I learned to fly in a Mainair Flash II Alpha, and have owned a Pegasus Q, Pegasus Quantum 503 and Quantum 582 Low Power and then a High Power version, I currently fly a Quik 912s and shit me, that’s one hell of a flex! I am really looking forward to the new 90mph version, come on Billy! For what it’s worth I flew all comers at Popham looking for the next Machine and my next machine is going to be anther Quik, assuming I don’t put the current one in the water on the way to Blois this year. I have been flying now since November 1993, when I took my first lesson with Jim Greenshields. I had a gap of 5 years when Emily & Bethany, my twins, arrived. At the time I had 50 hours on my licence and re-qualified with Mark McClelland at Old Sarum in June 2002. Five years is almost all of the licence again and it would have been cheaper to keep current!
How rude, I have not introduced myself, my name is Daryl Cornelius, a Microlight Pilot from Hayling Island, Hampshire, which is the last bit of land if you fly to Spamfield from the North East (known locally by the boys from Thorny Island as the chicken run!). I fly from Lee on Solent, which is as close to Spamfield (sorry Sandown) as you can get. The end of our runway 23 is Road, Beach and then the Solent; 2 miles later you cross the beach at Cowes.
It may interest you to know that living on the South Coast has its benefits. I can practice PFL’s over the water midway between the Isle of Wight and the Mainland and know for sure that if you cross in a flex that you can crash on the beach either side, nil wind from 1500 feet if you weigh 18 stone and fly a Quantum ;-) I have a story about crashing on the beach which I will tell you later. This proximity and knowledge allows a little amusement each year as we watch visitors cross for Spamfield at or above a mile high (before the Health and Safety Gestapo start, yes I know….). This story is about flying the UK or Fly-UK. Now I am at the end of the first screen and I have not even said "Wolverhampton"!
Why Fly UK? Well largely I allowed myself to be talked into Fly UK 2005 by Sandra Reid, a Microlight Instructor at Old Sarum, who said “don’t be such a ponce, it’s brilliant, come with us”, as I made feeble excuses for another summer flying in circles. It was one of those invitations that I am sure I would not get again, nor would Sandra issue again if she knew then what she knows now! So I flew FLY-UK in 2005 and had the absolute time of my life, flying a Quantum 582, smelling of fuel and oil for a week and emptying the bank account! It was the best ever experience for all the right reasons, from running out of fuel on finals going into Bute to an out-landing in an Athletics field in the Highlands (I can see the look on the face of the boy in the wheelchair at the end of the “Athletics Runway” as I took off)…so many yarns not enough time! For those who bump into me at my “Barnstorming Events” will know the full Wheelchair Story, come to the next Barnstorm and I will tell you!
I had met some of the best pilots of my life at this event, Scot and Allan, Johnny, Sandra & Goodstuff Van Furenburger andchips, this year we added Les & Anne, our Barry, Mad Mick and Scot’s son James.
The day of departure came and it was sunshine all day but blowing a gale (well, 25mph off the sea) as I was ready to set off for Wolverhampton, the gathering place for the 2006 event. I got all suited and booted, strapped in and loaded up inside the hanger at Lee on Solent, so that Peter Sheehy could push me outside while I had hold of the wing. That’s windy!
Once off the ground, and above 500 foot it was smooth all the way, and quite quick too, 1 hour 30 to Wolverhampton, I shot up the side of the Southampton Zone, over the top of Popham, off Clench Common, over Redlands, squeaked through the Zone at Lynham/Fairford and off to the M5 just north of Kemble. My new Quik was delivering on all the promises; what’s more I did not smell of two stroke oil.
Sandra and Goodstuff were setting off later from Old Sarum. Goodstuff was “PUT” (Pilot under training) and was to complete some part of the syllabus that day. During my trip up the M5 we spoke on the radio and confirmed they were en route. Arriving at Wolverhampton I promised myself I would shoot every landing from finals this trip, I failed, but got the odd shot! What a great place. Mark McClelland is now operating from here and they are fully open and welcome Microlights! A great airfield which provided evening meal and beer at a café called CafOK! Boom boom… It was still windy at Wolverhampton, real wind not the sea breezes I am used to, but the great thing about the place is there are tons and tons of runways and all into wind. I have to say that since tumbling one of my Quantums on a sand bar in the Solent at low tide and being hauled off by the RNLI I have a great deal more respect for the surfaces I land on (that, by the way, is another yarn I will tell you at the Barnstorming!).
