My flying ‘career’ rose out of the whole buzz that surrounded the Maiden project. I was introduced to an ultra-light (some call them micro-lights) pilot who gave me a first flight down in Wiltshire. His name was David Young and he remains the finest pilot I know. We still have the all too rare ‘boys’ days out’ flying trips together.
But it was on that long ago hot summer’s day, as soon as we took off, that I knew this was for me.
It took a year of hard slogging (mostly against the weather) to get my ultra-light licence – and also to acquire my own aeroplane. I shall never, ever, forget my first solo, on a calm summer’s evening off a grass strip at Long Newnton in Wiltshire.
When those wheels left the ground I knew happened in the next few minutes was all down to me – and only me – basically to get back on the deck in one piece. But, from those heady moments, I was utterly hooked on flying. I still am today.
Three years later, in 1994 I flew another ultra-light across the Channel and down through France and Spain to Portugal. My co-pilot, Laura Ivill, and I believe we set a record for the longest cross-Channel flight by a flex-wing ultralight (75nm), as far a we know, a record still to be broken.
Less than a year later I crashed the same aeroplane – and walked. My fault: crashes are so very often pilot error. On the back of that incident, though, I decided to learn to fly ‘tin-can’ Cessnas – and the rest. Since then, I’ve flown my favourite ‘big’ aeroplane – a Super Cub, both off land and off water (in Scotland) . And I’ve made a parachute jump, out of the aeroplane at 4,000 feet and with a square (steerable) chute. I have subsequently flown paragliders, conventional gliders, and even a helicopter. But ultra-lights (and today paragliders) remain my true love. And with paragliders you are flying with the birds completely in the open air. Your legs are the undercarriage on take-off and your engine, too. Then you are off and away. It’s the purest form of flying (with hang-gliding). Plus, uniquely, paraglider can slope land. No other aircraft, including helicopters can do that.
To be high – or low – above the earth is a great privilege I hope I’ll never have to give up. I’d fly every day of my life if I could. But at least these days I can pack my glider in a rucksack, put it on my back, and climb any hill or mountain, with the possibility I can fly myself back down to the ground, or maybe take a cross-country flight, to drop in on friends, or just to see how far I can go…