The flying agoraphobic goes solo!

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It’s not easy learning to fly when you have travel phobias and chronic fatigue… As a few of you who know me will realise, I have gone out of my way to conquer things starting last year by learning to fly microlights at Hadair Microlight Airsports, at Halfpenny Green Airport. It’s been a lot of fun, and very challenging. Thanks to my Buddhism for helping me to maintain a slightly calmer state of mind, and to Dr Sarah Myhill for her chronic fatigue mitochondria support regime I am continuing to steadily improve, so that I can now have a bit of energy left over from my work day to enjoy some leisure activities.

I must say a huge thank you to Les, my instructor. He has the patience of a saint, and one of the most calming influences I could ever hope for in the air. I must also give my continued thanks to Steve Wilkes, owner of Hadair for letting me loose in his microlight aircraft, and his own brand of encouragement (more akin to a boot up the arse, but sometimes it’s required!) and for running the most friendly – yet serious – flight school.

It was with a lot of nerves that I finally completed my first solo flight a few weeks ago on 20 February 2010. A few circuits with my instructor, Les, and then we pulled over near the apron. Considering the way I just landed, I wasn’t sure if I was completely ready, but then I never really had that much faith my own abilities – this was my last circuit before going solo:

and then Les called the Tower to inform them of a change of captain… a Captain! Never thought I’d be referred to as one of those! Anyway, it all went pretty well, and before long I had done my first circuit and landed safely. With 18hrs in my log book this is certainly not setting any records, but it was still a great day. Thanks to Tony and Clive in the tower for giving me my flight strip as a momento of my flight.

Post Solo Flight with GCFIY

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but pulling off a decent first circuit only got me in deeper trouble – as I was now expected to started doing it on my own more often! So, over the next few weeks I ventured up into the sky alone again, and again. Round and round I went – and with a few interesting exceptions, things were pretty smooth (exception below):

So, then the day arrived, after getting a couple of hours solo time in the log book, when I was told that I wasn’t allowed to stay in my comfort zone any longer… I had to spread my wings, and, not putting too fine a point on it – bugger off into the wilderness. This was probably going to be a bigger challenge for me than going solo was – but once again I managed it. First a short run to the local reservoir at Chelmarsh and back, and then doing a short route over my home town, then out to the Wyre Forest, up the Severn, and back again.

Getting ready for the qualifying flights

The best was yet to come.  Last weekend, I completed my first proper solo navigational exercise by flying out to find a small grass strip, called Milson. It was in the middle of nowhere just to the south of Titterstone Clee hill, so apart from the huge landmark, it was going to be fun to find. I set off with a lovely blue sky, but it soon became apparent that the hazy inversion layer was going to be a pain – with forward visibility down to about 5 miles I couldn’t even see the Clee Hills – not at the 3000 feet I was flying at, and climbing above it seemed pretty pointless on such a short run, so I stuck it out – listening to various radio frequencies and eyes peeled in case anything fast suddenly appeared out of the murk. Anyway – enough waffle – you can watch the video:

The future

I’m now sitting on over 20hrs dual, and 4hrs solo, so am now getting ready to do the first of what will be my qualifying cross country flights. The NPPL license is a little easier than the full PPL, so I only need to do a 40 nautical mile round trip with a single away landing. I have done my Air Law, Human Performance, Aircraft Tech 1 and Radio Telephony exams – so now I just need to complete my Nav/Planning exam, and Meteorology.

Shobdon near Leominster is one of the sites I hope to be flying to, and the other will probably be Long Marston, or Defford, south of Worcester. Once I have done that I just need to take our local friendly CFI up for a safe flight to get signed off and made into an official pilot… It seems a long way off, and right now I still can only just start to imagine I just might pull this off… If someone had told me this time last year that I would be able to fly a plane solo I would have laughed at them – so who knows… anything is possible!

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