I had to find somewhere to tie down! A lesson from last year was a poor tie down at Bute to wake the next day with 20 mph blowing the wrong way on a hobbled trike so I opted for a spot between the hangers, out of the wind and away from the snoring. The rest of the group huddled in the wind of the open airfield. I am pleased to be able to tell you that some could not sleep because of the wind on the canvas! Hurrah for me, last year I could not spell Pilot, now I are one! ;-)
It was windy when we woke to set off for Sheffield (Netherthorpe) and then on to Fishburn to watch the game of UK versus Croatia. The planning brought back many happy memories of the “debate” about the wind and the weather, ah bliss, what’s interesting is we all have different views but always end up doing what Sandra tells us ;-). At Fishburn the locals let us place the club TV on a bench outside to watch the match, thanks Fishburn! As soon as England had lost that game we were off to Carlops, to a small field of a friend of Sandra’s call “Wee Mark” (no, I don’t know why). For the record Carlops is the roughest field with slopes in all the wrong directions. All my senses were screaming at me, go somewhere else!
You will know the rest of this story, simply because you will have read it in the accident reports as you conduct your morning constitutional, if you are as regular as me that is! The story goes that two others got in so I had to land… Approach was over one hill at 50 foot base leg descend down the hill into the valley and turn final below the hill tops, line up on the field and dump it in. I had four attempts. The down slope we landed on was long and had a small rise and a cliff at the other end… I shit you not, all the warning signs were there...the surface was rough, and undulating and I wheel barrowed on the second and third landing. The down hill slope ended with a 100 ft drop off a cliff, some days, just some days you get lucky. Wolverhampton to a field just inside the Edinburgh zone in one day, in one piece. Showered and changed we were off for a Chinese!
“Wee Mark” has a Mitsubishi, Turbo Nutter Fandango. It’s the first time I have been 140mph on a B road. That’s faster than I ever care to go on the ground again, I soiled myself, and had to discreetly clean up back at Mark’s. Mark, our host, has a very forgiving wife and beautiful baby daughter, who let us camp in her back garden by her slide. We were telling half truths (lies) until 0400hrs, and as we were about to retire the Farmer whose field we were in arrived for a “wee dram” and a chat. I managed one more and headed to bed. The next morning was postponed until 1400hrs, we tried to calculate how much drink we had and estimated that it would be out of our systems by then.
This was day two ;-) What a great way to spend you holiday! Day two, or was this day three? low cloud, windy and rough, you know sort of scary rough, the only thing that make me press on was that I did not want to land in at Carlops again! We shot around the Edinburgh Zone. Wee Mark and Wing Man were going to escort us from Carlops to Inch, but diverted to Perth so this left me in the lead and heading for mountains with cloud on top and maybe 300 foot between. I circled for 10 minutes trying to decide what to do, getting a real beating - you know the sort of beating that makes you want to land in a field as soon as you can find one! I rendezvoused with Sandra, Les and Anne, and Barry so I was not flying alone, and felt safe again.
What is it that makes me feel safer when I fly with others?? It not logical, anyway Sandra & Goodstuff led us around the mountains and into Insch where we met Mad Mick for the first time! Mad Mick was actually called…err well…I don’t recall just now, it’s not his real name but he answered to it after the first hour or so and that was that…. He flies a Shadow and it was his first trip round the UK. Anyway he is a great guy, with a different outlook. He conducted a peach of a landing at Insch while we were there and then had some problems but flew with us on the next leg to Dornoch, Ah! Now I remember Niall was his name… Insch is a great place with Lottery funded club house and the usual Nimby. It’s well worth a visit, the people are friendly and really very welcoming. The flight up to Dornoch could not have been more different, the wind had calmed and the clouds diffused to make the take off and climb out a delight and smooth all the way. Until just below the Firth of Forth, when I picked up my second ever wave lift, for those of you that have not flown in wave it’s a bizarre experience.
I was cruising at about 3500ft when instrument scanning showed the VSI reading 1500ft a minute down. Oh! I make that just over two minutes to impact, the odd thing is that you can’t feel it and there is no associated change in pitch attitude. The Altimeter was unwinding in front of my eyes and the VSI was indicating continued descent, so I applied full power climb and held it at just below 0 on the VSI, still down but not so fast! The engine started to heat as the trike was carrying a big boy, camping gear, extra fuel and panniers! So I had to back off and accept 500 ft a minute down…
As quickly as it came it went, I was now in crystal clear air going up at 1500ft a minute. Looking at the geography I could see hills in the distance and was heading into wind and so figured that this was just the upside of the wave. See I am a genius! In the distance there were Lenticular clouds indicating wave. So in the up wave I circled at cruise speed until 9100ft. My only regret is that I did not full climb in the rising air, to get the VSI off the scale!
