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Friday, April 14, 2006


Straightening up and flying right

Every so often this blog gets a splurge of visits from the Professional Pilots forums. This is very painful for me. When I was not such an impoverished physical wreck, I had a fond dream about learning to fly a light aircraft (Still have really). All I’ve managed to do since then is have a few trial lesson flights at a local (ish) flying club. You know the sort of thing, get your hands on the controls of a light aircraft / glider / helicopter at a reduced rate. For the price you get a precious half hour with your bum 2000 exhilarating feet from terra firma. Reminders of these rare occasions are emotionally very taxing. Same thing for riding a large motorcycle, once you have ridden, very little else comes close.

What is it with me and aircraft? I can lean on a gate and watch light aircraft take off and land all day if there is nothing else for me to do (DIY, walk / wash the dog, write, shop, yaddada yaddada.). A partial answer came to me when I was given a Helicopter flying lesson as a birthday treat a few years ago, and more recently when the Air Ambulance came calling to pick up a heart attack case late last summer from one of the local parks.

I was close by on the Municipal grounds car park and got roped in on a little impromptu crowd control as there was a shortage of other ‘Units’ as CCTV likes to call everyone in uniform, from PCSO to Chief Constable. The problem always is that certain people want to have family photo’s taken right up close by the Air Ambulance, and don’t seem to realise that they are getting in the way. The Air Ambulance is not some touristy thing laid on for the gawping masses. The crew can’t wait while little Johnny has his photo taken by granddad who doesn’t quite understand how his new digital camera thingy works. The paramedics and crew have a job of work getting someone with a life threatening condition to hospital, and don’t have time for idly dawdling civilians to clear the area.

Any old how, Here’s the impression it made on me at the time, written on that same evening.
Whoever coined the term ‘Chopper’ for helicopter knew exactly what they were talking about. It is an earthy, elemental word for a flying machine, which literally hacks its way into the sky, grabbing at every wisp of air in it’s bid to clear the clutches of the ground.

At take off, being near a helicopter is an adrenalin inspiring and near deafening experience. The accelerating whup-whup-whup sound of those four blades and screaming whistle of the turbine touch something primeval in the soul. Something that feels the thrill of raw power grab the spine and create the overwhelming, almost visceral desire to fly in everyone who gets this close.

As the blade rate increases, the helicopter becomes more than some brute machine smashing and flailing at the air. Under the pilot’s skilled hands, a twist of the controls alters the rotor pitch; suddenly giving this beast life, performing an unusually delicate, almost dainty, bob and skip. Half a second later, with a sudden blast of hot summer air, it literally jumps from the ground and undergoes an abrupt change. No longer the noisy, ungainly, awkward, clattering monster of a moment before, now in its true element, it soars away on its mercy dash like no bird ever could.

Dramatic or what? No wonder I love flying. Cessna 152, rattly old T20 glider or just a passenger in a 747 (Best of all, sitting with my nervous left hand on the collective of a Robinson 22 helicopter.)

To all you pilots who visit this blog from the Professional Pilots forums; have pity on we poor souls with ground imprisoned feet. We too have dreams. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde; “All of us are in the gutter; but some of us would reach the stars.”

Now I’m going for a very large drink.


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Location: British Columbia, Canada

Exasperated expatriate expostulations all the way from British Columbia, Canada. As if anyone really cared. Oh, I also watch Icelandic Volcanoes and seismic activity. Don't ask me why.

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