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Aircew airlines Airport aviation Flight Nostalgia Old Friends pilots Transport Travel

We all Know that ONE Person…

Flying is a serious addiction. It needs feeding, and a sufferer will need to get a regular fix if he or she is to remain happy. Denying any aviator their flying fix will result in massive mood swings, irritability, loss of sense of humour, and a restlessness that is impossible to shift.

Having passed my written examinations for my ATPL in the UK, I needed to build my flying experience, and amass a considerable number of hours in a relatively short time.

Working in Flight Operations for a major British Airline, meant that I had access to heavily discounted airfares, and in some cases free tickets and as flying light aircraft in the USA was half the price of flying in the UK, it made sense to go to America.

Readers of my previous posts will know that I learned to fly in Fort Worth near Dallas, however, I wanted to do my hours building in an area where I could partake of other leisure activities when not flying.

This left me with two choices; Florida or California. I did a lot of research on the two states, and their flying schools, and decided to go to Southern California, initially to Fullerton Municipal (KFUL) and then to Long Beach (KLGB).

As I had friends in Southern California, I frequently combined flying with chilling out in either Rancho Santa Margarita or Dana Point. This naturally involved drinking beer, shooting the breeze, and in some cases, shooting firearms on a friends ranch.

Which brings me to the point of this article. There is always one person that you will meet in aviation who is a true professional and leaves a lasting and indelible impression upon you, stamping their ethos onto your soul.

I met that man in February 2002, at Long Beach Airport.

I had landed at LAX the previous afternoon and planned my stay in such a way as to maximise my flying time. I booked a hotel near Long Beach Airport and drove there from LAX so that I could be at the flying club first thing the next day.

Walking into the flying club, I chatted with the ops desk clerk and told him that I wanted to book an aeroplane and an instructor. I had decided that I would use the hours building opportunity to do the differences training onto a new aeroplane type, and I was offered a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I was told that Harry was available and that they would ring him for me to discuss times with him.

When the call connected, I explained to Harry what I wanted to do, that I wanted to convert onto a new type and to undertake my biennial flight review.

“Sure,” he said, “The airplane is booked at 1500, for a two-hour slot. So, meet me at the club at 1430, we’ll go through the paperwork, and briefing. Then we will go and sit in the airplane for an hour, going through the drills and talking about the performance. You gotta pay for my time whatever, but you only pay for the airplane once the engine is running, so better to do the classroom stuff on the ground, then we can concentrate on having fun and flying”

Putting down the ‘phone, I smiled. Harry sounded a nice bloke. He’d saved me a good few dollars, so I decided to invest in a new checklist, a chart, and other bits and bobs in the pilot shop.

When I say bits and bobs, I mean a new Noise Cancelling Headset and a RAM mount for my GPS navigation unit.

I read the club rules, signed the books, and reviewed the departure procedures and any long term NOTAMs that would affect me the next day. I decided that I would leave the route plan up to Harry, and just see what happened.

Long Beach. Not for the chicken hearted. Mixing it with C-17s and Stealth Flighter, and the odd DC3.

The next morning was gloomy and foggy, typical LA Basin weather, but if it was true to form it would have burnt off by about 1400, so happy days.

I grabbed a quick hotel breakfast, and glugged back a mug of coffee, and then drove to the airport.

Parking up, I walked up the stairs to the club, grabbed another coffee, and went and sat on the balcony overlooking the ramp. On the far side of the airport, the Sheriff Department’s helicopter sat forlornly on the parking, and I could see a C-17 being towed into the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) hangar.

I killed the time reading the Pilots Operating Handbook for the Cessna C172 SP Skyhawk and chatting with the other students and club pilots. After a relaxed lunch of a grilled sandwich washed down with Sprite, I went back into the ops room to meet Harry.

Harry, Chilled out as normal. My Check flights in SOCAL will never be quite the same.

Harry wandered in at 1430, carrying his clipboard, headset, chart and a small case. About my height, but with at least ten years seniority on me. He had a luxuriant moustache, which emphasised his happy smile.

We shook hands, and after a few pleasantries, went down to the aircraft, where he patiently went through the controls with me, paying special attention to the fact that this was an injected engine – different to the normally aspirated models that I had flown previously.

He conducted a brief questions and answers session with me, then briefed for the departure out of Long Beach. It was as I remembered, straight out, a left turn at the Los Angeles River, and down to the Queen Mary, where we would turn south.

Long Beach Airspace

The route was down to San Diego via Mount Palomar. Cool. I swiftly drew lines on the chart, and calculated times and headings, corrected with a quick call to 1-800-WX-BRIEF for an en-route weather briefing.

Then it was back to the aircraft.

N137ME taxying at Long Beach Daugherty Field

Harry leaned back in the right-hand seat, looked across at me, and said, “OK, It’s your airplane, I’m just here for the ride.”

So saying, he looked out of the window, as I called Long Beach ground for taxi clearance, and requested a squawk for SOCAL approach Southbound to San Diego.

I frantically scribbled the clearance down, together with the Squawk; I was surely not used to the machine-gun-fast radio in the US.

We taxied out, number two to a Douglas DC-3, and stopped at the holding point to do the vital actions and pre-flight checks.

Once the DC-3 had departed, I lined up and asked Harry if he was happy and good to go.

“I’m good” was his laconic response, and I eased the throttle to the stop, and we accelerated down the tarmac, lifting off cleanly, and climbing away into the bright sunlight.

I smiled to myself. My prediction was correct – the maritime layer had burnt off nicely, and the sky was bright blue.

I changed frequencies to SOCAL approach, and they immediately had me identified on radar and cleared me to the south as filed. Crossing the LA River – which flows through a concreted canal, I rolled into a left turn and then left again to parallel the coast, gently climbing to my planned cruise altitude.

The Los Angeles River at Long Beach

Interestingly, the Los Angeles River has been used in several movies, with probably the most famous ones being Grease, Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight Rises.

Racing for Pink Slips in the LA River – Grease

I could see Emmy and Eva the two oil platforms out ahead near the shoreline and some large cargo ships entering the Port of Los Angeles at Long Beach.

Harry seemed quite happy with my performance so far and once I had the aircraft trimmed out for straight and level flight, Harry came to life, as if energised by a switch in the cockpit.

He asked me to demonstrate several manoeuvres and spotted a number of areas where he thought I could improve my flying. Climbing a little higher, he had me stalling in every configuration, steep turns, timed turns, slow flight and practice engine failures.

At the end of each feedback session, he would get me to repeat the manoeuvre, and if I did it to his satisfaction, he would murmur “There ya go” If not, it was more practice required.

Having performed all of this he asked me to plan a diversion to Los Alamitos Army Air Base.

