After yesterday's (12th April) uncertainty, I can't begin to tell you how much of a treat it was for me to be able to get into the glider and know that my journey to learn the choreography of powerless flight was about to commence!
Only twice have I experienced flight with no engine, the first experience was somewhat unexpected due to being a fool with a power-kite, which we will not say much more about! The second was a more organised and professional flight in a k12 at Rufforth aerodrome.
The experience I was about to embark on at Norfolk was worlds above either of my last two, and one that I consider to be my first real taste of powerless flight! After John pointed out the instruments that were unlike those in a power aircraft, the guys on the ground hooked us to the tug. No sooner than we were given the thumbs up were we hurtling down the runway behind the Robin (tug) with a massive grin on my face and our glider just itching to become airborne.
Once we were alone in the skies above Norfolk countryside with the Robin (tug) out of our way making a bee line back to Tibenham circuit to land, John explained that we were now on the look out for thermals.
As we soared around looking for thermals and getting me acquainted with the somewhat more dramatic handling than I was used to in power flight . . . BOOM!! "What was that" I thought. At first it felt a little like the buffering you'd expect to feel in a powered aircraft as it goes into a stall, but somehow not quite the same, I glanced at the altimeter to find that we were actually gaining height, then John put the aircraft in a 45 degree bank and it dawned on me, we'd caught a thermal and now we were using the rising air to gain height! Other than the first incident involving a ... ahem.... I have never since experienced a climb with no power - this was awesome!
Now that John had demonstrated how to make use of thermals, we left the thermal and it was my turn to find another and try to catch it. John made it look a lot more simple than it actually was, but after a couple of times I began to feel like I was getting the hang of it, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen as we searched for our 3rd thermal.
I spotted another glider ahead, and as prior instructed by John, I made him aware of its presence. John asked me to head over towards the glider and join in his thermal. As we drew closer, not only did we join the other glider in thermal, just when I thought it couldn't get much better, I realised that we were also sharing the thermal with a bird of prey!
After 45 minutes practicing catching thermals, we made our way back to Tibenham Airfield to land and wrap up what was an absolutely mind-blowing first real taste of gliding! I can honestly say that after that flight, I was hooked!
On our arrival to Norfolk Gliding Club Kevin and I were greeted and quickly made at home by the members of the Club. After a cup of tea our first task of the mission was to speak to two reporters, and you can see the result of our interviews and conversations with both reporters on the Eastern Daily Press website and also and Mustard TV.
The weather when we arrived was wet and the approaching front looked pretty angry. Gliders aren't that keen on rain and so the seasoned Norfolk Gliding Club members suggested that we hang around to see if the front would play ball games and open up a small window of opportunity, allowing the club to get one of the gliders out to start our flying training and for Mustard TV to get some shots.
As we waited for the window in the front to appear, John, the Chairman and Cadet Coordinator of Norfolk Gliding Club called me over to the scales. We needed to know my exact weight with a parachute on so that he could out how much counterbalance I would need in the glider. John's response to feedback from the scales was not exactly great! "bummer!" he exclaimed, "you're too light!" and he continued to explain that even with all the counterbalance that was available at the club piled into the glider, plus the weight of the parachute, I would still be 12kg too light (That's a lotta bags of sugar!).
Orders of cup-cakes, cream cakes and plenty of tea with a tonne of sugar from Eddie and Rachel (the Club Cater's) was on demand. I needed to put on 12kg and fast! Never could the quote from Solomon's Song by Toni Morrison "If you wanna fly, you gotta give up the rubbish that weighs you down". have sounded so down right comical than it did at that moment in time!
Eventually the front gave way a little but, until Eddie and Rachel had fattened me up or I had come up with the goods of a cunning plan involving a bullet proof vest with sheet lead stuffed into it then, unfortunatley I was not going to be able to start flying gliders. However the guys at Norfolk Gliding Club were determined to get me off the ground and so an alternative plan of attack was drawn up. The club would now be flying me in thier Grob 109 which does not need counterbalancing. Everyone at Norfolk Gliding Club assured me that if at all there was any way that they could make the glider heavier in the very near future, it would remain a priority! After a really fun 10 - 15 min flight in the Grob 109 my day was made! Mustard TV captured some superb footage of my first takeoff in a Grop 109 and also interviews from various members of Norfolk Gliding Club. here
I need not have thought up any cunning plans of how to weigh myself down with bullet proof vests and steel toe caps! On the second day of our visit whilst I was out on the airfield watching Kevin set off on his first glider flight, Steve Brownlow Vice Chairman of Norfolk Gliding Club appeared in the distance with a cushion that had been filled with 15kg of lead. This was good news! With thanks to all the effort from Steve and the rest of the club for hunting down the cushion, I was able to embark on the original plan of an introduction to gliding with no delays, supported greatly by the Peter Harrison Foundation!
In the photo below you can see three of many volunteers that helped make our weekend a fun one, filling the glider with lead ready for my first flight in a K12. .
