‘Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings’. The first line of John Gillespie Magee’s poem, High Flight, inspired me to find out what he was actually feeling when he composed it during the Second World War. So before trepidation knocked on my door, I picked up the phone to my local flying school, and booked a trial lesson.
Pre-Flight and Take-Off
My flying instructor, Kerry, was a jovial old chap, whose passion for flying compounded my excitement for what I was about to experience. After we’d completed the pre-flight checks, I opened the cockpit window and shouted ‘all clear’ before turning the ignition key and starting the engine of the Cessna 172. To my surprise, he asked me to taxi out to the runway whilst he made all the radio calls. After zig-zagging for a while, I got used to steering the Cessna with my feet, using the rudder pedals, and before I’d had a chance to collect myself, I was faced with the imposing view of the runway before me.
He asked me to apply full throttle and follow-through with the controls as he accelerated the Cessna to its take-off speed of 50 knots. And then we were off the runway, accelerating away from the ground at around 500 feet per minute, me wondering if I’d ever get out of this noisy, bone jangling contraption alive.
After climbing to 5000 feet, we set course for the training area. Here, Kerry talked me through some basic manoeuvres such as flying straight and level, climbing, descending and turning. All required use of throttle and control column and I was surprised how responsive the plane was to my input. The control column needed to be handled gently, using two fingers to move it rather than gripping it with my whole hand.
After a while, Kerry sensed my confidence was increasing and decided to take control and show me some advanced manoeuvres to keep me from getting too cocky. I followed him through a controlled stall. This involved cutting the engine to idle, whilst pulling back on the control column to keep altitude. Eventually the wings lose their ability to produce lift and the little Cessna dropped 500 feet in a couple of seconds. Kerry recovered the aircraft just as I recovered my breath.
Approach and Landing
Heading back to the airfield, Kerry took control and seemed to be in constant communication with the tower. His language was peppered with phonetics and numbers and it was difficult to make sense of what was actually being said.
As we neared the airfield, I felt a rush of excitement in my belly as I couldn’t wait to tell my friends back on the ground, what I’d just experienced. I sat exhausted and happy whilst Kerry was aligning the craft with the runway centre-line. Applying flap, decreasing throttle, then allowing the Cessna to glide over the threshold before greasing the wheels onto the tarmac.
I was sold. I totally got what old John Gillespie Magee was on about. I went straight to the flying school and booked myself another lesson.