This made me work hard. The grilled cheese and ham sandwich and can of Sprite I scoffed earlier was conspiring against me, aided and abetted by the turbulence. I had to be head down in order to plan the divert (No Sky Demon moving maps then!), and I was grateful that the planning didn’t take too long, as I really didn’t want to toss my cookies in the aeroplane.

I rolled the aircraft onto my calculated heading and guessed at a wind correction, and we flew inland towards Los Al, descending at a pedestrian 500 feet per minute.

Harry leaned over and stared hard at my chart and the planned diversion, and then peered at the Direction Indicator. “That oughta work,” he said softly. After a few flights with Harry, I came to recognise this as high praise.

He leaned back into his seat, idly tapping his fingers on the glareshield.

“Hey, Y’know what would be good here… You done a talkdown before?”

I had never undertaken any Precision Approach Radar approaches, even during my instrument training, so this was going to be good.

Harry then said that he would take the radios and that I should concentrate on flying the aircraft.

I continued to descend, and Harry took control briefly and told me to put the hood on.

Once I was wearing the hood, he relinquished the controls. “She’s all yours” he grinned.

For the non-flying types that may be reading this, the “hood” is a smoked plastic visor designed to prevent a pilot from looking out of the windows, thus forcing them to fly using the flight instruments as their sole source of reference to navigate and control the aircraft safely.

I was now working at the extreme boundary of my performance envelope if I am honest. I was jet-lagged, and mentally tired, bearing in mind that this was my first flight for about a month.

Listening intently to the stream of instructions from the Radar Approach controller, I was constantly adjusting the power, rate of descent and heading. We were also getting lower and lower until finally the controller called “Radar Service Terminated”

Harry flipped my visor up, and there ahead of me was the main runway of Los Alamitos right under the nose.

“Will ya look at that! That came together nicely. Now, Go Around, and take me back to Long Beach, and we will have a coffee and a chat about what we should do tomorrow.”

The rest of the flight was almost routine, and I made a standard approach to Rwy 30 and an uneventful landing.

Switching to Long Beach Ground, we were cleared back to the flying club parking and as we taxied sedately back, Harry was giving me more feedback.

Pulling onto a vacant pan, I slowed the aircraft to a halt and performed the shutdown checks.

As the propellor jerked to a stop, the cabin became almost silent. I say almost, because the whine of the gyros spooling down and the ticking of the engine cooling reminded me that I still needed to secure the aeroplane.

We both got out, unplugging our headsets, and chatting amiably in the early evening sunshine.

Popping the control locks in, and removing the key, I made a final check that the master switch was off, before slamming the door and locking it.

I swiftly snapped the tie-down chains onto the lugs under the wings and walked around the aircraft tail to help Harry.

As I approached him, he held out something to me in his hand.

I took the item; it was a C90 cassette. I must have looked at him blankly, because he clapped me on the back, saying “Its an audio cassette, feller”

He reached back into the rear seat area and pulled out a small tape recorder. He had plugged it into the intercom jack in the rear cabin, so I had a complete record of the entire flight; his training, my responses, and the Air Traffic conversations.

He did this for every student that he took on an instructional flight. He made no charge for this. Not only was he an excellent instructor, from whom I learnt so much, but he was generous of spirit, and we flew many subsequent flights, where I was to enjoy his skilled instructing and excellent sense of humour.

His comedic muscle was well-developed. I remember that a few months later, I emailed him from England before my next arrival saying I wanted to do some interesting, longer navigation exercises, and he sent me a reply by email with a number of airfields to visit, together with web-links.

The suggestions were:

Las Vegas Muni, Santa Barbara, and the Chicken Ranch in Nevada…

I duly checked the links, to discover the Chicken Ranch was a brothel with its own airstrip.

I called him from the UK to explain that I didn’t think that SWMBO would be too enamoured of me visiting the Chicken Ranch.

He was roaring with laughter, as he said that he was thankful that I didn’t want to go there because his wife would be equally unhappy.

So, we went to Santa Barbara, but that’s another story.

Sadly, my mentor, instructor and friend died when his parachute failed to open at Perris Field in Southern California in October 2008.

After all these years, I still have four of Harry’s C90 cassettes, which I need to get digitised. I am sure there is still information that I can learn from.

Blue Skies Harry.

See you at the bar in the Big Flying Club in the Sky.

Go Well…

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Aircew airlines Airport aviation English Culture Flight Humour Nostalgia Old Friends pilots Security Society Transport Travel Work

That light bulb moment – a guest appearance from an old friend

The first time I met Pookie was in Summer 1991.

Blimey – that’s 29 years ago!

I was enjoying a cuppa in the baggage loaders rest room, catching my breath after working a busy departure in the gate room upstairs. I was working as a Passenger Security Agent for American AIrlines – my first airline job.

Security would’nt have been my first choice of job – I was already a qualified pilot, and had passed all of my Flight Operations and Despatch exams, but nobody gets hired into a blue chip airline in Flight Ops. The only way in is either as a Check In Agent, a Baggage Loader, or a Security Agent.

I chose Security Agent.

The decision was a simple one. After PanAm 103 was brought down at Lockerbie just two and a half years previously, security was uppermost in everyone’s mind. American Airlines were using the profiling system at the time, similar to that used by El-Al.

I learnt behavioural psychology, how to question, how to conduct a proper body search (NOT how Hollywood imagines that it is done) and how to use a security X-Ray machine.

I just thought at the time, that this would be more interesting than seeing a procession of faces, all demanding an upgrade, or doing my back in hefting overloaded bags.

Working in Ops is considered a plum job, as it is remote from the passengers, is conducted in the dry, and is intellectually demanding.

I found an empty space at one of the grubby tables, and sat down to enjoy my brew.

I saw a dark blue silhouette lurch to a stop outside the building, blanking the sunlight streaming through the window, plunging the restroom into a gloom that matched it’s decor.

The door slammed open, and a bearded bloke in his forties appeared. Walking over, he dropped an overstuffed clipboard onto the table, saying “Mind if I join you”

“Help Yourself” I replied, watching as he swiftly made a coffee at the small sink.

Returning to the table, he proffered his hand, saying “I’m Bev, I’m doing the Royal Mail”

I must have looked a bit blank, because he laughed, and said “Mail Sacks – You know, letters for air mail”

I shook his hand, telling him I was in security.

We spent about half an hour exchaning our histories, and it came up in the conversation that we both flew. He had a share in a De Havilland Chipmunk down at Shoreham, and I flew Piper Warriors and Cessnas at Popham.

We went our spearate ways, and it wasn’t until another three years had passed that I ran into Pookie again.

I was the new boy in Flight Operations. Having returned from eighteen months working as Special Services Manager at Stansted, I had finally obtained a position in Ops.

There, sitting at the main control desk was Bev, quietly and efficiently running the entire ground operation at London Heathrow for the 14 daily flights.

I worked with Bev closely for the next three years, and came to love his gentle humour and his ability to produce fantastic caricatures of his colleagues.