My homework from the Weekend, is to come up with my own cushion design for my future flights as the one that Steve Brownlow managed to find, belonged to another Member of the club who was kind enough to lend me it throughout the weekend.
The time has finally arrived, and today is the first of 6 days hanging out with Kev, (Officially nicknamed by me 'The Fat Controller')
I was introduced for the first time to Kev at RAF Cranwell whilst I was mentoring for the Flying Scholarship For Disabled People 2011. Kev had been invited as a potential candidate for the one of the 2011 Scholarships. Unfortunately he has not been awarded a Scholarship, but that has not dented his determination, as he continues to fly with Aerobility off his own back.
A few months ago, I introduced Kev to the guys of Norfolk Gliding Club and on Friday, we will be heading out from his corner of the world to meet with them for a weekend. There we will all be discussing plans that will now not only potentially help me to embark on a new journey, but also Kev. A journey that will see us taking to the skies in gliders, fuelling our passion for flight and at the same time, helping to inspire others, showing that no matter what barriers, disabilities may present 'the sky is the limit'.
I owe a huge apology to those who are regularly reading my posts as it seems like an eternity since I have written here. Lots has happened, but unfortunately in the last 6/7 months flying has been at an all time low with flying lessons few and far between due to the need to prioritise my funds in order to learn to drive a car. however the year ahead is promising to be an exciting ride, with some amazing aerbourne time.
In 2010 I set myself a challenge to defy the odds, those that said I was getting my ambitions mixed up with my capabilities and those that said I would never manage to live my dreams. The dream was to fly an aircraft solo and those of you who have followed my story will remember the 23rd September 2010. It was then when I defied all the odds against me and took solo flight in a light aircraft for the very first time! If you happen to be just passing by my website or are new here, then you can read my Post about that amazing milestone in my life! Now, there is a very strong possibility that I may start the learning process all over again, but this time with a slight twist and of course the backing, belief and confidence in me from those who once said "never", so come with me if you will and share with me a journey that could lead any place!
Recently during some email exchanges with Al and Will, the guys from the Wildcat Aerobatic Display Team, they linked me up with one of their newer team members in East Anglia who happens to be a gliding instructor. I am excited to be able to confirm that on April 13th and 14th I will be heading down to East Anglia to meet up and discuss plans which will help me to embark on a new journey with a slightly alternative goal of staying airborne, this time we're going with no engine.
It was at Rufforth (York Gliding Centre) where I experienced my first taste of gliding and as Leonardo Da Vinci once said "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return". Although previous to my first gliding experience I had flown as a passenger in a light aircraft once or twice, gliding was like nothing I had ever witnessed before, once the tug left us there was a feeling of complete and utter freedom, and complete emptiness all around us. I quickly began to realise that this was not a 'struggle to stay airborne', but rather a ballet between the glider, the natural elements and my pilot, and it was this delicate choreography between the three that was keeping us airborne, and what I found most awesome was that the driving force or power behind this choreography was merely thermals, wind and nothing more!
During the time of my scholarship in 2010 the memories of the gliding at Rufforth were often reminisced during the four weeks I remained resident at Lasham Gliding Club, where on the evenings after studying or flying, I would sit in the club bar and listen to many stories of many gliding adventures told through the conversations amongst the club members. Some adventures were awe inspiring, some jaw-droppingly frightening and others embarrassingly amusing, but within all the conversations, the one thing that reoccured time after time, was just how much fun gliding was for those who were doing it and also at times how darn right competitive it was too. It is this mixture of the choreography with nature, the challenge and the competition that really bites me in the butt and inspires me to explore the world of gliding further - so without further hesitation, Lets Go!
From the day that I went solo I was promised by my Uncle Billy and Aunty Susie that despite their genuine fear of flying they would allow me to show them Stafford from a birds eye view. The only snag to this was that I didn't realise just HOW scared they both were of flying! A flight that would unfold into 15 minutes of utter comedy for Craig my instructor and I.
Right from the point of seeing the aircraft both their confidences went down hill, and as I took Uncle Billy with me for a walk around the aircraft to do the pre-flight checks, his confidence in the aircraft stooped to an even greater low. After the checks Billy seemed less than satisfied by the pram-like wheels of the aircraft. It was then Aunty Susie came over onto the scene and the picture her face was portraying told the story of her feelings better than a thousand words could! It wasn't exactly one of someone who was totally convinced that what she was about to do was humanly sane. After a bit of time for a couple of 'before flight' photos (Sorry folks the after shots didn't happen - they both legged it as fast as they could as soon as soon as their feet touched the ground) we climbed aboard and I showed them both the drill for use in the event of an emergency (Just as well the door actually shut on the first attempt on this particular flight!)
All aboard and everyone was as happy as can be! (Well almost!) All that was left now was for Craig my instructor to arrive before I could power up and take my two unconvinced passengers for a whizz around the Staffordshire Airspace.