I could see Dornoch across the Tain Range and the Oil Rigs in the Firth of Forth, and realised I could cross the Firth from 9100ft on idle. It was about this time I realized I was FREEZING….and started the glide to descend in to Dornoch. I am pleased to have taken a snap as I came into land at this, a municipal field, on the beach, in breathtaking scenery, close to a great village, oddly covered in Americans. A short hike into town and into the pub and restaurant and we were all “telling lies” about the day’s events at the tops of our voices drinking special hand made beer, at £3.50 a bottle. One thing I notice about microlight pilots is that on the whole they are happy to pour £120 of fuel into a flying machine in a day, but ask them to part with a landing fee or pay for specially brewed beer and they get all testy about 2 quid! However as the beer flowed the “lies” did too ;-)
The most amazing thing about being this far north on a day in late June is that they call time when it’s light outside….here we are drinking beer telling even more “lies” at 0140hrs in the morning and we can see the runway! Next year we are going flying at midnight to prove you can land at that time of night.
The next day we were woken by fast jets turning over the end of the runway at Dornoch at 500ft at 380knts (at least). We radioed Tain having read stories in the daily papers of German Microlighters driving all over the sky the previous day and upsetting the MOD. We gained permission to take off and made our way up the east coast in strongish winds toward our first goal, John O’Groats. We did not get this Trophy location in 2005 and so I was so very pleased to be on the way.
It was one of those days, when the bumps feel odd, the wing gets hit from different directions by unexpected turbulence, and it all feels a bit strange.
On days like this, I feel great fear and get a little frightened. All of my senses that say this is not logical fear, my training tells me everything is going well and to plan. I can’t see any danger signs, I know it’s lumps from the cliffs we are flying over, I know it’s an increasing ground speed and therefore changing winds, I know its nothing outside of my or the trike’s capability, but I just get frightened.
Part of me wants to land in a field, pack up and go home and never fly again. Part wants to weep, but I love the feeling of being alive. I don’t want to die having not experienced the edges of my fear, I don’t want to live if I can’t feel what it’s like to push my boundaries. I don’t want to go to work on Mondays feeling I have to. On days like these I want to go home and see my family. It’s always day three……my drive to test my knowledge and skills drives them nuts, and I know flying comes in between us sometimes, but in the end, to appreciate how much I love them I have to experience this fear. I suppose it’s about taking the risk of not being here, that is what drives me, it’s a feeling of being alive and glad to return. This is how I feel sometimes.
And so it was we bumped and banged our way to John O’Groats, I managed an all time new record for me and the photo of the GPS says it all! 136 mph ground speed while flying at 70mph that’s nearly double and then it happened while we circled John O’Groats some wag said let’s go to Orkney and so it was we landed 25 minutes later in Orkney. I was spooked turning finals on Lamb Holm and slowing to a ground speed of 40 mph…. I recall we all hit the deck and stopped and looked at each other, none daring to get out of our aircraft, I was in awe at the sights of the islands and in fear of the trike flipping. I suppose this is one of the best feature of the Quik, the wing is a delight to handle on the ground, it makes heaving on my Quantum wing seem odd now. It’s at this point I am glad I fly with a group……..as slowly we pitched and set up camp. We derigged the wings and laid them flat and then explored the local church in a Nissan hut. Discussed the options, contacted the airfield owner and to our delight got invited in to a hanger built to withstand 120mph winds.
Talking to Tom, Lamb Holm’s airfield owner we discovered he owned the island (now that’s cool) and had built his tri-gear Europa and a Jabiru and was just starting work on another for a friend. We drank tea, and scoffed biscuits, bliss! The only unnerving part was all the islanders we met said it was not windy… The consensus (Sandra told us it was a consensus and we said yes) was that the wind would turn and drop allowing us to tour the islands and get a tail wind the day after tomorrow. So we hired a mini bus, booked a B&B for our second night, and toured the Orkneys in a bus. The hire company said if we did not crash then there was no need for insurance, and we therefore could pay cash after the event. If we needed the insurance they would arrange this…but only if we crashed! Now that’s what I call insurance! £40 quid for a 13 seat minibus for 24hrs… taxis the previous night had already cost us that! To tour the islands is wonderful, I can’t tell you how beautiful they were, you had to be there. We bumped into another group of microlighters who had followed us to Orkney; they joined us on the tour and packed the bus with 15 folks.
