anybody nearby of the impending spinning blades. And then it would begin with a turn of the key to add spark to the awaiting mix of air and fuel.
Ignition would send the propeller into action and the engine instruments slowly flickering into life with each indication informing me of the evolving health and readiness of the engine. The slipstream from the propeller would whip through that same small window, giving me a whiff of combustion before I closed it, drowning out just a little of the noise from the four cylinders ahead of me.
The aircraft was now alive and I was ready. It was time to take this passion for flight into the air and begin to learn the craft.
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