The gift of flight – not a bad way to end the year

I was extremely fortunate to see out 2011 quite literally on a high…I spent the morning of 31st December signing up with a new flying club and having my first check flight there which also did duty as my familarisation with a rather smart C-172 SP which I’ll refer to as “GG”.
As regular readers and twitter followers may know, I’ve had a busy year (haven’t we all) and as a consequence of this and a woeful lack of organisation on my part, I haven’t done nearly as much flying as I had hoped. I focused on renewing my SEP (Land) rating in July, and then my plans went slightly adrift.
Part of the reason for this was the cost of flying at Bristol as well as the complexity and delays caused by flying out of a commercial airport, which outweighed the initial excitement of mixing with the 747’s and the like.
I’d also somewhat underestimated the impact of flying from a new home airfield in unfamiliar territory, which disoriented me far more than I’d expected: for some reason flying back from a land away somewhere unfamiliar doesn’t at all have this effect, the impact is all around the security of coming “home”. And in addition, being new to the area, I missed the sociability of flying at a club where I know lots of people and can go up with other pilots who I know & trust.

Anyhow, I was introduced to “GG” by a lovely instructor, who is possibly one of the best I’ve flown with. GG is a fab aircraft, unlike most I’ve flown, it was actually built this century, in fact it’s probably about the same age as my car. I do have a fondness for Cessnas and whilst they don’t have anything of the airborne sports car feel about them (like say a Cirrus SR22 or DiamondStar) they do handle in a reassuring way and tend to be a very comfortable ride.  This one also has a few ‘fancy’ but welcome features including some great avionics kit, a 3-axis autopilot and fuel injection, not to mention 180hp.  And it’s really quite a pretty aeroplane altogether.

So, lovely instructor, great aircraft, not a bad start altogether.  The weather however was somewhat uninspiring with the cloud base hovering around 400-600ft. And this is where the lovely instructor came in, undaunted by my protestations that I had only flown once in the last few months and was rusty at best, he decided it was a good day to try some instrument flying. And so after a slightly shaky start, we went up, up, up above the extremely thick layer of cloud, emerging into the sunshine at about 3,500 ft. An excellent reminder that in life as in flying, the view can change completely if you look from a different place.  And the start of a real feeling of satisfaction as I realised I actually could fly (after a fashion at least) on instruments – it suddenly all seemed if not quite natural, then a sensible way to fly.

We then did some stall recoveries & steep turns above the clouds – a gentle prompt that I need to spend more time in the air practising the difficult stuff and that as graceful as GG felt in level flight and the climb, it does handle rather differently than a low-wing aircraft.  Luckily it handles rather benignly and allowed me to recover more than once from the start of a wing drop without incidence and despite the fact that my technique was a little hesitant to start with.

From there, back into the clouds and back to base, with my first instrument approach and a wonderful feeling of satisfaction as we emerged out of the clouds at 400ft in the right place despite really quite a lot of drift. With the adrenalin soaring, I almost couldn’t bear to land, it seemed such a shame to end the flight, but what a great way to end the year. As I walked back to the office, I was grinning from ear to ear, and it took quite a while for the grin to fade.



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