Day 6 and we get the winds we need; it’s almost still and from the north. As a group we get going about 1100hrs if we are early and 1300hrs if we are late, but today we were in the aircraft at 0900hrs, on a mission to see the islands.
The night in a B & B was a welcome change from the tent and it was great to lie in the sumptuous corner bubble bath, after a fill of steak pie and ale at the local pub, Ah bliss. Up, brekkie and out after a session of weather watch and a big debate about No 1 rock: do we go the long way or not? Plockton from Orkney was slightly headwind and an estimate of 3.5 hours in a flex, how long will a 912 run for on 45 litres of fuel, full of camping gear? It’s too close to 3.5 to make it a sensible call, so we headed south past Dornoch on to Knockbain and then on to Loch Ness. All this after touring the Islands as far north as North Ronaldsay, yup I touched the wheels in the northerly most Orkney Island and could see Fair Isle in the distance (maybe next year!).
Arriving at Knockbain after an uneventful journey meant refuelling all the aircraft and carrying as much fuel as possible, I was dispatched to pick up 220 litres of fuel with the Farmer in his pick up. The good news about this strip was it was close to Tesco and relativity cheap Mogas but also it had just received planning permission to be run commercially.
We spend a pleasant hour and a half refuelling and munching on more Tesco sarnies that you can shake a stick at, perched at Knockbain (not to be confused with Harry Mcbain, his brother) you can see across the Firth of Forth again, and the old rigs parked in the bay. We were entertained by a chap with a radio controlled helicopter fling this thing upside down - looked like a blast.
Fully fuelled we set course for the Great Glen and an overnight at Glenforsa. G-WAKE aka “our Barry” our Liverpudlian friend climbed into his Blade with his EPERB and his full Immersion Suit finished off with a life jacket. Over the week I was to come to respect this quiet giant of a man for just getting on with it, no fuss, no hassle, just actions. After 2 days flying, I discovered that he was a diver, crane driver and all around active guy. He was also deaf as a post which explains why he never laughed at any of my jokes. Thinking back, I wonder if all my friends are deaf?
We took off and headed south. The air was smooth & still at about a grand. I could see the water ahead and dropped down to 500 feet off the deck and flew up to the Loch! Dropping over the rim sweeping right the 23 miles of Loch Ness in front of us! Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, now I can see what Sandra meant when she said “The Great Glen route was breathtaking”. It is awesome, amazing, I cannot put it into words, and this photo explains some of what it felt like to feel that free just in the space around the Loch. This photo of Scot and Allan flying up the Loch was posted on the BBC web site, photo of the week! Therefore I have therefore used one minute of my 15 minutes of fame. I am planning a great 14 minute extravaganza next! I don’t want to squander minutes willy nilly on the BBC web page do I?
Sandra was, as always, right. There was nowhere to land out! So we decide that we would not have engine outs and flew 10 metres off the surface of the Loch for about 10 miles OWWWHAAAA! While “not having an engine out” my oil pressure dropped from the rock steady 32 to 27, how inconvenient I thought! I AM having an engine out! I kid you not I have never climbed that trike so damn fast, eyes darting from bank to bank looking for that spot to touch the wheels, all the time I was touching cloth. I radioed the group and asked what they thought was happening….even today, I can’t believe I asked other pilots what was happening when the oil pressure was dropping, but I did.
Some moments of silence, and bingo an answer. “You may be losing oil or not”. Les gave what was an obvious response without taking the rise out of me, very well controlled Les! I revved up and down, tried to get the engine to cool but no change, by this time we had passed the end of Loch Ness and were heading for Ben Nevis, there was only one thing I could do.
So, I decided to rest the engine and soared the North West Face of Ben Nevis! Wind was in the right direction and so on idle, up I went! Brilliant, last year I soared Rhossili Beach in a Quantum, this year I was soaring 50 metres off the rock face of Ben Nevis in a Quik climbing at 200 feet a minute! Have I told you I love Fly UK, I love my Quik, I love flying! So all the way up the engine cooled, as I chased Johnny in his AX, as he soared 500 feet above me.
