Highway to the...
Pretty sweet that sky, aye. As I turned east from M5 to M4 the morning sun's rays broke the horizon and painted the high stratus red. This dawn was an epic dawn, a dawn of a new age, an age where that beautiful sky will play host to a new pilot: this pilot.
Thirteen years since my first trial flight, six years since I first attended a PPL ground school lesson, two and three quarter years since my first proper lesson and countless days visualising this moment, I became a pilot: a Private Pilot.
I am more aware than anyone that my blogging has become sporadic at best, and I feel worse for it: once, where it would of been a piece of cake to describe the emotion and sense of achievement I feel, I've now had to blast out some punk rock and crack a bottle of red to make words appear on this page. I promised myself I'd start studying my ATPL's properly tonight, but I've had a hankering to write this and get back into practice. Above all though, I want to tell everyone and offer the thanks that so so many of you deserve for this moment being a real one.
I am guilty, I think, of having a perception that getting your PPL is easy. I learnt so much about the whole process of commercial flight training that the first step became, in my mind at least, a little one: just a case of throwing some time and money at it. Here's the truth, it's a case of throwing time and money at it... And hard work. In reality, I have pretty much done a PPL in 5 months whilst working full time and attempting to be a half decent husband and father: I started flying at Freedom on the 1st of April on 12 hours and finished on the 29th of August on 55hrs. Pretty much a PPL in 5 months. The hard work I am referring to has been committed not by me, but us, us as a family - this achievement is in every way my families and not mine. Without Bella, the most courageous, resilient, hard working, super woman walking earth, I'd not be anywhere near achieving this in that time frame - if at all. She's been beyond incredible, and I struggle to convince her how thankful I am for her hard work and encouragement.
Then there's the fact that this was financially possible, can you imagine the timeframes I'd be talking about if the progress of the first two years continued. This'd be my six thousandth post and the kids would be starting their own blogs.
So to all of you who made this financially possible, thank you from the bottom off my heart! This is an awesome achievement: bigger than I first gave it credit for and it belongs to all of you. I hope I can bring some of the joy of it to you, so please start pestering me to go flying. I am now for hire at unbeatable rates (that you've already payed).
This hard work that I talk of, that as a family we committed ourselves to over the last few months, manifested itself in a frenzy of life that saw me neglect other important aspects of life, my communication with family, acknowledgment of birthday's, contact with friends, blog attention all became less than optimum, (read shite). I was also pretty serious most of the time, upon reflection days after passing, Bella and I realised that we were both on the cusp of mental (in)stability.
So it was a glorious dawn on the 29th when I set off at 0530 on the 60 mile trip to Kemble airfield to undertake my skills test. The work of the previous 4.5 months had led to two weeks where flying became simple(r) and I had capacity to be less serious, more myself and make this drive under the rising sun, confident that I could pass the test. For as long as the radio reception allowed, I distracted myself from the forth coming mental ardour with the Mayweather/McGregor fight and then relieved myself from that particular tedium with decent tunes and arrived fresh at 0700: two hours before my test was to start.
I had the airfield to myself and the hangar, so I did some Apocalypse Now esque Tai Chi infront of my plane... I didn't, I just like to imagine that I did. See, mental instability.
No, you need two hours prior to test to plot your route, make the relevant calculations for the nav route, plan your fuel requirement, work out the mass and balance of the flight and the aircraft performance for the given atmospheric conditions.You need to collect all the relevant notams for the flight and all relevant weather forecasts so you can brief the examiner on all these matters and your considerations prior to departure. You've also got to prepare the aircraft for the flight - this includes cleaning all the dead bugs off: it's pet hate of my examiner's. I had this all done comfortably in my two hours and was ready at 0850. This is good practice, if you're ever in the same position.
So we set off in relative silence (apart from my recital of the checks) but with an examiner on the right side of moody.
As you can see by my picture, the weather was better than perfect on the day, a ginners day, to give it it's aviation description. Definitely a help but it also meant I had no excuse for error on the nav route (two insignificant points 30 NM apart). I delivered on this front and arrived on time over head my first destination, Milson Airfield near the Welsh border opposite Birmingham. I turned for my second point, Abbots Bromley, north of Birmingham. Two minutes later, my examiner diverted me to Bitteswell VRP, east of Birmingham: my diversion took me from overhead Highley straight over BHAM international to Bitteswell. The equivalent challenge in terms of a driving test is being told, by your examiner, turn right here, onto Silverstone race track and join the British Grand Prix. I was flying and talking to the bigger boys, and it was freakin awesome.
the tone was essentially set, I was flying high in body and spirits. The General Handling stage came next, which was uneventful. followed by emergency procedures, which was an incredibly valuable section of the test and I learnt a lot - basically though, don't chuck it in a field at the first sign of trouble. After an enjoyable beasting through this section, I was told to fly us back to the airfield for a rejoin and a few circuits in the various configurations.
By this time we're two hours into the test and it's nearly midday at the end of the August, the temp was rising and the sweat that I'd been holding at bay reached saturation level and water appeared to condense on my skin. 5 circuits later, which included an examiner issued go-around and one that I issued myself due to an unstable flapless approach, an engine failure after take-off, bad weather circuit and a glide approach from circuit height, I was told to vacate at Alpha and Taxi to Woodside. Test complete. With no airflow in the aircraft the temperature rose rapidly, I took a hot breath and hoped that my examiner had failed to notice that I suddenly looked like the Trevi fountain. I tried to distract him by confessing that my circuits could of been a lot better.
"Don't sweat it - that was a solid pass, congratulations"
I have a PPL. Ridiculous really isn't it.