Thanks Bev… This is the only one that you wont get sued for!

Once we had got to know each other, we flew together on many occassions, and in any number of different aircraft. I have shared the sky with him in the delightful Chipmunk, pulling gentle loops, rolls and stall turns over the timeless, grassy south downs.

The DHC-1 Chipmunk at Goodwood… A six-gallon per hour Spitfire.

We pottered up and down the south coast of England enjoying summer in a PZL Wilga (A delightful Polish cross between a combine harvester and an aircraft).

PZL- Wilga. A very interesting aeroplane…

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in a Piper Warrior, and did a low pass at the small grass strip in Sussex appropriately named Kittyhawk.

Kittyhawk – an Appropriate place to do a low pass on the 100th Anniversary of flight, December 17th 2003

We have fooled about in the Citabria, and been school kids in the Stolp Starduster Too. And what can be better than flying in a Bücker Jungmann with a friend, whilst another friend formates on you in a Stampe?

Ahh yes, The wonderful old Bücker Jungmann, A lovely old Fräulein of the skies…

Anyhow, getting back on track…

Pookie’s sense of fun has often been unleashed on his poor, unsuspecting colleagues.

Below is his account of an episode that amused us all back in Ops whilst he was on holiday one year..

Thanks for all the laughs over the years Bev…

And as for the flying?

Well – that’s been a blast!

Good Friends, Beer, on an Airfield at Sunset… What could be better?

Over to you.

The following was written by Bev Pook, Pilot, Humourist, Motorcyclist, Bon Vivant and Good Friend.

Pookie – probably considering another practical joke, or wondering if he should bash out another quick caricature…

A Lightbulb On Vacation.

Back in the mid-nineties, I was working for American Airlines as a Flight Operations Agent, planning flights, briefing crews, and coordinating everything to ensure flights arrived and departed on time.

The flight operations room had few windows and was lit with harsh fluorescent lights, which are difficult to work with due to their flicker,  The flicker isn’t normally discernible unless you concentrate on your peripheral vision and it can then be sensed.

These lights are very good for office work as they cast little or no shadow, but if using a computer screen (which also flickers) they can cause sight problems as your iris struggles to cope with the flickering.

Enough of the technical details then.

Being heartily fed up with the eye-ache, I ferreted around for a solution, and during one very uneventful night shift, I found a battered old Angle Poise lamp which had been discarded into a dark and cluttered corner of an unused office.

What a find! My Eyeballs were finally happy!

Further investigating led me to a new bulb in a cupboard, and once wiped off with a cloth, the old lamp worked perfectly.

I placed it on the main Ops desk in and I would use it whenever I was positioned in that area. I found it particularly useful on night shifts when I worked alone and could turn off the fluorescents and enjoy a softer light emitted by an incandescent light bulb.

However, I found nobody else seemed to appreciate my light as when I returned on shift after a few days off, the lamp had been pushed back out of the way.

Just before I went on vacation the bulb blew, so I threw it away and departed for a fortnights tranquillity. No sooner had I returned from holiday, I was accosted by my work companions who accused me of taking the bulb on holiday.

Because of this, I decided that my next vacation would see me having some fun at their expense. This time I took the bulb out of the fitting and locked it away in my cabinet, leaving the office with the Angle Poise containing no light source.

After a long and boring flight, I eventually arrived in Muskogee Oklahoma and was met by my good friends, with whom I would be spending my vacation.

Over breakfast the next morning, I asked Terry if I could borrow one of their light bulbs, which was greeted by a strange look but I did get the light bulb.

I then started taking photos of the bulb and me on holiday. Each picture got more and more elaborate and set up to highlight (excuse the pun) that I had indeed this time taken the bulb with me.

Here are a few of those pictures.

I hope you enjoy my rather schoolboy humour.

light bulb 1
Me, the bulb and Elvis at the Muskogee Airshow. I caught him just as he was leaving…
light bulb 2
light bulb 3
The bulb playing a light-fingered bandit
light bulb 4
The bulb and I, about to go flying in a microlight
light bulb 6
Making light of wing walking

Sorry Bev, I would have published this as an “Illuminated” manuscript, but couldn’t find the correct keys.

Go Well…

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Aircew airlines Airport aviation Cleaners English Culture Flight Movie Stars Music Society Transport Travel Veterans Work

The invisible cleaner

Stuffing my ear plugs in securely, I peered out of the open jetbridge as the Boeing 767 slowly turned onto the ramp, following the centreline precisely as it slowly advanced onto the stand.

I waved to the captain as he majestically coasted past me, and he nodded in return, still focusing on steering the jet to the correct position so that the jetbridge could be aligned around the aircraft door.

The howl of the engines died, and I caught a lungful of burnt kerosene as the engines spooled down; a smell as familiar to me after fifteen years of aviation as my own aftershave.

The beacon stopped flashing, the jetbridge was attached and it was now safe for me to open the aircraft door.

Following the published procedure, I rapped hard on the door three times, and then checked through the porthole, waiting to see a thumbs up from the cabin attendant – the signal that the emergency evacualtion slide had been disarmed, and that there were no personnel standing near the door activation lever.

I saw Sherry-Ann one of the regulars smiling back through the porthole, giving me the signal, so I grasped the cold door release handle, pulling it upwards and away from the fuselage. The door moved gently inwards, and I then pushed the small switch inside the panel, and the door was electrically lifted up into a recess over the door aperture.

A colleague opens the B767-200 Passenger Door…

Pulling the PA Handset from its cradle by the cabin attendants jump seat, I smoothly announced

“Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to London’s Stansted Airport, where the local time is 1040. Please follow the yellow overhead signs to the arrivals hall. Will Mr. Dan Billings please make himself known to Special Services at the aircraft door.”

Stansted – my wonderful work environment.

When I took on the role of Special Services Manager in Spring 1992, AA had just opened up the route and my job at the time was to look after Commercially Important Passengers, and VIPs. This included not only stars of screen and stage, but singers, politicans, religious leaders, sports personalities and senior executives in commerce or industry.

Dan Billings was one of the first passengers out. His hat arrived first, a simply huge white Stetson, curled at the brim. The rest of him followed a little later, looking all the world like a walking advert for Levi Strauss clothing. Peering out from a sea of blue denim was a leathery tanned face, a bootlace tie dangling from his throat.

So, this was the world famous Dan Billings.

Proffering my hand, to welcome him, he silently shoved his small valise at me, and started to move off up the jetbridge. Surprised, it took me a second or so to react.

Catching him up, I asked “So, welcome to London Mr. Billings, did you have a good flight?”

“Yup”

“Do you have checked baggage?” I persisted

“Nope”

Ah. So Mr. Billings conserved his affability to use it on stage, in front of his fans, rather than waste it on an airport flunkey.

