For me the love and fear of flying began when I was five years old. My step-brother was a pilot in the RAF and on Battle-of-Britain day in 1952 he smuggled me on-board a Wellington Bomber at RAF Hullavington and I was immediately ‘bitten’ by the flying bug. On a foggy day in October of the same year the love turned to fear when my step brother was killed in a crash at the same airfield in the same aircraft.
Years later I joined the forces and was faced with an air transport flight from London to Hong Kong. I was literally sick with fear. It was a 28 hour flight with frequent fuel stops and at every landing and take-off my stomach knotted up and my mouth filled with bile. Having arrived safely in Hong Kong I was self aware enough to realise that I had to do something about my irrational fear. Three months later I was in Singapore and I approached a local flying club about learning to fly. They referred me to the Civil Air Board who in turn sent me to an RAF sponsored scheme that trained non-flying service personnel to obtain a ‘flying licence’. I went through all the formalities and was accepted for basic flight training.
Basic training was carried out in a Tiger Moth, my instructor was a retired RAF pilot who had flown fighters during WW2 before becoming an instructor. He was patient, good humoured and very perceptive. He sensed my fear and dispelled it with ease. The learning process was fun and I progressed quickly to solo. Once I was considered proficient I was moved up to a more powerful aircraft, and I passed the basic flying test with ease and an ‘above average’ notation. Next came instrument flying and yet more powerful aircraft. Finally after some nine months of intensive training I was handed my Pilots Certificate. I had little idea then that I had earned a commercial licence, not a PPL. I just wanted to fly.
The flying hours mounted up and after a few years I found myself back in the UK and a civilian again. I flew whenever and whatever I could and then had the luck to meet another retired RAF pilot who was a ‘ferry’ pilot. He helped me to get part-time work ferrying aircraft around the UK and Europe. Often this involved flying specials that had been built or adapted for movies. The rules then where far more lax than they are today and often I flew aircraft that really should not have been classed as airworthy. I remember particularly a 70% scaled replica of a FW190. There was barely room to breathe in the cockpit and it was horribly underpowered. I had to fly it from the factory to Elstree and it was a nightmare flight, climbing to 3000 ft took 20 minutes and it would cough and splutter. When I finally landed at Elstree I made it known what I thought of this crate, the response was ‘That’s why you’re paid well’. I also had the joy of ferrying Spanish HE111’s and Buchons, and once I even got to fly a real Spitfire MkIX though only for a half hour.
The hours continued to pile up, but over the years as flight regulations changed and ATC grew in power there were less opportunities to fly by the seat of your pants. I always found IFR flying very boring.
Then came the accident that put an end to my flying. A desperate fight for control as the ground loomed ever closer? No, I was walking along a footpath when a motorcycle appeared out of nowhere and hit me. I had a serious head injury and that was that – Licence revoked on medical grounds, and quite rightly so.
Recovering from the injury I found that I missed flying very badly and became quite depressed. I could scrounge the occasional flight and sit in the cabin but it was never the same. I had often fooled around with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, but the early versions were so far removed from reality that they were not particularly satisfying. As the versions came and went it improved steadily and I began to fly it regularly.
Now, with FSX and a plethora of add on aircraft I get a lot of fun out of sim flying. I generally fly VFR, rarely fly jets, and love flying vintage aircraft of all types. I can recapture some of the crazy flying of my younger days, fast and low, jinking over obstacles or flying through mountain ranges rather than over them. Using old style navigation as far as is possible (we used to take directional fixes off commercial radio stations amongst other methods).
With this kind of flying in a simulation comes the desire to get the scenery ‘right’ and I have developed scenery, airfields and scenarios that are relevant to the period of the aircraft I fly. Flying the superb FSAddon Lysander over a darkened Europe looking for a landing ground marked out by three torches whilst dodging flack and night-fighters is quite a challenge. Soaring in the Storch whilst the battle of El Alamein is going on below all adds to the sense of realism and pays a tribute to all those pilots of yesteryear who had to navigate by the seat of their pants whilst coping with the unexpected all the time.
I am an old bold pilot, perhaps the exception that proves the rule. In the sim I can push the aircraft to its limits without the cackle of an ATC protest in my ears. I can enjoy the ultimate sense of sweaty joy diving at 400mph, levelling out 50ft above the ground and jinking over tress and power-lines along the Loire valley – much more fun than cruising at 30,000 ft on a 9 hour IFR run.
I hope I can enthuse you use your sim to try some of this for yourself, but whatever your preferences I wish you happy simmimg.
[real world flying = 6878 hours logged on 39 different aircraft types] [Simulation flying 10,000 hrs plus in over 70 different aircraft types]
by ‘Old Codger’