Then it’s out to meet the aircraft, in this case a four-seat Piper which went by the handle Golf – Romeo Bravo (the last couple of letters of its registration code)
This is Brett and me before the flight. In the picture the plane looks very small. It looked and felt bigger in reality.
David walked me through some basic pre-flight checks; the fuel, the wings, the propeller and here we are checking under the bonnet (where he showed me how to wind up a very large elastic band!)
Then we got settled in, did a few more pre-flight checks, started-up and taxied down towards Runway 21. Here I am as we are awaiting clearance onto the runway for take-off.
Then it’s time for me to take the controls. You may notice my hands are gripping the controls fairly tightly, which is apparently a ‘rookie error’ as the aircraft is fairly sensitive to the controls. To be honest I was pretty nervous with the whole ‘third-dimension’ element of it; every time the nose dropped, it felt like we were plummeting to earth. I thought at first that the aircraft was being buffeted as it seemed to be pitching and rolling quite a bit and required a lot of handling, but as I relaxed into it things became smoother and the plane pretty much flew itself with only minor nudging from me to keep it going the way I wanted it to go.
From Biggin Hill we flew northeast towards the Thames at Dartford, passing the Queen Elizabeth Bridge and the big Bluewater Shopping Centre and then followed the river out into the estuary before turning south again into Medway. We flew down to join the M20 motorway and followed it to Leeds Castle (pictured) before turning around (and very smoothly done, it was too!) and following the motorway back up, branching northwest along the line of the M26 motorway, past Sevenoaks and back towards the airport.
As we came in for landing, I relinquished the controls back to David and was able to sit back and enjoy the ride (and take a few photographs of my own). This is the instrument panel that I spent a fair proportion of the flight concentrating on. (It shows that we are descending towards five-hundred feet at a rate approaching a thousand feet-per-minute. We are heading 135° to magnetic north at a speed of about eighty-three knots. So this shot was taken as we flew around the airport to line up on the runway at 210°)
Here’s Brett in the back seat, looking calm and relaxed. He had been a bit nervous of the flight and said afterwards that his stomach had lurched for a while as I got used to the controls (“way worse than a roller-coaster!”) but as I got the hang of it and the ride settled down, so did he and later on we were talking about the practicalities of possibly flying to Liverpool (to see my parents) or Edinburgh for a holiday.
As we approached the airport, we were asked to circle around as there was a lot of traffic in the area waiting to land, so we got an extra few minutes in the air and also got lots of sightings of other planes coming and going.
Never having witnessed a landing from a cockpit first-hand before, it was probably one of the best moments of the flight. The runway lights just keep coming at you, almost like you are running towards them, the runway grows until it fills your field of view and it feels like an eternity that we hung over the tarmac before the wheels hit the ground.