I didn’t mind; after doing this job for a few years, I had swiftly realised that it was nothing personal. I am sure it must be exhausting to be your screen or stage persona constantly.

“Do you have a car waiting Mr. Billings?” I enquired, reaching for my mobile radio.

“Nope”

“Oh” I said, “Do you need a cab?”

“Nope”

We stopped at the baggage carousel, and I looked him in the eye, determined this time to get more than a monsyllabic response.

“How are you getting to London Mr. Billings?”

“Train”

Heaving his bag off the carousel, He turned to me and shoved a gnarled hand at me.

“Thanks. Y’all have a nice day now”

With that, he abruptly turned, and walked swiftly out through customs, heading efficiently towards the coach and bus stops.

I sighed. I had enjoyed being the Special Services Manager for American Airlines at Stansted Airport in the UK. I had met a great number of influential people, and seen through a great deal of the Hollywood tinsel and glitter.

An internationally famous female singer spotted two children travelling unaccompanied on her flight, so she invited them up to first class, and looked after them all the way from Chicago. What a lovely lady.

A celebrated British songstress who wanted no fuss or recognition – and who gave up her seat in first class, unbidden, to an elderly lady who looked worn out. That never got reported in the media.

Members of a heavy rock band with a hell raising image, who were polite, helpful and courteous – nothing like how they are reported.

A famous comic who spoke to me as an equal, and was still, despite his age a true man of the people, yet so sadly misunderstood.

The all-male dancing group that cheered up the entire gate lounge by performing an impromptu routine, and then going round signing autographs for no reason other than they were trying to spread some happiness and maybe make a difference.

I had to deal with the mean and the downright nasty as well. I well remember the very senior British business man whom I upgraded to First Class who, once in his seat, was then incredibly rude and agressive to the young cabin crew member who was trying to offer him champagne.

Having witnessed this, I took my career in my hands, and confronted this arrogant bully. Leaning down close to him, I explained very bluntly that I could, and would have no hesitation in very quickly and efficiently putting him back in coach class, right next to the toilets where he belonged.

Having made the statement, I decided that if I were to go out, I would go out with a bang, so I added that I expected him to make a full apology to the young stewardess if he wanted to remain on board at all.

I stalked off the aircraft, telling the cabin attendant what I had done,

Just before pushback, I boarded again, and she told me that the passenger had offered her a sincere apology.

I closed the aircraft door, and the flight duly departed.

A few days later, I received a letter from the business man offering me a full apology for his boorish behaviour. Maybe a lesson learnt?

Despite the daily flight performing reasonably well, after just over a year of operating, the company had decided to cancel the Chicago – Stansted service.

I walked slowly back to my office and small special services lounge for the last time. I filed my reports, and then signed off the system, wishing my opposite numbers in Dallas and Chicago all the best.

I picked up my briefcase, and walked out slowly through arrivals, stopping on numerous occassions to say final goodbyes to my friends and colleagues; The girls who manned the small cafe just down from my office; The lads and lasses from the security checkpoints that littered my journey into and out of work.

They all wished me well, and told me they would miss us.

Once landside, I dropped by the general office, and said goodbye to the check in and gates staff, many of whom were in tears as their short careers had come to an end.

I walked out of Stansted, not looking back, wondering how things would be on Monday morning.

A Typical Cleaning Crew – Without their Cleaning Kits Which Normally Arrive on the High Lift on the other side of the aircraft.

It was 0550. I sat across the desk from Jim Shortling. He smiled wanly at me, saying “I know its not much, but at least you keep your management pay and grade”

I knew that I had been offered a lifeline – but it didnt reduce the feeling of abandonment. Not one other single department had offered help. The other managers with whom I worked at Stansted had all been found alternative management roles in passenger services – either at Heathrow or at the corporate head office in Hounslow.

So here I was, sitting in the dismal office of the aircraft cleaning department. Oh, the irony.

On Friday last week, I was rubbing shoulders with the wealthy and influential, and on Monday, I was rubbing shoulders with the lowly paid, souls with no influence over their future.

I had two choices. I could either accept it, and get on with it, or leave.

So, in the words of one of my more camp US based colleagues, I would have to “Suck it up Cupcake!”

Having managed people before, I was told that I would run a cleaning team, which consisted of a a crew of ten. Additionally, I would be trained to drive a ten tonne truck, fitted with a high lift body.

A typical High Lift truck.

I soon became adept at weaving my truck in and out of the congested stands and service roads around Terminal 3.

I came to know two things within a few days of completing my training.

I swiftly realised that my team were a truly ecclectic group. Sukhi was an educated young sikh, with a degree in mathematics. Well-read and urbane, I really used to enjoy my daily conversations with him.

Hard work – with less than an hour to fully clean, re-stock and cater a Boeing 767

Bizarre in its own way – working my way down the aisle with Sukhi, between the seats, cleaning up rubbish, and servicing seat pockets whilst discussing anti-matter drives and the paradox of time travel.

It was only my team that made life bearable – being confronted with the debris that passengers dump when they leave their aircraft sometimes made the bile rise in my throat – used syringes left in seatback pockets. Used condoms dumped in the same place. Rubbish of all kinds just thoughtlessly left for the invisible ones to pick up.

Just Another Day at Work…

Suk became my right hand man. Once he discovered my love of Indian food, he invited me to his local gymkhana where I was the only non-indian present. I was made hugely welcome and met many members of his family, and sampled the wonderfully spicy home cooked foods provided. Thank you Suk!

Pete, an ex Warrant Officer in the UK Special Forces, came out of the military with PTSD, and fell by chance into working for an airline. Previously a passenger services agent, he frequently (and bluntly) defended the weaker members of staff against bullying from their supervisors. This made him unpopular with the junior management in the terminal, so he was redeployed to aircraft cleaning. A few months prior to this, he was totally responsible for the welfare of up to 120 soldiers.

I doubt that any of his managers knew this, or even bothered to find out.

Harri, a middle aged Indian lady, with a degree in sociology, had been unable to get into an airline in any other capacity, so despite the costs of childcare, and the hardship of her daily commute by bus and underground, she still pitched up every day, and worked hard for the duration of the shift.

Jill, who had been widowed a year previously, and wanted a job that involved no thinking. I was convinced that she was finishing off un-used spirits from discarded minature bottles, as by about 1200 she normally had a glassy look, and emanated a faint odour of polo mints. She toughed it out though. Sometimes she would shyly joke with me as we cleaned the galleys, or serviced the toilets.

Then there were Phil and Bugsy. Both late teenagers, they were only doing the job as it was easy money, and gave them time to work on their music careers.

What do all of these people have in common?

Well, despite their qualifications, experience, knowledge and skills, they had all, like me, unwittingly assumed a cloak of invisibility.

It was an interesting exercise for me, as I was only on temprary attachment in the department, awaiting a suitable vacancy elsewhere in the company.

