My dad has been flying microlights for years. They have no doors, you sit outside & have to wear a thick suit in order to stay warm. However this was my very first taste of flying back when I was about 5 (I think!) I remember going up to about 500 ft and getting scared to death then shouting to come back down. However once back on the ground I calmed down and immediately wanted to get straight back up, after that I was hooked! Since then I have wanted to become a pilot & that is the main reason I actually joined the air cadets back in 2008. I flew in the Tutor to do some aerobatics soon afterwards which was my first flight in a light aircraft at the age of 13.
For my 15th birthday I got a trial lesson at coventry airport which I did in the summer of 2010, a small light aircraft called a PA28. Soon afterwards I started having flying lessons at a small airfield near Burton upon Trent called Tatenhill (happens to be right next door to the England football team training centre - St Georges park) in a smaller 2 seater aircraft called a Cessna 152. After learning the basics such as: climbing, descending, turning, stall recovery & of course how to take off and land; I was ready for take off - on my first solo flight! in which your instructor will watch you perform a few circuits to assess what you have learned on the previous lessons & if you are to a standard deemed safe then you will be sent off on your own! Which I managed to do during june 2011 whilst I was still 16, before i could start driving lessons. To get a pilots licence you need to have a minimum of 45 flying hours & the average time to get to solo standard is “half your age” & the minimum age to fly an aircraft solo is 16 - I did it spot on 8 hours so I would call that a success.
Whilst continuing my civilian pilot training I was offered a place on a gliding scholarship over at 633 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (VGS) based at RAF Cosford on saturdays. The Air Cadet gliding scholarship is a 8 hour course taught on the Vigilant motor glider. In a somewhat similar fashion to the previous way I went solo, the instructor will do 3 circuits with their student and assess if they are safe to perform a solo circuit, as I had completed a solo circuit before I had a small advantage with my previous flying experience. But the differences between the civilian flying and the VGS is slightly different (the fact that you fly the aircraft as a glider on landing and the shape of the circuits are different) but I managed to solo in 7 hours. I flew my first (Air Cadet) solo flight on 10th December 2011 & came back as a flight staff cadet (FSC) at 633 VGS on 17th December.
Any cadet who has silver wings & can commit to one day per week (Saturday or Sunday) can become a staff cadet - depending on vacancies. There are 3 to 4 months of ground work with no flying for the probationary FSC where they will have to prove their worth & dedication.
The next step for a cadet in his/her flying career is to gain gold wings (complete advanced training) which consists of a minimum of 5 hours extra flying and is culminated in 5 additional solo circuits. I completed my AGT and gained my gold wings on 23rd August 2012, so a little over 9 months. However! During this time the VGS took a trip to 636 VGS at Swansea airport. in which I got over 7 hours flying in wonderful summer sun (yes even in wales!). including a transit flight back to cosford over the mountains - all in one weekend (we even got to watch the olympic opening ceremony with a barbecue upon arrival!) Overall I had 17 hours when I got my gold wings.
Catching up with the civilian side of flying and training towards a PPL, there are 7 written theory exams (all multiple choice, but still require about 2 weeks worth of revision each) I completed them over about 4 months from June onwards. There is then a practical radio test (which involves you being locked in a cupboard under the stairs and wearing headphones to talk to a man upstairs - high tech I know.)
With all the theoretical and ground based exams passed i then progressed to complete a “Qualifying Cross Country (QXC)” Flight which involves landing at 2 other airfields, other than the one you departed from and flying 3 legs on a total flight of 150 miles and 3 hours - all of which are solo. I did my QXC on the route ‘Tatenhill - Gloucester - Leicester - Tatenhill’ which I did on a wonderful sunny day in November 2012.
Now I was working towards completing a full EASA PPL (full license) instead of the more restrictive NPPL. A benefit of this is that you are able to add on ‘ratings’ which pretty much allow you to fly more complex aircraft in more difficult conditions. I decided that I would go ahead and train for a night rating (self explanatory - allows you to fly an aircraft at night) as it was one of the quickest to complete at only 5 hours & would be the most likely for me to use in the future. The training for this consisted of doing 3 hours training with my instructor at night in varying situations (including landing without cockpit lighting & without a landing light... probably one of the most interesting bits of flying I have done.) And then 2 hours of solo flying, including a navigation flight.