We made it to the summit and then moved off toward Glenforsa. I stayed high and slow to keep a cool engine and the pressure built again. Looking back, I can’t believe the 15 minutes I spent soaring Ben Nevis but I did! The stage was set, later in the bar a plan was hatched! The three peaks in 24hrs! Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon….each a story, each a foolhardy flying experience... Oh! I forgot I spent another minute last summer being featured by “The Portsmouth News” after turning my Quantum upside down on a sand bank in the Solent and being rescued by the RNLI. That will be 13 minutes extravaganza! I will tell you the full story later on, it’s not funny really. It’s hilarious!
Do you know what a midge is? A Scottish midge? Barry did! He landed at Glenforsa, reached into his panniers, pulled out a net, stuck it over his head and carried on unpacking his trike. I wondered for about a minute what he was doing when I was first bitten by a Scottish midge, it’s like being given a love bite by a birrrrd from Govern after she agreed a jump in exchange for a fish supper… only worse…bite, bite and bite again. I packed up as fast as I could and ran for the bar where 30 people huddled, windows closed in 35 degree heat.
If you have ever flown into Glenforsa on a still summer’s evening as the sun is setting you will know how breathtakingly beautiful it is. The hotel is a “lodge” nestled in the woods on the side of a loch. It is managed by an ex roadie from Pink Floyd. I was, while I sat in the bar sweating, informed that there is a midge killing machine which breaks the cycle of breeding but it take two weeks to work, and was switched on that day. Nevertheless the Guinness was great, simply because while flying from Ben Nevis to Glenforsa, I had been watching the oil pressure like a hawk, and was mentally drained and very relieved to have been on finals for anywhere, let alone a place where you can hear yourself think, get a Guinness and a room for the night.
Les, Anne and Barry elected to camp and on the whole that was a great call in this place. I shared a room with Johnny. I have no idea if he snores as I was spark out! Woke to a still day with scattered low cloud and the promise of some great valley and Island flying… I opened the window to look into the forest and it was still, quiet and dotted with rabbits. The sight of the woods and grass was just inspiring and a reminder that we were in fact in the middle of nowhere.
Fuelling that morning, we were reminded that Mad Mick was on his first trip and discussing routings and fuel I find myself feeling exacerbated by the need to emphasise that there is very little opportunity to pick up fuel in the Highlands. Mick was calculating how many litres he needed to get to Bute. Just before we left Sandra asked if he was “brimmed” and the answer was I could fit in another 20 litres!! So another fuel run was arranged. The planning debate centred around two different expectations; to complete Fly UK with John O’Groats and Lands End in one week and others, who wanted to spend another few days in the Highlands. I love flying with a group, its what it is all about, but I will share with you I felt selfish as I tried to persuade the group to press on for Lands End, and I can tell you, when Allan left the group in South Wales and the land became flatter as we headed on the way south, I felt really bad at asking the group to press on and wondered if this had been a mistake. After all, flying with friends in some of the most challenging conditions must be one great thing to do.
The plan was set. We had three days to get to Lands End and on to Sandown. We were in the Western Isles and so we had some big days ahead and some complex decisions to make about airspace. Add that we were all suffering from fatigue, and the weather was not the best with some lower cloud. Off to Bute, then down to Carlisle, on toward Scafell Pike for our second peak, then on to overnight at Caernarfon. The following day was planned to be Caernarfon to Eaglescott or Bodmin and then next day to Lands End and back to Sandown. Three big days, and so the first leg to Bute to rekindle an old friendship.
Last year (2005), we had a big day when I last landed at Bute, Starting late at West Wales Airport, we had pushed up via Welshpool, Manchester Barton, Carlisle and on to Bute, I was flying my Quantum 582 on my first Fly UK and had come to understand why the 912 was used for touring! Flying around the south I had never appreciated how much extra fuel 582s used when loaded. I was fully fat and fully loaded: two sleeping bags, a change of clothes each night, a double airbed, three man tent and my machine was chewing up the fuel. I think it may have been 20 plus litres an hour!
I was overtired when we set off from Barton to Carlisle and last to arrive I had to mix fuel, lots of it and had hoped to stay there that night, but the group wanted to press on and quickly for Bute in the fading sunlight, so I fuelled and reluctantly agreed to press on. I was very very tired now. Flying over Lockerbie I found myself crying when thinking of bodies and bits raining though the very sky I was flying in; it was a moment I shall never forget in my flying experience.
