Monday, June 15, 2009

Aces High!

Last weekend, I took another flying lesson. That makes two in the last twelve years. At this rate, I should be eligible for my private pilot's licence by the time I'm 487-years-old.

The flying lesson was gift from Mini Militant, who thought that it would be wise for his father to take a refresher course in flying before heading off on hols in France. If something went wrong en route (like the pilot had a bad oyster, or something) I'd apparently have the know-how to bring that baby down.

I'm not entirely convinced by Mini Militant's logic, but I was more than happy to take him up on his Father's Day gift anyway!

I flew out from Princeton Airport, which is as spectacularly humble an airport as you're ever going to find. It was awesome.

Princeton Airport - Unsurprisingly, there's no Duty Free shop

Unlike in Britain, where everything is regulated to death, the Americans are wonderfully pragmatic about taking to the skies. My instructor did a pre-flight check with unfussy professionalism and within minutes, we were taxing down the runway.

I got to 'drive' the plane on the runway myself - and took the controls just as soon as we'd hit a thousand feet. Completely different to my experience in England, I got to fly the plane all by myself for the entire hour - and my instructor didn't scream once (which suggests I'm a much better pilot than I am a driver.)

My steed - an '81 Cessna 172 SkyHawk. The vinyl interior looked like it came from a similar vintage Chevrolet Camaro

Flying in New Jersey is brilliant. I never realized quite how big, green and beautiful this state is. I'd never seen so many trees in my life - you have no idea just what a forest NJ is until you're flying above it.

In my journey, I flew over Princeton itself (I recognized the Hospital from episodes of House) and then crossed over into Pennsylvania and banked across the beautiful town of New Hope. Then, following Route 1 back to the airport, I was allowed to bank us into position and my instructor only took the controls back when we came into land.

Cheesy grin? CHECK! Pre-flight check complete. Chocks away!

Flying is fun. I've always had aspirations to be a World War II flying ace, and this is probably as close as I'm ever going to come. But the buzz from taking to the air - when you feel the wind buffet you as if you were as light and inconsequential as a bird - is still pretty heady. I loved it.

Apparently, getting your pilot's license in America is a fairly straightforward process - but I don't think I'll do it. For a start, where would I fly, even if I had a licence? And secondly, if I struggle to get Mummy Militant onto a damn airliner, I think it's impossible that I'll ever get her into the passenger seat of a Cessna 172!

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