I recently found a voucher on Buyagift.co.uk: £89 for a 20-minute flying lesson on a 1953 Piper Cub with Perry Air. There are even cheaper offers around, if you’re average height and weight. As I knew, my voucher was only good for weekends, but I wanted to fly during the week, when the minimum is 35 minutes. So for £35 I topped up.
The lesson takes place at Shoreham Airport, which is close to Brighton. However, public transport does not get you there, and a cab from Brighton station to Shoreham and back would have cost a fair bit of money. I shopped around using Holidaycars.com and found an excellent deal with Sixt: a brand new Range Rover Velar for 50% less than the next best offer. Usually I go for something the size of a Volkswagen Golf, but the offer was too good to refuse.
I arrived early at the airport and was given permission by the friendly Perry Air staff to take photos of the beautiful vintage airplanes in their hangar, including freshly renovated double-deckers and work in progress that would take years to finish.
Finally, my time slot had arrived, and Dave Smith, my instructor, greeted me and led me to the 1953 Piper Cub (designed in the 1930s), the plane I was going to have my flying lesson on. For the avoidance of doubt, I am, of course, fully aware, that it’s not really a proper flying lesson, if it involves just a single time slot of 35 minutes, of which a mere 20 to 25 minutes are spent up in the air.
No worries, I was not planning on flying solo anytime soon. I was in it for the fun.
The safety briefing and initial instruction on the ground were over in five minutes. Climbing into the seat behind the pilot’s seat was no mean feat, considering that both Dave and I are well above 6 feet, but we both managed. Different from the normal set-up, I had a steering lever and a set of pedals of my own. They were directly connected through metal wires and synchronising mechanisms with Dave’s steering lever and set of pedals. They always moved exactly the same way that Dave’s were moving.
It was a quiet day, so we were immediately given the go-ahead by the tower and took off towards the west along the coastline. The flying experience is very immediate, because the plane is very small and light-weight, but it always felt completely safe.
While we were working on gaining altitude and enjoying the fabulous views, Dave asked a few polite questions about me and then told me about himself. Turned out he’s flying Boeing 777s from LHR to JFK and back during most school days and only works as flying instructor as a hobby in his spare time. Prior to that he flew Chinooks for the army. Cool dude. I also appreciated very much, that he was super-relaxed, which helped a lot in keeping me reasonably calm. I’m scared of heights, so not a natural when it comes to these things.
Once we had reached cruising altitude, perhaps 500 metres above the ground, I was asked if I’m ready to take over the airplane. I confirmed. Then I took hold of the steering lever and the pedals and followed Dave’s commands. Great fun. I could have easily continued for a little bit longer, but I had only paid for a short lesson, so the instructor took over again.
We drew a nice circle around Arundel Castle and were on our way back to the airport. I was lucky, because another airplane was practicing an emergency (not previously advised to us, but the tower had been aware of the exercise). This meant that they received priority over us and we were forced to circle around for an additional five minutes before landing. I was very pleased.
We took a few more photos after we landed. Then I thanked Dave and was on my way back to London. I will most certainly do this again very soon. 5 out of 5 in my book.