Thursday, 1 November 2007

Looking up at the Ground

Just got this picture e-mailed from my Dad. Couldn't resist posting it up here. It depicts me preparing to commit aviation in Paul Bennett's Stearman. Edited out for effect is the ever-lovely Bruce Monk who was pilot in command for a great trip over Norfolk.

Bruce flies my Brother's Stearman (now back in action at last) for air displays, so he's more than reasonably familiar with the old brutes. We were drinking Old Buckenham coffee when Bruce mentioned that he needed to take Paul's plane back to Priory Farm, so did Dad fancy a breath of (very) fresh air? Dad's 85 going on 17, so he was strapped in and impatient before the rest of us had reached the tannin stains at the bottom of our mugs.

He's actually older than the aeroplane, but in even better condition

Martin and I drove to the farm, with me trying to act pleased that I was making the trip on four wheels. But on arrival, Mr Bennett (may his tribe increase) suggested that Bruce and I might fancy a further aerial jaunt. Oooooh yesss.
Once aloft, Bruce handed over to me so that I could make a total arse of myself trying to fly the thing. The Stearman uses 220hp to achieve almost exactly the same performance that a Tiger Moth produces from 95. So you expect it to be big, numb and American. What it actually is, is amazingly delicate and responsive, asking none of the stick-waving needed to persuade the venerable deHavilland to change direction. To an experienced pilot this is a delight. To someone with the airborne prowess of a dog-whelk it's like trying to adjust the temperature in a TraveLodge shower. After 15 minutes the aeroplane feels sick. Oh but I had such a lovely time.

Paul's Stearman is unique. The intercom works. So on handing back to the man who can, I hear Bruce's voice asking me if I fancy a loop.
OK, it's time to fess up. I've never done that. My feeling about flying is that if God had meant us to go inverted he'd have given us some sort of system to keep us from falling out. Oh, these straps? I see.

You can hear it can't you?

Let's do it.

We're into a steep dive. This big Boeing needs plenty of velocity to coax it over the top, and the only way to get that is with plenty of downhill vectorage. Up to 120mph and a big pull back. I get shorter, which I can't really afford to do. As we come fully inverted I feel all that weight come off. Looking directly up I can see Norfolk spread from horizon to horizon. There's a strong feeling that, but for this harness, I'd be spread to a similar extent.

A few pops and farts from the noisy bit at the front registers the Stearman's protest; it doesn't have an inverted fuel system, so everything stops working for a bit.

Back right-side up we do a few lazy wing-overs and stall turns and then into another loop. He knows what he's doing does our Bruce.

So that's another long-standing fear dead and buried. Until now I've felt that flying should be carried out, as far as possible, straight and level. The idea of doing anything the wrong way up filled me with abject terror.

But you feel very safe with a flying Monk.

1 comment:

Jem Shaw said...

Caroline sent me a comment that her Dad feels that, if God had meant us to fly, he would have given us wings.

Caroline, you already know this so tell your Dad: He did.