The flight took over two hours; I arrived at the coast over a big Nuclear Power Station at about 2000ft and looking at my fuel gauge. Not a lot in the tank, but never mind I was carrying a spare 10 litres! So I looked for a place to put down and radioed the others to say I was running low on fuel. One of the others pointed out that Bute was just over the water. I could see it, but with a headwind it was further than it looked. I climbed just in case. As we approached, Sandra and Goodstuff let me land first and I am pleased they did because when I cut power for final the engine ran for a while and then, burrrrrrrrba. Stopped.
I was on a glide approach and made it in, and rolled off to the right. That was too tight, I was too tired and had made some bad decisions, but lived to tell the tale this time. Sandra came across on the radio and said there was a parking area at the other end of the airfield. I replied that when I had put my 10Ltrs in I would taxi… but that was last year, and now we landed in with lots of fuel to find it brimmed with Microlights! A Hornet and a Quik 450GT. How different to that night at 10.15hrs a year ago.
The leg to Carlisle was rough and murky but this year I was determined to be first not last! Carlisle is somewhere, but nowhere. With great facilities it feels like it was forgotten by the locals. It’s like the Slough of the North! This year the army were on exercise and the place was humming. We all refuelled but missed the closing time for the café so lunch was put on hold.
Saddled up and ready for the off, the planning of the next leg was to capture the second of the three peaks, Scafell Pike in the Lake District. As we flew toward the mountains the cloud was low and the wind a little rough. We pressed ahead and then it happened. 500 foot in font of me left to right, below the cloud which was 300 foot off of the hill tops was a Tornado banked all the way right. I could see the pilot clearly. As soon as I saw him, he was gone! I radioed in panic to tell the others but when you see it happen so fast, a realisation hits home, by the time you see them it’s too late.
As we cleared that hill I have never scanned the air so much! But I did what in hindsight is a strange thing, I dropped to about 50 to 100 foot off the deck and flew though the Lake District just off the ground in the poor viz, the logic was… I could not fly higher than the jets (because of the cloud) but I would be able to fly lower! When I look back I asked myself, am I really that stupid? I guess so, but I can tell you this, there were no vessels, vehicles, structures, or people on that moor only grass and stone.
Scafell Pike appeared on the left and disappeared into the cloud. I took a closer look and tried to soar the side of the mountain but when I got close I had one hell of a kicking from the winds and so gave up and plugged on for Morecombe Bay. There is a submerged rain forest at Morecombe Bay (Geologists – i.e. Allan - do have a purpose, see…) and with 6 Microlights we were unable to find it! Les and Anne flew the Bay at 750 feet and I as always climbed as high as I could to cross the water. The shore the other side of the Bay is flatter and covered in homes and work places; it’s a noticeable departure from the hills. Sandra made the call to stop at Ince before we skirted Liverpool airspace and that was when I first met Laura and Craig, whose dad took me for Mogas. What a great strip that is - you must visit if you can, they are really friendly, have great facilities and one or two of the best models of Microlight I have ever seen (I have not seen many). Laura had that day completed her first landing of a flex wing, this on her second lesson. She and boyfriend Craig are one of those couples who have more piercing that you know what to do with, so many in fact I find myself staring and willing myself not to ask the obvious questions. Alas before long the questions pour out…
Fuelled up and last to leave I make my way around Liverpool airspace, and spot some seals on the sands. 9 months later I am discussing those very seals with a man by a swimming pool in Morocco, who is a sailor and knows the colony well…bizarre…same seals, different day! The low sand banks give way to long stretches of sand and in the still evening, I fly low and slow for 5 miles or more until the cliffs rise up from the sea and then climb up on top, some radio chatter and I realise we are close to Snowdon.
Do you see, there are some things in life that have to be done, and one of these is touching your wheels on the roof of the railway station on the top of Snowdon. Of course I would never do that, but if you did you would run off the back and see the ridge disappear beneath your wheels from 10 feet up to 2000 feet in the air in an instant! The air was still that night around the mountain and it was and is one very spectacular mountain. We flew the ridges and watched the man run up the side, reach the top and run down again. He and two others were up that night watching the sun go down, a couple by the very highest point watched as 3 Microlights darted around for 5 minutes before descending all the way to Caernarfon, into a major airfield, tarmac runways and all.
Some airfields are an outstanding experience for the visitor and Caernarfon is too, they overcharge, have a dire café, loos in portacabins that have no paper and then they want you to pay for camping! Great location, great potential, dire management. Come on Caernarfon! A can ride, a curry and picking up a bottle of scotch from the taxi on the way home all made the place bearable. That day Mad Mick had engine problems and was unable to make it to Caernarfon, he stayed the night at Ince and would catch us up at Eaglescott the next day.
