Sunday 27 April 2014
Soon it was time for my first solo land-away.
Dunkeswell is a little airfield on the Somerset levels - very easy to find for someone who disliked navigation as much as I did. Take off from Bristol, turn out over Cheddar lake, head for the M5 motorway and follow it down until you spot the Wellington Monument, turn left, and look out for the airfield. The only likely mistake would be getting the wrong airstrip - there were two disused ones close by. Not even an idiot like me could mistake the correct one, though - look for other little aircraft and a clubhouse.
There's something incredibly peaceful about flying alone. Apart from the radio, relayed through your headset, there is no sound but the gentle hum of the engine and the occasional buffeting of the wind. And for most of the time out there over open countryside the radio is quiet - it's only when you need to talk to Air Traffic Control or they need to talk to you that it crackles into life. (Of course, if you have a passenger you hear them through the headset too, but on a solo flight nothing much interrupts the silence. And when I flew in Florida, they didn't use headsets at all, which I found most disconcerting, but that's another story)
Flying alone also really concentrates the mind. Quite apart from keeping a sharp eye out to make sure you're on course, and that there is no microlight - or jet plane! - in your sights, you have to remember to check the pitot heat every 10-15 mins to ensure the pitot tube doesn't freeze up - something else that was totally different in Florida, where it is rarely cold enough to have to worry about such things. At the same time as the peace, I felt truly alive.
Anyway, I made Dunkeswell safely, landed, locked up the plane and went into the clubhouse for a much needed coffee before flying back to Bristol. First land-away safely accomplished - but a bigger challenge still to come - a triangular land-away, . But for today I wasn't going to worry about that. I'd taken a plane away from the airfield on my own and brought it safely back.
Result! And another important step towards getting my licence!