Supposed to be a sign of willpower isn’t it – to be able to wait for delayed gratification. Sadly I’m not sure I can claim it since it was mostly circumstances that caused me to be a full twelve-month, and more, down the line before heading out to claim my birthday aerobatics with ultimate High at Goodwood.
And that despite this eye rolling delirious level of excitement at the gift…
It was always going to be a stay-away trip for the distance so it made sense at the time to wait for the new year when both myself and the spectating family members were into the new annual leave allowance. And once into the new year of course it made sense to wait for spring and the hope of good weather.
And then the spring of 2020 arrived…
We reach September, which is looking increasingly like a window between one lockdown and the next. I arrive hopelessly ground-happy – the interim between the last time I was really properly current and now including one engine stoppage and six month delay in getting properly back airworthy with a new one, a tiny handful of flights before another maintenance delay when the carb heaters it came with decided to liberally spread warm coolant not only over the carbs but all over the pod and transparencies as well, a super-windy summer, wet winter and the aforementioned 2020!
We stay in Boxgrove, in earshot of the aerodrome and I listen to aeroplanes over a carefully light breakfast.
The Extra I was originally booked on has decided to chime in on the theme of the year and gone tech but I’d dithered so long over which option to go for in the first place that switching onto the Firefly isn’t so much a Plan B as it is Plan A-And-Three-Quarters.
We arrive with enough time to hang over the airside fence watching the comings and goings. It’s crazy busy already, the sunshine and still air on an autumn Saturday bringing them all out. I sip water, seeking that dicey balance between hydration and not being the person who ‘should have gone before they took off’.
I’m one of three at the briefing along with an older guy and a younger one who’ve never flown even bog standard GA before. I wonder what’s in their heads. I wonder what they make of the Firefly which my sister describes later in our WhatsApp group as “that tiny angry aeroplane”.
The briefing is pitched at a level which reflects a non-GA audience but you never know what you don’t know and there’s practical detail in there about positioning of headset to not find it departing the scene, and the never-obvious “where on the aircraft is okay to grab”.
I’m struck by the clarity of communication and the focus on the aim of the exercise – “What do you want to get out of the trip?” is a direct question to everyone and I actually have to think for a moment. It’s a mixture of wanting plenty of hands on and seeing what the aeroplane can do in more capable ones than mine. Really any level of sky under the wheels would make me happy at this point.
I’m paired with Greeners – I suspect because some Flyer Forum / Facebook mutual has dobbed me in while I was enthusing so we have a quick chat about any aeros flying I’ve done already (giggling passenger chiefly)
We’re be-suited to fly and play a game of psychology in picking callsign tags to Velcro onto ourselves. I peruse them before smirking and opting for the very on-brand Cymraes option of ‘Dragon’.
Heading back out under the blue sky we are briefed also on the appropriate attitude – not the aircraft’s!
Strutting is, it seems, mandatory.
I do my best but can’t help feeling I look rather “pilot at 80% scale…” however good my game face may or may not be…
We get strapped in and join the queue. Last time I remember being in a queue this long for takeoff was the LAA rally with its, “In order to avoid a general free for all” departure brief. The poor FISO seems to be feeling it and, in the interests of expediency, Greeners handles the takeoff, whisking us out on the runway for an immediate departure in one of the brief gaps.
He hands over control at few hundred feet and we climb away towards the South Downs, today behaving like a weather textbook – I’m about to comment on the lift on the windward, cloudward side – when I spot a glider ahead in the process of making use of same.
With glider avoided, I follow directions to the correct bit of sky where we start with a series of manoeuvres basically consisting of “this much positive G, this much negative G – still happy?”
I am happy (giggling stupidly in fact) so it’s time to get inverted. This does little to reduce the giggling. Aileron rolls are a joy – although I take in more of the gently rotating world than I do of the steady narration of what’s going on to achieve it. There’s something instantly confidence building about either this aircraft, or Greeners’ flying or both because it feels perfectly easy and natural to have the green fields and blue sky swap places like this. The controls are responsive and the air is still and the G forces on this figure light and it all combines to just feel and look so lovely and an utter tonic for having been on the ground too long.
We proceed through a series of other figures, more of less alternating between ones I can have go at and demos of what the aircraft can do – exactly to the detail of what I’d asked for. The ones I fly have been well chosen – there’s a robust pedagogy in place under this I suspect – Greeners has the rudder – they typically move the LHS rudder all the way out of reach of non-pilots whereas I’m just following through. Further reducing complexity is that the constant speed prop means we were leaving the power alone pretty much the whole time, relying on shallow dives if more speed was wanted. And without those items to think about, the figures I fly myself mostly only require control input in one axis at a time (to be at least recognisable if not too tidy!) The aileron roll is pitch to above the horizon then check forward then roll and, so forth. Manageable brain-sized chunks!
The barrel roll Greeners flies himself is a pitch and a roll all together and around, tracing a big happy spiral through the sky. The flick roll has me cackling again and I’ve only the vaguest idea of what he did to make it a) happen and b) stop at the desired stopping point!
Reaching stall turns is the first time the aircraft again feels like we’re subject to actual physics, as the buffet shivers through the wings and controls as we pivot in the sky and return groundwards.
Time for one last figure (I chose a loop) and it’s time to head back. Before reaching the bedlam that is the ATZ, Greeners makes time for a mini upset recovery practice. I use up more sky than his demo but it’s worth the doing.
Five minutes into the straight and level re-entry into the ATZ my stomach decides to belatedly inform me what we’ve been doing but there’s plenty of fresh-air through the canopy vents and it’s settled again without disgracing me by the time we’re on short final, and I’m ready for a big coffee by the time we touch down.
High fives and fist-bumps all round (and, this being 2020, followed up with prompt sanitisation) to wrap up and I collect a log book entry and a cute certificate declaring the G to have been +5/-2.
I make my thankyous and farewells, and babble – absolutely babble for the rest of the day. That night I’m so wired as to make sleep slow in arriving. I lie eyes open, in a strange bed, remembering how we’d moved around the sky.
Two more days into the holiday, perhaps fed up of hearing about it, my mum points out that if I really wanted to there was nothing particular stopping me going again before we went home.
And with that seed planted I was lost. I mean… There was the all that flying budget unspent during mechanical woes and then lockdown… It wasn’t really spending more money on flying than I normally would was it? Would the weather even be suitable? Would there be availability short notice? Well it couldn’t hurt to ask right? Only ask…?
(But that’s another post)