Tonight I slept well, although now getting very tired and on the diet of pub foods and beer, not getting the nutrients I need. Two days to get to Lands End and on to Sandown, fingers crossed that the weather holds out. We had visions of being fogged in - Caernarfon airfield is right on the coast…
The next day we had fine and humid weather, the weather watchers among the team said we had a frontal system approaching us and we should head off into the humid air. We set course for Allan and Scot’s home airfield. Before we left Allan had said that this was his last leg and he would leave the group at Pyle (That’s Port Talbot to you and me!) then from there on to Eaglescott and down to Bodmin if we were to capture Lands End in the same week.
The flight across Wales was outstanding, miles of empty beaches and the odd disused airfield. So much space to fly without upsetting the “Surrey Set”, across the hills at Devils Bridge and across to the reservoirs, the scene of last years bombing runs: Dam Busters are go! Flying down deserted valleys above the water, weaving between the trees and not a soul in sight, just a sense of freedom and more “luck pushing” than is healthy!
When we reached Pyle we were greeted by Scot’s family and another hillside field landing, only this time no drop at the end (just one in the middle). Allan departed and Scot’s son James joined us for the leg to Eaglescott. His Mum had collected him from school with the news that his Dad wanted to take him flying to Lands End and the Isle of Wight, something that never happened during my brief school career! A final photo, a chat with the farmer and we were off to cross the Severn river estuary at a point where it’s 13 miles across. I hate that stretch of water. There were as usual no boats, and no signs of life. I climbed up into the sky and headed up and up to distance myself from the water, crossing into Cornwall (or is it north Devon?) at 6000 feet after a 20 minute flight, and now the long slow descent into Eaglescott, the first airfield I flew to when I was training! My first solo navigation, I recall blundering into the circuit and getting yelled at by the locals. He is not so bad now and neither is my circuit discipline.
Eaglescott is the site of some showers and we took advantage of this and showered and planned that last leg of the day. Clean, with full fuel and calm, clear conditions we set off, not for Bodmin but for Lands End! We had now planned to fly to Lands End and then return to Bodmin to sleep the night. This picture is of the hoisted hanger space at Eaglescott, a neat solution to the problem of not enough space!
We flew the North Coast of Cornwall on a summer’s evening all the way to Lands End. I could feel the mission was almost complete, and the Weather Gods were going to allow us to fly from John O’Groats to Lands End in one week. The most amazing thing about this week is that we had tailwinds all the way up to John O’Groats and tail winds all the way down to Lands End, how lucky is that! The air was warm and smooth and as I circled over many of the sites of my childhood holidays at Tintagle and Padstow the beaches and the cliffs were just outstanding, and the weather could not have been better. Mad Mick had a few engine problems and arrived at Eaglescott, just as we had prepared to leave after our lazy afternoon and showering. He was bushed and tired so he stayed a while longer, we set off with Lands End in sight and planned to meet Mick en route.
When you’re lying in the cold in your bed in the winter, this flight down to the South West goes down as one of the ones you replay in your mind’s eye. The weather was warm and the sky was clear, the air was smooth and the north coast of Cornwall is outstanding. We passed over Boscastle. It’s easy to see from the air why the rain came down from the fields above to the valley and caused so much destruction.
Flying this last leg to Lands End was a very emotional event for me. We had achieved what we set out to do, and all in one week. That sense of achievement has been rare in my life and I like it. I decided, on this flight, that I am going to seek it more next year! Over the radio came that Welsh accent, “Guys, P2 needs the loo, any ideas?” Scot had a 9 year old in the back seat. I forgot to say earlier that Lands End airfield was closed that evening as we were flying late. Many ideas of field landings were proposed, but in the end Scot opted for the only safe choice. Thank you Lands End for the free landing! For my part the place is littered with fields, but Scot made the right call when you consider his cargo!
With the airfield “watered” we circled Lands End in the setting sun and for a few moments I considered landing as close as I could, but then considering how tired I was, and that we still had 50 minutes to fly back to Bodmin, I decided not to. After circling for a while, I set course for St Michael’s Mount and the flight back. A feeling of completing the tour hit me and I found myself with a great sense of euphoria. I was released from the goal and able to think about the things that are important to me, my wife and kids, my work life, and to think about what I wanted to do in all of these areas in the coming year. I have many plans - one to fly under a bridge - and the next plan is to find a building big enough to fly in, I can dream!
