The best and the shortest half an hour of my life was spent in a light aircraft flying down the coast of Cornwall. I was given a trial flying lesson which could either become the first step towards a private pilot’s license or, if nothing else, the experience of seeing Cornwall in a third dimension is something unbeatable.
But, to be honest, I was all that keen at first…
I had real collywobbles in my stomach and my knees were lightly shaking. The idea of flying in a 4-seater ‘Cesna 172’ is a bit like trusting your life to a rattling and bouncing tin-can Citroen 2CV with wings and just as we’re about to taxi down the run way, Laura, my flying instructor, told me that she suffers from vertigo. Should I feel comforted that I’m putting my trust in someone who is just as uncomfortable with heights as I am? Laura’s pre-flight emergency procedure briefing was also hardly reassuring. She joked, “the medical kit is and fire extinguisher is there – but not a lot of use – if we should crash!” She pointed at where the sick bags were located, but added, “you’re really very unlikely to need these. When we get up there, that the views are so amazing that you’ll forget about being sick or that you are 2,000 feet up in a tiny aircraft!”
The take-off was remarkably quick in a light aircraft – thank goodness – as seconds after we are airborne the ground gives way to a sheer cliff drop, jagged rocks and white breakers and…
Wow! Oh Lord! The most beautiful turquoise sea is all there is below me! I don’t have a fear of flying any more; just a fear of falling, but the wonder of my bird’s eye view had me transported. Laura asked if I’d like to take over the controls. I’m thinking, “No way. Are you mad?” She explained how really simple it is, “Gentle movements, nothing too sudden, you’ll be fine.” By moving the wheel to the left or right the plane turns just like a car. Pull it forward and we start to climb, push it away and the nose descends and I’m tempted to yank it back up again in alarm. “Once you have the horizon level and know where it wants to sit, the plane will fly itself.” She let go of the wheel just to prove it too me, “Look no hands!”
Before my lesson, I was explained the rudiments first. “Turning the wheel to the left or right moves the ‘ailerons’ – the flaps on the end of the wing.” It’s the altered air flow, as these flaps go up or down, which make one wing go up and the other down to turn the aeroplane. Moving the wheel towards you or pushing it away moves the ‘elevators’ on the tail and makes the aeroplane go up and down. “Flying can seem like a form of magic,” I’m told, “But it seems to work every time…..!” I gulp hard. I do and I don’t want to go through this experience. “The plane will fly at about 60 miles per hour to get it off the ground and you’ll then fly at around 80 -100 miles per hour, but it feels very stately and sedate. Your flight today may also include the chance to see a beach full of seals.”
The thought of being given a rare bird’s eye view of marine life from 2,000 feet up starts to make me feel much more interested than apprehensive.
Laura, at 29, is the only female flying instructor in Cornwall. A university friend first introduced her to flying which gave her the bug and she has been flying ever since. “In the winter we spend time waiting around and drinking tea, but in fine weather we are flying all the time and a barely have time to stop for some lunch,” she said. “So, where would you like to go today?” In half an hour’s lesson it’s possible to fly up to the North coast to Port Isaac, south over the River Fal or westerly down to St. Ives and see the seals near Godrevy point. I’m spoilt for choice but since the idea of aerial wildlife spotting has already been suggested I couldn’t now resist the chance to see them.
You can start flying at 14, but can’t log your hours or fly solo until you are 16 and can take your test at 17. My nine year old, having witnesses his mother become airborne, is already counting how many more years he has to go. Effectively it is possible to be able to fly a plane before you can drive a car. On the other extreme, age is no barrier to learning to fly. The oldest student of Perranporth Flying Club was 74 when he started and the eldest pilot who comes to fly regularly is 88. The age range for those learning to fly is enormous. “It is a lovely hobby,” I’m told – albeit and expensive one – but flying in Cornwall really could not be better. It is difficult – nay impossible – to top the fantastic coastal scenery in Cornwall and “With the Scillys only 35 minutes away and the Channel Islands an hour and 40 minutes, once you have your pilot’s license and can fly, you can really feel you have been somewhere for the day.”
I knew Cornwall was beautiful when I’d only seen it from ground, and in bright summery days its glory can be jaw-dropping but now, having viewed it’s gorgeousness from into the skies I know how breathtaking this county really is. I’ve seen heather-clad cliff tops, iconic Cornish mine engines, white lines of breakers and a shimmering sea; farms, fields, woods, roads, rivers, villages, sandy beaches and an inaccessible cove full of basking seals. Half an hour later, apprehension and my jelly legs all forgotten, I’m back on the ground, wordless and in awe. The first 30 minutes towards my pilot’s licence well and truly in the bag. I might have to save my pennies for the next lesson or wait until the family have flown the nest but one thing is for sure, after that experience I’ll be back as soon as the next opportunity arises. Try stopping me.
Perranporth Flying Club use 4-seater ‘Cesna 172’ for training and offer the following courses:
- Trial Lesson: 30 minute (£75) or 1 hour flights (£145). Should you wish to see any particular sight in Cornwall and enjoy as a scenic flight at the same time be shown some of the techniques of airborne navigation. These trial ‘lessons’ can be bought as gifts vouchers. The hour or half and hour is the first of the course and counts towards flying hours for a full course.
- A flying foundation Course the first 12 hours of the training syllabus by which time most people have reached the stage of their first solo flight. Prepaid – £1590.00 plus exam fee ( £35.25) (includes 2 hours ground school)
- NPPL National Private Pilots Licence. Minimum 32 hours from £4020.00 plus exam and skills test at the end.
- European licence Minimum 45 hours – from £5366.50 (plus exam fees)