Many years ago, I was a DJ at XFM Scotland. One of my fellow DJs, Ali Campbell / Ali Jengahead, had a show on a Sunday.
Ali’s show focused on sports, particular extreme sports and cycling. One of the features on his show was called ‘Things To Do Before You Die’. Guests were invited along to do something that they’d never done before and discuss with Ali how it went.
This led to me being asked what I’d like to do. I thought about it and decided that there was plenty of stuff I wasn’t going to do. I’m a bit timid when it comes to extreme sports, but I did come up with a suggestion : a flying lesson. In no time at all, it was arranged, and I was on my way to Cumbernauld Airport for my chance to pilot a light aircraft.
Leading Edge are a company based at Cumbernauld Airport who, amongst other things aeronautical, provide flying lessons. I was introduced to Alistair, the flying instructor and to a Cessna 152 which would be the plane the lesson would take place in.
Alistair was a very friendly chap. Aside from being a flight instructor, he was also a surgeon, which would be a handy thing to have if my flying was anything like my driving. He did, however, do something which shocked me at the time and still gives me cold sweats to this day.
Prior to take off, he went through the controls, dials, technical terms, emergency procedures and so on. Not much of it sunk in, but as long as he knew it, it didn’t really matter. It surprised me just how snug the plane was.
Sitting inside the plane reminded me of being inside a very small Morris Minor. The seats were tight in next to each other and the doors were like car doors. It was noisy too, and felt quite rickety.
We took off, quite smoothly, and went up a couple of thousand feet into the air. The Alistair said to me that he was going to do something and that I shouldn’t be alarmed. This immediately alarmed me. What the hell was he going to do? He seemed like such a nice chap! What he did do was open his door and then slam it shut again. Apparently, it hadn’t been closed properly. This freaked me out. My experience of open doors on planes was that people got sucked out and died. Turns out we weren’t anywhere near high enough for this to happen but I didn’t know this.
This expression of fear was therefore most definitely genuine.
After a while of getting used to the altitude, the noise and the plane, Alistair handed the controls over to me. The fear had eased off a bit, and I was getting a bit confident about things. It did cross my mind that one wrong move could cause the plane to stall and drop us to our deaths, but I tried not to ponder on that.
At an altitude of 2,500 feet, I could see (over the hour we were airbourne) from Ben Lomond on the West Coast to Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh. This shot below was above Stirling, looking out past Alloa to the River Forth.
Flying the plane wasn’t difficult, probably because I wasn’t really doing the difficult bit. Once you’re up in the air, there’s only so many ways you can go. Bank left or right, or go up and down. The tricky bit was the taking off and landing, and I wasn’t doing that. Despite that, taking over the controls was incredible! The slightest touch brought a response from the Cessna and I had to be careful not to be heavy handed.
Alistair took the controls back for the landing. I am still amazed at how smooth a landing he managed to achieve in that plane. He was a legend.
Overall, it was an incredible experience. Alistair was an outstanding chap, being polite, professional and informative. I’d recommend it as a gift, or something to do before you die! Would I do it again? No chance. Once was enough for me!
What would be on your list of ‘Things To Do Before You Die’?