Aviate, Navigate, Communicate
Share this
  • You are here:
  • Home »
  • Archive: September, 2016

Archive Monthly Archives: September 2016

G-BFTE Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

From Trial Flight To PPL – Private Pilots Licence

For some the path from a trial flight to the acquisition of a Private Pilots Licence is one that takes only a few months to complete, but for me it was to last a little longer.

Helicopter Bell-47D G-ASOL

Bell-47D G-ASOL and passengers

My first taste of flying was as a child in the 1960s.  My father had hired a helicopter to spray fertiliser onto a small crop of conifers planted on some of his land in Wales.  Once the job was done the pilot agreed to give we three children a ride in his Bell 47-D (G-ASOL).

I don’t remember much about it, but it must have planted a seed.  It seems it wasn’t just the trees that benefited from a little boost that day.  However, it would be nearly two decades later before the seed bore fruit.

I left school at 16 with only a few qualifications and spent several years in and out of dead-end jobs so  I was restless for a challenge.  I needed to set and achieve a goal, go on an adventure of sorts and spread my wings.

Learning to fly fitted the bill in every way.  I was also inspired by the books of Richard Bach, in particular Gift of Wings and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  There was a new world to explore but I didn’t have to cross the globe to find a rain forest.  All I had to do was to go up, not across.

Replica of Spitfire prototype K5054

Replica of Spitfire Prototype K5054 which first flew from Eastleigh Aerodrome

I lived within a few miles of Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport, birthplace of the Spitfire.  The airfield has been in use for over 100 years.  The first aircraft took off from this airfield in 1910.  At the time, in the mid 1980s, it was still a mix of GA (General Aviation) and commercial flights to the the Channel Islands and elsewhere.

I chose a flying school called Flight Preparation.  They had a small fleet of Grumman AA5A Cheetahs and some office space on the first floor of the old terminal building.  They also rented offices a few miles away in Chandlers Ford where they provided evening ground school classes.

My first lesson was on the 3rd November 1984 in a Cheetah with the registration G-NASH.  Being a bit of a slow learner and with weather and other delays, it was to be seven months and a total of 17 hours and 35 minutes of dual instruction before I was ready for my first solo on 4th July 1985.

My First Solo

G-BFTE Grumman AA5A Cheetah

© Ian Haskell

They say no pilot ever forgets their first solo, and they are right.  I can still feel the anticipation after another round of circuit bashing in G-BFTE.  As a student you know that the day is imminent but you’re never quite sure when the instructor is going to ask you to fly that first solo.

After several take-offs and landings in during which my instructor criticised my abilities to the point where I was ready to complain we taxied onto the apron.

Are we going to park, return to the terminal building, and discuss my obvious inability to control an aircraft?  Or is today the day?

As we came to a halt my instructor said, “Right. Do that again, just the once.  I’m going for a cup of tea.”  Before I could issue any kind of protest he was out of the aircraft and walking away without looking back.

First Solo PPL

Instructor to student: don’t screw it up

Of course, tea was the last thing on his mind.  He would have probably watched as I made my radio call and taxied back to the holding point. Perhaps he watched as I made every turn and kept his finger crossed for a half decent landing with no bounces, wheel-barrowing or worse.

Once the tower had given permission I moved out onto the centre line of that big concrete runway.  I glanced once again at the Ts and Ps (Temperatures and Pressures).  They were all in the green.  Full throttle, gently, and off we go.

The first thing I noticed was how much faster the aircraft climbed without the instructor.  Then, it was a case of follow the drill.  Climb out, turn, downwind call.  For a few moments on the downwind leg I allowed myself the luxury of looking around.  “I AM FLYING THIS PLANE! I – ME – I AM FLYING THIS AIRCRAFT!”

Grumman Cheetah AA5A G-NASH

G-NASH – First flight and several solos in this aircraft

I made my downwind call and turn onto base leg.  Moments later I was on final approach and the view out of the cockpit looked about right.  I made my last radio call of the circuit and concentrated, hearing my instructor’s voice in my head as I looked at the end of the runway and my position relative to it.

A gentle flare, a little more, and the main wheels were down.  I held the nose up as the speed decreased and let it too drop onto the runway.  Not a perfect landing but I was down safely.

The elation I felt as I walked across that apron to the terminal is still vivid 30 years later.  It was as if I had crossed into another world, from the land where people don’t fly, to the land of pilots.  I felt ten feet tall and couldn’t stop smiling.

After the First Solo.  Celebration, and delays

Lauren Richardson's Pitts Special S1-S G-BKDR

Lauren Richardson’s Pitts Special S1-S

Four days later I celebrated my first solo with the first of two 20 minute rides in a Pitts Special S2-A in which I experienced open cockpit aerobatics for the first time.  The contrast between the enclosed, gentle flying of the Cheetah with the power and maneouverability of the Pitts could not have been greater.

I can still remember the sensation of being at the top of loop as my backside left the seat and I realised why the instructor had made sure my shoulder straps were so tight.