Having served two years in the terminals before being promoted, I had worked with most of the ground staff at one time or another.

I learned about people. Many of those that professed they were my friends, and who would have sat with me in the canteen, and chatted during work, now looked through me when they saw me disembarking from an aircraft, carrying bags of rubbish, covered in sweat and dust.

To them , I had become invisible, sinking into the uderclass and detritus of forgotten people who perform more fundamental and mundane tasks,

Others still greeted me warmly, and shook my hand, regardless of my appearance. Some would find the time to sit with me, and share a cigarette. These were the people for whom I have great respect. Some of them I am still in touch with. You know who you are.

In due course, I was redeployed, and spent the rest of my aviation career working in various parts of Flight Operations.

Over the years, I have been promoted, and moved into several different organisations, and was shocked to see that despite their claimed intellectual or cultural work ethics their cleaners were still all invisible.

Some years ago, I was walking down a corridor at work with a senior manager. We passed several cleaners, all of whom I greeted by name, and all of whom greeted me in the same way.

My senior colleague asked me “Why do you keep talking to the cleaners?”

I was, in common parlance, gobsmacked. This was a senior and ostensibly well-educated man, who was questioning whether I should acknowledge a fellow human being.

I responded by saying that if he had to ask the question, then he wouldnt have understood the answer. I heard that he has happily retired now, and is probably being an ignorant git on his own time.

Subsequently I have always remembered the feelings of being invisible.

I still know the names of all of the cleaners with whom I work, and still greet them by name.

It doesn’t take much to stop people becoming invisible.

The invisible cleaner. You only notice them when they are not there…

Go Well…

Categories
Aircew Airport Ecological Electric Transport Environment Flight pilots Society Technology Transport Travel Uncategorized

Electric Taxi – A New Brand New Era in Green Aviation Practice

.Ask anyone in the street about pollution and noise, and most folk will immediately talk about the road transport industry, or, if like me, they live near a major airport, then they would probably refer to the airlines.

Over the last fifty years, air travel has opened up a whole new dimension to travellers. Whether travelling on business, or taking the family away, air travel enables people to reach some of the remotest parts of our planet.

During the early and mid parts of the 20th century, air travel was expensive, and only those travellers with access to a large amount of disposable wealth could afford to fly. 

This was in part caused by the relative lack of supporting infrastructure, but the size of aircraft was also a limiting factor.

The biggest direct operating cost for any airline is that of fuel, and the current smaller aeroplanes were unable to offer the economies of scale necessary to place flying within the reach of the average man. 

To put this into perspective, in the early 1960s, the workhorse of the sky was the Boeing B707, which had a seating capacity of about 140. 

On the 22nd January 1970 Pan Am introduced the very first Boeing 747-100 into service. This aeroplane changed the face of aviation forever.  With its massive seating capacity, of more than double that of the 707, the costs for air travel fell dramatically, and even the poorest backpacker could save enough money to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight.

Over the years, developments of the 747 have continued, and as an example, a British Airways 747-400 will carry 345 passengers over vast distances.

But there are always other factors.  The 1973 oil crisis made fuel costs escalate rapidly, and a number of airlines went out of business. Those that survived recognised the need for newer far more fuel efficient aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers rose to the challenge, and many new aeroplane were developed, constructed from much lighter materials, including polymers and carbon fibre materials. 

Engine manufacturers have developed cleaner, quieter and far more fuel efficient engines, and new software driven control systems enable aircraft to fly far higher, out of the worst of the weather, and at altitudes where engines are even more frugal.

Sadly, this is still not enough.  The global energy crisis continues, and international concern with  climate change is driving fuel costs upwards.

Airlines are looking to save costs wherever they can.  Most airlines will defer operating the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) until shortly before boarding, and some airlines have established a policy that requires aircraft to be taxied with one engine shut down.

The economics of this are sound, and saving may be made.

According to Airbus Industrie an Airbus A320 fitted with CFM56 engines will burn 250kg of fuel conducting a twenty minute average taxi time. A single engine taxi of the same duration will burn a reduced amount of 190kg.

Using IATA fuel data, jet fuel (Jet A-1) costs £0.3613 per kilo so a single engine taxi will cost the operator £68.65.  Two engines £72.26. This is doubled effectively, as the aircraft also has to taxi in after landing, which again, will take an average of twenty minutes.

Throughout 2014 fuel prices fell by an average of 42.8%, so it is reasonable to assume that they could rise again by the same amount, giving taxi costs of between £98.03 and ££103.19. 

A very simple costing taking into account British Airways fleet of 105 Airbuses, assumes that each aircraft flies 5 sectors a day (5×2 taxies = 10 x 20 minutes x 105) that’s a massive 350 hours of taxiing. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 12.5kg/min = 262,500 kg = 262.50 tonnes!

Now the figures look very different. In the above example, fuel currently costs £361.25 per tonne.  

£94,828 to just taxi around the airfield. Remember this is just a single days operation for one short haul fleet. 

Operators will be very keen to both minimise taxi times, and to reduce costs as much as possible during taxiing.

Airbus have been working on a new self propelled taxying system for the Airbus A320 series, known as eTaxi.

This system utilises a powerful air cooled electric motor that drives the main landing gear wheels via a self contained gearbox.

Powered is provided by the APU generator. The eTaxi motor has sufficient power and torque to enable the aircraft to be reversed off the parking stand, and then taxied to the holding point for the departure runway. At this point, the engines may be started.

Naturally, current procedures and checklists would have to be amended and modified to reflect the use of eTaxi to ensure continuation of current ground movement safety.

The eTaxi system offers many benefits.  Airbus’s own studies have shown that even greater fuel savings may be made than by using single engine taxying. 

Using the AP/eTaxi and a single engine for taxying equates to a fuel burn of 140kg, and full electric taxying only 40kg for the same 20 minute taxy.  

 Using the same fleet data as before, the savings are considerable. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 2kg/min = kg = 42.00 tonnes!

With fuel in our example currently costing £361.25 per tonne, 42 tonnes costs £15,172.50, a massive daily saving of £79,655.50!

Naturally,  there is a weight penalty for the eTaxi equipment, consisting of motor, gearbox, wiring harness and software and control equipment, but Airbus Industrie quotes this as being about an extra 400kg, and over a 500nm sector, this would require an additional fuel burn of 16kg.

Overall the use of eTaxi with both engines shut down, and including a 5 minute engine warm up and a 3 minute engine cool down, will offer a trip fuel saving of about 3% on a typical A320 sector of 700nm. 

So, the airline accountants will be happy with the considerable direct financial savings.  However, there are many other associated benefits by using an eTaxi. 

During taxying operations, aircraft frequently have to stop, accelerate, turn and hold in position.  This places wear on the brakes, and incurs fuel penalties every time that the thrust levers are opened to recommence taxying.  