Whist we were waiting for Craig, some of the local airfield workers asked if I would like a push back 'Yes' I said, "I'm ready for a push back" at which point Susie in the beck let out an uncanny squeal that sounded like "I thought you said we were waiting for a #@!!% instructor!". "Keep Calm!" I exclaimed, " Nobody said anything about starting engines yet! I only asked them to push the plane backwards as I have no 'reverse gear' and once we have Craig onboard and are ready to go, I can't go forward over the soggy grass as I'll get us bogged down and we'll start sinking into it." Billy who was clutching to the seat for dear life was nodding affirming my statement to be true as he had already seen the capability of our pram-like wheels during our walk around.
Craig arrived and was happy the aircraft and its passengers were safe and I took the controls and headed out on our short taxxi to runway 26 whilst Craig radioed tower for our clearance to take off. Take off clearance was given and during our takeoff run towards our 60kts rotation speed, there seemed to be an awful lot of words that my Mother told me never to use coming from the back of the plane, but as the aircraft became airborne and slightly unstable at first due to the crosswind all sounds from the back ceased! Soon enough though I had the aircraft stabilised and climbing to our anticipated altitude of FL04 (4000ft) heading towards Blithfield Reservoir allowing for heart rates in the back to slow back down to a more 'normal pace'.
NOW! Had I have known at the time, JUST how SCARED Susie and Billy were in the back, I might not have done what I did over Blithfield Reservoir. Being sure to leave some of Blithfield Reservoir ahead of me so that the view within the next couple of seconds would be a good one, I said to Billy (who was sat at the left hand side in the back) "If you look to your left, I'll show you what Blithfield Reservoir looks like form FL04 " then proceeding immediately to pull us over into a hard 45 angle degree left bank. Due to my concentration, keeping the plane on a tight and very hard turn to the left I wasn't fully aware of what was going on in the back, however Craig who up until this point was sat quite calm and comfortable must have been aware of something peculiar. Maybe it was that Susie who was sat to the right of Billy, had now magically either changed places to the left or was sat on Billy's knee, or maybe it was the mere fact that Suzie was not only holding onto Craig's seat for dear life, but had also began to gnaw away at it too, whatever it was, I couldn't tell you, as I was enjoying my steep turn excise too much to notice, but whatever was going on back there, gave Craig a good enough reason to ask me to pull out of the turn and return to level flight.
After the events in the back of the plane during the steep turn, It became clear to me Susie and Billy were not just scared of flying, but in-fact PETRIFIED! With Rugely Powers-Station approaching us fast I made a fairly swift decision to keep this flight uneventful and as smooth as the air would let me fly and cease further practicing of procedures and manoeuvres to avoid any more flapping going on in the back of the plane.
My flight plans for the next half an hour were somewhat changed, no longer was I planning to make a steep hard turn to the right over to Rugely Power-station to show Susie what it feels like to look straight down the barrels of cooling towers, instead I would overfly the power-station whilst drawing as little attention to the fact my seat-belt come unbuckled and I was trying to fasten it as well as fly the plane. With the power-station approaching fast, I handed the issue of buckling my seatbelt over to Craig as I was aware of the hot air been churned out by coolers of the power-station and felt that I ought to now have both hands on the controls(and perhaps also my seatbelt securely buckled too) ready for the buffering that would commence caused by the hot air as we flew through it. After we passed the power-station, I made a very slight and gradual turn to put us in the heading of Lichfield, where maybe we could find the National Memorial Arboretum and possibly bank the aircraft very slightly so that Susie could get a view of it.
Amazingly - even with the massive overdose of natural endorphins running through her veins Susie managed to capture the stunning arial photo of the National Memorial Arboretum below. We flew around the memorial once or twice before we all decided that it would be in the best interest of my fearful passengers to get them out of the plane before I did any circuit practice as in the short space of 15 minutes I had managed to reduce the pair of them to jelly. Once their feet were firmly on the ground again, off they ran towards the canteen (or maybe the toilets) never to be seen near a light aircraft ever again! I'll also leave you with a couple of more photos taken by Susie which are a portrait of a terrified passenger (if I ever saw one) in the back of a light aircraft.
A couple of months ago I was introduced and made contact with a cool bunch of guys known as the Wildcat Aerobatic Display team. Some of you may know them, if not then do head Over to their website to check them out - http://www.wildcataerobatics.com/
Since being introduced, I've been working alongside them on some of the media and animation that appears on their website (including repaints for Microsoft Flight Simulator X). I have loved every minute of it and am looking forward to creating more crazy and wild media stuff for them in the near future.
Do also check out their blogg where myself and the repaints that I have created are featured. http://www.wildcataerobatics.com/blog/
It seems like ages since I was last up in the air, however whilst I have been keeping a low profile in my flying adventures I have been making contacts with some inspiring aviators, including Lauren of The Aerobatic Project .
Having engaged in conversation with Lauren numerous times over the internet, she has since introduced me to the Wildcat Aerobatic Display Team who over the past months or so have been a huge encouragement, introducing and connecting me with a growing list of like-minded aviators.
This weekend it was great to have been able to have met and chatted with Lauren, Adrian of Adastralflying and a couple of other guys whilst they were waiting to compete for the John McLean Trophy at Breighton Aerodrome in Yorkshire.