Air Show Fans

15 Things Only Air Show Fans Would Understand

You set off in good time only to be held up on the motorway, so you arrive late, join the queue for the car park, and eventually park about a mile from the main entrance. You walk across the grass, reminiscing about a misspent youth at the Glastonbury Festival, and join the queue at the entrance.  

As you get close to the gate you realise you’ve left the spare batteries for your camera in the car.

static aircraft display

Once inside you can’t decide whether to study all the static aircraft on display or head straight for the crowd line.  You start walking around, past the static displays, conscientiously studying the plaques and trying to absorb the information.  You do this for three aircraft before abandoning the idea and taking photos of the information plates which you swear you’ll study at home.

You never do.

vintage warbirds

You take photos – hundreds of them.  You zoom in to take a close- up of the wheel struts on a warbird imagining the resulting photo is going to look arty and provoke hundreds of likes on Facebook and Instagram.  

It doesn’t.

You decide the airshow program is overpriced and you don’t want to carry it around all day so you forget the air display timings.  Consequently, while you’re queuing for a cup of coffee that costs as much as the program, you miss the aircraft you’ve been looking forward to for the past three months.

By noon you’re famished having set off at 6 AM so you choose the food stall with the shortest queue.  Eventually it’s your turn to buy a lukewarm sausage in a dry baguette, sprinkled with half cooked chopped onions, served by a woman who coughs into her hand before picking up the baguette You ask for a bottle of water and hand over a tenner.  

As you walk away with a £1 in change you swear you’ll buy the VIP package next year.

Tiger Moth

The following year you do treat yourself to the VIP package and pay three times the price for some equally lukewarm quiche and a bit of smoked salmon.

While you sit eating it, pausing to sip some unimpressive rosé , you realise you’re missing the vibe around the beer bus and the taste of chips.

Aircraft in formation

Not wanting to miss anything you enter a marquee and start browsing around the stalls.  As you walk past the piles of books, the model aircraft, the pilot gear, and the bored-looking bloke on the stall selling timeshares in Florida, you hear the unmistakable sound of an F-16’s afterburner.

 You resist the urge to push past the people in front of you as you head for the exit.

Warbird pair

The air show is in June in England, so of course the skies are grey and heavy showers pass through, but you forgot to check the forecast and trusted to luck, imagining that since you’ve gone to all the expense and effort of attending, the Sky Gods would smile down upon the event.  

You soon discover how inadequate your clothing is for a wet and windswept airfield in 14 degrees.

Eventually, some sun breaks through and at last you enjoy some aerial displays set against patches of blue sky.  You’ve managed to maneuver into a spot with a reasonably good view.

You’ve bought new batteries for your camera and you’re merrily clicking away when the bloke in front of you stands up and puts a child on his shoulders.

Your shoulders are now stiff and your back aches, so you put your shoulders back and lean over backwards.  The woman next to you looks up to see what aircraft she thinks you’re looking at.

Hawker Hunter

You’re at a small show and the Red Arrows have agreed to perform a single flypast en route to another event.  All day, the few aircraft managing to fly in the strong southerly winds have been arriving from the north. At the appointed time you’re ready and waiting, looking expectantly to the north for the Reds.  

They fly in from the south and before you can point your camera they’re a mile and a half away.

Air show fans

By 4pm you’re starting to feel a little weary, having walked 5 miles criss-crossing the site, and been on your feet all day since you haven’t seen one empty chair that didn’t have someone’s leg on it, guarding it against any thought that it might be free.  

There’s still more flying to come but you decide to make a break for it and beat the end of show rush.

Four aircraft in formation

You’ve been walking past aircraft all day, vintage and modern, commercial and military, everything from Sopwith Camels to Eurofighter Typhoons, but your curiosity is still piqued when you see an RAF roundel peeping out from under the tarpaulin on a low-loader on the motorway as you head home.

That night your head hits the pillow and you fall asleep dreaming of Oshkosh.  You look in the mirror the following morning and with the sunburn and the dry skin from the constant breeze you look like you’ve aged five years.

Despite it all; the prices, the queues, the weather, you know damn well that you’ll do it all over again next year.

learning to fly in a cessna

Achieving the goal of a Private Pilots Licence

learning to fly in a cessna
We rarely needed cockpit shades in Hampshire

Learning to fly didn’t come easily to me. I was not a quick learner and took more than the average amount of hours to reach each milestone. I consoled myself with the thought that people who take longer to learn things learn them more deeply.

I wasn’t particularly confident either. Many were the times that I enjoyed the guilty relief when the cloud base was too low or the visibility too poor for my next lesson. Sometimes it felt like being told you’d got an unexpected day of school, which in effect it was.

When I was in the air there were times when I sat, tense and nervous, wondering what I was going to do wrong next and how could I keep control long enough to avoid some kind of disaster or the shame of screwing things up in front of instructors and spectators.

solo navigation flight
It was a rare day that it was CAVOK

Money was always tight too. Lessons were delayed because I ran out of cash so progress was delayed while I earned more or found some way to borrow enough to continue.

The lack of continuity made learning to fly a longer process than it needed to be. It took seven long years, not seven weeks, or even seven months.

And having finally taken delivery of my Private Pilots Licence from the CAA in 1991 I asked myself, “Was it all worth it? Was it all worth the sleepless nights, money worries, nerves, and anxiety?”

This was not my car. I had an Austin Allegro – far worse

The answer is of course yes, it was all worth it. Nothing can take away the feeling after the first solo, or the times I drove away from the airfield in my beaten up old car (or one I’d borrowed for the day) feeling ten foot tall, with a big stupid grin on my face because I’d just returned from a solo flight, there and back, with map and stopwatch.

Practice would have made perfect. For a number of reasons I didn’t get the chance to fill my logbook with PIC entries, building on these foundations. Repetition nurtures confidence and develops skills. I wanted to be the kind of pilot you see side-slipping an aircraft in to drop the wheels gently down on the numbers having flown a relaxed flight over hundreds of miles.

Truck driving
Trucking didn’t pay for many flying lessons

Driving a car eventually became effortless, and I made some progress driving lorries but there weren’t enough opportunities to practice reversing 40′ trailers onto loading bays to get it down to a fine art.

Navigation for truckers in the 1980s wasn’t easy either, without the ubiquitous apps and satnavs of today. If your map book didn’t pinpoint your destination you had to muddle through with frequent stops to ask for directions, which wasn’t convenient for the drivers in the queue that had built up behind you.

People who fly a lot or fly for a living become such experts, possessing skills that I have no chance of mastering myself, but goals such as this are personal and relative. Once that licence has your name on it nothing can take away the achievement and what it means to you personally.

I passed the exams, I passed the navigation test, and I passed the general flight test (GFT, as it was then known). If I never fly solo again at least I know I climbed one mountain and was rewarded with the view on the summit.