As eTaxi is a direct drive system, the normal wheel brakes become redundant, the braking being delivered through the gearbox itself.  

 Environmentally, eTaxi makes a lot of sense.  The use of clean electricity for ground movements will significantly reduce the amount of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide) and CO (Carbon Monoxide) found in the local atmosphere.  Noise levels will also be significantly reduced. 

An additional benefit is a reduced exposure to the risk of the engine ingesting foreign objects, and extending the time between mandated engine inspections and checks.  

Bearing in mind that the biggest cost for an airline is fuel. Last year British Airways spent £3.5 Billion pounds on fuel. Most large national carriers will be spending about the same.  The figures are almost too large to contemplate. 

It would appear then, that any additional costs in retrofitting such devices to an existing fleet will pay for itself many times over, and any airline that specifies new deliveries without this option are potentially wasting millions.

Facts from Airbus Industrie publication FAST 51

Fuel costs from IATA Fuel cost analysis 2015

BA fleet data from http://www.ba.com

BA Fuel costs data from http://www.iag.com

Mark Charlwood©2015. Mark Charlwood is the owner of the intellectual property rights to this work. Unauthorised use is not permitted. If you want to use this article please contact me for permission. Thank you. 

Categories
Aircew Flight pilots Poetry Uncategorized

Celestial Lady

I wrote this in April 1989, after enjoying a wonderful, blissful day of gliding at the mighty 615 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, Royal Air Force Kenley

Celestial Lady

Dew lies on the velvet baize of the grass, like carelessly strewn fragments of glass,
Thin mist, drapes itself lovingly around the stark limbs of the trees, like a shroud,
My breath, smokes about my face as I peer across the field, in tune with dawns nature

The rising sun has stabbed the sky, causing its blood to stain the puffballs of cloud vermillion,
A bird, like a muezzin, calls the world to awake, from the minaret of the ancient oak,
And the mouth of the hangar gapes, to eject the sleek, yet sleepy residents onto the warming meadow,
The silence, suddenly shattered by the metallic snarl of an irritable engine

I stroll towards my chosen mount where she lies, recumbent on the grass – dormant awaiting the life giving breath of the gods,

Like an osteopath, I check her joints, and probe her taut yet pliant skin, her secret places, and diagnose a clean bill of health,
In the manner of a well bred woman, she demands my respect, and I duly escort her to her position

Strapped in, bound up, my cocoon is secure, an I perform the ritual of setting the instruments.
She moves a little, as we attach the cable, anticipation quivering in her shapely frame,

The cable snakes taut through the grass, a tug, a rumble and she joyously relinquishes her love affair with terra firma, for her true love. – the sky

A brief and wistful farewell to the tug, as he dives away, and at last, my my graceful friend and I are alone in empty acres of cerulean blue, United in a love that no ground bound man can know

We are as one. – her diaphanous wings mere extensions of my arms, bent to my thought and will,
Together we romp and roam the sunlit heavens, our playmates the birds and infant clouds

Like a true lady, she excuses my mistakes, and my callow ham fisted efforts, and doesn’t seek revenge, just gently admonishes me for my ignorance of manners, insensitive to her needs
Her effervescence bubbles like champagne, playful, her sense of humour to the fore,

Plunging me fifty feet, then tossing me one hundred higher, testing, teasing, but I’m still safe

Eventually she tires, grows bored with me, and slowly, imperceptibly, inexorably sinks back towards the land,
Exhilarated – yet yearning more, I gently steer and guide her down
Shamefully she bows her aristocratic head, as if in defeat, dull acceptance that the end is near,

Descending back to the scolding arms of gravity, the field expands, it fills my eyes, trees and meadow a confused blur, grass reaching up to pluck us from the sky

As we descend she moans out loud, rising to a screaming crescendo, as I ease her nose up. – be proud my Beauty! We lightly touch, kissing the unyielding ground, once, twice, thrice, then, totally spent, she drops, once more in slumber

And I am once again a mere mortal

Copyright Mark Charlwood April 1989

Mark Charlwood owns the intellectual copyright to this work. Unauthorised copying is prohibited.

Categories
Airport Flight Society Transport Travel

Airline Loyalty Programmes. Good For You – But Better For Them?

Member of an Airline Loyalty Programme?
Good for you – But better for the Owner!

If you are a regular airline traveller, you have special cause for celebration on the 1st May each year.

For on this date thirty seven years ago, American Airlines launched it’s Aadvantage® programme, the first ever integrated Frequent Flier Loyalty scheme.

In 1978, just prior to the launch of the then unique programme, the US Government had enacted the Airline Deregulation Act, and the US air carriers were in a state of turmoil.

Against a backdrop of recession and economic uncertainty, airlines were struggling to contain costs and make even meagre yields, so great thought was given to enhancing the profits from existing customers.

It is said that it is six times more expensive to generate a new customer than it is to hold on to an existing one, so the ability to retain customers was seen as being a high priority.

Executives at American Airlines created the Aadvantage Programme, a system that rewarded loyalty by offering free upgrades to either business or first class, or free tickets, based upon the number of air miles that the passenger travelled.

Prior to the launch of the programme, American’s marketing department trawled through their SABRE reservations system for bookings with recurring telephone numbers. The 130,000 most frequent flyers were selected as the initial members of the Aadvantage programme, closely followed by the 60,000 members of the Admirals Club (American’s Airport Lounge Club).

Naturally such a scheme was hugely popular with passengers, and United Airlines launched their own loyalty programme called Mileage Plus the following week. Subsequently most large airlines have launched similar programmes.

So, the passenger may enjoy a free Business Class ticket from New York to London for every 50,000 miles travelled. That’s certainly a good deal, but what’s in it for the Airline.

Firstly, the Airline can build up a profile of an individual’s travel behaviour, seat preferences, times of travel, and class of travel booked.

Such statistical data is gold dust for a marketing department, and the information may be used to make decisions related to routes, departure and arrival times, and size and type of aircraft to be used on various flights. These decisions could make or lose the airline millions.

Loyalty programmes are good – for the owner, but British Airways made an inspired development of the AA system when they launched the BA Credit Card,

Once the programme was launched, passengers were given a double incentive. Book the ticket on BA, and get airmiles for the flight, and pay for it on the airline’s credit card, and get bonus mileage!

The passenger obviously benefits from this, but not as much as the airline.

Consider this – The passenger buys his ticket on BA, using his BA credit card. He then rents a car through the BA booking system (getting some airmiles bonus of course), and then pays with his airline credit card – for more bonus mileage.

When he gets to the airport, he buys some duty free liquor, a Mont Blanc pen, and some Chanel perfume for his wife. He then orders some Lalique Crystal, and some Caviar from the Caviar House.

