Last week, on a evening flight back to Manchester after a few days in Germany, I was taking advantage of the clear skies over Northern England to look down and spot the towns & cities as we flew over the Humber estuary. In one way I was pleased that my city spotting skills were improving, although they were much helped by the lights putting each city in sharp relief against the dark background. But then I was wondering why I don’t see as many features when I am flying my own plane….because I normally fly much, much lower. And that in turn got me thinking about the last time I had been up high as a pilot, it was actually on my first proper flying lesson.
My first flying lesson finally came about one October Saturday morning a few years ago. I had had the lesson booked for several weeks, but each week I was introduced to more aviation meteorology terms when I rang to confirm the lesson: “Blowing a hoolie“…”Cr*p”…and the best for me…”Sh*t Vis”. Each week I rebooked for the following weekend, but finally a day dawned with clear sky & little wind so all was set.
To be frank, there was a lot of information to take in so my memory isn’t that perfect of the event, I recall strapping myself into the little Ikarus C42 plane, and listening to the instructor telling me the two words to remember for my pre-flight checks. I do recall the instructions for checking that the runway was clear & that there were no non-radio aircraft on final before taxiing out (another story for another time), I don’t why that stuck with me but it did.
Somewhere along the line we taxied out & took off, and somewhere along the line the instructor pointed at some clouds to the north-west and asked me if I knew what they were.
I had actually done a little bit of background work here & thought they were lenticular (or altocumulus lenticularis to be more accurate) but wondered if it was just a triumph of me being hopeful over having more experience. It could be that they were something more normal so felt that it was better to stay quiet & be thought stupid rather than open my mouth and prove it so I ended up saying something along the lines of not really knowing.
The instructor, David, pointed out that they were lenicular (damn, missed opportunity there!) which meant mountain wave, and that they were very unusual, so much so I probably wouldn’t see them again in my time under instruction so the formal syllabus was to be abandoned for the lesson and we were off to have some fun.
I was new to all this piloting stuff so every experience was new making it difficult to differentiate between what was normal and the more unusual, so I jumped slightly when David did his “Hur hur hur” laugh (I was later to become used to it as part of his teaching, it was the clue that something was amiss) before pointing out “Hur-hur-hur…Lift for free, see”. Indeed the Vertical Speed Indicator showed us going upwards at about 400 feet a minute (airline pilots probably think 400ft/m is standing still, but for free I’ll have it any day). What confused me was that we were nowhere near the cloud, but the wave effec t travelled a long way.
Moments later we flew over the runways at RAF Topcliffe, later to become a familiar landmark, with David shouting at the gliders being prepared on the ground below “Hur-hur-hur…Stop messing around and get up here guys, it’s lovely”
So it was that we spend the next thirty minutes or so going up when we were on the upward side; getting pushed down again on the other side of the invisible wave & then getting bumped around in the rotor as we got closer. I quickly worked out how to find the upward flowing air & put on more height.
Somewhere along the climb the radio started chirping away, not a busy day at the airfield we’d left but instead the Tower at Dublin Airport now in range. As we climbed above the smooth shape of the lenticular, I was mixing it with airline pilots. At just over 8,500 feet we stooged around the main cloud looking down at Yorkshire in all it’s glory, up towards Middlesborough and beyond; and Lancashire….
All good things must come to an end, and we needed to get back so it was a gentle descent towards the white horse at Sutton Bank.
So what has this to do with anything normally posted here on WIBNI? Well not a lot really; just a great memory of a good break away from normal life. That’s what we need from time to time, a break away from the normal running of our lives to do something so different and memorable that we keep it in our minds as somewhere to go when we need a break.