Last year, not having the requisite 100 hours P1 for flying the kids, I’d volunteered instead, to be amusement on the ground by bringing the chainmail making kit from my “other hobby”. For one reason and another that year’s event didn’t quite pan out but this year it was definitely on, and just so happened to fall smack on my birthday!
I’d originally planned to fly up, but given the atrocious summer weather and the fact I was being ground entertainment, Ifelt a bit as though I shouldn’t make myself too weather dependant. I headed up the night before, courtesy of Carrie, another flyer’s hospitality.
Courtesy of yet another flyer, Malcolm, we were both flying the shorter hop from Panshangar to Bourn on the day, in the racing 172 G-BONS. I’m not sure Malcolm had initially realised the implications of the rucksack being full of chainmail, and there was a brief discussion of weight and balance before deciding it belonged on the back seat with me, not right in the baggage area. A bit of extra forward trim on the climbout for that extra couple of stone was called for!
I haven’t flown over this eastern part of the country very much and I’m certainly not used to flying over such flat country! I stared about at horizon in all directions and initially thought it rather featureless. It took me some time of gazing at and down at seemingly repetitive landscape before I started to see it had its own charm. No hills, but at this harvest time of year, the villages nestled in patches of green like oases amid the sand-coloured acres of hay and corn. Shadows of trees and church spires, stood out sharply, and combine harvesters crawled along turning the golden fields slowly to brown.
We really do have such a wonderfully diverse variety of countryside in this little island!
We arrived in the middle of the pilots briefing to some very enthusiastic marshalling (needed — I think there were aeroplanes parked on every square inch!) and I soon commandeered myself a low table and high cushion and started spreading out the kit.
Interest was quick and enthusiastic, and I soon had a keen corps of apprentice armourers. I’d brought a large stack of pipecleaners in addition to the “real” metal links and the kids were soon linking them up like experts and even showing their friends. I was blown away, I’ve never seen anyway pick it up so quickly.
Several of the kids in particular enjoyed it and returned like yoyos after each of their flights (yep there was more than one sortie each to be had, including helicopters and upsidedownness). The one corner of one table, I’d started with soon spilled over to the rest of it, then another, then the floor, as one of the kids had the idea to build “giant” chainmail with links made out of entire pipecleaners!
I was also amused to find myself a “answer” — the kids had been issued with a competition / icebreaker and on of the questions was “What’s the name of the lady making the chainmail?” I’ve never been a quiz question before!
Diversions over the course of the day included the arrival of an “aeroplane in a bus” — the Spirit of Brooklands Build-A-Plane project with was soon assembled (with the kids help of course!) and joined the ranks of those flying.
The BBMF Dakota also graciously detoured to give us a fly by. It was striking to me, while the pilot cooed at the lovely big old aeroplane how little difference it made to the kids — they were just as excited by the kit planes or the variety of “ordinary” aeroplanes as this great classic — one of my young armourers asked to hang around outside after the Dakota left to get a photo of the “little blue one” as well
Eventually it was time for the kids to go (although it looked like they still had a busy day ahead with swimming and disco to come!). Prizes were awarded for the competition tiebreaker (what did you like best about the day) with some wonderful answers, some of which came close to bringing tears to my eyes as I swore to myself (again) that I would never ever take flying for granted or forget how lucky we are.
Most of the pilots stayed on for a BBQ and chillout, and to finish off the huge quantity of chocolate buttons which had been donated. I caught up with a number of “forumite names” some of which I already knew and some of which were the usual routine of “Are you…”
I hadn’t been outside much so now perched on the clubhouse steps with cold drink and chocolate, enjoying the sun and flying chat.
I smiled as Gerard (one of said forumites) walked over, then grinned outright at his next words.
”Do you want to go up in the Bulldog?”
I don’t think there was a second’s pause before my “Yes!” and I leaped up to offload drink and choccie buttons and grin madly at anyone I passed en route.
“You look happy?”
“I’m going Bulldogging!”
Since my reaction to to the notion of upsidedownness was positive, the nest step was parachutes. As usual when it’s me involved, this needed a certain amount of tugging on straps and getting everything as short as possible.
I climbed, rather awkwardly onto the wing and slid myself in to face another round of strap shortening.
Between parachute, five-point harness and helmet, I soon felt thoroughly ensconced in the aircraft.
We taxyed out with Gerard directing me. l handed over to him for the take off. All takeoffs are wondeful to me — simply leaving the ground makes me grin, but this one made me laugh out loud with the fun of it.
Accelerate low along the runway then a pull into a steep climb and going up!
Once we were set up in the climb Gerard handed it over to me an I climbed us ou- to a nice clear area for some more sporty stuff. I’ve flown Paul’s Bulldog a little and, with Rich, Leighton’s Pup a little bit more but the handling always delights. I stooged around the sky a bit, doing rather wobbly steep turns as I tried to find the right picture and control pressures and reschool my Tommyhawk-tuned sense of feel to match this different machine. Fun as this was, the Bulldog does just cry out to be moved about the sky far more energetically than I had the skill or familiarity for and I handed back to Gerard for the twirly stuff.
Even his clearing turn made my idea of ‘steep’ look rather weedy and the ground was soon at all sorts of odd angles with aileron rolls and wingovers and bloody hell this is good stuff!
Even trying to type this up now I keep drifting off into a daydreamy haze of green countryside overhead, or a forward view full of nothing but blue sky and puffy clouds. Looking not along, but down the wing at the ground below. Squashed in my seat at the start of a pull up or floating over the top of a climb. Weird and beautiful, strange and exhilarating and only sheer force could have wiped the grin off my face.
My mind seems determined to tell me porkies when it comes to aerobatics, wanting to insist that it’s the view or the world itself that’s turning and I stared out as the sky gave way to ground and the horizon swung round — and there I’ve gone and typed it — ‘the horizon’ as if it was that and not us that was moving.
Maybe it’s because, in spite of what I’ve been taught and know about aerodynamics, I still find it something approaching magical that a little aeroplane can take off and dance around the sky with such apparent freedom from gravity. I say ‘apparent’ because I don’t doubt that gravity is frequently foremost in most aerobatics pilots’ minds!
Aileron rolls I love in particular, it’s easy to anthropomorphise the aeroplane and imagine it leaping happily up to roll over just for fun!
A loop was up next and the sensation of pulling up until flat on my back and then over further still and a little cloud sliding away below my feet (and there I go again, as if it were the cloud, not us going by) atd slow seconds of nothing but sky until the horizon reappeared upside down above us and pulling through and out. Magic — I can’t convince my instincts otherwise.
Back to the airfield via a very sporty overhead join and by now not even brute force could have removed the grin. Concentration only challenged it, as Gerard handed control back to me to fly the circuit, prompting where my normal flying habits didn’t match well with a heavier, albeit more powerful aeroplane.
He took back control when thinking about going around for someone on the runway and to land and I climbed out all grins and thanks. Great stuff and a fantastic addition to the day. I wandered, beaming to the barbeque as Gerard set off again with another willing ‘victim’.
Great weather, great fun, great people (kids and pilots and helpers!). Roll on the next one!
Links and more pics and things about the day can be found below.
More on the day
A video Pete S took is up on YouTube
Ian Fallon took loads of photos, some of which are below
The flyer forum thread discussing the day is here with yet more photos.
And my new desktop background at work for when I’m fed up and need a lift is the funfunfun Bulldog 😉
(Pic by Russ)