I promised some while again that my cousin Lauren could be my first passenger – by dint of the fact she was one of the few who didn’t react with “you’re doing what?” when I said I was learning to fly.
With my license now in hand I was in a position to follow through on that particular promise, and arranged to meet her at Haverfordwest on Saturday morning.
Saturday arrived gusty and crosswindy – Haverfordwest had a NOTAM out closing one of the runway’s for the County Show and with Sod Law’s being fully functional as always, it was the into-wind one.
I gave it some thought and decided that I was happy to fly, but if I didn’t like the look of it at Haverfordwest, we’d go to Pembrey instead, where the runway was more into wind. (For once!)
One advantage of learning at a field with a single runway is getting used to crosswinds early, and while my landings wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, I was confident I wasn’t likely to bend anything or terrify anyone.
I talked Lauren through what to expect and then we all trooped out to the aeroplane for a ‘photocall’ (rather a large number of relatives turned up to watch!).
I got Lauren strapped in, explained about how to get back out again in an emergency, pointed out all the bits and pieces I sincerely hoped we wouldn’t need like the fire extinguisher, jumped out again to check we still had fuel and oil and that nothing had dropped off the aeroplane in the half hour I’d been on the ground then climbed back in to join her.
I’m not sure which of us was more nervous or who was doing the better job of covering it, but I eased my own nerves by keeping up a running commentary, the familiar routine of doing my checks out loud, and discussing where we should go.
As we taxied out I suddenly realised how much I had come to take for granted, when Lauren looked from the controls, to the taxyway and asked, “How are you steering?”
“Oh,” I said, surprised and quietly pleased she been paying that much attention. “With my feet. See?” I wove my way across the taxyway to demonstrate, then waggled the ailerons and explained that they didn’t do very much, until we got going.
We backtracked to the far end of the runway, then I checked once more she was happy, and opened the throttle.
Post takeoff checks at 200′ foot then got amended to ‘flaps up’ ‘landing light off’ and ‘passenger not scared rigid.’ All was well, so we climbed out towards the sea, intended to have a little wander along the pretty Pembrokeshire coastline.
This had the added advantage of being a no-brainer in terms of navigation, removing one source of potential pressure. I think this could become a favourite route for taking first time flyers.
Lauren also proved to be an adept navigator, spotting the local landmarks before I did in some cases, and pointing out her house as we returned via Clarbeston Road.
We landed and taxyed back in and we walked back to the cafe, where I returned her in one piece to her mum, my aunty with no small amount of relief mixed in with the grinning smug pride!
I had a quick coffee before saying my goodbyes and heading back to Swansea, feeling very much more like a ‘real’ pilot and having started to shake the feeling of “Am I really doing this!”