Stunning Suffolk countryside is just one of the high points of taster flight from Rougham Airfield
Reality kicked in during the pre-flight briefing at about the moment I was shown a large diagram of the flight deck and told I would take off the four-seater plane.
I experienced what can only be described as a blinding flash of panic, but kept my smile firmly fixed in place.
When I had agreed to a taster flight I was under the impression control might be passed to me for a few moments while in the air – just long enough for Bury Free Press photographer Mark Westley to snap me grinning manically, but not long enough to inflict any real damage.
However that is not how a taster flight with Skyward Flight Training works.
The flying club, which has been based at Rougham Airfield since 2014, aims to give non-flyers a flavour of what it might be like to learn through taster, endeavour and discovery flights.
I was signed up for the taster flight package, including a 20-minute lesson with at least 10 minutes flying time, pre-flight briefing, hands-on flying and de-brief.
Nowhere in this description did it mention I might be tasked with taking off.
And given I’d only learned from instructor Chris Shepherd-Rose earlier in the day that perfect flying conditions meant I would be flying the same afternoon, at least I had not had time to admit I was a nervous flyer at the best of times.
The day flew by in a blur of nerves and excitement. Next thing I knew, I was clambering into the cockpit, putting my seatbelt on, donning sunglasses and headphones and trying to take in more instructions on how to taxi the plane.
Oh yes, did I forget to mention I also taxied the four-seater plane to the grass runway? Instead of steering with your hands as you would a car, you use your feet (a very strange sensation) while trying to avoid other light aircraft and other obstacles.
As we reached the runway, I had more time for the nerves to build as we waited for another member to land their plane. Finally, and following instructions from Chris, I radioed control with our intention to take offand suddenly there was no time to back out.
A couple of last minute instructions and I pushed the throttle forward and did my utmost to keep the Piper PA-28 in a straight line as we bounced down the grass runway.
I knew I had to pull back on the control wheel slightly to lift the nose of the plane level with the horizon as the speed reached 60, but I couldn’t even tell you the moment the plane left the ground.
All I know is I was stunned to realise the plane was ascending, that I was still in control and there was none of that lurching sensation you experience on a passenger jet.
Immediately,a dim remembrance of some of Chris’ earlier instructions kicked in and I realised I needed to steer away from Moreton Hall before the plane flew straight over my own home (a course flights can take depending on wind direction, but today we were headed elsewhere).
By this point I was in disbelief that not only were we in the air but I also appeared to be in control. Despite the nerves – I kept my hands so firmly gripped to the control wheel they practically had to be prised off when we landed – I was able to take in some of the stunning vistas opening up below us.
I don’t know if I have ever seen Suffolk look so beautiful, with its vibrant patchwork of fields gleaming in the afternoon sunshine as we headed up to 1,5000 feet and skirted past Honington and back towards Thurston.
It felt like mere seconds had passed before Chris was instructing me to turn the plane to prepare for landing. Having no concept of direction by this point I just did what I was told and was surprised to see the runway coming into view.
Then Chris took control and guided the plane down for a gentle landing.
Back on the ground – all traces of nerves evaporated – I felt exhilarated.
Chris, who has 11,000 flying hours under his belt, said: “We normally get quite a few people coming back after a taster flight.
“Anyone can learn to fly, we have some youngsters aged 12-16 and we have got more mature members starting at 70. Age is not a barrier.”
The club has dual-control high-wing Cessna and low-wing Piper planes available for its taster sessions.
“A trial lesson is a fantastic wayto experience first-hand the thrill of taking to the skies,” said Chris. “Leading up to Christmas we normally get about 70 people come here for a taster.
“But it is not just about the flying here, it is about the history as well. People care about the aerodrome.”
Chris said while learning to fly might cost ‘quite a bit’ to start with, the cost levelled out if you looked on is as a complete package.
“It is a licence for life,” he said. “People work very hard to get their private pilot licence. It is not easy and it is an achievement.”
- There are few age or fitness restrictions when flying with an instructor, but students should be reasonably healthy and ideally be less than 6ft 4in tall and weigh up to 16 stone.
For trial lessons in the PA28 aircraft, up to two additional passengers may accompany the student and instructor for a small extra charge.
Taster flights start at £49, endeavour flights (25 minutes minimum flight time) at £109 and discovery flights (60 minutes minimum flight time) from £199. Flights can also be purchased as gift vouchers.
Skyward is open 9am-6pm Wednesday to Saturday (9am-4pm in winter).
For more information, go to www.skywardflighttraining.co.uk or call 07763 148640/07792 892588.
More by this authorCamille Berriman