New to 'A Passion for Flight'? CLICK HERE to catch up with the story so far!
Over the ensuing years I never lost my passion for flight. At every opportunity I would follow my father to work and dutifully, silently sit beside him as he went about his checks and took his aircraft into the sky. Sometimes it was a charter flight and in later years it was an aerial ambulance serving the frail and injured from all corners of the state.
On those occasions when the aircraft was empty of passengers I would be allowed to hold the controls and guide the aeroplane on its way. Not one, but two propellers would drone either side of the cockpit and I would gingerly move the levers, trying to get them to sing in harmony. The weight of the aeroplane in my hands and the maze of instruments was a far cry from the little Cessna I had first flown. At first it seemed a little daunting, but after a while it seemed perfectly natural. Like the blacksmiths of old trained their offspring in the way of moulding metal and shoeing horses, my father slowly began to educate me in the family business.
The years passed and finally, at the age of sixteen, my apprenticeship started in earnest and was aided by a scholarship from the air force cadets. They agreed to fund up to ten hours of flying training at a live-in cap for me to hopefully achieve my first ‘solo’ flight. To share a barracks with like-minded teenagers, watching each others progress by day and studying busily by torchlight every night is a memory that I still cherish.
After eight hours training the day came with clear skies and a little breeze. The instructor hopped out of the little Cessna, gave me a ‘thumbs up’ and sent me on my way. The aeroplane leapt into the sky without the instructor’s weight beside me as I focused on the short flight ahead of me. Look for other aircraft, turn, level off, set the power, checklists, radio calls… just as I had done numerous times before. Except this time I was all alone.
I looked at the vacant seat beside me and it seemed rather strange. There was no fear, almost surprise that they trusted a sixteen year old to fly their precious machine. I looked out the window to check that I was flying parallel to the runway as I continued to fly until it was time to turn back towards the airfield and land. It was exhilarating. Every noise, every sight and every sense was like the fulfilment of a dream. Naughtily I opened the window beside me so that the rich clear air keeping me aloft could rush in with even greater sounds and smells.
I closed the window and started down on my approach to land. Is the spacing correct? How’s my airspeed? Should I turn now to line up with the runway? All the same questions that a pilot asks regardless of the aircraft’s size and of the hours in the log book. At what I perceived as the right moment, I brought the aircraft to bear and the runway loomed ahead. Final landing flap selected and final checklists completed I was cleared to land by the control tower and it was now all up to me.
The houses and swimming pools beneath me grew larger as I endeavoured to hold that same piece of runway in a constant position in the windscreen. The wings bobbled, as usual, crossing the river and trees before steadying in the smoother air beyond. I eased in a little power with the throttle. “Milk the mouse” as Dad would say, tiny inputs, nothing drastic. The time had come. I pulled the throttle closed and raised the nose… and waited. The main wheels touched with a squeak before I carefully lowered the nose wheel to the ground. I pushed the pedals to steer the aircraft straight and then clear of the runway, very conscious that it was still not too late to mess up. And then it was done. My world had changed forever.
That first solo flight is proudly logged in a book and secured in the heart forever. It is a blend of achievement, unbridled excitement and a deep breath of relief. In flying the aircraft I was very alone, but the camaraderie of my course mates added something very special to the experience. However, the overwhelming sense was a desire to fly again and again and again. Now that I had tasted what it was to fly alone, that is where I wanted to be for every possible minute. The earth had lost a touch of its lustre and gravity was now my sworn enemy. My passion for flight had ignited.