Sunday, September 23, 2007

Learning to Fly - but I ain't got wings

One of the things I wanted to do before my 40th birthday, was to have an introductory flying lesson in a light aircraft.

Well I missed my mark by a couple of years, but on Wednesday 10th September I realised my ambition and took a half hour trial flight in a Cessna 152.

Fortunately we have an aerodrome in Redhill about 2 miles from home, and Harvard Aviation runs a flying school from out of an old WW2 mess-hut.

They have a fleet of four or five Cessna 152 single engined, two seaters that they use for most of their flight training.

These planes were built about 25 years ago, and inside have the feeling of an old British sports car, noisy, flimsy and very cramped, sitting with shoulders touching in the narrow cockpit.

After a brief introduction to the controls, and a few pre-flight checks, we set off across the grass towards the airstrip. After getting clearance from the tower, we trundled across to the end of the strip and took off to the west. After performing a 180 degree turn over Redhill and gaining 1500 ft, the pilot handed me the controls and had me keep it straight and level for the next ten minutes or so.

This was my first time ever in a light aircraft, and I found the controls so light and responsive, that it took all my concentration to remain focussed on the distant level horizon and correct the minor movements of the aircraft.

Our flight took us to the east following the Redhill to Dover railway line, although I had no time for sight-seeing. As we approached Edenbridge, about 12 miles to the east of Redhill, I was instructed to climb to 2000 ft and implement a long sweeping turn, to bring us back on course for the short flight back home.

The return hop was a lot less stressful, as I had managed to relax and get used to the demand of the control column. We began our gradual descent with the airfield in view. At about 500 feet up and little more than a half mile to go, my pilot took over and brought us down with a comfortable landing.

At the end of the flight I got a certificate tosy that I had had 30 minutes airtime and this could go towards the minimum of 45 hours needed in the UK for a private pilot's licence.

Flying is an exhilarating experience and I am glad that I had the opportunity to try.

The introductory flight costs about £90, and if you want to do a short course of five 1 hour lessons, its about £595.

The Cessna 152 is fitted with a 110hp engine, and has a top speed of about 104 knots.

The fuel tanks hold just under 100 litres of fuel which gives a useful range of about 350 miles. The fuel consumption is around 20 miles per gallon - which is better than some cars on the road.

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