Working my way up to Bodmin via the China Works at St Austell was amazing in the setting sun, the land shapes and the shadows just made the whole experience more inspiring, however don’t forget however inspired I was, I had to concentrate on landing! I called Bodmin, asking for landing instructions and then I was told “The airfield is closed now bugger off...” in an Irish accent! Laugh - I could not cry so much. Mick had fuelled and stopped at Bodmin and then been left with the keys to the clubhouse and the bar ;-) not to mention the radio! Landing was directly to the west and into the setting sun. I found this the most difficult landing of my life trying to judge distance by looking down at the runway. I could not look ahead as the sun’s dazzle was terrific. I forgot how difficult it was to fly and judge distance and nearly, very nearly piled it in but caught it with a swift & full round out and only landed heavily.
Taxied and tied down I howled with laughter as I met Mad Mick standing on a picnic table at the clubhouse, beer in one hand, radio in the other, issuing instructions to the ever gathering cluster of microlighters, who could not believe they had the run of the club house to sleep in all night along with the bar, and fuel in the morning! THANK YOU BODMIN! Goodstuff Snores, I know this because he slept outside the clubhouse in a tent. We were inside and he woke me. Sandra, on the other hand does not hear it, which can only mean one thing. Sandra is in love.
The flight the next morning took us across Dartmoor, close to the prison and I was enjoying the morning sunshine and flying at about 800 ft, my mind focused on flying over Dawlish to get a few photos for my Dad who was born there. I have felt closer to him in the last few years. We managed to get over some communication issues and flying over his old family home, flying over his old school town of Teighmouth and over his Mum’s house gave me some perspective of his world as he grew up. With all of this going on I only just noticed out of the corner of my eye a radio mast, same height ½ mile off at 1100 feet! That’s too close! I scanned for other masts, climbed and refocused on the flying. I checked my map board for other obstructions and found this mast clearly marked. Now focused back on flying I realised I had been lucky, again.
Back to my airmanship and a PFL for good measure. I missed the field and started to feel very humble indeed; flying is a strict mistress and demands exclusive attention. I touched down at Dunkeswell, the place where I learned to fly, with a mouthful of humble pie.
That morning I had woken everyone early, because it takes 2 hours from OK let’s go, to line up - personally a full check and a load takes an hour. But when you’re travelling with others it just takes longer! I woke early with anticipation of meeting Charlotte and the kids and hoping for great weather. It was very hot, and I was so excited. Off at 0930hrs and we were refuelling at Dunkeswell at 1115hrs. A big breakfast (I managed two!) and back in the saddle for a two hour leg to Sandown. Dunkeswell is my spiritual home. I first flew a microlight there on 27th November 1993. I was taught to fly by Jim Greenshields, for whom I have the warmest regard and respect. Jim will be a figure of my life until I die simply because he took me into the blue, and once you have been in the sky you can only walk the earth thinking about being back in it as soon as you can. I owe a lot to Jim, and always will.
We did not fly directly to Sandown but took in the sights of Portland and Dorset along the way, I flew the 17 miles of Chesil beach at 5 foot off the deck, well almost (there is a mile at the start and end where the nudist penetrate, literally). The welcome sight at Sandown was the 200 Microlights on the deck, a fantastic greeting with Charlotte and the kids welcoming us all and a party weekend ahead. A special time was had this year as my brother was in from Oz but politely declined to fly with me, that made me a little sad not to be able to share the blue with him.
I donated my maps and pinned them to the wall for the Fly UK folks to draw lines on the maps to signal tracks. Some got to Orkney, some to the Scilly Isles, and some to both! Our German participant made it back to Sandown with us in one bit and was by far the longest traveller! Tom Dawson the Fly UK organiser later took the maps home as a present. Without people like Tom our sport would be a sad place, the effort to organise this event is huge. But Tom just gets on with it, Tom, thank you.
I learned a lot this year; firstly that flying with a four stroke is a breeze! And that flying with friends can be tough and great at the same time. OK I won’t wake you so early next year Goodstuff! I learned a respect for the Mountains and the Sky, I learned that the weather can be great to you, I learned to pack less gear next year, I learned to make better (safer) decisions under pressure and I leaned the value of friends, and I leaned the value of my family.
To those of you who I flew with this year, I share with you an experience that brings us to a place that only we can share, a place that has no co-ordinates. Alas another flight over and the short hop of 20 minutes back home to Lee on Solent. I threw the microlight in the hanger, and started planning for my first Channel crossing...