Saturday, July 28, 2007

I can see my house from here!

It has been a VERY good week for ticking off those things I'd planned to so before I die.....

First, I found out that I've been accepted on an MA course to study International Relations at Brunel University. It's going to be very odd going back to college 23 years after completing my first degree - but I'm really looking forward to it.

I first found out about the course when flicking through the ads in the back of BBC History Magazine a few months ago. It's a mag I've enjoyed reading for a couple of years and have always fancied writing for. Having had one space-related piece knocked back, I'm rather delighted to be published on page 83 in the August issue. Ok, it's a review piece, and it's just half a page, but it's a start to my history writing career which should, most definitely, be spurred by my MA studies.

The piece reviews the new AirSpace gallery at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford - a place that my love of all things aircraft related has brought me back to several times in the last few years. Now AirSpace brings much of Britain and the Commonwealth's greatest achievement in aircraft design and manufacture under one roof. If you want to get up close to a Vulcan, Spitfire, Lancaster and Concorde, it's well worth a trip out to Cambridgeshire.

Anyway, speaking of aircraft, I finally got to pilot one today: a long, long-held ambition, finally brought to reality thanks to Jac and a brilliantly thoughtful anniversary present.

Taking flying lessons has been at the back of my mind for quite a few years - but the cost has always seemed prohibitive. Still, I've always wanted to dip my toe in that particular pond, and got the chance today with a trial lesson on a Cessna 152.

Now climbing on board the Cessna at Wycombe Air Park was a bit like getting into my dad's old Ford Corsair. The little Cessna was far from new, far from shiny - and a pretty snug fit. With the Captain in the right seat, pretty much touching knees and shoulders, there's not a lot of leg or elbow room. This little plane, single engined and a basic trainer does exactly what it says on the tin - it gets you in the air and is pretty good at keeping you there!

Having wanted to learn to fly in theory for years, I was actually quite tempted to bottle out yesterday, but reasoned that even if I was totally awful, this was a dual-control aircraft, and my instructor would just take over.

I wasn't totally awful, but was very tense when first taking the controls 2,000 feet over the Chilterns. We turned out of Wycombe over Frieth and just beyond Lane End. I took control and headed north up the M40 a little before turning towards Thame. A further roll right took me over Chinnor and onwards to my home town, Princes Risborough.

I could see my house coming up at about 120 knots, and the chance of a picture was too good an opportunity to miss. So my instructor took control again and took us down to 1,000 feet for two circles of the house......Jac and the kids knew I'd most likely head over Risborough, and were all out in the garden waving........I think the instructor thought we were all a bit daft.

Anyway, after taking back control and flying out over the Chilterns, it was time to turn the nose back towards Wycombe. Just a few minutes later I had to cede 'control' once again, and suddenly the aircraft was reacting rather more smoothly and confidently as my instructor took us back into final approach and an extremely short landing.

The Cessna was a completely different experience to flying in a commercial jet. Bumpy from the ground to 500 feet, it rolled over the inevitable turbulence as I rather stiffly pulled back on the elevator when I should have been flying level and stepped a little too hard on the rudder when yawing left and right.

We landed with a bump, and with a jolt I realised that 30 minutes had passed in seconds - and that there's a grave danger of me being hooked on flying! £6,150 for the next 45 hours has cooled my enthusiasm a little..........but not a lot!

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