“You haven’t mentioned the fun factor for some time now,” my sister commented. She was right. “Thrilling, exciting, all those things, but what about just plain fun?” It made me think about some of my recent trips, where another f-word had featured more prominently. Fear. It is the ultimate unmentionable in flying, but it’s part of what we do. Sometimes it’s what builds us into better pilots – coping with that fear and learning from it.
It had taken all his persuasion skills for my flying partner James to get us up to the fly-in at Sutton Meadows. Those clouds looked big and scary to me although the forecast said they’d clear soon. Ed had flown up and texted me that it was fine there. I was already jumpy about a fly-in and coping with lots of other planes in the circuit, I didn’t need storms as well. “We can go back whenever you want,” James offered, but it was his promise that he’d fly us home that kept me heading north.
I called incorrectly on the overhead join, but I managed the circuit fine. A student didn’t clear the runway ahead of me, and even though, as James had suggested, if I had waited a few more seconds it would have meant I didn’t need to go around, I coped with that too. Then there was the legendary bump on the runway, that can catapult you straight back into the air, but I was ready for that. By the time we go to the barbeque, I felt I had earned my lunch! The rest of the afternoon was spent watching every other pilot come in and bounce down the runway. There was a sense of relief that it wasn’t me that needed three attempts before I could land.
By the time we were ready to go, those large cumulus had cleared beautifully. I took off into blue skies. Although it was now more thermal than before lunch, I still had time to admire a stunning poppy field in bloom while I did an orbit to allow a fellow club member get ahead of me in our rather tight circuit pattern. Another moment of inner triumph.
The following day, James and I had driven to the airfield in the late afternoon, from beautiful blue skies, to find a rather cloudy, dark landscape ahead of us. Everyone said it was lovely up. James, who is further down the experience road than I am, decided to do the trip we’d planned. It was only half an hour, and the forecast still looked good. “You can wait, I will go with Ted,” he offered. An hour or more worrying in a fast emptying clubhouse? “I’ll come with you,” I schooled myself. Quite honestly, I am sure he wished he hadn’t brought me along. I was a nervous passenger, to say the least. “Is that rain in the distance?” “No, just haze.” “And those clouds?” “We’ll be fine.”
It made me think of the time I had been flying with an instructor, and as we turned downwind, I commented on what looked like a sheet of rain in the distance. “Call change of intention,” he instructed, and turned us round, heading straight for it. We got wet, yes, “but we didn’t melt, did we?”, he asked. “Sometimes, no matter how good your planning, you meet a band of rain. You have to be able to cope with it.”
The black cloud I had seen far in the distance seemed to be coming closer at the farm strip, so we didn’t stay for too much of a chat. Fortunately, we were flying away from it into a midsummer sunset. I was at the helm now and chose to keep at a level height to fly across the zone rather than go the long way around. When we landed – straight into sun – I did breathe a sigh of relief, but I knew I had a bit more resilience towards cloudy skies.
It’s difficult not to see big clouds and run for cover, but they don’t always mean you should give up your flying for the day. Try it and see. Just don’t blame me if you get wet!