I also decided to get checked out on a larger 4 seater aircraft, meaning I could go straight onto flying my friends & family after I had gotten my license. Simply 2 additional hours training allowing me to fly the 4 seater Piper Warrior & more powerful Archer.
After the christmas break I went to Cosford on our first weekend back (5th Jan 2013) and had an hours flight with our boss: Sqn Ldr Bullock, he then sent me on the last hours solo flying I needed to complete in order to finish my G2 (Grade 2 Pilot) workup. Then after a quick lunch break on the ground I heard the boss shout for me. it was time for my Grade 2 Checkflight! I felt quite nervous (as the checkflight is a bit like a driving test) however I had a good flight with him earlier and after 40 mins of being checked to test my actions upon engine failures, stalling & general flying. I landed and shutdown, to which the boss shook my hand and told me I was a G2... meaning I am allowed to take the aircraft as captain for upto an hour. Even closer to taking cadets on their first flights & was given my ‘pilots wings’ - a rare sight!
On the 16th February 2013 I went to cosford as usual & was given 2 hour long solo slots for me to practice my flying & GiC working towards Grade 1 pilot status (enables you to take cadets up on GiC flights.)
The next day, after 2 ½ months and 5 reschedulings due to bad weather, I drove to Tatenhill airfield, Sunday 17th February 2013. A gorgeous day weather wise, not a cloud in the sky & strangely warm for so early in the year! This was for my final PPL flying skills test.
The route planned was Tatenhill - Ludlow - Bala - Tatenhill, I planned the route & checked the weight and balance for the aircraft. Walked out to preflight the aircraft & hopped in for the moment I had been working for 2 years towards!
During the flight I navigated the first leg for around 40 minutes (during which I contacted Cosford radio only to have my chief instructor at the VGS answer the radio. He told me to “look after the chap on my right” - the examiner! Which made us both laugh, nice way to break the mood during the flight.) We then proceeded to fly the second leg when halfway the examiner told me to divert to another destination, meaning I had to draw a new line on the map and calculate the distance, time and wind drift all whilst flying the aircraft and maintaining a lookout! (easier than it sounds, trust me!) There is then a section where you are required to navigate using only radio aids and the cockpit instruments. Then perform maneuvers wearing a “hood” which blocks out the view of the outside causing you to only fly on instruments in the cockpit. However once I had the hood on, I noticed that there had been a vacuum failure, key for the operation of the artificial horizon and direction indicator (needed for performing the maneuvers) … however my examiner said to have a go at it using alternative instruments.
To my surprise I managed to pull it off!
We then did some stall recovery near to RAF shawbury (no danger of getting in anyone's way as the RAF will not work on Sundays...) and some other bits of the test which involve causing the aircraft to plummet towards the ground and having me recover it.
Heading back towards the airfield I felt a sense of satisfaction at not messing up anything so far, however we were going back to perform some practice engine failures after take off & flapless, gliding approaches. After 4 or 5 circuits of varying difficulty the examiner said “Okay make this the last one then”.
After landing I taxied back, parked up, shut down.
My heart was racing as my instructor uttered the words “Well then... You’ve passed!!!”
A huge sigh of relief and excitement passed through me as I let out a massive grin at the fact that I had done it, I had become a pilot!
About a week after I passed my test I decided to hire an aircraft for the evening (and as I had the night rating I could continue flying until after sunset) but unfortunately as I still had not received the physical licence I could not take passengers, but I just counted it as practice! I flew the 4 seater PA28 Archer aircraft from Tatenhill to Stoke Golding (a small grass strip near to Hinckley) and back at around 6pm, so the sun was just setting which made for a very pleasant flight.
I’ll certainly be taking up my friends and family on flights, I am currently planning a flight across to Ireland and another around France with my newly found freedom. And as I am now a licensed pilot, I am hoping to soon become a Grade 1 pilot at the VGS and will tick off another of my goals: To fly cadets whilst still a cadet myself.
Hopefully, this will be just the start...