Having finished his shopping, he takes his trip, and whilst abroad uses his Airline credit card for further purchases, enthusiastically hoovering up bonus air miles, all to be redeemed with the airline for future flights, which of course, he will pay for with his airline credit card.

Now, the passenger thinks that the loyalty programme is basically for his benefit. Not so!

For the company is now building up a comprehensive profile of the passenger, logging his purchases, and his shops of preference. The marketing department is creating a whole new armoury of tools to use on the passenger.
You, the passenger, may not realise the stealthy gathering of data, and may be quite happy amassing your bonus airmiles.

It should be said, that there is nothing sinister in the gathering of such information. Many corporate E-commerce websites make no secret of the fact that personal details will be used for marketing purposes.

The airline gains far more than the passenger, mainly because air transport ticket prices have fallen in real terms over the years. They make profit on the ticket cost; they then make profit on the interest generated on the credit card. But most valuable of all is the comprehensive demographic information they glean.

Long-term analysis of the passenger’s buying behaviour enables the marketing department to design incentive packages targeted personally at the individual, and thus generate more business.

Further examination of the flights booked may help the airline’s network analysts to plan new routes, or revise timings of existing routes.

This type of programme promotes exceptional loyalty, and ties the passenger more effectively to the airline. A passenger who is mishandled for whatever reason is more likely to stay with the airline if he has amassed a significant number of airmiles.

Global economic problems and the huge costs involved in operating an airline has led many airlines to form commercial alliances. These alliances allow airlines to pool resources, share booking systems and flights. In most cases, they will also honour the redemption of airmiles gained on another alliance members loyalty programme.

Many airlines have invested in hotel chains and car rental companies, and these will also offer airmiles for the airline, generating further profits – and all for the cost of a free ticket for every ten return trips London to New York.

Compared with the total spend made by the customer, the net gain is heavily loaded in favour of the airline.

These programmes have proved so successful that many high street chains have embraced the idea with great enthusiasm. Tesco’s have their Clubcard; Sainsbury’s have the Nectar card.

Interestingly, ASDA, which is part of the US Wal-Mart group do not operate such a scheme. Their philosophy is that low prices at the time of checkout ties the customer more effectively to them rather than the promise of money back later. It must be a successful business models, as Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest employer.

It may be argued that Low Cost carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet drive loyalty through low prices, but this seems to be a less powerful argument, as service standards are much lower than that provided by legacy full fare airlines.

The only other loyalty programme that doesn’t seem to translate very well into the world of air transport is that operated by the Co-Operative Retail Group.

The Co-Op as it’s popularly known has been running a loyalty scheme for many years, and is known throughout the UK as “dividend”, or just plain “divi”. Put quite simply, customers were encouraged to become members of the Cop-operative.

They purchased a share, which then enabled them to receive a percentage of the profits generated. This scheme has been running for decades, and has been very successful in keeping customers loyal to the brand despite enormous competition from much bigger rivals such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

So – Loyalty programmes are good for the customer, but not as good as they are for the provider!!!

Categories
Uncategorized

Glider – The First Flight

First Flight It was a crisp cold October morning in 1972, as my Father and I climbed into his Morris Minor Traveller, to head off to Crowborough. I was almost hopping from foot to foot with excitement, yet my stomach was also performing somersaults, probably due to the number of butterflies flying madly around it.

Today was THE day. This was the day that I would experience the utter joy and exhilaration of flight. And the start of a love affair that was to last my entire life.

We set off nice and early, as we had to drive to Crowborough, a small country town, in the middle of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, Once there, we were to meet up with My Father’s friend, Bernard Kirby, who was the Chief Flying Instructor at RAF West Malling, the home of 618 Volunteer Gliding Squadron.

My Father had met Bernard whilst conducting his daily commute to work. East Grinstead is a terminal station, and my Father, always a creature of habit, chose to sit in the same seat every day.

His regular companion, who always sat opposite Dad, happened to notice one day that my Father was reading yet another book about flying. He asked “are you interested in flying Alan?” My father responded that he was. Bernard then generously offered to take Dad up in a glider.

Knowing that I was aircraft crazy, my Dad asked if his 13 year old son could come as well. The answer was yes.

Having arrived at Crowborough, we all piled into Bernard’s blue VW Beetle, and he drove us to RAF West Malling. This small military airfield was home to my boyhood heroes, the pilots that constituted “The Few”, who so bravely defended my country against the Germans during the Battle of Britain.

Having been active throughout all of the Second World War, the RAF had downgraded its operational status, and it was now a non active base, but it was still home to 618 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, manned by members of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

We arrived at the time of the Ugandan crisis, when President Idi Amin had deported thousands of Ugandan Asians. Many had arrived in Britain, and a lot of the old military quarters were being used to house these poor unfortunate souls. Even as a 13 year old kid, I could still see the desperation and sadness in their listless eyes. It still haunts me now, in those quiet contemplative moments.

Mr Kirby parked his car by the hangar, and we all got into the land rover. Well, my Dad and Mr Kirby got into the Land Rover. I was unceremoniously loaded into the back, and we bounced our way across the grassy tussocks to the launch point, where a number of gliders had been seemingly abandoned.

Getting out of the Landie, I felt a bit disoriented. There was a lot going on, and everyone seemed to know what to do, or where to stand except me. I stood to the back, and watched as my Dad was strapped into a large two seat side by side glider with an open cockpit.

It was fitted with two jaunty little windscreens directly in front of each pilot, reminiscent of a 1930s sports car. Bernard hopped in beside him, and I watched, fascinated, as he zipped through the Pre take off checks. In short order, a cable was attached to the hook on the underside of the fuselage. A few calls later, and the glider suddenly swooped forwards, accelerating at a very brisk rate, and rotating into what seemed to me to be a very steep climb.

I watched as the aircraft got to the apex of its climb, and then saw the cable drop, it’s little drogue chute flapping and gyrating like a wounded bird as it fell to earth.

A lad wearing a blue uniform approached me. He was about my age, but was resplendent in his RAF blues, oddly contrasting with a pair of white training shoes. He shyly asked me which squadron I was with.

I stared at him dumbly. Squadron? “I’m here with my Dad. What do you mean which Squadron.”

He replied that he was with Crowborough Squadron of the ATC

“ATC?”

“ATC” he confirmed.

“The Air Training Corps. I’m here to do a gliding day”. “How much does it cost?”, I asked, fearful that it would be well beyond my meagre pocket money.

“20p a week subscription”.

I was stunned. I could join up and get to fly for 20 p a week?????

Throughout the conversation I was tracking my Father in the glider.

It was now curving round, it’s air brakes open, as it sliced its way though the air, I could hear it sighing, and then it was down, rumbling to a stop about 100 yards from the launch point. I saw my Dad get out, and asked him what it was like. He grinned enthusiastically, and said it was fascinating.

I know now with hindsight, that my Dear old Dad was putting a brave face on it. I believe that he was terrified, but didn’t want to influence me.

