“Aerobility 1, with a left turn out on track, runway 25, clear take off”. Throttle forward and we start to roll. Flashback, 27th July 1971, the cable tugged taught and the glider shot across the grass at RAF Gaydon. It was my 16th birthday and first solo. The winch did well, 1,100 ft when it normally only gets to 800’. What a great day, fantastic views and it was all mine. Having just seen the new Lionel Bart musical “Oliver” I broke into a chorus of “who will buy my wonderful morning” at the top of my lungs - open cockpit, no engine and now 700’, everyone on the ground could hear! The first time I embarrassed myself in an aircraft, and not the last!
Thirty five years and eight thousand flying hours later, in 2006 I flew for Aerobility with Ben Bennet from Lasham to Goodwood as his instructor. He flew with his new PPL which he hadn’t had the chance to use so he needed a checkout. He didn’t expect what followed so I will always remember the look on his face at Goodwood when I told him to get back in and take her away for an hour or so.., and yes he should take Louise Scotney as a passenger. Thanks to Aerobility after my accident I got the chance to instruct again. Later Mark Edgeworthy facilitated the opportunity to spend my university holidays flying Tiger Moths for Delta Aviation. This led in turn to the Captains seat on a glass cockpit King Air powered by twin gas turbines flying for the Scottish Air Ambulance. I had never thought I would fly again professionally.
But back to the real world, or do I mean sim, I am passing the Hoover dam, looking down to the left the Grand Canyon sinks downwards towards the Colorado, almost like Glen Clova in my own Scotland. Well you have to don’t you… nose down 145 knots and dive between the canyon walls. Wonder if this will be the fastest the sim flies during the global trip? For the next ten minutes weaving along the canyon is the nearest this PA28 sim will ever get to being a Tornado Fighter. I think how privileged I am. The previous pilots before me were Tom Jones and Elvis, or so they claimed. Turning up at Blackbushe at midnight to get ready for my sector bearing doughnuts for the ATCO’s, I didn’t expect them to be eaten by pop megastars at 0045hrs! More importantly though, am I really climbing into a seat Buzz Aldrin sat in just a few sectors earlier and putting on his headset. How cool is that for a pilot?
A lot of days are pretty miserable for me. My chest injuries play up, I can’t sleep and I really don’t enjoy life. But how lucky I am. I can walk, talk, feel and see, have great friends and a wonderful wife. Also I can still fly, it really means so much to me. If you go into a crowded bar and one person there is a pilot, how will you know? Don’t worry, he/she will tell you! Until July this year I strapped myself behind hi tech screens and went off in all weathers to retrieve sick people in remote parts of Scotland, or maybe take a baby in an incubator down to Great Ormond Street. Settling down after my accident in 2001 enabling me to return to aviation was in no small part down to Aerobility, Mike Miller-Smith and Mark Edgeworthy. Without them I would probably just have used my PPL rather than the ATPL/IR.
Maybe in the real world, outside the sim, its 0345, I am struggling to get a new job and juggle every-day living dilemmas, but here in the virtual world I am crossing the desert, Phoenix is a blur in the distance and getting closer but the view is magic. Over the years with the air ambulance & as a flying instructor I have touched the lives of so many people. Aerobility does the same. With this wonderful simulator many more disabled people can learn & experience the wonder of flying and let “slip the surly bonds of earth”Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, and for the opportunity to be ‘one of the 100’.