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
learn to fly

Why You Should Learn To Fly (And Start Today)

learn to flyIn July 2015 the aerospace giant Boeing predicted that the world would need 558,000 new pilots during the next twenty years.  If this forecast for half a million pilots jobs is correct (and they should know, being Boeing) then there has never been a better time to [easyazon_link identifier=”B008J6GYF2″ locale=”UK” tag=”bensblog888-21″]learn to fly[/easyazon_link].  If you start soon and work your way along the path to a career in the airlines then you should be ready to catch this wave of opportunity as it gathers momentum over the next few years.

Learning To Fly

If you have no flying experience at all then the idea of one day being the pilot of an airliner and  responsible for the safe take-off, flight, and landing of a multi million pound aircraft, along with its passengers, crew, or cargo, may see nothing but a dream, but like all such ambitions they can be realised with the right amount of concentration, perseverance, money, and sacrifice.

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”500″ identifier=”187478308X” locale=”UK” src=”/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/412B8PN0CVL.jpg” tag=”bensblog888-21″ width=”388″]At the very start of your journey into aviation you’re going to have a lot of fun and excitement as you learn to fly.  The milestones are many and come in quick succession; first solo, first solo navigation, first land away etc and within a few months you will become one of the privileged holders of a Private Pilots Licence.  This licence will entitle you to fly specific aircraft within the limits of the type of licence you have elected to obtain.

At this point the path for some pilots diverts into recreational flying and that journey can last for years.  For the lucky few it can last a lifetime and some pilots continue to fly into their eighth and even their ninth decades, but for those whose aspirations are firmly fixed within the world of civil aviation then the achievement of the PPL marks only the end of first stage of training.

From there they must move quickly on to twin engine ratings, a Commercial Pilots Licence, and Instrument Rating, and onward towards an ATPL (Air Transport Pilots Licence).

As you can imagine, all this training takes a lot of concentration and application. It also demands a lot of sacrifice.  If you take this path you will probably drastically reduce (and perhaps cut out altogether) nights out, holidays, nice cars, new clothes, and all the other things that working people spend their money on.

Obviously, if money is not a problem for you then this won’t be the case, but for most student pilots it is not uncommon for them to reach the end of their training in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds and it is only the promise of a long career in the airlines, with increments of salary as they gain experience and seniority, and ending with a good pension, that gives them the confidence to continue with their goals.

Flight Training

learn to fly microlights Learning to fly isn’t cheap.  Yes, it can be done on a budget but since this post is about the airline career path it would probably be a false economy to [easyazon_link identifier=”B00C0K6OBM” locale=”UK” tag=”bensblog888-21″]learn to fly microlights[/easyazon_link] or some of the other smaller, lighter aircraft.

The number of flying schools offering flight training varies from place to place and in quality.  You should try a few of those closest to you before committing to spending all your money in one place, and even if you find what seems to be the rights flying school don’t feel you have to stick to the same instructor.

It’s vitally important that you get the best flight training from the outset and that you have a comfortable and enjoyable relationship with your Flying Instructor.

If you’re in your teens or twenties with a mature and focused attitude to study and training, if  you’re the sort of person who looks skywards whenever you hear the sound of an aero engine, if you dream of flying and seeing the world above the clouds then perhaps you should delay no longer and start planning your career in the airlines over the coming decades.

[easyazon_infoblock align=”center” identifier=”1481860631″ locale=”UK” tag=”bensblog888-21″]