After several loops, flick-rolls and stall turns I was left in no doubt as to the unbridled joy of aerobatics.

Between the summer of 1985 and the autumn of 1986 another 14 hours of dual instruction and 8 hours of solo flight was logged before I passed what was then called the General Flight Test (now called the Skills Test).

The solo time included a Qualifying Cross Country (QCC) flight from Southampton to Exeter, Exeter to Bournemouth, and Bournemouth to Southampton.  Approaching Exeter I still vividly remember looking down and seeing the VOR at Ottery St Mary.  My navigation was spot on!

However, despite completing the QCC and the GFT something went awry.  I was out of work again and both the flight school and I didn’t pull all the various components together and submit an application to the CAA for the licence.

1988 – Another push to complete

Aircraft Propeller

Delays and frustration

Nearly two years later, in May 1988, the funds were available to complete the goal.  This time I choose a school based at Blackbushe airfield in the north of Hampshire. I am not certain but I think Flight Preparation in Southampton had gone out of business by then.

Due to the lack of continuity in my training and changes to the PPL syllabus I had to go through several hours of dual training before I was ready to go solo again.

Then, after a few hour of solo navigation exercises I was given an NFT (Navigational Flight Test), which I failed!

The flying funds ran out again and my training at Blackbushe came to an end in February 1989.  It wasn’t until September 1991 that I could afford to fly again.

Completion at last!

Compton Abbas C150

Completed at last! Only took me seven years.

On 6th September 1991 I began a series of lessons at Compton Abbas airfield, this time in Cessna 150s.  Once again, revision was necessary before I was ready to solo, but the training went well and I passed the NFT on the 13th September.

A week later I completed the Qualifying Cross Country to a satisfactory standard by flying from Compton to Sandown (Isle of Wight), Sandown to Exeter, and back to Compton.

After another 50 minutes of preparation after the QCC I passed the GFT on the 20th October 1991.

I had done it, and this time there would be no foul-ups with the paperwork.  All the forms were filled in and sent to the CAA and my licence arrived a few weeks later.

It had taken me seven years, but I got there in the end.

I was the proud owner of a Private Pilots Licence at last.

What are you waiting for?  Go Flying!

Flight Preparation Fleet  – Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport in the 1980s

With thanks to Ian Haskell for the photos.  Ian worked at the airport as an Air Traffic Controller and learned to fly there too.

All these aircraft are Grumman American AA-5A Cheetahs apart from G-ECCO which is a Grumman American GA-7 Cougar.

G-RJMI Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-RJMI

G-NASH Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-NASH

G-ECCO Grumman Cougar

G-ECCO

G-BJDO Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BJDO

G-BIPV Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BIPV

G-BIJT Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BIJT

G-BGCM Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BGCM

G-BFTE Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BFTE

Knowlton Church and Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

The ruins of Knowlton Church sit in the centre of the ceremonial henge that predates it by about 3,500 years.  It is one of the most striking examples of how the new religion of Christianity adopted many existing sites of worship and ceremony, and in so doing persuaded the population to convert to the new religion.

However, this conversion was never fully completed and the old religion has endured to this day.  If you click on the aerial photograph above and to the right then zoom in on the area just below the church ruins you will see a small black circular area of bare soil.

Knowlton Church, Knowlton RingsWhen I visited the site early one morning in October 2014 I found a used tea light in that space.  It seems it had recently been used for a ceremony of some kind, perhaps a solitary follower of the path of Wicca.

It would seem that the Old Religion created the site, Christianity used for several hundred years, and now neo Pagans are using it once again.

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 1Knowlton Church

The Normans built the original church in the 12th Century and in was in continuous use until the 18th Century.  The tower was added in the 15th Century.  After the roof collapsed in the 18th Century it was abandoned in favour of another, more recently constructed church in Woodlands.

Knowlton Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 2The earthworks were built about 4,500 years ago in the Neolithic Age.  It is clear from the size and dimensions that the earthworks were designed for ceremonial use and were not defensive structures.  English Heritage suggest that there may have been wooden walls and a roof covering the whole area.

If you want more details and facts about the site’s history then just google it and you’ll find plenty, but I would suggest the best way to get to know the site is to visit it.

Ideally, go as I did in the early morning, preferably when it’s sunny.  To see the sun come up and cast the long shadows you can see in these aerial pictures is very atmospheric.  It reminds you of the timelessness of the space.

Imagine all the history that has passed while the church has been there.   That’s less than a thousand years. Then continue your journey back in time to the point when the earthworks were constructed and you will be going back another three and half thousand years.

The site is managed by English Heritage. For more information please visit their website.

Aerial Photography

I took theses aerial photos (with the permission of English Heritage) using a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone in 2014.  This model has been discontinued and you would be best investing your money in a more modern version like the DJI Phantom 4 Drone Camera.

There are cheaper drones available, but DJI are the a market leader that others seek to emulate.  If you intend to buy a drone for personal use then explore the full DJI range and choose one that suits your budget and ambitions.  Below is a link to the DJI Phantom 3 model.

1 3 4 5