I’ve always liked that lazy droning sound of light aircraft; maybe it comes from my childhood, brought up a stone’s throw from Manchester Airport which my friends and I would visit every weekend, cycling to the back of the airport down lanes and alleyways looking for obscure fields where we could get close to the aircraft. We spent many a lazy afternoon on the airport terraces, jotting down aircraft registrations and ticking them off in our flight books.
When I was younger I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him down to Blackpool.
On the day that I joined James (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove down to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.
I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.
The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.
I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War two films when German stuka bombers hurtled down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail but as we hurtled towards the ground Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.
“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”
Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.
“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put on his hand brake at the traffic lights.
“What if I mentioned the mixture?”
If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.
“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”
If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane.
James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.
Next time if, on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”