May 11th, 2008

To the skies!

As my previous post may have indicated, I fly quite a bit. Unfortunately, this has dulled me to the wonder of it a bit. When I do go flying, I sit in my seat and think about how annoying the other passengers are and how crappy the food is, when in reality I should be looking out of the window and thinking how amazing it is that 160 tonnes of metal is managing to defy gravity and fly myself, a hundred smelly people and their luggage hundreds of miles to a far off land.

Outside the plane, though, I’m different. I regularly cause pile-ups1 on the M25 near Heathrow as I watch the planes take off and land as I go by. Once thing I particularly enjoy is the difference between planes taking off and planes landing. A plane, especially a large one, obviously hates being on the ground.

For starters, take a look at this plane taking off:

It almost looks as if it wants to take off, and is looking forward to being up in the sky. When it’s up there, it looks just like the picture in my previous post - sleek and beautiful, soaring through the sky. Finally, compare that picture to this:

Tethered, as if to a life support machine - unable to support itself without hundreds of ancillary machines keeping it alive - it even has to be pushed around by a little truck!

Right, there is a point to this post, despite several hundred words of rambling, and it begins… now.

Because of the fascination with planes detailed above, I’ve purposely not been up in a light aircraft ((Not that is was hard - I just didn’t give someone a pile of money to take me up in one)). I imagined that, just as driving an Ariel Atom will a sense of driving far greater and purer than lumbering along in a Volvo, the experience of piloting a light aircraft and feeling the effect of every slight movement you make on the controls and gust of wind will make me fall in love with flying and want to learn. Learning, in case you wondered, is very expensive.

Unfortunately, Tim got me the very wonderful present of a trip up in a light aircraft. Allow me to present photos…

This would have been fine if after 10 minutes of looking at Cambridge and the surrounding area the pilot didn’t say “Ok, now it’s your turn”. I would’ve happily enjoyed the experience, gone back home and wished I could fly. I’d then look into it, discover how much it costs, and give up.

However, the pilot did, after 10 minutes of looking at Cambridge and the surrounding area, say “Ok, now it’s your turn”. And, with hardly any warning sirens at all, I successfully turned the little plane left and right and made it go up and down. I looked down at a field and couldn’t quite see it properly, so I banked the plane a little so I could see better.

The experience was fascinating. I knew the theory behind it all from reading books about planes and playing on Flight Simulator, but in real life it’s (obviously) much more direct - you feel every little movement the plane makes as it’s thrown around by the wind.

So, I want to learn. Allow me to present a thoroughly research cost analysis of flying a light aircraft:

The costs are, in seriousness, quite absurd. A brand new Cessna Skyhawk costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. Obviously, you don’t buy brand new planes - you buy used ones and/or share ownership or rent them. For example, there’s a 9 year old Skyhawk on eBay for a thoroughly reasonable £89,999.00.

Still, I’ll make it happen. I don’t plan to own a ‘craft for a very long time, but I’ll at least learn to fly one. Maybe not this year, but soon.

  1. Dramatisation.