In later. Years, I would ask my Dad if he would come flying with me. I have instructor ratings, and have amassed hundreds of hours, but he never flew again after that event.

Standing with Dad, I continued to wait patiently for my turn to get airborne. I didn’t have to wait long!

Another Air Cadet, a lad of about 16, briskly marched up, and asked me to “come this way please”

Flinging a dismissive and airy wave at my Dad, I strolled nonchalantly after the other chap, my relaxed stroll disguising my inner turmoil.

Would I be scared – shit myself? Would I be airsick?

“That’s your ‘plane” said my guide, indicating a very elderly glider that looked like it had been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci.

It had an open cockpit, but the seats were arranged one in front of the other. Small curved windshields protected the pilots from the slipstream. The wing was a huge slab, mounted onto a short pylon, so that the rear cockpit sat under it. The front cockpit was therefore totally exposed.

A lanky man wandered up the frail craft, and looked intently at me. “Are you Mark?” He asked. I nodded dumbly back at him, my mouth dry, and my stomach doing backflips. “My names Colin, and I will be taking to up. Have you ever flown before?”

” No Sir” I responded.

“Nothing to worry about – its great fun. Come here, and lets get you in.” I walked up to the side of the beast, and gazed into the cockpit; it was ancient! It only had two dials – I was expecting more. It also had two vertical tubes mounted on the instrument panel.

“Right, stand beside the cockpit, and swing your right leg in. Stand on the seat, then bring your left leg in. Don’t step on the controls or cables, and keep your feet on the small floorboards, or you will damage the hull”

I gingerly climbed in and sat down, and Colin swiftly strapped me in, and pulled the straps tightly. The glider wobbled about a bit, as Colin eased himself into the rear cockpit, and he continued his commentary which, whilst I don’t remember it word for word, its almost the same as the patter that I give to others as I strap in.

“You’ll see in front of you two dials. The one on the left is the Air Speed Indicator, or ASI, the one on the right is the altimeter. In the middle are two tubes. This is called a Cosim Variometer. It has a green bead in one tube, and a red bead in the other. If the red bead goes up, we are sinking. If the green bead goes up, we are climbing.” (I was later to discover that the Mark 3 has a built in rate of sink, and I very rarely saw the green bead float up its tube, except during take off)

Colin continued “On the left side of the panel is a yellow knob. When we get to the top of the launch, you’ll feel the nose lower, as I push the stick forwards to take the load off of the cable. The red lever on the left cockpit wall is the lever to extend the spoilers” “The stick moves the flight controls. Push it forward, and the aircraft will dive, pull it back, and the nose will go up. Moving it to the left will cause the aircraft to roll to the left, and moving it right will start us rolling to the right. The rudder pedals are used to help us in the turns. Have you got that?”

“Yes Sir”

Colin called out to the Cadet loitering near the aircraft “wing up six”. The lad dutifully lifted the wingtip a few inches, and Colin began checking the controls. The stick waggled around between my legs, and the rudder pedals moved. It seemed that Colin was satisfied that the aircraft was functional, as he called to another cadet to bring a cable to our machine.

Kneeling down, the cadet requested “open” and I saw the yellow knob moved, and felt a metallic action under my seat. “Close” the knob retracted back into its recess in the panel. The boy then pulled on the cable to the rear, and I felt the recoil of the mechanism opening. I asked Colin what was happening, and he explained that the back release was being checked to make sure that if the manual release failed, the glider would still disconnect from the cable.

The cadet then reconnected the cable to the glider, and the rest of the controls were checked. I was told to “follow through” on the stick and rudder, and he would explain what was happening.

The wingman now lifted the wing so that the glider was sitting with the wings level. “Take up slack” called Colin. The cadet at the wing started waving his hand slowly, and within a few seconds, I noticed a ripple in the grass, as the winch was pulling the cable taut. The glider moved forwards a foot or so, and then stopped.

“Ready?” Said Colin

“Yes” I squeaked. Looking to the left, I could see my Dad watching, and I gave him a nervous thumbs up, and saw him smile in response. “All out!” Called Colin, and a couple of seconds later, the glider suddenly accelerated, faster than any car I had ever been in.

A few bounces and rumbles, and all of a sudden we were airborne!

Pure, unadulterated, fucking magic!

The aircraft rotated into a steep climbing angle, and the wind howled and whistled around the cockpit. I looked at the altimeter, and saw that we were approaching 1300 feet. Awesome!

At almost 1500 feet, I felt my stomach lurch as the nose dipped, and then I heard and felt a metallic bang, as the cable was released, and the noise dropped to a ruffle. I could hear Colin quite clearly.

I looked out, and spread below me was the Weald of Kent, and the city of London.

“Would you like to fly it” asked Colin? “When I hand control to you, I will say “You Have Control”. You will respond “I have control”. That way we both know who is flying” I took hold of the stick, and I heard those magical words for the first time in my life “you have control”.

“I have control” the stick tremored slightly as Colin relaxed his grip. “Gently pull back on the stick”.

I eased the column backwards, and the nose slowly climbed above the horizon, and the wind noise muted further. “Now gently relax the stick and allow the nose to drop” Following the instruction, I allowed the nose to drop and the altimeter began unwinding. The speed crept up, and then Colin asked me to level her out. I was allowed to do a bank in each direction, and then Colin said ” I have control”, and we commenced our descent back to the airfield. Talking me through continuously, Colin explained the approach, and the use of the spoilers to aid the a curacy of the landing. The aiming point was steady in the windshield, slowly floating up towards me, until, at the last minute, the ground rushed by in a blur, and with a bump and a rumble we were down, coming to rest a few yards from where we took off. I thought my head would fall in half, so wide was my grin. I clambered out, and thanked Colin, and wandered back to Dad. I was euphoric for days, and promptly joined my local Air Cadet squadron, 1343 (East Grinstead). My next exposure to flying was as a student pilot at Royal Air Force Kenley, the home of the mighty 615 Volunteer Gliding Squadron. So, I would like to thank you Mr Bernard Kirby, and Colin, who gave me the everlasting joy of flight.

Categories
Flight Poetry

My Big Fat Virgin

I’ve been away from home so long, I strayed so far away,
I’m lonely, sad, and dead inside, I hate to feel this way,
I miss the town, I miss the pub, I miss the small town style,
I miss those happy Friday nights, I miss your loving smile,

So now I seek some solace, an escape from where I am,
To find some secret pleasures, gain release and burst the dam,
Looking for a big fat virgin, to take my blues away,
I’m hunting for that virgin, need to join her now, today

So big fat virgin, lift me up, away towards the stars,
And head me out to Neptune, or Jupiter or Mars,
Blow my mind, just take me home, inside you I float to heaven,
You big bad girl, you take me high, you mighty seven four seven