Little did I realise that a throw-away comment to Ron Parker, the former Editor of the West Midlands Mensa magazine, would lead to me completing one of the items on my bucket list and raising nearly £300 for two great charities just over a week later.
Though very much a passive member of Mensa for the past 30 or so years (apart from reading magazines and entering the chess tournaments when time permits), events organised by Ron in the past few months have seen me getting more involved and when the opportunity for flying followed by fish and chips came up, I couldn’t resist and the excitement of flying would surely see me burning off all the calories (I’m trying to lose weight!) contained in the fish and chip…ok chips.
It was on that day that I mentioned to Ron that I’d always wanted to do an acrobatic flight, not realising that Ron himself is a qualified pilot and that he knew that such flights are possible at ‘Take Flight’ aviation centre. Hana from Take Flight happened to be walking by at the time and announced ‘yes we can do that’ and of course one thing led to another and I found myself discussing dates….errr…..’next Saturday any good?’, to which the reply came ‘yes, it’s charity day at the centre’.
Little did I know that ‘Take Flight’ support the work of ‘Aviation Without Borders’, a humanitarian charity and on ‘National Kids Fly Day’ they provide flights to kids who are carers, disabled or disadvantaged and on the day, with pilots and organisers giving their time as volunteers.
My daughter Amy works for a fabulous charity in Blackpool which provides long term support to kids in Blackpool so a couple of days later with a few minutes free, I started looking at how to set up a website so that people can donate if they wish. It took seconds so if anyone is thinking of raising funds but thinks it’ll be complicated, it’s really so easy that even a technophobe like me can do it! Within five minutes I’d not only completed the page but I’d put a link on Facebook. If you’d like to add to my sponsorship then this link will take you there uk.virginmoneygiving.com
Driving to the centre, my partner Mel asked if I was nervous, to which there was a resounding ‘yes but I’ll get over it’. So we continued, arriving as kids were coming and going….by plane of course.
Seb, the pilot who was going to be at the controls of the flight met us and we walked over to the plane, a Slingsby Firefly to prepare it for today’s ordeal. Apparently Prince Harry flew one of these aircraft when he trained as a pilot.
Like a scene from ‘Top Gun’, we clambered in (you don’t do this elegantly with parachutes on your back) and secured ourselves with the straps. Paranoid? Me? OK so I did adjust them at least three times and probably ran out of fingers on at least one hand when counting the times I tested them by pushing up as hard as I could to make sure they wouldn’t come undone.
Seb fitted the video camera to the windshield and then closed the cockpit roof and we set off. Alas, as we taxied down the runway the video camera stopped working. Disappointed as I was, I privately thought ‘at least there won’t be evidence of screaming’ should I not take to it – I was still quite nervous but trying hard not to show it.
After reaching around 3,500 feet Seb did some sharp turns to get me (us?) accustomed to the G forces…a bit like driving really fast round a bend in a sportscar and then announced that the next manoeuvre would be a roll….so we rolled to the left and kept going until we had passed the point of being upside down, ending up back in the same flying position as before. The ‘Feeling OK’ asked by Seb was met with a big grin – I think he worked out I was having fun. ‘OK, next the loop then’ as he dipped the nose, increasing the speed to around 130 knots before pulling back on the joystick. Soon I could see the clouds directly ahead, then house in the distance then fields below before again returning to the level. Another big cheesy grin of approval! ‘OK, this time my favourite manoeuvre, the stall turn’ said Seb as he again dipped the nose to get the speed required. A pull back on the joystick to put the plane in the vertical climb, up and up and…..until the plane could climb no more and for a moment was stationary. A sharp turn to the right and we were soon in a vertical dive with great views (I kept my eyes open throughout) of the local scenery. A quick check by Seb to make sure that the smile was still there before announcing that we would now do all three, one after the other making the smile grow….this was serious fun! The combination of all three in succession was, for the first time on the flight, somewhat disorientating. I asked Seb how he managed to come out of it and know which way we were heading. He pointed to the clouds and said that he’d been keeping an eye on our relative position to some clouds though as they were moving too, wasn’t an exact science. He held up a set of maps, there for contingency if the disorientation proved too much even for an experienced pilot such as him (despite his young age). On the way back we flew upside down which was an interesting experience….my entire weight supported by those straps (the ultimate test of my tightening skills).
So we landed back, Mel a happier person to see me back in one piece, with added grin. She confessed to having been quite nervous too.
Would I do this again? Absolutely! If you think you might enjoy it then go do it NOW! If you’re near the Midlands then ‘Take Flight’ at Wellesbourne is a great place to have a go and I’m really grateful to Ron, Hana and Seb for making it possible and for making this an experience never to be forgotten.
And if you’re interested in Flying with ‘Take Flight’ it’s: