Wings Around Britain 2007.
Tuesday 31 July
The alarm went at 0345 – I am not good early in the morning so this was a shock to the system. I heaved myself out of bed, coughing and hacking from my residual cold and trying hard not to wake Peter. It was still dark when I arrived at Oxford and GN, standing on the grass was covered with dew. I checked her out by torchlight and then Graeme Bowd arrived. Graeme has been a wonderful supporter and sponsor. He runs Red Admiral, a film production company and he sponsored my flight by making several promotional videos to go out on the television networks. He was to be my observer. There were four airfields that had eluded me because of being waterlogged. Two I still couldn’t actually land at but I did a very very low pass over them so that Graeme could sign them off in the book. I could however, land at Milson – a delightful grass strip in South Shropshire and also at Newbury race course. We had a lot of fun but I have to say, by the time we were back at Oxford at about 0820 I was gasping for a coffee and something to eat. Graeme and I rushed into the café and had a coffee and sandwich. Much revived Graeme drove me to Radio Oxford where I did an interview while he signed the Jeppesen manuals. He then drove me back to Oxford. I then drove home arriving at about 1100. I had to leave at 1230 again so had a quick bath and about 40 minutes sleep. Back in the car and back to Oxford where I met Martine Wright. Martine was a victim of the underground bombing on 7/7 and lost both her legs and damaged her arms. She was one of our FSD scholars and we flew together to Elstree to do an interview with ITN. Back to Chalgrove where Martin Baker test their ejector seats. They have now saved 7,600 lives through that method of ejecting from fast jets. This I find totally amazing. I was greeted by Colin and we were given coffee whilst Colin signed the books. We were joined by Tony Combes an amputee and Richard Hewett who has Parkinsons and we climbed into GN for the last sector. We flew to the disused airfield at Upper Hayford where we were joined by Keith Dennison in Peter’s Battle of Britain Hurricane. Keith is Chief Test Pilot for BAE Systems and they had given him the day off to do this – again as sponsorship. He flew in close formation with me back to Oxford and we did a low fly past before landing. It was all very exciting. As we landed I could see crowds of people waiting and it was just overwhelming. I could have burst into tears. There were flowers, photographers, interviews speeches, drinks, donations, chat and oh dear – oh so much more. My beloved grand-daughter was there (11 months old) – and she enjoyed every moment too. My thanks go to everyone – just everyone – in fact I can’t begin to thank everyone enough. People had flown in, come from South Africa, come from all over the UK. There were sponsors, disabled people, scholars, trustees, pilots, friends, family – in fact I can’t begin to name them all. A huge thank you to Oxford Airport and Steve Jones and James Dillon-Godfrey for working so hard to give us all such a fantastic event. I am just so moved at the most phenomenal support and interest in FSD everywhere. THANK YOU to everyone and my love to all. Watch this space for further adventures, but it’s a holiday and rest for the time being! If I don’t write for a week forgive me – but Peter and I do need time to recover.
221 Airfields visited, 158 flying hours, 19,000 nautical miles, 163 passengers, 96 disabled passengers. Dreadful weather!! Wonderful, wonderful support for FSD – Thank you
Sat 28 July
I never cease to be amazed. As I called up Sturgate I say “Sturgate, Good Morning, This is G-FRGN, a PA28 out of Hucknell inbound to you requesting airfield information” – “Is that our Polly?” the voice came over the radio – what fun! I immediately warmed to Sturgate. I was not disappointed. A crowd of people were waiting and I immediately felt at home. With a nice strong coffee in my hand a lady called Julia Dark made a presentation. Julia had done the Lincoln fun run and raised a lot of money which she has divided equally between FSD and BDFA. Julia’s partner David Bennet died suddenly from a heart attack last October and she did the run in his memory. Another member, Alan Wood has a ‘Pathfinder’ – the forerunner of the Piper Dakota and we parked the two aircraft together for a photo. I needed to fill GN up as I had rung Ken at Insch, the elusive Scottish airfield that has been waterlogged ever since I first tried to get there two months ago. “Come up” was his surprise comment “Today is a good day”. I told everyone at Sturgate that I was going up to Insch near Aberdeen. “I’d love to be going to Scotland” Julia said “Come with me” I immediately said “Oh no – I can’t” was her immediate reaction but two seconds later she said “Yes – why not” so she asked the club members to look after Loonie her Lurcher dog who stays in his basket at the club. We set off together and had quite a strong headwind, but the weather was beautiful and clear and we could see for miles. The GPS said it would take 2 hours and 15 mins. As we approached Aberdeen the cloud appeared and the hills and mountains got higher. I had to ask the controller if I could climb to be at the minimum safe altitude (MSA) “Can you take an IFR clearance?” the controller enquired “Affirm” I replied. He gave us a climb to 4,100 ft. We could see the ground intermittently. ‘Oh gosh!’ I thought ‘I hope I haven’t got all this way to be baulked yet again’. We were overhead Insch and talking to Ken on the radio. “Can you hold for up to half an hour?” he enquired “I am sure it will clear” - we circled the airfield “I can see a hole” Julia shouted, I circled round and sure enough there was a hole. We spiralled down through the hole. There was the runway between the hills “Can you see me in the yellow jacket?” Ken asked over the radio “Affirm” I said. “I am standing in the middle of the temporary runway – aim for me” he shouted. “Aim for the yellow jacket” – never before have I been told to aim at someone standing on the runway or indeed I have never been told to aim at a yellow jacket before. “Aim for the yellow jacket” he reiterated “I will get out of the way” he went on. I aimed for the yellow jacket “you are exactly right” came Ken’s reassuring voice. I saw him move to the side, the rain came sheeting down again and I rounded out and landed in exactly the right place. As I rolled up the runway I couldn’t see anything as the rain was beating against the windscreen. It looked as if there were ditches across the temporary runway but later I discovered that they were just areas of cut grass. “Stop at the end of the runway” he said over the radio again. I stopped the engine and could see a delightful club house in front of me. Several people were standing there to welcome me. We climbed out and went into the clubhouse where we were given coffee and Ken signed the book. I was so excited to be there “I will have to have a ciggy to get over that” laughed Julia. A man came in “I was in bed sick, listening to the radio frequency” he said “I heard you were coming so I just had to get up and come and meet you” he went on. He was climbing out of his leathers. He had come on a motorbike in that dreadful weather in spite of not being well! WE were anxious to ge away so took a few photos and then all the guys came out and pushed GN round in the other direction. I started her up and taxied her to the other end of the runway. They all walked down, the rain had stopped – in the event, I was able to taxi her round. We climbed up and away and with a wing waggle to say ‘good-bye’ and thank you we were heading South. We climbed up into the cloud to the MSA and it wasn’t until we reached the sea that I was able to descend below the cloud at about 3,000ft. There was an air show at East Fortune and we passed close by the Catelina Flying Boat making its way up there. We also heard the Reds on the same frequency as us when we were talking to Newcastle Radar. We had a good tail wind and after an hour and a half we were once more talking to Sturgate radio “You had better do something about that cough” the controller said “we are all laughing about it” he joked.
They filled GN up at Sturgate and I flew on to Netherthorpe. A quick stop and once more I was on my way to Derby. When I landed at Derby I realised I had left my handbag at Netherthorpe. They kindly rang Netherthorpe who confirmed that I had indeed left my handbag behind. There was nothing for it but to fly back to Netherthorpe. As I approached the guy said over the radio “Would you like me to bring your bag out to you to save you stopping” “that would be phenomenal” I said. Sure enough, I landed and there he was waiting on the side of the runway with my back. I pulled back the engine, opened the door and he thrust my bag through the door. What kindness! IT is little thoughtful things like this that make the world tick. I flew back to Hucknell and landed exhausted but happy as all I have to do now is four grass runways near home.
Peter, Clive and Nuria had had a lovely day and I told them all about mine. The week up here has just shot by.
Friday 27 July
Nottingham was my first port of call where I should have gone yesterday. I landed and went up to the tower to meet Val and get her to sign the Jepps Manuals. David arrived. He was the ATC on duty yesterday and he came to meet me as he was going flying himself. On to Gamston (Retford) with Tom Shepherd who is one of this year’s FSD scholars and is looking forward to going to S. Africa. At Gamston we were greeted by a whole crowd of people including the airfield manager who was called Royce. He took me into a lounge where he signed my Jepps Manuals. To my amazement there was Shona who I had met in Fife “I wanted my husband to meet you” she said “so we came down here for a few days specially”. I said “ I remember that delicious cake you made for me at Fife. We had such fun eating it at Edinburgh” Suddenly from no-where another cake appeared. Shona had made one called ‘Wings Around Britain’ and had the British Isles on the top with my aeroplane flying around the side. What a magic moment. Shona is so lively and enthusiastic. She whips you up with her enthusiasm. She then presented me with a huge gold chocolate medal and hung it around my neck. It was all very overwhelming. I was soon on my way to Langar where I landed just after they had finished a skydiving drop. Several people there knew Brian and they made me feel very welcome. The lady pilot rang Derby “It is just to sodden to have any visiting aircraft today” she said, which was annoying as it meant another one to do tomorrow when I really wanted to be with the family. Nothing for it but miss out Derby and go on to Tatenhill. On the way skirting around East Midlands the controller said “What time are you planning to come in here?” “At 1400 local” I replied. Everyone was so friendly. Tatenhill is a nice airfield with a friendly club house. The lady was cooking like crazy in the kitchen but thrust a donation into my hand. Kindness and generosity abounds everywhere. I gave a presentation as the heavens opened once again. Here was Paul Woolley, one of last year’s scholars, and he spoke very well about FSD. It always comes across better with the actual scholars speaking of their experiences. Paul flew with me the short distance to East Midlands in the rain.
Another surprise awaited me at East Midlands as Brian Conway, who was my first contact at Birmingham and first instigated my sponsorship was coming across the tarmac. He now works for East Midlands, Bournemouth and Teeside! He seems to be enjoying the challenge. We sat and chatted and Brian signed the Jepps Manuals. I flew with Richard Chambers a wonderfully positive amputee. He had had his leg amputated because of cancer and had been undergoing intensive radiotherapy. He has been awarded a scholarship at Goodwood this year and is very excited about it and very upbeat. He flew GN some of the way to Leeds Bradford where we had a mammoth reception with champagne for my passenger and the head of Air Traffic Control came down specially to sign the books “We made you do an orbit to give me time to get down here” he said “and you thought it was because of traffic!” - well, that’s what they told me so of course, I believed them. There was champagne for Richard and loads of photos. We then went to the smart new Multiflight café. Drinks and coffee and cakes were on offer and were most welcome. There was a large squadron of ATC cadets and I managed to give a presentation. Richard told his story and a paraplegic aviator called Tony told his. It was all very exciting and very moving. There was a group of aviation enthusiasts came to meet me and we had a great time.
I was soon on my way back to Hucknall where I then drove to East Midlands to drop off my rental car and meet up with Peter who has come to join me for the weekend.
Thursday 26 July
The rain was unbelievable, unbelievable and unrelenting. I tucked down the bedclothes and slept until 1000. A relaxed breakfast and I was on my way to the airport. The rain became worse and the cloud was so low that there was no way I was going to fly in those conditions. I sat in the car at Hucknell having bought a copy of The Times and I did the Su Doku and for the first time ever I texted the answer which they texted back to me to say it was correct and my entry would be put in a draw for a computer. (along with a million other people!) It was obvious that it wasn’t going to clear. I rang the first three airports and cancelled. They were understanding, but Sturgate had a presentation to make so they were upset a was Jude from Netherthorpe as she had planned a barbecue. I felt dreadful letting them down, but it wasn’t safe so there was no alternative. I drove back to Clive and Nuria’s house and dropped into bed and slept for nearly three hours. The cold and damp had really been getting at me. Also my cold and croaky voice and chesty cough were not benefiting from the gruelling regime. I got up and Nuria and I drove to Hucknall. Clive showed us round the R-R factory which was fascinating and then we went for a pub supper and that was the day gone.
Wednesday 25 July
It was one of the worst days weather wise. This diary seems to be one long moan about the weather, but I really can’t believe that it is nearly the end of July and it is still raining! Today was the worst type of day – low cloud and torrential rain. A huge amount of the UK is flooded, rivers have burst their banks and Peter tells me that our runway at home is completely covered with water which has never happened before. People’s homes are flooded and people are being rescued by boat and even helicopters in some extreme cases. It is hard to believe that just six months ago we had a hose pipe ban! However, it was one of the sunniest days in so many ways. There was so much sunshine in people’s hearts (forgive the cliché) that the day brought more blessings than ever possible to imagine. I flew two young people with really bad Cerebral Palsy. The first one was David Brownlow aged 13 whose father Pete Brownlow I had met at that beautiful grass strip Riseley Sackville Farm. I had kept the Brownlow family waiting at cold and windy Deenthorpe, a WWII airport. The weather at Hucknall had been so bad that I had to pluck up courage to take off. I crawled along beneath the cloud with the help of brilliant controllers at East Midlands and Cottesmore. As I approached Deenthorpe the weather improved (slightly!). David Brownlow cannot speak and can hardly move himself, but he and his parents, Pete and Helen had waited patiently at Deenthorpe in the cold and the wind. Pete lifted David into GN and we propped him up and strapped him in. He was giggling and laughing – “He moves his right arm when he means ‘yes’ and his left arm when he means ‘no’” Pete explained cheerfully. Pete is a pilot himself and used to own a Piper Dakota like GN. “David has not flown for a while” Pete explained “He is really enjoying this and I notice the difference in his reactions” he said. We took off from Deenethorpe and the weather deteriorated. As we landed at Leicester, the heavens opened. I couldn’t believe my eyes as there was Eric Ward – who runs ‘The Red Arrows Enterprises’ which is the business arm of the Reds. I have known Eric now for several years. It is because of Eric and ‘The Red Arrows Enterprises’ that the Reds are able to give so much to charity of which FSD is a beneficiary (The Reds have given an annual scholarship now for four years). Eric in his gallant way whisked up an umbrella. I had to climb out over David as Helen hadn’t arrived and it was so wet that Pete decided to stay in GN along with David. “Don’t go without seeing me as I have something for David” I said as I rather ruthlessly left for the clubhouse to get the Jepps manuals signed and to indulge in a cup of coffee with Eric. We were joined by a lady called Yvonne Farmer with her son Edward. We sat and chatted for a while and as we came to leave Yvonne thrust a donation into my hand. There is no end to people’s generosity. The rain was just tipping down and Eric insisted on escorting me back to GN with the umbrella. Helen leapt out of the car. “We have got David in the car and Pete has gone to look for you” she said and I felt dreadful to have been drinking coffee in the dry whilst they had been struggling in the rain.
Pete had also helped my next passengers into GN and they were waiting patiently too. Akash Ram, a 15 year old blind boy was my next passenger with his Aunt, Sal. They were full of questions and I felt bad, but I really had to ask them not to keep talking as I had to talk to controllers and concentrate on getting them safely to Bruntingthorpe. I had rung Bruntingthorpe to ask for a briefing as they use the huge large tarmac runway for testing cars and driving events and normally you have to use a grass runway “We will close half of the tarmac runway for cars just while you land” they told me over the phone. What kindness and trouble people are prepared to go to. I landed on this huge runway. The cloud base was about 1,200 feet and the countryside around there is flat, but the pelting rain made it difficult to see. David Walton the owner led us to a parking spot so that the cars could continue on the runway and took us to the controller to get the books signed.
Victoria Barr who has been awarded an FSD scholarship this year has Muscular Dystrophy. She is a ray of sunshine herself and her mother Maggie came with her in the back of GN. By then, I was running nearly two hours late which made me feel very bad. Coventry had laid on a huge event and the Lord Mayor had a busy calendar. We took off from Bruntingthorpe. This was not a problem as Coventry have an ILS so I knew I would be able to get in. In the event, we managed to do the flight visually in spite of the rain. Chris Orphonou the Managing Director of Coventry Airport was waiting with a huge bouquet of the most beautiful flowers. “The Mayor waited for as long as he could but he had another appointment” he said. I felt dreadful as they had gone to so much trouble, but I could do nothing about the weather and everyone understood. A lady from the BBC was there and we did an interview with my croaky voice. Everyone was waiting patiently in the executive lounge. I was able to give a short speech and thank everyone for their patience and understanding. Coventry had laid on a delicious lunch and at last everyone was able to dig in. I was busy signing books. Everyone was queuing up to buy them. “This is not a fund-raising flight” I had said in my speech “you can fund-raise for too long and your friends do a ‘180’ and run in the other direction” I joked, but several people insisted on giving donations. I feel totally overwhelmed with people’s generosity. I eventually managed to grab some lunch. We rang Sywell (Northampton) and they had a cloud base of 1,200 ft so we were ready to go. Timmy Lang aged 13 was my next passenger. He was like David and unable to speak because of Cerebral Palsy. His grandfather, Maurice Mann, a delightful 84 year old ex Mosquito pilot came with us. Maurice is partially blind and had to be helped into the aircraft, but he was smiling and laughing as was Timmy although Timmy couldn’t speak. We set off for the flight to Sywell. As we approached Sywell the cloud base descended “We have a storm overhead” the controller said and I had to do a low level circuit to get in. Timmy’s Mum arrived at the same time “we have driven like crazy to get here” she laughed, soaking wet with bedraggled hair. Her laugh was infectious and humbling and her wonderfully vibrant and sunny personality as she supported ‘Granddad’ and her severely disabled son was just so uplifting. ‘How can I ever grumble about my silly cold ?’ I said to myself ‘how can I grumble about anything when someone with seemingly so many problems can be so cheerful and positive?’ Timmy’s Mum helped Timmy give me a card. Inside was a donation for FSD and a wonderful thank you note to me and my team. This brought me up sharp as I have so many volunteers helping me and I haven’t given enough credit to them in my diary. Nora Haycock is looking after the Midlands and she has had anxious phone calls from waiting airports all day. All the volunteers have worked so hard and the team coordinators have done a massive amount of work in the background to make everything run smoothly.
There was a tap at the window of GN. I couldn’t believe it, it was Steve, the owner of Wickenby. “What are you doing here?” I enquired “I have flown down in the Cherokee Six for a meeting” he replied “Take care” I warned as the weather was so bad.
“What will you do?” Gareth Aggett, the owner of the Brookland Flying Club at Sywell asked “I will try to get back to Hucknell, but if the weather is too bad, I will go down the ILS into East Midlands and my daughter in law will come and fetch me” I replied. In fact Nuria is Clive’s life partner but I felt thrilled as she told me she called me her Mother in Law, so I felt comfortable calling her my daughter in law. She is a lively, warm and bright Spanish girl and I love her to bits.
As I approached Hucknell the weather improved and I had relatively clear skies as I landed at Hucknell.
When I arrived at Clive’s and Nuria’s house - “Here is a brandy” said Nuria as she poured half the bottle into a huge brandy glass - I laughed and poured most of it back “look” I said pointing at the glass “this is already a double brandy” – “Come along” Nuria insisted “Have a bath and relax” – she lit four candles along the edge of the steaming bath and gave me some wonderful herbal bath essence and some ointment to rub into my feet. I lay back in the steaming water and sipped away at my brandy and reflected on a miraculous day.
Tuesday 24 July
I woke up feeling better from my cold but very soon found that I had almost lost my voice. This was a distinct disadvantage especially when trying to talk to Air Traffic Controllers over the radio. All that came out was a croak! I was meant to go to Newton le Willows (Haydock Park Horse Racing Circuit) today but their runway was waterlogged. I wasn’t due in to Barton until 1015 so I didn’t need to leave quite so early. However, I wasn’t too sure of the way so I left in plenty of time and arrived at Hucknell at exactly 0900. I got my pass to go in and out of R-R and parked the car. I checked GN and then set off for Barton. It was a long slow haul as I had a headwind. I flew up the Manchester low level lane until I reached Wigan and then turned for Barton.
As soon as I landed a whole crowd of people came up and lined the route as I taxied to a special parking spot next to the clubhouse. There were a whole crowd of ATC cadets and Sue Hanisch, our scholar who lost a leg in the Victoria Station IRA bombing. Sue is a marvellous advert for FSD as it really did change her life and showed her a way to cope with her disability. She speaks very well in public and puts very succinctly what FSD is all about and what it meant to her. We all went into the clubhouse where I gave a presentation to the cadets. It wasn’t easy with my croaking voice! They were very polite and understanding. Sue then gave a brilliant talk which had the amazing effect of selling loads of my books! I am concerned that I will run out before the end of the week.
Sue and I climbed into GN with Sue’s two nieces sitting in the back for the very short journey to Manchester. It is just under 5 nm! And with an orbit took just six minutes! We landed and taxied up to the museum area. Here we were met by Liz and Sue who invited us into the marquee next to Concord. A group of amputees had come to meet us and show support and also my Spanish teacher, Juan Rodriguez had driven Irene Falla up from London. Irene is a double amputee as a result of an ETA bomb in Madrid. The two bombings occurred in the same year 1991 and the two had lots in common and got on really well. Again I gave a croaky presentation and Sue helped by giving another excellent talk. Irene then stood up and told her story in English which was very impressive. A tall, elegant girl with long dark hair she spoke brilliantly and her Spanish accent was very appealing.
I took Sue and Irene together to Woodford, an even shorter route. Manchester was extremely busy and it took half an hour to get out of there and about 4 minutes to fly to Woodford where all was peace and quiet and we were the only aircraft. Woodford is a BAE System’s site where they re-build the MRA4 Nimrod. We were greeted by Dave Higginbottom who is in charge of the Aerodrome and also by Garry Dalton, Head of Operations. We were given coffee and again I gave a presentation and Sue and Irene also gave talks. It is not possible for Irene to get an FSD scholarship as it is only for UK citizens, but Sue and I were trying to persuade her to start FSD in Spain. Irene is a journalist so in a way is ideally placed. Dave said “BAE Systems have a flying school in Spain” and I thought ‘Wow!’ ‘Wouldn’t that be amazing if BAE Systems got involved with a Spanish FSD’, but I didn’t say anything as it didn’t seem appropriate.
Garry then took us to see the production line of the Nimrods and it was very impressive and rather overwhelming to see them in a row all in different states of build. We were then very honoured as they stopped a test series specially so that we could go and have a look inside and sit in the cockpit. It seemed strange having such a ‘State of the Art’ cockpit in a 1960s aircraft, but it was very impressive and we felt very privileged to have had this special viewing.
Dave then took me up to the tower for a briefing about the VFR route out of Woodford. It is a strange thing, but flying IFR is so much easier as the controllers do all the thinking for you. Flying in and out of various controlled airspaces with differing VFR routings and finding all the right places to be is far more challenging.
We flew out of Woodford on a special VFR lane and then had to fly up a special VFR lane into Liverpool.
Steve Barker from Ravenair looked after us at Liverpool and signed the Jepps Manuals. Juan drove over from Woodford to pick up Irene and I flew back to Hucknell. A phone call from Clive urged that I hurry back as the last bookings for dinner at the local pub were at 2030. I managed to get here just in time to have a quick change out of my orange flying suit and we walked up the village for a delicious dinner.
Monday 23 July
There was a huge traffic jam on the A34 due to all the dreadful floods. It wasn ’t actually raining but it had been raining during the night and the flood levels were rising. This is quite the most dreadful summer weather I have ever known. I rang Wolverhampton to tell them I would be late. In the end the flight was quite easy in spite of a low cloud base and poor visibility. I was met by Father David and Nick, Diana Green’s friend. Father David, a most delightful priest welcomed me and we rushed inside as the rain was starting and with my cold, I really didn’t want it to get worse by sitting in damp clothes all day. I was given a cup of very welcome coffee while my books were signed and I did a short presentation. Some of my books were sold and we had a nice time in spite of the inclement weather. Father David was a real character “We take him flying whenever he needs to talk to the boss” one of the members joked. Steve Mason, who has Cerebral Palsy was waiting patiently for his flight. Soon we were on our way for the short distance to Cosford. We were met at Cosford by Steve McGuckin and a whole crowd of ATC cadets. A short radio interview with Radio Shropshire was followed by a delicious lunch ‘eaten on the hoof’ as time was short. I gave a talk to the cadets and gave them my cards and ‘goodies’. I rushed off on my own to Shawbury where I was to meet the High Sheriff of Shropshire. I arrived 10 minutes late, but luckily just before the High Sheriff arrived. Meriel Afia, the High Sheriff was delightful and we had a long chat. She signed the Jeppesen manuals and bought a copy of my book. A whole crowd of ATC cadets arrived and I gave a presentation to them before rushing off for the short flight (4.5 nm) to Sleap. My passenger was Roger Price who has Spina Bifida. A huge welcome awaited me at Sleap. Ron Lewis took me under his wing. Ron is the Chief Flying Instructor and full of energy. He had had a lung removed for cancer but was back at work as soon as he came out of hospital! He was certainly a born salesman and sold masses of copies of my book. So many, that I am not sure if I will have enough to finish the week! It is so difficult to tell! David and Michelle Bemand were there – they are joining the ‘groupies’! I had met David and Michelle at Shobdon. David is going to sale across the Atlantic in memory of his father. He was very keen to help with FSD. This time he brought all three children. I re-fuelled and was on my way to Hawarden (pronounced Harden) with Natalie Sokol and Anna her mother. Natalie has Downs Syndrome but just loved the flight.
At Hawarden I was met by Nigel Crierie and Paul Crispin. Nigel had had me to stay when I gave a talk to his aviation club and Paul I had met at Dairy Flat in New Zealand where he was flying Tiger Moths and I was on my Polar flight. He had some good pictures of me sitting in a Fox Moth and a Rapide. Ross, the handler gave us all coffees and we sat and chatted. I then flew on to Hucknell where Clive met me and drove me to East Midlands Airport where I hired a car. I then followed Clive home. I am staying all week with Clive and Nuria. They have just moved in to a beautiful new house last week and I am their first guest. The house is set in beautiful gardens and with spectacular views so they are very lucky. I am really enjoying having a little time to spend with them both.
Sunday 22 July
Friday 20th – well nothing happened except 4 inches of rain fell at Brize Norton. GN was stuck. There were no flights in and out of Brize all day. We had to move her to allow room for other aircraft which meant an hour’s journey there and an hour’s journey back and a good soaking in the few minutes it took us to push her back. It was no-one’s fault – just one of those freaks of nature – and sometimes you have to be philosophical about it. That meant no flights, and when I decided that I would leave very early – about 0530 to get up to Scotland to do Cumbernauld and Insch and be back in time for Halton at 1700 I was told firmly by Brize that the airport would not be open until 0930 so that meant another day or at least nearly another day at home.
These things usually turn out for the best. My cold was developing into a nice snorter and my tight chest was turning into a cough – so a little time relaxing didn’t go amiss. We drove to Brize but every road we turned to was impassable with floods – it really is hard to believe that it is July and since I started on 21 May hardly a day has gone by without rain.
We eventually got GN out of Brize and dodging thunder storms, I flew the short journey to RAF Halton. Norman Tench as there to meet me. Norman has thousands of hours on the Nimrod and a hugely distinguished flying career. He has an amazing story to tell and his display of courage and determination to overcome a life threatening illness is remarkable. The club at Halton had had a day of competitions with a navigation competition and spot landing. I arrived just in time for the prize giving which was fun. However, I didn’t stay long as the weather was closing in and I needed to get back to Oxford.
This morning. I set off for Cumbernauld at 1030. I had a good journey which took exactly two and a half hours. On arriving at the elusive Cumbernauld, I had a warm greeting and having re-fuelled had some soup and a coffee in the club dining room. I rang Insch and couldn’t get a reply which was frustrating. The weather didn’t look too bad and I thought it was worth having a try to get there. Insch is near Aberdeen and they had had an occluded front pass through but that had gone by then.
A text message from Ken at Insch revealed that the airfield was totally waterlogged so there was nothing for it but to turn around and fly all the way back to Oxford. The thought of coming back just for Insch is singularly uninviting, but I will have to try.
My cold isn’t any worse, but I am tired so will try to have an early night before the Midlands next week.
July 19th - Red Letter day
The weather was reasonable and I set off for Kemble to land at 0930. There was a huge Disability Road Show being held here and it was to be opened at 1000, I had the opportunity to say a few words about FSD and BDFA and I was just about to start on about ‘Fly2Help’, Mandy Pantall’s charity which gives flight experience to disabled and seriously ill children, when all the electricity went off and I didn’t have a microphone any more. The marquee was far too big for even my voice (which I am rapidly losing through fighting off a cold!). Here I picked up Diana Chapman, a hemiplegic who lives in Drayton, the village where we lived for 28 years. I gave her a flight to Wycombe Air Park, diverting en route to have a quick look at her house in Drayton. At Wycombe, I picked up Brian Downs. Brian used to be in the RAF before he had his accident which badly debilitated him and he is now in a Cheshire Home.
We set off for Benson, or at least for a disused airfield North of Benson where we were to meet up with two Grob Tutors who would escort me in. Each was to have an ATC cadet in as I am honorary president of the Wallingford Squadron of ATC cadets and this was to be a special occasion. As soon as I made contact with Benson Zone – I heard this “G-GN – message” “Go Ahead” I replied “G-GN you will not now be met by the Grobs, make your way direct to Benson” she went on “Oh dear, is there anywhere else we can meet?” I asked, disappointment creeping in “Negative” was the response. I flew in and landed to be met by the Helicopter Squadron Commander Rich Luck.
We had a problem as my passenger couldn’t get out of GN without his wheelchair and it hadn’t arrived. Brian was getting very hot, and he can walk a short distance with help, so we decided to get him out and sit him on the edge of the mini-bus. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best anyone could do. Rich and I chatted and had photos taken. “There were supposed to be some ATC cadets here” I said “I wonder what has happened to them?” Rich picked up his phone and made some phone calls. No-one seemed to know anything about it. Eventually we saw some figures coming across the tarmac. It was Amanda Selwood with two ATC cadets. It was great of them to make the effort to come out, but disappointing not to have had more of them as this is my local branch.
Benson very kindly let us leave GN there for a few hours. I was in desperate need of some sleep and so I went home and had lunch and put my head down for an hour. This made all the difference and much refreshed, I flew GN down to do a recce over Newbury race course where I was to land tomorrow. On to White Waltham where Catherine Loudwell the manager and Catherine and Barty Smith the owners had laid on a fantastic reception. White Waltham looked beautiful with flowers bordering the entrance and the lawns beautifully manicured. A whole crowd of people were waiting to push GN onto one of the lawns. She looked resplendent sitting proudly there and people were able to wander up and take a close look at her. Everyone was very friendly and there was a real party atmosphere.
White Waltham had a marquee there for another event and it would have been useful for this event if it had rained as there were a lot of people. Champagne and eats flowed and there were speeches. All the guests put a £20 note into a bucket with their name written on it. At thea end of the evening I was asked to draw out the winning £20 notes for an array of substantial prizes. There was a festive atmosphere as children and adults alike joined in the fun. Aileen Egan, a friend from when I first joined the BWPA and a wonderful adviser and supporter in the early days of my seeking sponsorship (Aileen is a business consultant and trainer) had come over specially. White Waltham was the stepping stone for the BIG event! Although I had to fly GN on to Brize as there are no lights at White Waltham. Thanks to the two Catherines and Barty, White Waltham raised a substantial amount for FSD which was tremendous.
Brize were very welcoming and I was met by Alan, the duty officer who escorted Peter across to where I was parked. We were then taken back to the VIP lounge where we were able to have drinks and meet up with Mandy Pantall, my disabled passenger and ex scholar and Philip Whiteman from ‘Flyer’ magazine. Everyone was very excited, but I was scared and apprehensive for tonight we had slots for both Gatwick and Heathrow. The slot for Gatwick was 2220Z (11-20 pm) and the slot for Heathrow was 2305Z (5 minutes past midnight). Amanda Harrison, one of my trusty volunteers who lives on the end of the runway at Brize came along as a ‘groupie’. This was one of the times when I really wished we had more seats in GN. I hated leaving her behind.
We took off and climbed into the night. England looked pretty with the lights from all the villages and towns shining out like stars. “Ooh look!” exclaimed Mandy “there is a firework display” but it was behind me and I didn’t see it. Soon there was a beating of rain on the windscreen and flashes of lightening nearby ‘Oh no!’ I thought ‘I hope this isn’t going to stop us at the last moment’, but it was only for a short time and all was clear below.
I was soon talking to Gatwick Director and a very competent lady Air Traffic Controller vectored me onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System) at Gatwick. She was very busy with incoming traffic but she cleverly slotted me in. As soon as I was on the ILS there were the runway lights ahead. It was very exciting. “Monarch (can’t remember the number) – you will be delayed – there is a charity flight light aircraft” the controller said “What’s the charity?” the pilot said “Flying Scholarships for the Disabled” I said as quickly as possible whilst negotiating the ILS. We landed on this enormous runway and a surge of excitement filled the whole cockpit. As I took off the Monarch pilot said “Good Luck for the rest of them – Polly!”
We climbed out from Gatwick and here I should say that my dear Peter was sitting beside me doing a stirling job as co-pilot. He got a string of instructions from me “find the chart for this” “ find the chart for that”, “what’s the frequency for this” etc. etc. As always he is there by my side when really needed.
The Gatwick Controller passed us on to Heathrow Director. All was quiet – we were the only aircraft speaking to Heathrow Director! It was so exciting. He too sounded excited although perhaps I interrupted his cup of coffee. “How do you want to get back to Brize after your touch and go?” he asked. “I was going to track to Brookmans Park or Lambourn” I replied “Oh! Wouldn’t you like to go more direct to the North?” ‘fantastic!’ I thought and calmly said “affirm”. The Controller vectored us onto the ILS at Heathrow and there before our very eyes was that elusive runway 09L. “Change to Heathrow Tower on 118.5” came the magic words. It sounds funny to have been nervous about flying in to Heathrow – after all it is just another airport and I have flown into many major airports in many capital cities in the world. I think it is because as a light single engine aircraft, we spend most of our time avoiding Heathrow and Gatwick airspace like the plague. I decided to savour the moment and instead of flying the ILS at 130 kts as at Gatwick where they were still very busy, I throttled back to 100 kts and put one stage of flap down and just enjoyed every moment. The air in the cockpit was electric and I kept hearing ‘Wow’ and ‘Oooh’ from the back seat where Philip was trying to get photos and Mandy had given up “I shall never see anything like that again in my life!” exclaimed Mandy “so I decided that I wasn’t going to watch it through a camera!” Mandy is such an enthusiast. She is the epitome of what FSD is about. It regenerates a zest for living through the challenge of learning to fly and Mandy is a prime example. She injured her spinal chord through a horse riding accident and although she can walk short distances with crutches, she is in constant pain. What an example! Her courage is very humbling.
We landed on hallowed ground for light aircraft (the airline pilots are blaze about it) and I found it hard to put the throttle forward and take off again. I just wanted to stay there for ever! But we were soon away and Tower told us to change back to Heathrow Director. “Hello again” said the friendly voice. He vectored me out of Heathrow and eventually out of his airspace. He seemed to want to hold on to us as long as possible (usually they can’t get rid of you fast enough). “Let me know when you want to QSY to Brize” he said. I too wanted to stay with Heathrow, it was all so thrilling. Finally, I had to get back to normal so said ‘Thank you’ to the friendly controller and was once more onto Brize. Brize gave me the weather. Thunder storms and rain – ‘Wow’ I thought ‘Weren’t we lucky to get in to Heathrow and Gatwick in time’. Brize Radar vectored me onto their ILS. The runway lay ahead – it too is enormous, but it somehow didn’t have the same cache as Heathrow (no disrespect to Brize). We were on the ground and everyone was ecstatic and on a ‘high’. Alan came to meet us and to our astonishment there was Amanda crouching under an umbrella. She had been woken by a clap of thunder and thought she would come over and see how we had got on. Alan offered us a drink in the VIP lounge, but we declined his generous offer as Amanda had invited us back to her house for a drink.
We all sat around in Amanda’s house chatting and sipping coffee. Peter, Mandy and Philip all signed the many pages for Heathrow and Gatwick in the Jeppesen Manual. We then drove home and dropped into bed at 0230! What a day it had been! Thank you to all those who made it possible and it just shows how wonderful it is to be British in that people in authority are still prepared to be flexible. Wow! Am I ever proud to be British, but again that is no disrespect to people from other countries as I have found nothing but a warm welcome everywhere. A huge thank you to Brize too for making all this possible. If you take off and need to land back at night, you need lights and most airfields even those with lights are closed at that time of night.
Wednesday 18 July
This was a good day and the day went by without a drop of rain! Thruxton was my first stop and it was fun walking across the car racing circuit to the control tower there. I was amazed to see Michael Wincote waiting there. I had last seen him when we flew in shocking weather to Sheffield and had to divert to Doncaster/Sheffield. On that trip we had been in cloud the whole way. I thought that would have put him off, but here he was – he’d applied for another flight from Thruxton to Middle Wallop! I also had Albert Gype, a leg amputee. We arrived over the designated wood near Andover exactly on time and met up with a Lynx helicopter who I followed in for a fly-past at Middle Wallop. Two Gazelles formated on my wings – it was huge fun flying in to Middle Wallop in this way. As we landed we were greeted by George Bacon who had set it all up – a Colonel called Bill and the Station Commander. As well as that Maureen from the museum had organised a fantastic spread with drinks and we all stood around and chatted and had my Jepps books signed. There was a TV crew there and we did some interviews. I was given time to give a short presentation. It was good to meet the Lynx pilot and one of the Gazelle pilots as well – we had the greatest of times.
My next passenger was Stuart Boreham, an amazing man! Stuart has cerebral palsy. He has sailed on the round the world Global Challenge Yacht Race for which his team had to raise a million pounds. To raise his share Stuart drove from John O’ Groats to Lands End on a lawn mower! His greatest achievement was rowing solo across the Atlantic in 109 days! He had a maximum of 2 hours sleep at any one time and usually only 15 minutes at a time during all that time - and I think that I am sleep deprived!! Stuart flew into Brize with me where he was met by his parents. His father had worked at Brize so it was a trip down memory lane for him and his parents. Here GN was parked next to a very smart black Hawk and we took lots of photos. We were met by the station commander Group Captain Malcolm Brecht. Malcolm took us to have some photos by a C17 and then took us on board and onto the flight deck. The flight deck is just like a Jumbo flight deck except it has the addition of a head up display. The inside is enormous and can take 4 Lynx helicopters or 5 Gazelles! They have them running continuously to war zones. The C17 makes the C130 look like a toy.
We were taken into a reception lounge where we were given drinks and biscuits and Malcolm signed the Jepps manuals.
I then set off for Damyns Hall. This is a new entry into the Jeppesen Manual since I did my trip planning. It is situated on the edge of the London City zone very near to Barnards Farm where I stayed with Bernard and Sylvia Holmes. I landed and althought the airfield is only officially open from Thursday to Sunday there were a whole crowd of club members to meet me. I was taken in to the club house where they do delicious lunches at weekends – a good lunch stop for those looking for an outing! I was given a pot of Damyns Hall honey (the bees are kept on the edge of the airfield). Sat down to a cup of tea and I gave a short presentation. I was then showered with a ‘T’ shirt and cap and they loved getting all the ‘goodies’ from my ‘goodies bag’.
My final stop was Crowfield which I had inadvertently missed out when in that area. Ross, and Alec, two brothers forgave me for forgetting to drop in there and I re-fuelled and had a quick Coke as I was thirsty. I am getting a cold, so I hot footed home as fast as possible. It was lovely to have a clear peaceful evening for the flight home.
Tuesday 17 July
Weather, weather and yet more weather! I can’t believe what the weather has done to this flight – it seems to be like climbing a mountain – you think you will be at the top over the next ridge and then there is another ridge. It is so very frustrating. Today – we had everything the weather could throw – huge crosswinds – bumpy downdrafts – huge cumulo-nimbii – it was like being put in a money box and shaken up and down. I heard today that Insch in Scotland is still flooded and they have had just one flying day in the whole year! I also heard that Newton le Willows is flooded too. I am trying to be philosophical as I realise there is nothing you can do about ‘nature’!
The day started badly as Peter discovered a huge nick in my propeller. I flew GN to Oxford early in the morning and arrived at 0745. There was one engineer there and he shook his head “Oh dear” he said “that looks pretty much beyond the limits” – “Oh God” I thought “how will I get another propeller in time as well as the expense”. Clive, the very experienced engineer who has been at Kidlington for 45 years said “Oooh – well I think we can fix that” – and he did – what a relief! This held me up, although Clive was as quick as he possibly could be. I was consequently late most of the day until I got to Odiham. I landed at Lasham first – rain and strong winds, but GN buffeted her way down onto the hard runway (at least I could use the hard as there was no chance of any gliding activity). There was a lot of activity in the club house – everyone congregating for breakfast! There I met up with my first passenger Chris Hodgson, who I had met once before at a talk I gave at Ropley.
Chris and I bumped our way across to Fairoaks. Here I was joined by Gautam Lewis, who had polio. Gautam has applied before for an FSD scholarship but as he wasn’t successful (this is always the disappointment for the selection board and all at FSD – but we can only give a set number of scholarships each year – usually ten, and a couple of mini scholarships – depending on funds and conditions but we typically get between 60 and 120 applicants). Anyway – undeterred Gautam is trying to put himself through flying training. His enthusiasm was infectious.Gautam and I bumped our way across to Redhill where I had a big surprise as Julian’s (our son) great friend Tim had taken time out of work to come and meet me. We had a coffee together with him, Gautam and my next passenger, Chris Feeley.
Chris and I flew on to Farnborough where I got a fantastic welcome from TAG Aviation. TAG have built a wonderful new state of the art terminal where Jason Ivey, the Airport Operations Manager and Elaine Turner, the events manager had laid on a VIP lounge and delicious lunch. They both devoted nearly two hours to looking after me and my two passengers and we had the greatest of times. As I walked out to GN I noticed we were parked next to a Royal Jordanian Business Jet. The pilots came out to meet me and I discovered that they were waiting for Queen Noor. I gave them my card and asked them to pass on my best wishes to Queen Noor who I have met on many occasions because she is Patron of FSD. I showed them Queen Noor’s signature on my wing and they took lots of photos.
Chris and I battled our way to Odiham where we were given a guard of honour by two London Squadrons of ATC cadets. Poor things the wind was blowing so hard that they had a job keeping their berets on. I tried to chat to them but the wind was making such a noise that we decided to go inside. We went into a conference room where it was easier to talk. The Station Commander, Sean Reynolds came to meet me. I had met Sean at a dinner previously so it was good to meet up again. He suggested I take off from the disused runway as it was in a better direction and would mean not so much crosswind.
I battled my way out to GN and said my farewells. I took off for the short flight to Blackbushe. Here, believe it or not I actually arrived early. I planned to hide in GN for half an hour, but there was a knock on the window. It was Martin Hannah. “Come on in” he said “you can’t stay out here – have a cup of tea” and I was whipped up into this very friendly club and given tea.
I met Maureen Middleton, a student pilot and a bundle of fun. We had a good laugh and chat as more members arrived. In the end there was a whole crowd of people. I gave a short presentation which aroused a lot of interest in my book and FSD. Before leaving Martin thrust a cheque in my hand “I don’t have any cash” he said “this is for a book”. When I looked at the cheque Martin had given a huge generous cheque for FSD. What a great end to a day which began in rather a dismal way. Roy Crabbe, one of my volunteers and a team co-ordinator met me at Blackbushe and flew with me back to Oxford.
Monday July 16
A brilliant start from Fairford. I taxied past the ‘Reds’ and they all waved and I blew them a kiss. I have had such fun meeting them, flying with them and of course, their support for FSD is GREAT. I flew in to Oxford and re-fuelled. Oxford have been fantastic and they look after me brilliantly. I feel quite ‘the Queen’ when I fly in there. There is such a good atmosphere, professional but very friendly. I then flew to Riseley Sackville Farm, a fantastic huge long grass strip where I was met and looked after really well. From there on to Silverstone. I was very excited about flying in there, it is such an honour. To think of all those famous racing drivers having graced that circuit. Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell to name just a couple.
I had had a thorough briefing the night before. “Land on the Northern grass strip” I was told “but don’t land in the first quarter as there is a tarmac bit that runs across it. Land just after the tarmac”. I had been sent a photo and it was all clear. When I arrived I could see quite clearly where I should land. There was a motorcycle course for kids on the tarmac bit but horror of horrors, a whole row of cars had been parked along the threshold of the bit of runway where I was to land. I felt it was unsafe to land over the cars so I did a low pass to try to suggest to the owners that they should move the cars. There was no response. I then did another low pass ‘surely they will move them this time’ I thought to myself, but nothing happened. I then did another low pass but to no avail. “Should I fly away or should I attempt to land?” I pondered. I decided to have a go at landing. It is unnerving facing a short runway over the tops of parked cars. I came in as low as I dared over the tops of the cars and put GN down and she came to a halt in plenty of time.
The man given the job of signing my Jeppesen manual came up “I am glad you managed to get down at the fourth attempt” he said jovially “It wasn’t the fourth attempt” I retorted as politely as I could “I was trying to get them to move the cars on the threshold” I went on. Anyway, having put the record straight we got on like a house on fire and he was interested in what I was doing whereas I couldn’t help gaping around me and felt filled with awe at this most famous landing sight.
I retraced my steps and this time landed at Cranfield. I was met by the Deputy Vice Chancellor and also the Director of Operations. I was taken into a comfortable room and two journalists interviewed me. The Deputy Vice Chancellor signed my Jeppesen Manuals whilst I did the interviews. Graham Austin then came across to fetch me. Graham is the Chief Executive of Cabair. He took me across to the Cabair headquarters and gave me a cup of tea. We then went into a classroom where at least 50 flying students were waiting for me to give a presentation. I gave a short presentation and of course talked about FSD. The students had lots of interesting questions and Graham purchased 10 books to sell at the school. At the end of the presentation three students came and bought books straight away. One person called Jon Sargent who has just qualified as an instructor came up and said that he would like to help in some way with FSD. This is what makes everything worthwhile. I gave him my card and asked him to e-mail me after I had finished WAB. I was so thrilled at this response.
I flew back to Turweston which is almost next to Silverstone. Here David the Airport owner took me into his brand new building and gave me a cup of tea and cake and left me to relax overlooking his beautiful lake. I was most interested in how he had constructed it as it has been one suggestion as to how to combat the flooding of our runway. I had two disabled passengers for the leg to Enstone. Tim, who has cerebral palsy and had come all the way from Welwyn Garden City and Lourdes Domingo who had polio at the age of five. She had come on her own by train from London. They both loved the flight and found it much too short.
David and Suzy Nickson met me at Enstone. They are old friends from the days when we kept GN there. They signed my manuals for me and then Joe Jackson with his mother Ann and brother Sam joined me for the leg to Oxford. Joe has cerebral palsy and can’t talk – but he seemed to enjoy the short flight. Back in Oxford Phil from Ops came out escorting Joe’s Dad in his car and helped lift Joe out. I had parked between two other light aircraft and wasn’t sure whether I would get through without bumping their wings so Phil and someone else stood by each wing and there turned out to be plenty of room.
I flew the short distance back to North Moreton. I did a short field landing which didn’t turn out as well as usual and I couldn’t stop before the boggy bit – I consequently got stuck in the mud. Gavin Selby who is ground crew for the Hurricane and Mervyn came round as did Julian (our son) and his brother in law Stephen. We all put on boots and pushed GN to safety. It has made an awful mess of our runway (which was a bog anyway) but GN was unharmed. We washed off her wheels with a hose and Mervyn sponged them over and we popped her in the hangar. It was then 2045 so most of the evening has already gone and I have a heavy day with an early start tomorrow. 171 airfields done but an e-mail revealed that Insch is even worse than us and have only managed one flying day this year! More rain forecast – will there ever be an end to this awful weather? I got home to some excellent mail – not least a donation sent from The High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight. There is no end to people’s generosity.
Sunday 15 July
A great day at The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). In the afternoon there was the award ceremony for the FSD scholars. This is when last year’s scholars are given their wings and this year’s scholars get a framed certificate. These were all presented by His Highness Prince Feisel of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Prince Feisel is always so interested in the scholars and what their story is and how they are doing. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy presented each of the scholars with a flying suit. The RAF are involved in so many ways. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight presented a cheque as did British Airways Charity ‘High Flight’ and Steve Bridgewater and Guy from their success in the Dawn to Dusk competition. The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators are giving two scholarships this year as are The Red Arrows. Mel and Cathy White were there and as always they (Honeywell Bendix King) are providing another scholarship this year.
It was announced that the Hong Kong based airline Oasis will give two scholarships next year. The scholars’ stories are always very moving and Susie Dunbar read out the citations beautifully. John Dunbar was in charge of the photographers so there should be some excellent pictures. As the weather was so inclement (yet again) all the scholars and a few others were able to sit in the marquee. All the others had to sit under an awning outside. The sound was relayed but it wasn’t possible for everyone to see.
The American display team, the Thunderbirds were all there and on talking to them afterwards they are quite keen to be involved with FSD/USA which is an exciting development. Several of my volunteers were there and I was glad that they could see first hand what all their hard labour has been about. Peter and I have been through the Jeppesen Manuals and have discovered a few airfields not on the list. I will organise to visit those in the near future. Fairford was airfield no. 166
Thursday July 12
I flew GN in to Fairford this morning for the Press Day at The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). I am taking a couple of days off - early nights and having my hair done and as long as it doesn't rain doing some gardening tomorrow! and of course, seeing my grand-daughter.
There will be no diary entries until Sunday 15th after the big day at RIAT
Wednesday 11 July
We had a relaxed start to the day as we weren’t due into Bournemouth until 1200. As it turned out we had an easy run and arrived 20 minutes early. This was no problem as we had to take out all the luggage and load it into Peter’s car. I was going home this evening and we had four passengers from Bournemouth to Southampton. This was Katie Miles last flight with me and Roger Haycock was taking over. I had offered all my team coordinators at least one flight and Katie had opted for the Channel Islands and Roger for today’s sections. Anthony and Linda Mollison had laid on a fantastic feast in the Pilatus Centre Hangar. Anthony and Linda run Professional Flight Training at Bournemouth and have been avid supporters of FSD. There were photographers and journalists as well as ATC cadets. Lynne Barnes my sponsor from Shell Aviation was there. Lynne has a disabled brother, Graham Blake and he was to be my passenger from Bournemouth to Southampton.
We had allowed a nice long time at Bournemouth and I was able to give a presentation and have time to chat to everyone. We had a bumpy flight to Southampton and had to hold on base leg as they were so busy. Graham seemed to enjoy the flight. The Airport manager, Jan was there to welcome us along with the Sheriff and his wife who was in a wheelchair and the Mayor and Lady Mayoress. They all showed a lot of interest in GN and Jan presented me with ‘Southampton Bear’ who joins ‘Alderney Bear’, ‘Aberdeen Bear’ and ‘Inverness Bear’. The bears sit tucked in the pocket behind the front passenger seat and they each have a log book. We will auction them to raise funds for FSD in the future.
Our next stop was Goodwood (Chichester) where I was to have the GPS aerial changed. The unit was not the problem and so the next thing to try was the aerial. I landed and we taxied up to The Flying School. Ro Taylor (one of my original team) came out to greet us and I told her that I would have to take GN round to maintenance. A couple of photographers wanted to do a quick photoshoot and then I took her round to maintenance where Rob and Barrie were waiting to descend on her. They took the unit out while I was still there and it seemed incredibly hot. They thought one of the fans may not be working. The KLN 90B has been a wonderfully reliable workhorse for both my world flights and I am sure this is only a glitch. Back at the Flying Club we met up with Tracey Richardson. Tracey is running the Goodwood ‘Fly Drive’ day which they ran two years ago to raise funds for FSD. This year it is on 12 October and is a really good day out for business teams. Half the day is spent in competitive flying and the other half with competitive driving. No previous experience is required and last time it was a huge success and raised a large amount of money. I think there are spaces for two teams still so if anyone out there is interested let us know. Ro had organised a reception and as we had to wait for the aerial to be fixed we had a relaxed and happy time.
Tony was to be my next passenger and he is a double leg amputee. A remarkably cheerful man he told us all about how he was still in the process of learning to walk without a stick at The Douglas Bader walking centre. Peter Jones was there with his Austin 7. We had met Peter and Mandy years ago on a vintage car rally. It was great to see him after so many years and he still had the Austin 7 with him.
The aerial was fixed and we climbed into GN for the flight to Popham. The GPS worked perfectly and the flight was smoother now it was towards the end of the day. At Popham someone called Chris was there and Philip Whiteman from Flyer. Everyone was very friendly and Philip and Chris signed the Jepps manuals. Tony thrust a generous donation into Roger’s hand. This is something we really don’t expect so we were thrilled to receive it. Thank you Tony.
Grahame Hopkins had waited patiently at Popham and as we were by then running late, we climbed back in to GN and set off for Oxford. Here Grahame’s wife was waiting to meet him along with my Peter. Grahame gave us a donation as well which was so much appreciated. We unloaded GN with everything so that I could fly her in to North Moreton. Our strip is still flooded so it concentrates the mind landing her in the first 300 metres but she did a perfect job and we were able to tuck her up in her own hangar for the night. By then it was 2000 so it was a great relief that Amanda and Julian had asked us round for a meal. We had a lovely relaxed family evening.
Tuesday 10 July
We had a relaxed breakfast sitting on the balcony overlooking the beach and sea at Bembridge. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. I did a radio broadcast live with Sarah at 0915 with BBC Radio Jersey which went very well. It was live so luckily it wasn ’t edited at all. At the airport Dick Steele was waiting for us and had the weather and notams. I filed a flight plan and we set off just after a shower. The flight to Alderney went well and we arrived almost on time – but time is always my ‘bete noir’ and from then on it was downhill all the way. A lovely reception at Alderney with sandwiches and cakes. Sir Norman Brooze , President of Alderney was there to greet me along with Jo Parmentier and the Airfield Manager. Stephen Hope who used to work with Peter many years ago and who now runs the George Hotel on Alderney (delicious lobster) also came to the airport and it was lovely to see him. There were some other people too and I was able to give a presentation and of course, talk about FSD. ITV sent a cameraman and I did an interview for the local paperTwo Aurigney pilots came up for a chat and presented me with a certificate and a childrens book called G-JOEY! They insisted on my sitting in their Trislander which was exciting. . My next passenger Russell Greenstock was there. He is a double leg amputee and I immediately linked him with Douglas Bader. Katie climbed into the back of the aircraft and several people helped Russell climb in. Russell has raised a lot of money for sailing for the disabled and runs an event called Russell’s Mussels each year where you pay a certain amount of money and eat as many mussels as you can. The money all goes to The Nelson Sailing Trust. We were just settling in to the aircraft ready to start when one of the controllers comes rushing out “You haven’t put in a flight plan and you can’t leave without doing that” “Oh my goodness” I said “How long will that take?” “It is usually an hour, but we will try to rush it through for you” he replied. Rather than get Russell out of the plane again, I climbed rather indecorously over him and rushed in to fill in and file a flight plan. Bang went all hope of being on time.
They were true to their word and we were soon on our way but at least half an hour late.
When we landed at Jersey we taxied straight to the aeroclub and were greeted by a whole crowd of people. It was exciting. We climbed the stairs to the very smart club house and immediately I had to do an interview with a newspaper journalist. I then did an interview with the ITV team and then with the BBC television team. A whole lot of ATC cadets were there and I was able to give them a presentation and as always they were interesting and interested. They told me about their project for raising funds for St Dunstan’s institute for the blind. They are doing an ‘Air Sea and Land’ project which means some canoe for 13 miles which is no mean feat, some walk and some fly.
We finally sat down to lunch at 1515! And that was the time we were supposed to set off for Guernsey.
As soon as we could, we set off for Guernsey, but Jersey is a busy airport and it took time for me to be able to take off. As we approached Guernsey a whole lot of aircraft were arriving and the controller sent me in all directions before allowing me to proceed to Guernsey. We landed and went to the smart FBO at ASG where GN was soon pushed into a cosy corner of their hangar. We went upstairs and the managing director of ASG and the managing director of the airport signed the Jepps manuals.
We then walked across to the terminal where there was a journalist waiting to interview me. A radio interview followed. Duncan and Amy who we were to stay with waited patiently. Duncan worked with Peter for 25 years and I have known him since we got married 41 years ago.
Duncan drove us to ASG where we picked up our luggage. But before we knew it Geoff Jones swooped on me for an interview. He writes for Pilot magazine. I did a quick interview and some pictures and signed his copy of my book and we were on our way.
Duncan and Amy have a lovely town house in St Peterport and my bedroom window overlooks the harbour and Sark beyond. We changed and then went out to a delicious dinner with June and Douglas Goater who are planning to run a fund-raising Ball on Guernsey for FSD.
Monday 9 July
Today ’s entry will be a bit different. I would like to show my appreciation to Oxford Airport for their fantastic support for ‘Wings Around Britain’. As our runway seems to be permanently flooded, Oxford have been wonderful at having GN there whenever I have returned home. This is so much appreciated and our thanks go to Jim de Salis and the rest of the team for making everything so easy for us. Of course, keeping it at Oxford means we have to drive 30-40 minutes home and Peter has to drive in both directions to meet me. It is not as easy as having it in our own garden, but there is no option and we are so grateful to have this alternative. Last night I had to fly GN out of just under half our strip. I took off with no luggage at all and only minimal fuel to reduce the weight. It was a bit scary wondering whether GN would be airborne before me came to the ‘lake’ but all was well and she took off in about 300 metres.
There was another problem I was facing. The GPS wasn’t working properly. I had rung Mel White at Skyforce (Honeywell/Bendix King) “No problem” he said “ we can replace the unit and get yours repaired – where can I fly to meet you?” I couldn’t believe his generosity. Honeywell Bendix King are sponsors but this is beyond the call of duty. “I am going to the Isle of Wight on Monday – I could pop into Goodwood on the way” I volunteered. Mel sounded quite disappointed – I think he was hoping to be able to fly further afield to deliver it.
I was taking Katie Miles one of my volunteer team coordinators to the Isle of Wight (IOW) and the Channel Islands. We left a bit earlier this morning so that we could fly into Goodwood to have the new GPS units fitted. As we taxied up to Rob’s maintenance place, there was Barrie from Honeywell Bendix King waiting with the new unit. Mel White soon turned up and together they fitted it and tested it. It took a long time to find satellites and they had a suspicion that it was not the unit, but the aerial so they volunteered to fly a new aerial across to the IOW for me. There is no end to their kindness.
We set off from Goodwood for Bembridge with the GPS working perfectly. It was a bit of a relief and I wanted to ring Mel and say everything was OK – but something just stopped me.
On landing at Bembridge we were met by Lara Harrison from Brit-Norman who own the airport and also build the Islander aircraft from there. We were also met by Ann Lovejoy who was in charge of the Island ATC cadets. Three cadets came to meet me. The High Sheriff of the island was also there and we all had a lovely lunch in the restaurant. As I only had two airfields to visit today, lunch was a leisurely affair and I was able to talk about FSD and my flights to everyone. Lara was interested in FSD and wanted to talk about possible involvement of Brit-Norman. I am always so excited when people take an interest in FSD. We tossed a coin for a cadet to fly to Sandown with me and Jessica Taylor won the toss.
Whilst at Bembridge the cadets had given me a full briefing on the structure of ATC:
When you first join, you are a second class cadet. You study several subjects including first aid, flight recognition, basic communication and navigation. After a basic test you can progress to first class cadet. You now study the History of the RAF and the ATC. You practice drills and parade and weapons handling. You go on initial expeditions and learn orienteering and map reading. After another test you become a Leading Cadet. More subjects are studied and on passing a further test you become a Leading Cadet. Senior cadet is the next stage and to reach that you study propulsion, navigation, aircraft handling and communications.
To be promoted through the ranks you have to be invited first to be a corporal (2 stripes on your epaulettes) when you have to display commitment, maturity and leadership skills. You are made ‘acting corporal’ for the first three months. Next you become a sergeant and that is 3 stripes followed by flight sergeant. The highest rank is Cadet Warrant Officer and for that you have to be aged 18 and be interviewed by the Wing staff.
The cadets are taught how to look after their uniform and polish their shoes. Should you arrive looking a mess you can be fined something like 50p or else be given 10 press ups.
Their eyes lit up as they told me all about it. They were obviously so proud to be part of this fantastic organisation and I am certainly proud to be associated with it.
We flew on to Sandown and sadly my new GPS was not working – this proved that it couldn’t be the unit. Who should arrive soon after us at Sandown but Mel White and Barrie from Honeywell Bendix King. It was almost as if they sensed that the fault wasn’t in the unit. Now it could only be one of two things either the aerial or the wiring. Mel and Barrie had bought a new aerial across for me. I will keep it and get it fixed when I go officially into Goodwood on Wednesday. They really are fantastic sponsors and friends. Each year they sponsor a mini scholarship and Mel and his wife Cathy take a personal interest in their scholar and visit them at Goodwood while they are doing their flying.
More ATC cadets were waiting as a guard of honour at Sandown and they all stood to attention as I came up to them. I managed to have a few words with each one of them which I always enjoy. Dick Steele the owner of Sandown came to greet me and he signed my Jeppesen Manuals. He wanted a copy of my book and promptly gave me a substantial donation for FSD. I feel completely overwhelmed with the generosity of so many people in the aviation world. It is wonderful to have such support for a great aviation charity.
Joanna and Mike Harrison have a house on IOW and kindly came over from Buckland in Oxfordshire to open it up for us to stay in. We have had a relaxed evening with them and found that we had many friends and interests in common.
Sunday 8 July
Today Peter did a 50 hourly check on GN. While he was doing that, I caught up with my e-mails etc and went to see my grand-daughter who is now 11 months old and is taking her first steps and is a delight. In the afternoon we both resisted watching the mens finals at Wimbledon and cleaned GN inside and out. We watched the men’s finals in the evening on match of the day.
Sat 7th July
I had set my phone alarm for 0645 as another exciting day awaited me with my flight with the Red Arrows set for 0843 exactly. I was worried as I had left my battery charger in the aircraft and the phone battery was getting low. I heard a ‘peep’ in my sleep and leapt out of bed thinking that the phone peeped because the battery was too low. I rushed into the bathroom and started running a bath. I then looked again at my watch to see that it was only 0445!! I rushed back to bed, but couldn’t sleep properly after that for fear the alarm didn’t go off, so I just lay there dozing and going over the routine for the next morning.
Phil Stevens was at the airport and we climbed aboard GN. I wanted to take off early so that I could practice the timing so that I was at the right place at exactly the right time. The precise timing of the Reds and BBMF never ceases to amaze me as there is so much to take into consideration such as wind etc. I took off with Phil Stevens in the back to do the photography. It was a shame as Graeme was unable to get a movie camera on board. I am still hoping that Andy Robbins (Red 10) managed to get a movie camera as well as a stills camera, but I haven’t heard. As I took off I contacted the frequency that Andy had given me. 125.35 “Waddington Radar, this is G-FRGN” I called “This is Scampton Tower, you need Waddington Radar on 127.35” the voice replied “Negative” I retorted (politely I hope!) “This is the frequency the Reds gave me to talk to them on” – “Standby” said the controller. I very soon heard the Reds calling for start up and taxi and then they said “We are flying with G-FRGN and would like to use this frequency” – first panic over as I thought I must have got it wrong although it was clearly written on my chart.
My heart began to beat faster and the adrenalin began to flow. ‘Would I be able to be in the right place at the right time?’ I had done my best to work it out, but it all seemed rather imprecise to me. Phil was in the back “Can you see them Phil” I asked anxiously, “Nope – can’t see them anywhere” he replied as we both scanned the horizon in all directions. “GN are you holding North of Wickenby” the controller asked “Affirm” I replied. Then I heard Red 1 “G-FRGN do you read” “Affirm – shall I do another orbit?” “negative – start your run in now – we have you sighted” – My heart missed a beat and I think that Phil’s did too. “They are coming up on your right” Phil shouted and before I knew it there they all were slightly below and alongside me. It was so so exciting. I started my 4 minute circuit as instructed, but it didn’t seem to be working as well as I had hoped. I tried to slow down a bit but that was a mistake as they were coming up again and I wasn’t exactly over the airfield. ‘Blast’ I thought ‘I’ve messed up again’, but I don’t think I messed up too badly although the first pass was definitely the best.
I was shivering with excitement as I came in to land. Phil was nearly as excited as me. I felt the adrenalin drain away and I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t believe that I had actually flown with the Reds – it was like a dream. All I can say is that those guys and the BBMF guys are ace pilots and it was awesome to be so close to such precision and excellence. A huge thank you to BBMF and the Reds and indeed the RAF.
I had a strong black coffee, signed some books and had a look around the Wickenby museum. It was a Lancaster bomber base and they had all sorts of exciting artefacts and records. One could spend hours there and it is well worth a visit. As indeed is the club house in the old tower now all spruced up and carpeted with a smart bar.
I gave a short presentation to the ATC cadets who had some really interesting questions and then I was on my way. Someone had asked me to fly over Woodhall Spa, so I asked the Waddington Controller for permission to enter the Coningsby MATZ and I flew up and down the village of Woodhall Spa. I wasn’t exactly sure where the event was being held that I was meant to fly over, so I circled the whole town in the hope that I had passed them. The route then took me almost overhead Sibson. I had been given ‘Go Bear’ to carry with me to Wittering. The problem was that I had forgotten to drop him off there, so I did a quick stop at Sibson to fill in ‘Go Bear’s’ log book and drop him off. ‘Go Bear’ is a teddy bear belonging to the British Disabled Flying Association (BDFA) and he has flown with all sorts of people including the Red Arrows – he will be auctioned to raise funds for BDFA.
I picked up Peter at Oxford and then we had another exciting experience. We flew in to London City Airport. Normally single engine aircraft can’t fly in to City, but for one day in the year it becomes an unlicensed airfield and they have a carnival and flying display and a few aircraft can fly in if they apply for an invitation. It was so exciting flying down the Thames with all the sights of London in front and landing on the runway with water on both sides. We taxied up and parked. A drum band was playing and people were dressed up in all sorts of colourful costumes. There were Daleks and teddy bears and bouncy castles, helter skelters and a real air of festivity. We had a cup of tea in the Rotary International Tent where a pianist was playing all the old favourites.
It was a phenomenal afternoon. Lots of people were there. Maurice Hammond had his Mustang and his Havard and both displayed. Caroline Grace and Peter Teicheman both had Spitfires there and various aerobatic champions gave spectacular displays while the big jets flew overhead bound for Heathrow.
Peter flew us back to Oxford where we took everything out of GN. Our runway is still flooded, but we needed to get her back in for Peter to do a 50 hour check on her. I flew her back home and landed well in the first third of the runway which was dry so all was well. I was by then so exhausted that I dropped into bed and slept for 14 hours.
Friday 6 July
A cold windy day – very windy in fact – so windy that the BBMF could not honour their engagements during the day. I was already at Wittering and Peter drove me there arriving about 1000. It was a ‘Families’ day’ when the station is open to families and neighbours. There are various aircraft exhibits and a flying display. GN was creating a lot of interest and many people came up for a chat. It was cold and windy and hard work talking against the wind. However, it was fun – when eventually I managed to break away to get some lunch there was a long queue at the food tent. The atmosphere was friendly and everyone was enjoying themselves in spite of gale force winds. As I reached the food tent the heavens opened and it poured with rain once again. Luckily, I had by then got under cover so by the time I had eaten my burger the rain had abated.
GN was parked along the display line and just then I saw Andy Keith, Red 3. Andy broke a metacarpal in his hand and was off flying so I went to have a chat and watch the display with him. He had a radio so I was able to listen to the instructions. It was not easy to understand them all and I couldn’t help hoping they would be clearer when I flew with them tomorrow. They had a lot of wind drift to combat but did an excellent ‘flat’ display in spite of the wind and in spite of there only being eight instead of nine.
I then had a brief chat with Andy Robbins, Red 10 who gave me an OS map with all the details on for our fly past tomorrow. I decided to sit in my aircraft as it was getting really cold. As I sat there catching up with phone calls and studying maps the aircraft was rocking violently in the wind. I couldn’t help thinking of Antarctica and the horrendous winds that I encountered when trying to cross that continent.
The whole event finished at 1600 and then a hoard of people swooped on the tents and marquees. Within an hour the whole place was cleared up and you wouldn’t know there had been anything happening. It was most impressive. Whilst this was going on Albert Finney, the chief Air Traffic Controller at Wittering came and sat in GN for a chat. He used to be an ATC instructor and I learnt a lot about how the controllers learn their skills.
I was sitting quietly on my own when there is a knock on the window. There is Phil Stevens, the photographer who was to fly with me to Wickenby to photograph the BBMF. A phone call came from Al Pinner “We are delaying the flight into Wickenby by 45 mins. to let the wind drop. Do you want to fly over to Coningsby?” This seemed a good idea, so with Phil strapped in the back, we set off. By this time there was absolutely no-one at Wittering and it was strange taxiing onto the runway on such a big base which appeared totally deserted. I was tired from the wind and cold and hanging around is almost more tiring than when you are ‘full on’. I was anxious, too not to mess up the formation. I was to fly with the BBMF and the Reds within a space of 15 hours.
We landed at Coningsby and taxied up. A quick ‘hello’ to Al and a wave to Parkie who was to fly the Hurricane and we were taxiing out. I took off after Al in his Spitfire and set off to find the river as instructed. As I reached the river both Al and Parkie were on my starboard side. We flew up the river and then on to Wickenby. Al was on one side in the Spit and Parkie on the other. It was very exciting and made a fantastic sight. As we approached Wickenby Al called “GN descend now” so I put GN into a steep descent “faster if you can” Al shouted – so I did my best. We did a fly past at 300 feet and then BBMF aircraft broke away to allow me to land. I got in a muddle with the runways and by the time I reached 34, the active runway I didn’t have time to set up properly. I drifted along the runway and by the time I touched wheels I realised that I wouldn’t be able to stop in time and so had to go around. “GN going around” I shouted – feeling an absolute idiot. Al had asked me to expedite so that they could do a display over the top of me and I had messed up – and in front of a huge crowd. Al said “Don’t worry Pol, we will wait for you” in such a kind voice – I could have burst into tears there and then. I landed and taxied up. As I was at the intersection of the runways Al and Parkie did a low pass and then as I taxied up beside the crowds they did another one – what stars!
I climbed out to a tumultuous welcome in spite of my messed up landing – after all we were quite safe and only my pride was dented. You learn something every day and I slapped myself (in my mind) and said ‘don’t be such an idiot, Pol – who cares if your pride is hurt – put it behind you’ and so, with a huge effort, feeling tired and dejected, I put it behind me and went to meet all the air cadets who were lining the route for my arrival. Gerald Cooper who is part owner of Wickenby came to say hello. He had just come back from the World Aerobatic Championships in Spain and had come 8th overall. He is the first British person ever to get in the top ten. He signed my Jepps Manual for me as did Steve, the other co-owner of Wickenby. Steve has just bought the Thruster aircraft company and moved it to Wickenby which is very exciting.
We all went over to the hangar where a band was playing and tables were set out for dinner. Before dinner they asked me to say a few words about FSD which I did. Paul Day erstwhile boss of BBMF came up to say hello as did a guy who I met in Antarctica. They keep popping up! It was a delicious dinner and then an auction was held. Lots of my books were sold. Overall, they made £3,000 for FSD during the evening. A huge thank you to Wickenby Aero Club and all its members and friends. At midnight Charles drove me to his lovely home where I collapsed into bed without doing another thing.
Thurs. 5 July
Rosita’s and Philip’s house is a marvel. Queen Elizabeth I stayed there and was reputed to have said “Its rather small but it will fit the purpose”. There are six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms on the first floor and nine bedrooms on the top floor. Rosita took me for a quick ‘tour’. There are sitting rooms, games rooms, sewing rooms and you name it. It is set in beautiful gardens and it was so interesting to hear all about its history. I was a little anxious about taking off on a short runway with wet grass, but I need not have worried. Great Massingham was the first stop and Marham vectored me around their zone. Great Massingham is an old WWII airfield and the owner, Olaf Brun, a member of the air squadron has kept three runways in the traditional triangle. When I arrived there was noone there so I rang Olaf and he came around to sign the Jepps Manuals. We chatted for a while and I had a look at his ‘stable’ of aircraft.
Next stop was Marham. There, I hadn’t realised that I was going to take three passengers. A car had been arranged to take my luggage to Fenland, which is just as well. I rang Fenland just to check everything was OK “The main East West runway is completely flooded” said the chief instructor “the North South runway is flooded at the Northern end” he continued “You will need to land on the numbers on the South Runway – keep to the West side and make sure you are stopped by the windsock otherwise go around” he went on “The runway is 540 metres long but only a maximum of 440 is available” – it all sounded rather dodgy. “We will close the road so that you can come in really low” –‘what next?’ I began to wonder!
I loaded Jackie and David Vear into the back and their young son Christopher in the front. As we approached Fenland I could see two people in yellow jackets standing in the middle of the road which runs across the threshold of runway 18. I put GN down on the numbers and thank goodness I did – I squidged my way back down to the clubhouse where a tumultuous welcome awaited us. I needed fuel as I had dipped the starboard tank and found only a dribble remaining. Luckily I had an hour and a half’s worth of fuel in the left tank so there was not a problem. I didn’t fill GN right up as I usually do because of the squidgy runway. Several people wanted books, but as I had run out of them, there was an opportunity missed. It is so difficult to gauge. There was some people there from a local disabled association and I was able to talk about FSD. It was such a friendly welcome.
I taxied out to the runway and revved GN as much as possible. I rolled along the runway and as I gathered speed I put flaps down and I was airborne. Brian Catchpoole, who had polio as a child was my passenger. My GPS wasn’t working so I asked Cottesmore to give me a vector for Peterborough/ Sibson. “Don’t land before the numbers as it is sodden” I was told “keep to the right of the runway” – Sibson wasn’t as waterlogged as Fenland, but it wasn’t brilliant. I taxied up and there was another big reception committee. The lady Mayor was there and the Deputy Mayor (also a lady). Bubbly Lucy Kimbell was so welcoming and was rushing around organising photographers, reporters and television crew. I was taken in to the club house – it was quite poignant coming in to Sibson as it is an important skydiving centre and I had been there before to skydive.
John Coleman, one of the owners of the airfield was also helping and there was a great atmosphere. A delicious lunch was provided and I was able to give another short presentation. A young ATC cadet was there called Sean and he helped me organise the signing of the books and passing round my ‘goodies’. “I have a masseur here to give you a massage” said Lucy ‘Wow!’ I thought ‘that will be a first!’
I took the BBC cameraman for a circuit and that seemed to go well – “Well – Lucy” I shouted when I had landed “Where’s that lovely lady who is going to give me a massage?” “Here I am” waved Sarah Disney and she and I went into the club house and she gave me a wonderful neck and shoulder massage which relaxed me so much I don’t know how I got up and went to the plane again.
Anne Wafula Strike was my next passenger. A polio victim from Kenya, Anne is an Olympic bronze medallist and world silver medallist in middle distance wheelchair racing. Anne was thrilled by the whole flight and was so enthusiastic. We arrived at Stansted early and had to orbit on downwind for about 15 minutes and then we went in and landed. As we taxied up behind a ‘follow me’ car, I had to taxi between two fire engines who gave me a water arch to taxi through. That is a great honour, but there was so much water that I lost sight of the marshaller and was terrified that I might taxi into him.
We stopped and got Anne and her wheelchair out in plenty of time. At exactly the appointed time of 1634 we could see the Red Arrows in the distance. They flew exactly over GN where I was standing on the wing waving to them. Mark Pendlington and Nick were there to greet us as was Jane Hammond and the rest of the team from Stansted. After more photographs we went into a marquee erected for the purpose where there were delicious ‘nibbles’ and Mark gave a welcome speech. I gave a short (for me) speech about ‘Wings Around Britain’ and then Alan Smith, Chairman of the FSD Trustees, gave a speech about FSD. Stansted bought a whole pile of books including one for the fire crew which was a lovely gesture. All sorts of people were there including Norman Kinnish from Airbourne, Lucy Clements from Jeppesen and Samia Bishay whose company is managing the publicity for Oris. Steve and Belinda Wood were there from America. Steve is a long distance record breaking pilot and he does his flights for FSD in the States.
Terry Holloway from Marshall Aerospace was also there.
As I finally taxied out after another amazing day, the rain started. Rain, and more rain- when will it ever stop? I made my way up to Wittering with the rain beating down and only just saw the runway at Wittering when almost overhead. I did a short circuit and landed. I was relieved to find Al Pinner in his car and he led me in to where I was to park. I was so relieved to see him. He jumped out of his car just in his shirt sleeves. I gestured for him to get back in the car and not get wet but being the gentleman he is, he absolutely refused and insisted on helping me with all my luggage.
Back at Al and Liz’s house I quickly changed out of my orange suit and began to unwind. Peter drove up from Stansted in the pouring rain and arrived soon after. We had a lovely dinner with Al and Liz and their children Angus and Lucy.
Wed 4 July
People keep asking me whether I get tired of flying. The answer really is ‘NEVER’! However, I do get tired and I thought it may be interesting to describe a typical day on this flight around ‘my own back yard’.
Typically, my alarm goes at 0630. I leap out of bed as I have only allowed myself a short amount of time to get dressed so that I can get as much sleep as possible. I dress and pack everything in the same order each day, checking that I have essential items such as my hot water bottle, glasses, mobile phone, and aircraft key. I have been lucky and usually stay with friends so I go to breakfast and then the friends drive me to the airfield – thank you all my wonderful hosts and hostesses. I check GN thoroughly and re-fuel her for the day. I check and replenish the oil, remove the chocks and if I am at a large airport go and ‘book out’. I get weather information and notams when able. All this takes time, and if I am not very careful, I invariably start late.
The day is full on with one stop after another. At each stop the first thing I do after shaking hands with everyone is carry my three Jeppesen Manuals into the club house or wherever. There I lay out the Jeppesen manuals and ask at least one person to sign them, write a comment or whatever they want so that it is a witness that I have landed at that particular place. I give them a certificate of appreciation and if I have had a disabled passenger with me I give them a certificate. I hand out my ‘goodies’ which are postcards from Sennheiser and stickers, keyrings, balloons, mints etc. from Jeppesen. I am usually given a cup of tea and by the time I have sold a few books which I sign then I am back out to the aircraft. I check the fuel and oil and get out the chart for the next place and start up –wave good-bye and am on my way to the next destination. On average there are 6 destinations in a day, but today for instance I have stopped at 9,which is too many and meant I was running later and later. Sometimes a lunch reception is laid on for me and some guests but invariably I eat a muesli bar ‘on the hoof’.
At the end of the day, I am picked up by my host and taken to their home. I quickly change out of my orange suit and sit and chat and have a meal. I try to get to my room by 2230, but sometimes it is later.
Once in my room, out comes my computer. While it is warming up I ring Peter and make notes about the messages he has for me about the ensuing days. I then write my diary on the computer and if I am able I write a shortened version on my hosts computer to send to the website. More often though, I just copy it into an e-mail and they mount up until I get home and can get on line. I make a note of how many books have been sold and sort out the finances. I get out the charts for the next day and make sure Ihave the proper flight plan for the first flight in the morning. Often it is 0100 before I get to bed.
Today I have had some exciting adventures. My first stop was Elmsett, a grass airfield in the Wattisham MATZ (Military Air Traffic Zone). The rain has been relentless with some huge thunderstorms. “I have a message from Elmsett” said the Wattisham controller “go ahead” I replied. “Yes, Elmsett say land in the first part of the runway before it goes downhill as the bottom half is very wet and soggy” – “Roger”. “Stay on this frequency and let me know when you are on final” he went on. “Final to land” I call up the Wattisham controller “Report on the ground and I hope they have some good ‘wellies’ for you” he added. It was very wet and squiggy and as soon as I tried to apply any breaks GN started slewing all over the runway. It was scary.
Duxford was my next stop where they are preparing for ‘Flying Legends’ at the weekend. I had taken Evie Edwards on that leg of the journey – a bright 12 year old with short limbs rather like thalidomide. We couldn’t find her father on arriving but two very nice fireman came over to see if they could help.
My next stop was Clacton. “Be careful at Clacton” someone had warned “there is a footpath running across the middle of the runway and there is always a crosswind” – I was grateful for the warning. “It is a very short strip” he had continued. When I arrived overhead, there was indeed a crosswind of about 16kts. One of the pilots had said “If you don’t touch wheels before the footpath – go around and try again”- all good advice and I was well prepared.
From Clacton I had tried to ring Beccles but could get no response from anyone on any of the numbers. When I arrived overhead, I landed on a deserted runway but there was a car on it. As soon as I landed a man came up “Are you alright?” he said “Fine” I replied ‘what did he mean’ I wondered. “ This is not the runway” he went on “What do you mean?-this is Beccles isn’t it?”-at this point a lady came up “This is not the runway” she said ‘Oops!’ I thought. “No this is where the Sunday market is” – the man added “we have lorries coming in and parking here”- the lady, called Dot had seen me land in the wrong place as she was driving home from work-as she is a pilot she decided to come and offer help. “The runway is the other side of the road – I will go and stop any lorries coming in while you take off” she offered. ‘Oh dear, what a wallie I am’ I was beginning to think. I turned round and took off again and sure enough there was the runway on the other side of the road. Originally the whole thing had been one huge runway but the road had been built through the middle of it and only one side was used as a runway.
However, half the useable runway was grass and the other half tarmac. At the end of the grass the farmer had parked a huge machine which meant I had to fly over that before being able to get in a position to land! As Dot had been so kind to me, I gave her a flight from Beccles to Seething. By the time I arrived at Seething the ‘bush telegraph’ had been at work and everyone knew that I had landed on the wrong runway – in fact everywhere I stopped at for the rest of the day knew in advance of my arriving.
At Seething Caroline Boyce had brought a whole class of children to meet me so I gave them all a little talk and handed out some ‘goodies’. I was then taken into the clubhouse where I was given tea and got the usual book signings done etc. I was then shown into the hangar to see Dot’s husbands RV9. All the aircraft are on an electric turntable. When you want to get your aircraft out, you press a button and the turntable with the aircraft on it rotates. When yours arrives opposite the hangar door you stop the turntable and pull yours straight out.
At Norwich, Peter Holland had laid on a reception and there was a crowd of people to meet me. Peter is a friend of Julian (our oldest son) and runs a thriving helicopter and fixed wing flying school. I did a radio broadcast in the comfort of Peter’s lounge.
Little Snoring was next. The runway is again a small portion of the original huge one. This was easy to pick out and I soon taxied up to another warm welcome. Tea and a massive array of cakes awaited me. I had taken Martin Pitchers, an amputee and his son Tom on this leg. Martin’s wife had lost 8 stone and showed a picture of herself before she started losing weight – she was enormous. What an amazing transformation.
Another radio broadcast which I did outside in spite of the wind.
I had had a problem with my GPS and without it, it was almost impossible to identify some of the small grass strips which blend beautifully into the surrounding farm land. However, the GPS was working on the leg to Cromer but I couldn’t see the runway anywhere. Chris, a paraplegic who runs the aircraft talked me down. There were two uniformed police there “We hear you landed on a road without a licence” they said with a twinkle in their eye “I will write you out a summons form” he said – and he did “Are you sure you won’t get sacked for filling out a form as a joke” I said – they laughed. They both paramotor which is paragliding with a motor on your back. They were great fun. There were children there and I sold my last four books. The Eastern region have been phenomenally generous – this is the first time I have actually run out of books before the end of the week. Luckily Peter is meeting me at Stansted tomorrow so will be able to replenish the stocks.
The skies looked ominous and it was getting late so I took off for my final leg to Rosita and Philip Chubb’s private strip. Norwich gave me permission to fly over their overhead and I was soon circling around looking for the Chubb’s strip. I suddenly spotted it and came in to land. The strip is very short – only about 430 metres and the grass was long and wet. I am sure I have put great ruts in their runway, but they didn’t seem to mind and all came out in the rain to greet me. They had organised a group of people to meet me. Sadly, I was so late arriving that some of them had had to go home, however there was still a good contingent and we all sat down to a delicious dinner and swapped flying stories. Rosita’s and Philip’s oldest daughter Eleanor breeds tortoises and she brought in an empty ice cream tub with four, four day old tiny tortoises. They were gorgeous and sat comfortably in the hand.
Tuesday 3 July
I always pride myself on knowing where I am all the time. I had decided to fly to High Easter via North Weald and Lambourn to avoid Stansted busy controlled airspace. When I reached Stapleford (Lambourn) the GPS gave a completely erroneous heading and distance to High Easter. I punched in the coordinates I had and still it came up with the same information.
It was telling me to go West for 22 miles and on the map it should have been a heading of NE for 10 miles. How was I going to find this tiny 450 metre strip with no real landmarks to guide me? It is right on the edge of Stansted and I really did not want to infringe Stansted air space. In desperation I called Essex radar and asked for vectors to High Easter. Obligingly they guided me right to the overhead. I never in the race of cats would have found it as the hangar at one end of the strip (the only real landmark) was hidden in trees. Thank you to the controllers at Essex radar. In fact the controllers everywhere have been fantastic and I often feel they are the unsung heroes.
I flew on the short distance to Andrewsfield still on the edge of Stansted. Here I sold several books and had a warm welcome as I have had in so many places.
At Fowlmere, I was approached by a member of the flying club there. “We were planning to fly to France for our holiday but the weather was so bad,we cancelled it on the day we were supposed to go” he said “The same happened the next day, and the following day” he continued “Then I thought of you flying in all this dreadful weather and I decided to give you a cheque for FSD which is the amount I would have spent on our holiday in France”. Such generosity is really overwhelming and I find I become really emotional. How can anyone thank people enough for their wonderful support?
I landed at Cambridge next where Terry Holloway from Marshall Aerospace had organised a lunch reception. The mayor was there as well as many local dignitaries. The mayor, a delightful lady called Jenny signed all the Jeppesen manuals as well as Terry. David Boyce who organised my sponsorship from Aon and Global Aerospace (aviation insurers) was there as was Charles Swithinbank, the Antarctic ‘living legend’ who helped me so much with my Antarctic preparations. Charles has spent no less than 40 seasons in Antarctica. He was a glaciologists and it was he along with Giles Kershaw who first discovered natural areas of blue ice in Antarctica where wheeled aircraft could safely land.
I took Andrew Gault with me from Cambridge to Bourn. Andrew is 34 and had a brain tumour. He used to be a flying instructor and I could feel him itching to take the controls, but Cambridge to Bourn is such a short distance that before we knew it we were there. Keith Summerhill a friend and loyal member of The British Disabled Flying Association (BDFA) was there to meet me along with several members of the club. As always I had a heap of fun and talked too much!
Next was a small strip called Nuthampstead. You could see where it used to be a huge bomber command airfield, but now most of it is down to crops and just a grass strip remains. Dr Brian Wallace was there to greet me and sign the manuals. Brian does CAA medicals and he said that often people fly in to have their medical.
Audley End is where we had once been to have a look at a Spitfire being re-built. There Lord Braybrook was waiting patiently with the rain just staying off for long enough to sign the books leaning on the wing. Tom White, the estate manager arrived and more chatting took place!
Earls Colne was my final visit of the day – it was the eighth airfield of the day and although the distances aren’t long, it is still ‘full on’ all day. I had more fun at Earls Colne where there is a long very narrow runway and a parallel grass runway. I had been told that the grass was rather soggy so I opted for the hard runway, but it was a strange feeling landing on such a narrow strip and it felt like landing on a footpath.
Bear and Annette Gosling had whipped up an enthusiastic crowd and helped me sell books which went like hot cakes. There was tea and biscuits and a box for donations which again, I hadn’t expected. A pilot came up to me “We would like to do some air to air photography from our Yak” – ‘that sounds fine” I replied and as I left I was met by the Yak who did some close formation and hopefully got some good photos.
I flew back to Cambridge dodging some vicious thunder storms with fork lightening and thunder. Terry Holloway drove me to his home where he and Marion are kindly putting me up for the night.
Monday 2 July
At Coningsby GN was tucked in the BBMF hangar next to the ‘real’ Dakota and in the same hangar as Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Lancaster. How I kicked myself for leaving my camera at home. Some interesting contrasts dominated the day. There were, however, no contrasts with the weather – it was just more of the same.
At Cottesmore Tracey Broome looked after me. I had met Tracey when I had gone to Cottesmore to practice flying with the Harrier for my first world flight departure in 2001. It was there that we first met Al Pinner who is now a close friend and it was there that I originally met Tracey although I haven’t met up with her since. At Cottesmore, I picked up Christine Spray, a paraplegic and an erstwhile friend of Al and Liz Pinner – it seemed like ‘wheels within wheels’.
Peterborough/Conington was my next stop and a tumultuous welcome awaited me there with Gavin Forrest the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) and Julia, the owner bought books, made donations and generally made a great ‘thing’ of my visit. Gavin is a born salesman and the next person we encountered Gavin greeted him with “You must buy Polly’s book it is just £29”!! I couldn’t believe my ears and immediately corrected him although he was just joking. They did however, buy books to auction and raffle to make more money for FSD.
Little Gransden the scene of the famous annual airshow in aid of Children in Need run by Dave Poyle was quiet and a little soggy from all the rain. None the less we were warmly welcomed and had a good laugh with the Yak Engineers who work there. Here I picked up a glider pilot and amputee called Martin Gregorie.
Shuttleworth was also a little soggy but quite manageable and it was very generous of them to allow me to land when the airfield was really closed. Memories of the wonderful air shows they hold there. Julia from the visitor centre looked after me, signed the Jepps Manuals and gave me a cup of tea. All her family are involved with this wonderful collection of vintage aircraft.
On to Luton where the Air Traffic Controllers ‘nannied’ me in and made it all so easy. They are so busy at Luton and I was really grateful for them making it all so easy. I was met by Kaz from Signature handling. I had met Kaz at the Great Vintage Fly – In at Hullavington and he certainly looked after my every need. Roger Koukkoulis came over to meet me and both he and Kaz signed the Manuals. Roger has invited me to fly back in to Luton and he will take me up to the tower to meet all the controllers. I had been warned that I may be held up for departure, but they allowed me to take off from the intersection and I was straight off with no delay.
At Panshanger, my final stop for the day. Old friends were there to meet me and Peter was there too. I had a guard of honour from the ATC cadets and was able to give them a short presentation before we all went out to GN and the cadets all climbed in to have a look in turn. John Fasal had brought his newly restored 1911 Silver Ghost and he drove it onto the airfield and parked it next to GN. Photos were taken with all the ATC cadets and the car with GN. We had a lot of fun before John drove us back to his home where we climbed into Peter’s car and drove the mile or so to Colin and Joan Laybourn who are kindly giving us a bed for the night.
Sunday 1 July
The weather was again wet – more and more rain. However, the forecast was better and by the time we reached Oxford it had actually stopped raining. My flight today was to Cranwell to a very special occasion sponsored by the Air Squadron. Each year a competition is run between the different CCF cadets at all the different schools. The top three schools are invited to Cranwell for a parade and prize giving. The Air Squadron Trophy is a wonderful gold trophy – very elegant and the school that won this year was The King’s School in Grantham.
On arrival we all had coffee while the cadets were practicing the parade. We then went out to the hangar where GN was proudly parked outside and the cadets later had their photo taken in front of her. We then all went to the hangar where the parade and ceremony took place. The Salute was taken by Sir Michael Beetham an ex Chief of the Air Staff and an Air Squadron member. He then presented the Air Squadron Trophy. Simon Ames was MC and did a wonderful job. He has a beautiful speaking voice and it added panache to the whole event. Thomas Stratton won the Sir John Thomson Memorial Sword for the best cadet. There were several winners of the Geoffrey de Havilland Flying Foundation Medals for outstanding CCF achievement.
After a delicious lunch most of the Air Squadron members gave flights to the cadets. Henry Labouchere was there with his Dragon and a new member brought his very smart brand new Islander. He let me have a taxi ride in it back to the headquarters for tea. It was very comfortable and amazing to see such an old design of airoplane with all the modern glass cockpit. I spent the afternoon chatting to the cadets. It was lovely to see so many ‘bright eyes’ and so much enthusiasm. They certainly were an impressive group of cadets.
I climbed into GN and was soon on my way to RAF Coningsby where I was going to leave GN for the night whilst I stayed with Al and Liz Pinner. Poor Al had been trying to get hold of me, but I had turned off my mobile phone for the ceremony and failed to turn it back on. The Air Show at Waddington had been cancelled and he had had to wait for three and a half hours for me to arrive. I felt dreadful. We have had a lovely evening with Al, Liz, Angus and Lucy. Angus had just got back from fishing. He had caught a huge trout and Al cooked it for supper. It was delicious.
Friday 29th/Saturday 30th June
Friday was spent catching up on the backlog of mail and e-mails whilst on Saturday I drove down to Shoreham (the weather really was too bad to fly)to present the prizes at Shoreham College. Shoreham College is a co-educational private school where pupils go from age 3 - 16. It was very impressive and I had an interesting day.
Thursday 28 June
We arrived at Oxford Airport. All my flights from home are having to be from Oxford as our runway is STILL flooded. It has been the wettest June on record and our runway is just one proof of it. We have had as much as 4 inches of rain in one day. This time last year we had a drought! Oxford are being a fantastic support and always allow me to park on the apron so that GN doesn’t have to sit on the wet grass. They have a fantastic new runway and an ILS will be in service there from the beginning of July. It was Peter’s birthday and he was coming with me for the day. John Miller, a tetraplegic was waiting for us. A hugely positive man who is an expert photographer, he manages to get himself around in a specially adapted van. “Every day is an adventure” is his motto. The Oxford Fire Crew drove to GN in their smart red fire vehicle and were standing there flexing their muscles! Peter climbed in the back of GN, I climbed in the left hand seat and the fire crew under John’s expert directions lifted John in.
We flew to Lyneham where Neil Maclennan who has organised the logistics for all the military airfields drove the ‘FOLLOW ME’ car. Neil is an Air Traffic Controller at Lyneham, but managed to change his shift so that he could be there to welcome me. The Acting Commanding Officer, Greg Cook was there to greet me as I taxied and parked between two huge Hercules Aircraft. GN looked very proud at the honour of being parked between these two giant aircraft and almost seemed to hold her nose even higher in the air. Greg Cook’s wife, Catherine was at school with our great friend Sophie Pascoe, so there was lots to talk about. Lots of photos were taken and interviews with journalists. I then had the honour of sitting in the Captain’s seat of a Hercules. It seemed ironic that you have to climb up two flights of steps to get into the cockpit after climbing into GN! The Swindon Squadron of Air Training Corps cadets were there to meet me and I gave them a short presentation and chatted to them all. Two people had flown in from Wellesbourne to take John Miller back. One of them was Mike Littler who had been so generous at Wellesbourne when I had flown in there in shocking weather. The weather hadn’t deterred their warm reception with the gazebo with black and orange balloons and all the schoolchildren. They were excited at having the opportunity to fly into Lyneham.
Peter and I then flew on to Old Sarum. Here we were met by Lesley the aeroclub owner and manager. Old Sarum organise special flying days for disabled people on a regular basis so their support was very special. We were met by Clare Golden from the ‘Flying Farmers’. Clare and John had organised a ‘Flying Farmers’ day. It had started with a tour of Salisbury Cathedral which sadly we missed but we were able to join the 40 or so members for lunch at the cathedral. I felt slightly conspicuous in my orange flying suit but it didn’t matter. We all went in a coach to the Longford Estates where we climbed into two huge farm trailers attached to two enormous tractors. A large pile of straw bales were placed down the centre and we sat on the straw bales on either side. We were then taken on a two hour tour of the Longford Estates farms. It was fascinating to see the wonderful herds of Aberdeen Angus cattle who looked sleek and in perfect condition in spite of the fact some of them had only just calved.
The farms are located in the most beautiful rolling Wiltshire hills and unusually for this year there was sunshine. The highlight of the tour was a wonderful rolling field of wildflowers. Every wildflower imaginable was there in abundance and the delicacies of the colours was awesome. It was incongruous sitting on bales of straw in a farm trailer in my orange suit after sitting in the cockpit of a Hercules!
We all had tea in the hall of Longford Castle and then I was asked to say a few words about FSD. After this John Golden presented me with a magnificent cheque from the ‘Flying Farmers’. They had each been asked to give ‘A ton of wheat’ for FSD and they certainly had been extremely generous – so generous that this year one of the scholarships will be named THE FLYING FARMERS’ SCHOLARSHIP, so a huge thank you to all those generous flying farmers.
After a quick tour of the castle Peter and I flew back to Oxford and then drove up to Priors Hardwick, near Southam, Warwickshire – I did a quick change in the car- where we met our son Clive and his partner Nuria and we had a fantastic birthday dinner at the famous ‘Butchers Arms’.
I was hoping to go up to Insch and Cumbernauld in Scotland as I have a free day tomorrow, but the weather is awful and there is a severe weather warning over Insch and the runway is flooded! However, 126 airfields now visited.
Wednesday 27 June
Denham was the first port of call and then on to Elstree where I was met by Douglas Green and Donna Scarff. Douglas presented me with a cheque. It was a ‘pseudo’ cheque as he had already sent the money, but wanted to use the photograph for publicity. I said “don’t forget to tear that cheque up” as he stuffed it back in his pocket. We went into the restaurant at Elstree and there was John Holder. John owns Elstree airfield and at the grand age of 91 was having a quick lunch before going to renew his instrument rating! What an amazing man! John and Douglas both signed my Jepps manuals. As we walked back to the aircraft, Douglas pulled out the scrumpled cheque and gave it to me! “I didn’t tell you” he said, “but anything we raised I promised to double”. Life is full of wonderful people and wonderful surprises. He and the members of the Wednesday Club of Elstree had flown to as many airfields as possible in one day. Everywhere they went the landing fees were waived so they gave the equivalent to FSD.
From Elstree I went back to Rochester. I needed to fly into Farthing Corner. Farthing Corner has a very short strip of 380 metres. They had had accidents previously and would not allow me to fly GN in. I quite understood this. Where safety is concerned you can never compromise. I then had the bright idea to ask John Dean if he would like to meet me at Rochester and fly me in in his Jodell. He was delighted so this is what we planned.
I landed at Rochester and went to pay my landing fees (I had already had my free landing fee when I had been into Rochester before) “There are no landing fees” I was firmly told “But I can’t accept that – you have already given me my free landing” “There are no landing fees for you or for the two Jodells who have come to get you” they insisted. I went to find Paul Richardson, the Airport Director and Kelvin Carr, the Operations Manager to thank them profusely. “Its all in a good cause” they kindly insisted. “The Engineers have sent a message round to say that if there is any engineering you need they would be happy to help” There seemed no end to their kindness, so I went in search of the engineers and thanked them as well.
To my amazement, they had sent two Jodells to fetch me. What fun! I climbed in with Brian Hope. John Dean climbed into his and we were off for the four mile flight to Farthing Corner. Brian flew directly over Farthing Corner for me to take a look. The strip was hidden amongst trees and not only was it short, but it hardly looked like a strip at all. I would have had a job finding it for sure. Brian did a low downwind approach curving around the trees and dropping the Jodell down right at the start of the strip. There was a headwind down the strip so we landed in about half of it.
We had a cup of tea in their club house. 10 people keep their aircraft at Farthing Corner and there is a delightful atmosphere of camaraderie. We laughed and chatted over a cup of tea and then Brian took me back to Rochester. This time we took off on the ‘long’ runway which has huge power lines running across the middle. You have to keep the aircraft on the ground until you are just under the power lines and then pull up at exactly that point. I can understand why they were nervous about me flying in in GN – but at least I have been there and Brian signed the Jepps Manuals for me.
I flew back home from Rochester after a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Tuesday 26 June
A day to remember! There was a benign layer of stratus which occluded the sun, but none the less looked promising flying weather. I had a busy day ahead. I dressed quietly, and went down to Bernard and Sylvia’s office where I was staying. At 0726 exactly the phone rang and I did my first radio broadcast of the day. I had breakfast and at 0815 I did my second broadcast. I then went and checked and loaded GN (Bernard and Sylvia have their own strip) and warmed GN up ready to go. The third radio broadcast was at 0900! I dashed out and was off for Biggin Hill.
Biggin Hill was full of photographers and reporters and I was excited to see Phil and Sue Gregory. Phil is a faithful sponsor from Global Aerospace Aviation Insurers. He is also a pilot and flies from Biggin. Phil took over the organising of the book signings and I did an interview for a couple of local publications and another radio broadcast! I then saw Amanda from Jeppesen, so we had more photos taken.
Having re-fuelled in between all the excitement I was on my way to Lashenden (Headcorn). This is a grass airfield, but very busy with lots of aircraft and a healthy skydiving centre. I was greeted by Jamie, the owner and Pat who was doing Air Traffic Control “Park wherever you would like” he said in a friendly tone. I was anxious to keep this visit short as I had an important rendezvous at Beachy Head. I took off at 1245 and reached Beachy Head soon after 1200. The rendezvous wasn’t until 1225 so I had arrived far too early, however, I have a propensity for being late, so I was determined not to be late for this ‘date’.
The Blue Eagles escorted me along the seafront at Eastbourne. Then Laura landed her helicopter on the Western lawn in front of the Grand Hotel and Mal and I flew on to Deanland, a little airfield to the North of Eastbourne. We landed, and after a quick greeting I lept into the Gazelle and we were on our way back to Eastbourne. We landed next to Laura’s helicopter and were greeted by Norman Kinnish from Eastbourne Council. I had met Norman last year at The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). I had bent his ear about FSD and he came to the annual presentation ceremony for FSD. He was determined to support FSD at ‘Airbourne’ the annual Eastbourne air show.
After some photo shoots and chatting to the BBC TV team we went into the Grand Hotel where a sumptuous reception awaited us. Another radio interview and a couple of newspapers and we then had a few speeches. Airbourne 2007 was launched along with an SMS text message competition the proceeds from which go to FSD (See details on home page). With a huge bouquet of flowers in my hand we boarded the helicopters and were on our way for another low flypast back to Deanland. Here we were met by Juliet and Martin Smith who run ‘Talking books for the blind’. They had lined up the High Sherriff of East Sussex and her husband to meet me. Caroline, the High Sherriff lives in a house at the end of the runway at Deanland and was hugely enthusiastic about ‘Wings Around Britain’.
It is great to have enthusiastic neighbours near airfields and Caroline was certainly very supportive. Martin and Juliet introduced me to Peter Hadlow, my next passenger. Peter is blind. He had fallen off a seventh floor of a building whilst painting the outside. He broke every bone in his body and had to have his face and head re-structured but amazingly survived without any brain damage. Peter flew with me to Lydd where we did a quick signing of the Jepps manuals and were heading back to Shoreham.
At Shoreham two Air Training Corps Squadrons lined the route for my arrival and we had a great reception with a delicious spread of food and drink. Shoreham have always been supportive of FSD and they pushed the boat out this evening.
I spent the night at the home of one of my old student friends Carol and Roger Kemp. Carol and I shared a flat when we were students along with Liz, Jane and Patsy so we certainly didn’t spend the evening in silence!
The forecast for the whole country was shocking. I heard today that it has been the wettest June on record. Floods in Sheffield again and once more our runway is awash. However, I was in luck as the best forecast for the whole country was in the South East. I set off from Oxford for Manston. I encountered some cloud over the Chilterns, but generally I was able to fly in 'visual' conditions under a cloud base of 2,000ft. You could see odd rain storms but they were isolated.
I landed at Manston, an old RAF Bomber airfield. There was a cross wind of 19 kts straight across the runway, but GN took it all in her stride. From there I flew the 7nm to Maypole, a delightful grass strip where I was met and entertained by the owners, Sally and Andy Haigh and John who looks after the airfield for them. We sat sipping tea in their little clubhouse and we exchanged flying stories. I was able to promote FSD and read them Sue Hanisch's speech about her experiences with FSD and they were visibly moved.
From there I flew to Rochester, another grass airfield perched on a hill very close to the town. The runway in use was 20 and the final approach is over a whole conglomeration of roof tops which is a little disconcerting. Paul Richardson the Airport Manager took me up to the tower where he and the controller signed the Jeppesen Manuals. My passenger, Paul Harrison took me for a bowl of soup to the airport cafe and then we flew the short distance across the Thames to Southend. I had used flaps to take off from the grass runway and it was lucky Paul was with me as he pointed out that I had left the flaps down. I had been preoccupied with listening to the ATIS ( a recorded message giving all the airfield current details) for Southend and contacting Southend Approach.
From Southend I flew to Stapleford where I was met by 4 BWPA (British Women Pilots' Association) members. We had tea together and chatted to others in the airport. It was a friendly and happy hour there.
The final 'formal' destination was North Weald, a distance of about 5nm. Here I was greeted by the Chairman of the Council and a couple of photographers and a reporter. North Weald has an interesting club house with a genuine 'Pill box' and sandbag hideout outside. The Chairman of the Council was interested in the WAB project and we had an enjoyable time.
I then flew to a friend's private strip. Bernard and Sylvia Holmes are keen gardeners and their garden looked tremendous as I flew in on final. They have a Belvedere covered in roses and a couple of lakes. They have planted trees in the pattern of the Euro sign. Bernard's latest project has been to build an authentic 1921 cycle shop adjoining his house. He has a marvellous collection of vintage bikes along with a genuine stationary engine which drives a whole series of belts attached to a series of machines for repairing bicycles. He has modelled the shop on old pictures in memory of his father who loved visiting his Uncle's cycle shop.He had recreated the shop from photos and has everything as genuine as possible. It is amazing.
I have a busy day tomorrow so must get some sleep.
Rain, rain and more rain that is what greeted us this morning as we checked GN at Oxford. Our runway is still flooded and with all this rain it is indeed a gloomy outlook. I had no disabled passengers today so Peter came along as my passenger. His Hurricane was flying at the Old Buckenham Air Show and it was too far to drive. It was an ideal opportunity and great to have another day together.
We flew under a 1,400ft cloud base and dodging the showers. We landed first at Shipdham, an old WWII Liberator base. We were welcomed by members of the gliding club and they all signed the Jepps Manuals while we had a cup of tea. They opened the museum specially for us, but sadly we could only spend a few minutes there as we had a slot time for Old Buckenham
Old Buckenham is another WWII airfield and it is a bit disconcerting on final for runway 25 as half the old runway has bales of straw and diggers and cranes on it. The Air Show was small and intimate and a surprising amount of people turned up in spite of the inclement weather.
We were parked in a prominent spot and we put out the notice board. A crowd of people soon gathered and Chris, the commentator came over and gave me a chance to promote FSD over the PA system. Lister from the sixties band 'The Moonrakers' came bounding up. They had disbanded in the sixties and got together again last year. They played many of the old favourites but 'Heartbeat' was the first they played and they hadn't lost any of their magic touch. They very kindly let me use the table in their tent to sell books from. A lovely couple who were sitting there (some Moonraker 'groupies) offered to keep an eye on the books so that I could go off which was extremely good of them.
A whole crowd of Air Training Corps (ATC) cadets were there and they gathered around GN and I gave them a short presentation and then asked if they had any questions - quite a number did which was pleasing. I gave them each a Sennheiser postcard and some goodies from the Jeppesen 'Goodies Bag' which always goes down well.
Peter and I had a delicious lunch in the VIP tent - thank you Paul Layzell who runs the show and invited us. Peter Freeman Pannett was there. He was one of the engineers who looked after Peter's Hurricane during the Battle of Britain for 605 sqn, He was having the time of his life and when the Hurricane took off in the afternoon for its display the tears of emotion were visible in his eyes.
Old Buckenham was rather special as it was airport number 106 - exactly half way - although there is the possibility of one or two additions!
The day was damp and the grass quickly turned to mud, but it didn't dampen any spirits and the crowd were not deterred and stayed right until the end of the show. We both sold several books so the day was a success on all fronts.
An early start ensured I had time to walk around the farm with my hostess, Sally Mathes. She has 7 horses, including a six week old foal, 6 geese, 3 hens, 1 cockerel, 2 dogs, 3 cats and a tortoise. They all looked in fantastic form and the hens in particular were enjoying strutting around the garden and yard. We drove to Carolles and helped her groom and harness Harry the donkey. We hitched up the donkey cart and Carolle and I went for a ride with Harry who is now extremely obedient and of course, was made a lot of fuss of afterwards. We then drove to Forden near Welshpool to see Mary and John Paine. Mary and I had worked together as physios nearly 40 years ago and it was a real surprise to see her at the airport to meet me yesterday. We had a lovely cup of coffee together but not nearly enough time to catch up on 40 years of news.
Back at Welshpool Airport and Emma Suddaby, a young lady with dreadfully bad rheumatoid arthritis and one of last year’s FSD scholars was waiting. We climbed in GN and flew to Ledbury. Ledbury is a grass strip, a windsock and a hangar. It belongs to Gilbert Greenall who I know through the Air Squadron. Sadly, Gilbert was away and there was noone there when we landed. This didn’t deter us. We set the camera up on the roof of GN and managed to take a photo of Emma and me crouching by the tail of GN with the hangar in the background. We had a laugh taking the photos. “I should have bought a picnic” Emma said. I opened the back of GN and pulled out two muesli bars and we ceremoniously ate them while Emma signed the Jepps Manuals as a witness to having landed there.
We then flew on to Shobdon where once more we were treated to a tumultuous welcome. David Corbett, also an Air Squadron member and a Flying Farmer. David said “Welcome to Shobdon – we are all going to have lunch together” – what fun! You never know what is around the corner! Beryl Thorp from BWPA and David Beeman and his family were all there. David is going to sail 1,200 miles in the Atlantic to re-enact his father’s fatal journey when he was lost at sea when David was just six years old. We all had lunch together and David told me about some of the Air Squadron’s exploits in Scotland. Of course they had visited many of the places I had landed at including the most beautiful Plocton. He also told me about the Flying Farmer’s visit to Romania. Books were signed, much chattering was done and finally I was on my way back to Oxford.
When I reached Little Rissington and was once more in contact with Oxford Approach, I overheard the following conversation: “Oxford Approach, I heard Oxford 1 was going to Cranfield, are you aware the runway is closed” to which the controller replied “Oxford one did you hear that?” “Affirm”, at which point the other aircraft came on the air again “yes, sheep have strayed on the runway” - “Sheep?” queried Oxford one “Yep – three of them” was the reply “Sounds like lamb chop for supper tonight”! (Apologies if it was another Oxford number, I didn’t make a note of the actual call sign) – little quips and snippets of conversation make the radio seem more human.
I am now home and am having time off. Tomorrow Peter and I have been invited to the tennis at Eastbourne. This is a pre-Wimbledon women’s tournament so should be a great day out. Norman Kinnish who runs the Eastbourne tennis also runs the Eastbourne Air Show. Last year he was so moved by the presentation ceremony for our FSD scholars that he has pledged the funds from the Air Show to FSD which is tremendous.
I shall start writing the diary again on Sunday when I am going to the Old Buckenham Air Show. 104 Airfields visited.
The weather was better and I set off with Alissa Elsaesser and her mother Renie. We flew along the coast to West Wales (Aberporth). Barrie Foster, the Airport Manager explained the plans for developing West Wales. It is going to be used for unmanned aircraft trials and a new terminal is planned on the edge of a huge business park. It all looks exciting although it is scary to think of unmanned aircraft.
I flew on alone to Caernarfon where I re-fuelled before taxiing and parking outside the tower. Caernarfon is a lovely little airport on the end of the Menai Strait. I had a warm welcome here and sold a couple of books. This was a landmark as it was my 100th airport! ITV Wales sent a reporter and cameraman so a lot of the time was spent filming and this makes the time go really quickly. They wanted a flight so I gave them a quick circuit as I was by then running late for my visit to Valley. I took Stephen Clifton with me to Valley. Stephen suffers from Osteoporosis and is in a lot of pain. He has had a few flying lessons, but hadn’t continued. I hope his flight today fired his enthusiasm to continue.
As we came in to Valley which is only 11nm from Caernarfon there were a number of Hawks screaming off the runway. I had to do an orbit to give time for two Hawks to take off before I came in on final. We were met by Richard and Karen Needham who took us in and gave us delicious sandwiches to eat. Richard signed the Jepps manuals and then he had to go. Karen looked after us after that and put me through on the phone to their met office “It all looks clear for your flight to Welshpool” the man said. This was music to my ears.
I was on my way again with Sydney Knaggs who at the age of 87 is my oldest passenger so far. Sydney used to do a lot with the Air Training Corps so we had a lot in common. Sydney is Aileen Egan’s Uncle. Aileen is one of my volunteers, but she is also an old flying friend from the British Women Pilots Association (BWPA). We flew over Snowdonia and the views of the mountains and lakes were spectacular.
On arriving at Welshpool a huge crowd of people were waiting. We did a photo-shoot with Carolle (Doyle) in command. We then all went inside where Sally, Carolle and some of the others had provided a huge spread.
I was able to give a short talk about FSD and read a speech by one of our ex scholars, Sue Hanisch which describes very succinctly what FSD is all about and what it meant to her. I then realised that we had one of last year’s scholars in the audience, Emma Sudderby. Emma came up to the front and gave a short speech about what FSD had done for her. She spoke brilliantly and looked absolutely fabulous. There was a lot of enthusiasm and support at Welshpool with donations and book sales etc. One man, John, has a wonderful framed print of Women in Aviation and has so generously offered to give it to FSD for auction when we auction the Jepps Manual and some of the other memorabilia. I am constantly overwhelmed with people’s generosity. I had a relaxing laze in a hot bath at Sally and Paul Mathes house where I am staying once again. We all went across to Carolles for another delicious dinner.
The weather was diabolical. I almost feel like apologising for the continuous moaning about the weather, but it really does make things very challenging. It was tipping with rain when we arrived at Welshpool Airport. I needed to re-fuel GN. Luckily Sally had brought an umbrella so I was able to hold that over the tank whilst re-fuelling as water in the fuel can be catastrophic. Soaking wet within minutes, I checked GN and went to get my passengers. Chris Coombs and Tony Hoofe. These are two visually impaired people who are mad keen gardeners. I had been talking to them the night before, and Tony had carefully made a list of winter flowering, fragrant shrubs for me to get for my garden. We took off into the mist and murk and were in cloud at 1,200ft. In order to be above the MSA I climbed immediately to 4,500 ft. We were in and out of cloud. Interestingly Tony could tell when we came out of the cloud as he could feel the warmth of the sun.
I came down the ILS into Cardiff. There was Chris’ dog waiting for her. Carolle Doyle and Maureen had driven down to meet us with the dog. The dog was so excited to see Chris again. Carolle had to leave home at 0545 to get there in time. Flt Lt Paul Davies had organised a group of ATC cadets to meet me. Half were allowed out onto the tarmac to meet me and the other half came to see me off. It was so wet that we went straight into the airport building and into the VIP lounge where drinks, coffee and biscuits were very generously provided by SSP catering as sponsorship. The Airport Manager Peter Phillips and Cassie Munton laid on the room where I was able to talk to the Air Cadets and meet my next passenger. We were treated like VIPs and no question of security going out to my own aircraft! Common sense prevails there! It was a joy to be in Cardiff and I had the best of times.
Charles Gibbs and his son David joined me for the flight to Swansea. David met the ATC cadets and decided there and then to join. Charles has Muscular Dystrophy and was an old FSD scholar. As we got in the aircraft the heavens opened and the most horrendous thunder storm passed overhead. The tower wouldn’t give me a VFR clearance to depart so I asked for an IFR clearance. By the time the clearance came through it was VFR conditions again, albeit very marginal. We took off and crawled along the coast under a 1,000 ft cloud base into Swansea. On arriving Charles Gibbs' wife met us. She works in a special needs school and some of the children had come to see me arrive. They all gave me gifts which they had carefully wrapped and presented me with a lovely big card they had made. Swansea is closed on a Monday except the control tower. A crowd of people came in specially to provide us with coffee and cake and gave us such a warm welcome. Everyone wanted to sign my Jeppesen Manuals and we had a good laugh. Simon the Air Traffic Controller asked us to come up to the tower. David came as well. What luxury! The tower was as big as the old tower at Heathrow!
My next passenger, Peter Bishop and I set off for Pembrey. Pembrey is a military firing range. We had already got prior permission to go there, but I had to give them a call before leaving. I then had to call them up on a special frequency. They pass the message “Firing Range Dead – clear to enter” and I was soon on final at Pembrey. Winston Thomas and Derrick the Chief Flying Instructor met me along with his son in law who is a professional photographer and who took a myriad of photos. More tea and I was on my way for the final leg to HaverfordWest. Here I was greeted by bevy of journalists. Two radio stations and a newspaper and web video. I did one interview after another which took about an hour.
Howard then organised a taxi to take me to the Mariner Hotel in HaverfordWest. This is an old coaching Inn and I had a large comfortable room. All I wanted to do was drop into a hot bath which I did, but time was running short. I was due at a reception at the Civic Hall to meet the Chairman and some of his councillors. I thought it would be a quick drink and chat for about half an hour, but it turned out to be a full blown buffet and I didn’t get back to the hotel until 2100! I had a great time. I told everyone about FSD and read Sue Hanisch’s speech which always brings a tear. I then chatted to Bob Lewis who is a leading light and great enthusiast for the Carew (pronounced care oo) Cheriton Control Tower. Carew is an old WWI and WWII airfield. They used to fly airships from there and there were two enormous hangars to house them. (Bob gave a powerpoint presentation). They also flew DH6s from there.
On interviewing an elderly resident who could remember them said “This plane was going over us and nothing was holding it up!”. In WWII they flew Hawker Henleys from there, also Ansons and Bristol Blenheims. These were mostly flown by the Canadian Air Force who were based there. The old control tower was an unusual building with a bay window. It was so unusual that a group got together and called themselves the Carew Cheriton Control Tower Group. They set about restoring the control tower with meticulous attention to detail. They even scraped off bits of the old paint and sent it to Dulux who matched it exactly and sponsored all the paint. It is now open to the public at weekends after winning first prize in the National Parks Awards. They have had a lot of help from the ATC cadets and are planning to re-build some of the housing blocks as they were.
Luckily there are photos of how the old dormitories were and they plan to re-build them so that ATC cadets can go and stay for weekends and experience what it was really like. They also managed to resurrect an old air raid shelter which they are in the process of restoring and they have just acquired an old Anson from Staverton. Rolls-Royce are re-building the two Armstrong Siddley engines in Coventry. The Anson was used mainly for Submarine Reconnaissance. They have also acquired a Thompson TB3 Fuel Bowser from 1940. It was altogether a fascinating and interesting evening.
Sunday 17 June
I had just under 24 hours at home. I was exhausted after that flight to the Orkneys so needed a long sleep to catch up. Before that, we popped in to see Julian and Amanda and our granddaughter, Phoenix. She has just got her first tooth and is standing on her own and can walk pushing her ‘walker’. It is exciting to watch her developing. She is a dear little girl and as all grandparents must feel she is very special. I did what I could in the morning to catch up with the mail and e-mails as well as wash all my clothes and sort out maps etc. Peter had left home at 0500 to drive to the R-R rally. Keith, one of our Hurricane pilots helped by putting my used approach plates back in the relevant folders and also put all the cards in the copies of the books I would be taking. That was a great help and freed me up to get some other things done. At 1330 Keith drove me to Oxford where he was picking up the Hurricane to fly to the R-R Rally where he was displaying and I flew up to Mona. It was a cloudy day but the cloud base was quite high and Iwas able to crawl through under the cloud past Snowdonia and over the Menaii Strait to Anglesey.
A barbecue was in full swing at the Mona Flying Club and Ron Kelsall was there to meet me – I had last seen him at Eaglescott where he had flown in his RV. The biggest surprise was meeting up with David Lloyd. I had done some instrument flying with David out of Brize Norton and I will never forget it as we were doing the training in thick cloud and we picked up so much carburettor ice that the engine stopped briefly. It was a lesson I will never forget and from then on I have been quite neurotic about carburettor icing. It was great to see him again.
Chris Coombs flew with me from Mona to Welshpool. This time the cloud was much lower over Snowdonia and I climbed to 5,000ft above the minimum safe altitude (MSA) to make sure we cleared the mountains that we couldn’t see. This meant about half the flight was in cloud, but Chris was quite relaxed. We broke out of cloud and had some wonderful views of the rolling hills of North East Wales as we approached Welshpool. We flew over the runway and couldn’t see it so we had to do a 180 and head back.This time we saw the runway clearly. It is situated in a valley between two hills. The circuit height is 1,500 ft instead of the usual 1,000ft and this is because of the hills.
We had a lovely supper party at Carolle Doyle’s and then Sally and Paul Mathes have very kindly put me up for the night.
I rang Peter Henderson the air traffic controller who was also an amputee and who flew with me yesterday. He organised the weather reports and notams for me. He also said he would speak to the engineers about my prop. By the time I arrived at the airport, Peter came with the weather which looked pretty dreadful with an occluded front sitting right across the north of Scotland. I then heard a message on Peter’s radio “we have dressed that prop” for you. I couldn’t believe my luck. Peter drove me with my luggage to the plane and we loaded GN. Her prop looked perfect, you wouldn’t know anything had happened to it. Peter took me to meet the Logan Air Engineers and we had a chat to them “it is happening all the time” they reassured me “those island strips are dreadful for chipping props” – that was kind of them and it made me feel better.
Sure enough, as I approached mainland Scotland, I could see the front ahead and I knew it was going to be a mirky journey. I was right in the middle of the clouds, rain beating down and concentrating like mad to prevent any chance of carburettor icing, and making sure that all the dials were in the right place. Flying for hours in cloud on instruments is very hard work and you have to concentrate like crazy. However, without my instrument rating, I would not have achieved half the airfields that I have done. I should think that over half my flights have been in instrument conditions.
In the middle of this – the Aberdeen controller calls “G-GN are you still on your route to all the airfields?” he said, “affirm” was my reply (you are supposed to keep things short over the radio) “Good Luck for the next one” he went on “Thanks, I’m having shocking weather” I ventured “don’t tell me about it” – I laughed, but it is little snippets of conversation like this that mean so much and buoy one up when struggling with difficult flying conditions.
Nearly three hours later I came out of the clouds and Sheffield was below. I landed there and re-fuelled and had my books signed. A nice young man who is an instructor came to meet me “At least it is better weather here today than when you tried to get in two days ago” he said and I agreed, in spite of having spent nearly three hours in cloud and rain. He was about to leave Sheffield and move to Cairns in Australia to run a hotel and a flying school. He should get better weather there although he will have the monsoons to contend with.
On my way home I passed near Turweston so I gave them a call on the radio “Turweston, this is Golf Foxtrot Romeo Golf November” I said “Hello Polly!” was the reply “we are looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks time” – what fun aviation is!
I am now home for about 24 hours doing my washing and re-packing, re-stocking with books and sorting out my maps and charts which have a habit of getting in a muddle. There are a mass of e-mails. If I don’t reply it is because I just don’t have time to read them all at the moment – bear with me and I will get there eventually. I’m off to Mona in Wales later today. I am on track except for Insch and Cumbernauld in Scotland and there was no chance to go in there today as they were sitting right underneath the hub of the occluded front.
The rain was still tipping it down. What is happening? I think all this global warming is a myth. The taxi driver told me that there were floods in Sheffield. It was miserable, damp and wet. When I told the taxi driver I wanted to go to Doncaster Sheffield airport, he didn’t know what I was talking about. I said “not Sheffield airport, but Doncaster Sheffield’, of course, Doncaster Sheffield is really at Doncaster, and none of the locals know that it is called Doncaster Sheffield. Doncaster is 25 miles from Sheffield. Stuart was there at Signature, the handlers and having signed my Jepps books we went out to the plane. I joked with him as he had a clip on tie on his desk. I picked it up and said ‘I guess this is for your ‘posh’ customers!'. Before going to my plane – we had to first go through security. This is security for private planes and ‘biz jets’. There were three people on duty – I was the only one, I was going to my own plane. I went through the scanner and then, I couldn’t believe it, they body searched me!! What is the world coming to! I always swore that my flights were non political but this took the ‘can’.
I had to have a ‘talk down’ at Waddington as I was in the clouds all the way. On landing at the airfield, I was met by the station commander, and a whole load of children from the special needs school of St Francis. There were television and radio reporters there and cameramen and I didn’t know which to attend to first. At least it had stopped raining and the kids were so excited. One of the children or rather teenagers couldn’t talk and she had a marvellous keyboard in front of her. When you asked her a question, she pressed certain combinations of pads and a voice answered on her behalf from the machine. It really was very clever.
I took one of the children called Shaun flying and the Station Commander, Andy and his second in command, Chris took the camera person, and one of the teachers in another Cherokee. They had decided to call the formation ‘Polly Combine’ so they were ‘Polly One’ and I was ‘Polly two’, which was very sweet and a laugh. When I had flown with the Harrier we had been ‘Poison one’ and ‘Poison two’ which I felt was rather sinister.
I left Waddington at 1430 and flew up to Kirkwall. I had estimated three and a half hours for the flight, but in fact I did it in two and three quarter hours as I had a good tailwind all the way. The weather was dreadful and most of the flight was in cloud. I only really came out of cloud north of Aberdeen. Then the most beautiful sight was before my eyes. The Orkney Islands which I hadn’t seen at all last time I flew into Kirkwall. It was like flying in the Bahamas, and Islands galore were spread out across the calm, crystal clear, blue sea. I hadn’t realised that the islands were so close. The forecast was of a visibility of 60 km – I had never heard that before anywhere in the world. As I approached Kirkwall, I couldn’t see the airport – it was strange and not at all like I had imagined it. The runway is parallel to the sea on the edge of a bay. Last time I hadn’t seen the water at all!
Neil was there to meet me and came rushing out with a trolley – what a contrast! “I have managed to get you an indemnity for you to come in after hours” he said with a cheeky grin “I just rang the airfield manager and said I wanted one and he said ‘OK’”. “There is no charge either, and no landing fees” he added. I felt bad about the landing fees as I had already had my free landing, but he insisted and said he wouldn’t hear of it. Neil, Peter, the Air Traffic Controller who has lost a leg, and a reporter, Craig were coming with me to land at all the Orkney Island Airports – seven in all. We rang Flotta who at a moments notice said they would come out with the fire crew. Flotta is an oil base and the runway isn’t used at all now, but it is in the book so we had to go there. The runway at Flotta looked awfully short and narrow on the edge of the sea on quite a steep slope. We landed there and two firemen and the duty manager were there to greet me. I climbed out over Peter to shake hands with them, and of course, there were some ribald remarks.
We were soon on our way to Stronsay where the runway was really short 467 metres, but I then discovered this was the norm for the rest of the islands. It looked dreadfully small and I lined GN up carefully on final as low and slow as possible. No problems, GN just took it all in her stride. We just stopped and taxied back and took off immediately. The surface was gravel and if you stop you risk the possibility of chipping the prop. On we flew to Eday.
Each island is only a matter of four or five miles from the other. Another short field landing and we were off to North Ronaldsay. We could see Shetland and Fair Isle miles away, and I couldn’t help a twinge of nostalgia at seeing those beautiful islands in the distance. The approach at North Ronaldsay is over water and that is always nerve racking. The psychological effect is you come in too high and again this happened and I started to bounce so had to go round. Next time I made myself come in low and slow and it was fine. We turned west to Papa Westray – this was 14 miles away, but the evening was so clear that it seemed next door. We landed at Papa Westray and could see the runway on Westray right next door! The two islands are two miles apart and the flight between the two is the shortest scheduled route in the world. The record flight time between the two is 38 seconds, but I wasn’t going to try to beat that. As we approached the runway at Westray there was a man in a tractor cutting the grass runway.
The main runway is gravel, but I wanted the man to see me so I did a low pass. He was quite unperturbed and went on mowing. We landed and taxied up onto the grass and stopped. The man went on mowing the grass as if this was a regular occurrence which it probably is! But for us it was exciting. All three of my passengers are from the Orkneys and none of them had been to all the islands in their lives.
We had done them all, and Neil couldn’t resist picking up his mobile and calling his wife “We’ve done them all” he yelled down the phone in his excitement.
Flying back to Kirkwall we did short detours to fly over everyone’s house – it is officially light until 2300 up here and it was only 2030 as we flew over the top of the little city of Kirkwall with its red sandstone cathedral tucked in a huddle of houses and tiny streets.
Runway 09 at Kirkwall seemed massive after all those little islands strips. We parked GN and then Peter noticed that one of the propeller blades was chipped at its tip. He promised to get one of the Logan Air engineers to have a look at it in the morning, but I felt rather deflated and sad that this had happened. I think it was either at Flotta where I stopped or when I bounced at North Ronaldsay, but I wasn’t aware that there had been a problem. Neil dropped me off at the Kirkwall Hotel where I had stayed before. How different it looked in the sunny clear evening air. I dropped into bed exhausted, but delighted to have managed to finish the Orkney Islands and to have had such fun doing them. 92 airfields visited and I hope to add Insch and Cumbernauld tomorrow on the way home.
Rain and more rain - it was just tipping and absolutely miserable. We arrived at Bodmin Airport and got soaking just walking to the clubhouse. John Killinbeck who I had been staying with the night before had his boots and raincoat and I borrowed them to walk in the grass to check the aircraft. Nathan Doidge, a young man with cerebral palsy and his mother Yvonne were to be my passengers to Perranporth. The weather was good at Perranporth, but Bodmin was shrouded in mist and cloud as it is over 800ft up on Bodmin Moor.
We eventually took off, rather late and as we approached Perranporth I could see that runway 09 was an approach over the cliffs from the sea. This was very off putting as the cliffs were quite high and the runway threshold was sitting perched on the top. I was too high on my first approach and had the speeds all wrong so had to go around. The second time, I gritted my teeth and brought GN in much lower. It was a strange psychological effect and I had to make myself go lower. This time it was a perfect landing.
The Chief Instructor came out with a cloth and cleaned my windscreen. It certainly needed it. Everyone is so kind. After the books being signed and the aircraft filled with fuel I took off alone for St Mawgan which was very close. Here I picked up June Raymond and Pat Smethurst. The weather was very poor North of St Mawgan and I had to crawl along the coast to keep below the cloud. It was very beautiful in spite of the weather.
When we reached Bideford I found the river and followed that up towards Eaglescott. We managed to find Eaglescott and landed to a great reception. I was given lunch and sold several books. On I went to Wellsbourne. I was in cloud most of the way, but the controller at Brize gave me vectors for a cloud break and I was able to land at Wellsbourne.
As I came in on base leg, I could see a gazebo with orange and black balloons. I knew this was the work of Norman Parker. It looked just fabulous. I taxied up and there was a whole crowd of school children. It was lovely chatting to them and the inclement weather didn't seem to matter. I was so thoroughly wet by then that I didn't care. Frankie and Michael had gone to so much trouble. One of the ex FSD scholars was there. He runs a charity called ShopMobility which provides transport for people with disabilities to the shops etc. He said he would not have started that if he hadn't won a scholarship.
Frankie had arranged a raffle for which you got a free ticket if you bought a book. Thus they had a double whammy. There was such a festive atmosphere. Three of the museum volunteers had opened the museum specially and I am glad I managed to squeeze in a visit there. It is quite small but they have some fascinating exhibits.
With rain and more rain tipping down, I took off with my last passenger of the day, a gentleman called Michael. The cloud and rain was getting worse. I had hoped to crawl into Sheffield, but they have no approach aids and in the end I had to go down the ILS into Doncaster/Sheffield which turned out to be miles from Sheffield. By then I was running really late for the dinner at the Cutler's Hall. Stuart at Signature, the handlers ordered a taxi and they drove me to the hotel in the centre of the city. I had a quick bath and hairwash - I was so cold and bedraggled from being in the rain all day. I finally arrived at the dinner just as they were starting their first course. The dinner was in aid of Professor Diana Green's retirement as vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.
The weather was dreadful. There was a front passing through and there was rain and low cloud. The good thing about today was that I had a disabled passenger on each sector. This was organised by Vaughan Temby from 'Disability Cornwall' who did a marathon job of the organisation.
I flew down the ILS into Plymouth. We were met by Kev the Chief Air Traffic Controller and given tea and delicious sandwiches. AS we walked into the lounge there was Max Diment who has Spina Bifida. Max was one of the FSD scholars and had been one of the first people I had ever interviewed on the selection board. We have subsequently become friends but I hadn't seen him for about 2 years. He lives near Plymouth and there was lots of news to exchange and catch up with. Max has now finished his three year archaeology degree. "I would never have had the confidence to do a degree until I did the scholarship" he said proudly.
Low cloud and rain dogged the next flight to Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose. I had to ask for a 'talk down' which is when the controller tells you to turn so many degrees left or right to stay on a glideslope they also give descent instructions. It is very skillful and clever. We were looked after here by Commander Mike Blowers and were given more delicious sandwiches and drinks.
Miraculously the weather cleared up and we had the most beautiful flight to the SCilly Isles. The islands looked so green in contrast to the calm blue sea. The runway at St Mary's has steep inclines on both sides meeting in a hump in the middle. It is extremely distracting and scary landing when you can't see the end of the runway and although you know it is there you don't want to roar across the top and find yourself taking off again or worse still not being able to stop and go plunging into the sea.
We flew back to the mainland and landed at the lovely grass airfield at Lands End. More tea and all the instructors came out to help lift Brian Chambers who has Cerebral Palsy into GN. Brian loved the flight to Truro where another grass runway with a steep slope awaited us. BBC Radio Cornwall interviewed me from their outside broadcast vehicle along with Vaughan Temby from 'Disability Cornwall'. More tea and chats and we were on our way once more. This time we were flying to Bodmin.
The airfield at Bodmin is situated on Bodmin Moor and is not easy to locate. Eventually we found it and I was on another 'scary' final where you approach from over a hill and over a valley which runs across the end of the runway. Trees grow near the threshold. GN did her usual 'good thing'.
At Bodmin we were greeted by a Squadron of ATC cadets. I had the opportunity to chat to them all about their flying and what they were planning for their future careers as well as telling them all about 'Wings Around Britain'. It is always so stimulating seeing these young bright cadets with bright eyes and so obviously getting so much out of the Air Training Corps.
John Killingbeck was there to meet me. He drove me to his beautiful converted barn just over the border in Devon. The barn lies down a tiny track with grass growing in the middle and I lay in a bath overlooking a field of sheep. It was delightful. John worked for two and a half years in Antarctica. He was the last dog handler in the Antarctic before dogs were banned. He has so many stories to tell. Jenny, JOhn's wife is an actress and has written a 'one man play' about Scott's widow. They are an amazing and interesting family.
I have had frustrations again with the computer and have had to type this out twice - so am signing off and dropping into bed.
Tuesday 12 June
The weather was good at last and it was easy to fly to Yeovil, the headquarters of Westlands Helicopters. I had Mark Golay, an ex FSD Scholar as a passenger, ferried by Geoff Bungay who had flown with me yesterday. Steve David was my next passenger on the four mile hop to Yeovilton, the Naval Air Station where Philip Thornton, who I had met on a previous visit there signed all the Jeppesen Manuals.
Philip has an 18 month old Cocker Spaniel who reminded me so much of the Golden Cocker Spaniel we had when I was a child. Steve stayed on board to Dunkeswell where we were met by Brendan Proctor who owns the airfield. Maurice Weaver who I had met previously and who had written a great review on my book 'Wings Around the World' for the Western Morning News was also there. A television crew, Chris Harris (cameraman) and Bob Cruwys (presenter) who were planning to fly to Exeter with me.
This caused a bit of a problem as that would mean four on board and I was concerned about the weight and balance. Maurice came to the rescue and offered to take my luggage to Exeter for me. We had lunch at Dunkeswell an then having done a couple of interviews we flew down to Exeter. We routed via Tiverton where Chris and Bob live. Bob was at Blundells School and I told him about the great evening I had had there speaking to the sixth form
At Exeter I was met by Paul Little and Chris Martin from the Exeter Flying School and some other people from the Exeter flying club. I was also met by Sue Crossland, Business Development Manager for Exeter Airport. She is a pilot herself and flies from Eaglescott where I am going on Thursday.
Paul presented me with a bottle of champagne and a card with some wings which I have pinned on my flying suit. They bought ten copies of my book 'Wings Around the World' which I really appreciated.
Dr Knezevic from the Mirce Akademy in Exeter met me and drove me to the University of Exeter where I gave a presentation. Before I gave the presentation Dr K. took me for a tour of the beautiful University gardens and showed me the engineering labs where he had been professor and worked for 20 years.
Woodbury Park, a golf course, leisure centre and hotel owned by Nigel Mansell is where the Mirce Akademy has its headquarters. Nigel has been very supportive of FSD in the past. I was to be the after dinner speaker at the Akademy's International Congress. The dinner was 1930 for 2000. We arrived there at 1920. I did a quick change and enjoyed the dinner sitting at a table with two delegates from Australia and two from Sweden. After dinner I gave a shortish presentation which was followed by a whole raft of questions. Many of the delegates bought copies of my book. I finally got to my room at midnight. I am exhausted but am enjoying the challenge. 71 Airports to date.
We have had a hectic weekend. I washed GN, and she certainly needed it inside and out after three weeks 'on the road'. Peter then did her 50 hour check while I caught up with the office work as best I could in the time.
An early start this morning rising at 0600. We got to Oxford Airport where I had positioned GN yesterday. She needed some air in her front oleo so we had to be there at 0800 to catch the engineers.
There was low cloud and fog so in fact it was 1030 before I took off which meant I was well behind schedule. I set off to fly over Oaksey Park en route for Bristol Filton. When I got almost overhead Oaksey there was a break in the cloud and I could see the airfield. I just dived through the hole and landed at Oaksey. There I picked up my first passenger, Geoff Bungay, a paraplegic.
On to Bristol Filton where I picked up Kath Alsopp, an FSD scholar who flew with me to Bristol International where The Bristol Flying Centre looked after me in true style. This is where I did my instrument rating so it was like going home.
Kath and I flew on to Gloucester, where a delicious lunch was provided and there were lots of old friends. Harry Hopkins was there as well as Manuel Quierez who flew around the world last year. Amanda Harrison who was my team member looking after Gloucester had taken time out from her instructor rating training to come and be there to greet me. A HTV film crew had waited patiently, so I did an interview and then took them for a quick flight before Mandy Pantall and I set off for Badminton.
I was very excited to be able to fly into Badminton where I was greeted by Ian MacFadyen, and Steve Bridgewater. Howard Richardson who manages the airfield came along and showed us his Rockwell Commander, a beautiful aircraft.
On to Henstridge where I had a wonderful reception. Brian Jones of balloon fame was there and we had some photos taken together.
My final stop was at Compton Abbas not far from Henstridge. Compton Abbas is perched on a hill, and there is a certain hump that I hit which put GN into an oscillating bounce so I had to go round and try again. After the second failed attempt to land, I asked the controller to tell me how to cope with the airfield. She said "Land further down past the concrete bit on the right of the runway". I took her advice and GN finally did a more elegent landing.
I am the guest of BWPA member Jo Gardner tonight and had a relaxing evening with the family.
I am writing this a day late as Friday was a very hectic day. An early morning start in the mist and haze took me and Pat Payne, who had so kindly been my hostess for the night to Linton on Ouse. We were greeted as always by RAF hospitality, and there we were joined by Tony Beck. Tony had just been invalided out of the RAF following treatment for a brain tumour. At Linton they train the fast jet pilots on Tecanos and there was a handsome row of them along the apron. Tony absolutely loved the short flight to Church Fenton. None of the distances were far but the reception awaiting at Fenton was amazing. There were two squadrons of Cadets from the Air Training Corps and one from the University Air Squadron. I was able to give a short presentation focusing on the work that FSD does. It was exciting to see so many young bright eyes, just loving their involvement with the ATC and UAS and sampling the freedom of flight. At Fenton they train the ab initio pilots on Grob Tutors.
We climbed to 3,500 to fly on top of the clouds to Blackpool. Pat was still with me. She had fortuitously got a lunch date in Blackpool and I was able to save her the long drive. As we approached Blackpool the clouds cleared, but it was still very hazy and not easy to pick out all the features.
I re-fuelled at Blackpool and made the short hop to Warton. Here I was received by BAE Systems and treated like the Queen. I was taken in an air-conditioned, chauffeur driven car to lunch in the restaurant. A table full of wonderful delicacies awaited us there and being quite a time since breakfast, I was happy to tuck in. Whilst there I met a couple of the test pilots and I also met the person who won the Oris Watch. BAE Systems ran an auction for their charities and he was the highest bidder. We had some photos taken displaying the Oris logo and my Oris watch (he hadn't received his yet). I was also met at Wharton by Simon Chan who was to fly with me to Woodvale.
We were given a wonderful tour of the factory where the Eurofighter/Typhoon is assembled. It was very impressive and the main thing is that instead of having an assembly line as used to happen, they build each aircraft in its own bay, with the most amazing lazer platforms so that they can get almost perfect alignmnt. It was also exciting for me having flown alongsied a Typhoon.
Simon Khan and I flew the short hop to Woodvale. Here the station is a base for the University Air Squadron and I was met by a couple of the cadets. This was a short visit as time was running out. However, I sat in the cockpit and telephoned Huddersfield. I spoke to one of the pilots who told me the route to take avoiding the highest part of the Penines. It was good to have been given that advice. They told me to give them a call they were 'painting the numbers'
I had flown into Huddersfield before and it is an interesting approach. There is a quarry immediately at the end of the runway and you land uphill whenever possible. As I came over the hill, I could see the newly painted white numbers from miles away. But horror of horrors, the quarry has extended either side of the runway so it is now perched up on its own with steep drops on either side. It certainly concentrates the mind. You land uphill and take off downhill.
I had a warm welcome at Huddersfield where I had a cup of tea in the new club house. At 6pm (1800) I took off for my last leg home. It was a good hour's journey home and it was hazy all the way. I was releaved to land back at Oxford. I had decided to go in there as our runway is still flooded. I was having my instrument rating renewal test the following morning (this morning) so it seemed a good idea to keep GN on the dry at Oxford.
There will be no diary for the next 2 days as I am having the weekend off and GN is having her 50 hourly check. Back with you on Monday
It is GREAT to have everyone's support - thank you
Thurs. 7 June
It has been a mixed day. There was low cloud and even some fog and I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get away from the runway perched on a hill at Fadmoor. As soon as I took off, I was in cloud and had to climb above. Linton gave me vectors for a cloud break into York Rufforth. It was exciting to see Steve Wood, the pilot who started The Greenhawk Trust which gives disabled people flight experiences. Steve has done several record breaking flights in Goofy his home-build aircraft which he keeps in the States. He does all his flights to promote FSD. I was so surprised and excited to see him. I had a warm welcome at Rufforth.
I flew on to Beverley where I landed and did a quick Jeppesen Manual signing with Glen Jones and then on to Humberside. The airport manager at Humberside called Peter, took me under his wing and managed to sort out my landing fees amongst the chaos of a seething mass in the terminal.
It was a quick call in at Sandtoft and then flying over Scunthorpe and the factories belching foul smelling smoke which penetrated the cabin of GN made me feel depressed and tired. Everywhere was grey. There was low cloud and smoke and it was very oppressive.
I landed at Breighton where things started to look up. Steve Robinson met me. An amputee, Steve was my next passenger. Steve works for RSLSteeper who make prosthetics. Steve was an engineer before he had his motorbike accident and lost his leg. Whilst his leg was being fitted he was offered a job making prosthetics. His Managing Director, Andrew Thornton had sent a promisary note for a donation to FSD.
Brian Brown sat and chatted for a while. He used to fly Hurricanes, Spitfires and Mustangs. He also had the Mew Gull which Alex Henshaw had made his record breaking flight to South Africa in. I was staggered at how small it was and how cramped the cockpit was.
Steve Robinson and I flew the ten minute flight to Sherburn in Elmett where there was a really warm welcome. Steve and Belinda Wood were there again and Belinda took over selling my books! There was quite an audience for my short presentation and Steve Robinson gave a moving speech about what FSD had done for him.
A number of ATC cadets were there and I had fun talking to them. They all wanted to sit in the cockpit of GN and were incredibly enthusiastic. A lot of them are going to meet me tomorrow at Church Fenton.
The Club Chairman, Brian invited me to stay the night with him and his wife, Pat. I am now ensconced in their beautiful home with its fantastic garden and indoor swimming pool. The kindness of so many people is truly overwhelming and helped restore my equilibrium when the dull grey day and torrid feelings started to overwhelm me.
An early start is not really my 'thing'! However, needs must and I had two radio interviews before leaving for the airport. One at 0720 and one at 0750. The timing had to be precise as John and Dorothy had to drive me to Kirkbride about 20 miles away where I had left GN for the night.
I had to take off not later than 0900 as I had to land at Carlisle precisely at 0915 for Boarder TV were doing a live interview. I arrived at Carlisle at exactly 0915 and did a low pass for the TV cameras. When I landed there were no TV cameras! They arrived 5 minutes later! We did interviews and shots for the camera and then I left for Bagby Thirsk on the East Coast but after taking off I did another fly past - this time it really was for the cameras!
I flew down past the lakes again with glorious views. Over Kendal and then turned Eastbound for Bagby Thirsk. As I approached the east coast the weather closed in and I was on top of a solid layer of cloud. On speaking to Leeming they gave me a descent on radar until I just managed to pop through the clouds to be visual about 2 miles from my destination.
I was welcomed by Matthew Fox and his father, Graham who offered me tea and made me feel welcome. They both thrust donations into my hand for 'Flying Scholarships for the Disabled' which is so appreciated.
From there I did the short hop to RAF Leeming. I was met by Squadron Leader Peter Fletcher fom 100 squadron of Hawks. Peter took me into the bar where he offered me a drink and lunch. The PR person for the RAF wanted to interview me and take notes so I told them all about FSD and read them Sue Hanisch's speech which is always so moving.
On to Durham Tees Valley where I was surprised to be met by June and Norman, Amanda's parents. More PR and Emma took me in to the terminal to sign books. Steve Derwin, one of the FSD scholars who built his own Jabiru aircraft in spite of being a paraplegic in a wheelchair was there to meet me too. Steve was going to fly the next two legs with me.
All the firemen came out to help lift Steve into the aircraft. I gave them all Jeppesen mints and they were happy to help wherever they could. Steve is fiercely independant and managed most of it himself. His wheelchair comes to pieces and we managed to juggle it and its wheels into the back seat.
Steve and I flew to Full Sutton. It was a low cloud base and visibility was poor. I wanted to see if I could get into Fadmoor where I would leave GN for the night. We flew over this amazing grass strip on the top of a hill and decided that there wouldn't be a problem getting in. At Full Sutton I climbed over Steve to get out the books and get them signed. There was a warm welcome here too, but we wanted to get on, so we didn't stay.
The short hop of 5 nm to Pocklington was easy. Pocklington is where Steve goes gliding so he knew the area well. We were soon on the ground and being greeted by Chris, the owner and another paraplegic Gordon. Gordon had not known about applying for a flight, but as he was there and someone offered to drive to Fadmoor to pick him up, he decided to give it a go and come with me.
We had a comfortable cup of tea and biscuits in the brand new club house at Pocklington - there was a couple there from Filton, so they are planning to mobilise the flying club there for my visit. Several people came out to give Gordon a hand to get in the aircraft. He was delighted to sit in a powered aircraft again which he hadn't done since his accident two years ago. I was delighted to have him with us as he has always lived in the area and knew exactly where we were at all times in spite of the haze.
Soon we were on final for 02 at Fadmoor. A long grass strip skirting up the edge of a hill with a precipice on one side lay before us. We landed easily and then had to put on nearly full power to get up the hill.
Peter and Lin Johnson, the owners came to meet me and put strong blocks of wood behind GN's wheels as she is parked on a steep slope. After signing of the Jeppesen manuals and handing out certificates and 'goodies' I was on my way with our old friends Anne and Peter Lang where I am spending the night in their beautiful old thatched farmhouse near Helmsley.
Tuesday 5 June
I seem to be dogged with bad weather. It was meant to be better today but when I woke up there was the usual low cloud, mist and drizzle. It was still not possible to go into Cumbernauld so I just cut my losses and flew to Eshott, a little airfield north of Newcastle.
I was met at Eshott by Storm Smith (who told me his sister was called Gail!!). Eshott is a lovely little airport with a very friendly flying club and school. A man comes up - I couldn't believe it - it was Paul Chaplin who I had sat next to on a Virgin Atlantic flight to the States about 4 years ago. On discovering Paul was a pilot we, of course, talked flying for the seven hours it took to fly the Atlantic. Paul happened to be flying out of Newcastle that afternoon and decided to drive up and take a look at Eshott. He arrived just as I was landing! His name was on my wing, so he wanted to check that out. What a coincidence!
From Eshott I flew to Newcastle where I was looked after by Geoff Davis and Jamie Potts from Samson Aviation. The airfield manager came over and signed the Jeppesen manuals for me.
On to Barrow across the Pennines at 4,500 ft. I was on top of cloud so could not see anything. As I approached Barrow, a BAe Systems Airfield on Walney Island the cloud cleared and I had a wonderful view of the coast and island. I was met by Peter the managing director of the airfield and chief pilot. Peter took me up to the tower where I met John Ismay who looked after me. Another pilot, Nick also has his name on the wing and was thrilled to see it there.
My last stop was Kirkbride. I took Jill, a polio victim on this flight. We flew over the top of the Lake District and had some wonderful views of Keswick, Windermere and the other lakes. Jill was ecstatic and so excited which made it all the more special for me.
As I arrived at Kirkbride they asked me over the radio to do a low fly-past. What fun flying along the runway at 150 ft which I have just recently been cleared for on my Display Authorisation.
A wonderful warm welcome awaited me at Kirkbride and I had time to tell them a bit about 'Flying Scholarships for the Disabled' before John and Dorothy Derrick came to pick me up to stay with them for the night. Chris is a gyro-plane instructor at Kirkbride. He is the only full time instructor in gyro-planes. He took me for a quick glimpse at all the gyro-planes in the hangar. They are a sort of cross between a mini helicopter and a micro-lite. They look huge fun, and I can't wait to have a go.
Monday 4 June
Today was meant to be a rest day, but I had decided that if the weather was good enough Alice and I would fly up to Kirkwall and do the Orkney Islands - BUT the weather is still shocking up there with a 300 ft cloud base and fog so there wasn't any point in even attempting that. I rang Insch and they had a cloud base of 1,200 but thought it may improve. I said that if I decided to come in there I would ring before. Then I rang Skye. Tom Westman said "come on over - we have brilliant sunshine". It was hard to believe as the rain was sheeting down here.
I was given an IFR (flying on instruments) departure and we had hardly left the runway and we were in cloud. We climbed up to 6,000ft and were in thick cloud. Rain sheeted down and gave GN a good wash. As we approached the South coast of Mull, the cloud suddenly dissipated and it was gin clear with sunshine and not a cloud in sight. You could see for miles.
We flew across Loch Scridain where we used to go for our family holidays. We could see the cottage we used to stay in and it brought back many memories. It looked exactly the same. We flew up the West coast of Scotland, past the pretty port of Mallaig and then we nipped through a valley on Skye and landed at the little strip by the sea.
Tom and Elizabeth Westman were there to meet us along with a photographer/journalist from the local paper and David Bryant, known as DFB. David used to run the PFA (Popular Flying Assoc.) for many years and it was him that had the idea to call each branch a 'strut'. We all piled into Tom's car and went to a delightful pub for lunch. We then went back to the Westman's house overlooking the sea for tea. Tom used to be in the Metropolitan Police, but retired to Skye. They took up pottery and for 20 years made pots and ceramics as a business.
Our flight back was the complete reverse of the outbound one. Clear skies as far as Mull and then ominous black clouds. Once more we climbed to 6,000 ft and had vectors for the ILS. I have my instrument rating renewal on Saturday so I am pleased to have all this practice for real.
I leave Scotland tomorrow and look forward to meeting up with friends old and new in the North of England. I will try to get back to Orkney on Friday afternoon.
We had a lazy morning and didn't have breakfast until after 9am. It was tipping with rain and there was low cloud. The weather has really dogged me in the last week.
Jamie and Emily Stair drove me around their spectacular estate. Castle Kennedy lies between two sea inlets and has fantastic lochs with a whole variety of indigenous and migrating birds. The gardens are laid out in amazing walks amongst Rhododendrons, Azaleas and ancient trees. It was much too wet to walk, but a quick drive gave me a taste of this unique piece of Scotland.
The campground where the model aircraft club were on the edge of the airfield was fast becoming a quagmire and Caravans were stuck in the mud. Everyone came to see me off and helped me load GN in the tipping rain.
I taxied GN onto the runway where I let her warm up and did my 'run ups' (all the checks we do before every flight). I could hardly see out as the rain was beating down and the windscreen was misting up. I was soon revving up and rolling down the runway. 60kts and then two stages of flap and GN soared into the mist. A quick wing waggle in fairwell and I was into thick cloud for the rest of the flight to Glasgow.
I should have been going in to Cumbernauld. Air Traffic passed on a message "Cumbernauld have a cloud base of 1,200 ft" but I took a command decision. Cumbernauld is surrounded by hills. I was in thick cloud and had no idea where the hills were and I didn't want to hit them so I decided to go down the ILS into Glasgow. I felt bad as a whole squadron of ATC cadets were waiting at Cumbernauld but I know I made the right decision.
After landing at Glasgow, Bryan from Signature gave me his usual warm welcome. I was just going into the lounge when I saw someone at the door. To my amazement the whole contingent of cadets had driven down to Glasgow from Cumbernauld to meet me. I could hardly hold back the tears of emotion at this most loving display of caring.
Alice Auckland arrived to pick me up, but I felt I had to chat to the cadets so Alice waited patiently. All the cadets were chatty and Pauline Gallacher, one of our scholars who had flown with me earlier from Glasgow to Prestwick and who has Cerebral Palsy was with them once again. Pauline has mobilised the cadets to meet me all over this part of Scotland.
Now I am relaxing with Alice, an old and close friend. If the weather is good enough we will fly up to Orkney tomorrow - but it is so unpredictable up here that we will just have to 'go with the flow'.
Saturday 2 June
There was rain and low cloud as I looked outside the window. Peter looked up the weather forecast and it looked dismal for the whole of Scotland. ‘Well’ I thought to myself ‘I will just have to go with the flow, this can’t go on for ever. Anyway, if the worst comes to the worst I can always go down an ILS into Glasgow and stay the night with Alice’.
Dundee was dismal. The Haar had really got a hold and it didn’t look as if it would move all day. They had a webcam at Tayside Aviation and could look directly at Fife. There was not a cloud in the sky. With this in mind, I decided to take off and go to Fife. I had a lady called Kitty Walker traveling with me. Kitty has MS and is confined to a wheelchair, but all the instructors came out and helped lift her into GN. Her companion Jan McDonald flew in the back. We climbed up through the Haar and at 1,200 ft we were on top. We could see for miles and Kitty just loved it.
A huge welcome awaited us at Fife, we sold lots of books and I was presented with a fantastic cake with an orange aircraft on top. Matt Duffy who has Spina Bifida was the next passenger and he heaved himself on board and we managed to get his wheelchair in behind the front seats. We set of for the 3 mile hop to Kinross or Portmoak as it is now known. This is a gliding field and it was difficult to see which was the runway. Someone on the ground explained that I was overhead the North Runway and at that point we realized that they use two parallel fields divided for half the length by trees. We flew out over the adjoining lake and came in on final. We had to look for a white marker at one end and one at the other then line them up and we would be on the centre line. In the end it was obvious and we landed and taxied up to the windsock as instructed. A whole host of people came out to sign the books. I had to climb out over Matt as there wasn’t time for Matt to get out and back again.
The next stop was Edinburgh, a distance of about 30 nm. We taxied up to Greer Aviation and there was Bert Greer who I had met at Prestwick once more warmly welcoming us. His son, Robert was great and helped get the wheelchair out for Matt. We took the cake in to Greer Aviations luxury lounge and shared the cake with everyone there.
My flight to Castle Kennedy was not so easy. I set off with clear skies but after about 20 minutes I went into thick cloud and had to ask for a radar service. The controller asked me if I had an instrument rating which is the first time I have ever been asked. It was thick cloud all the way to Castle Kennedy where I planned to go out to sea to descend. Before I reached the coast I became visual and turned round for an approach at Castle Kennedy. There was a big festival for the Aeromodellers Association and there was a crowd of people. I made a pigs ear of the landing and had to go around. I did better the next time and managed to get GN down.
The Dumfermline Squadron of the Air Training Corps had a pipe and drum band and the Corps were all lined up. I was able to speak to all the cadets. The last post was sounded on the pipes as the ceremonial lowering of the flag took place. Lots of books were purchased and I was then given a viewing of the wonderful array of model aircraft. A Vulcan bomber, and two B17s were amongst many sheltered in the marquee along with an amazing model of an Airbus 330 and a Hawker Hind. These were not ordinary models but huge jet powered models and it was an impressive display.
The Earl and Countess of Stair had kindly invited me to stay in their lovely home and we had a delicious dinner with friends
Friday 1st June
There is a phenomenon on the East Coast of Scotland called the Haar. This is very low cloud which blows in from the sea and produces cloud bases of 200 ft and below and often results in fog. This has dogged me today and really messed up my schedules, putting a lot of people out and causing a lot of inconvenience. I know everyone understands, but it still upsets me!
My first port of call was Lossiemouth. My first passenger of the day was Angela McLaren who has MS. She decided she wanted to do more with her life than just shop at Tesco! She was also scared of flying but plucked up courage and came and flew with me and really enjoyed the experience. At Lossiemouth the weather forecast for Leuchars was a cloud base of 200 ft and fog. It was hard to believe in the clear skies and sunshine at Lossiemouth.
We rushed around trying to contact my passenger from Leuchars. Eventually we got hold of him. Poor guy had been rushing round on trains trying to find me. There was nothing for it but to go to Aberdeen first and try to get into Leuchars later. Aberdeen didn't want me early as they had a media photocall organised so I waited with my next passenger at Lossiemouth.
Samantha Buckland flew in to Aberdeen with me. She has had arthritis all her life and really enjoyed the flight around the coast into Aberdeen. Here we were greeted by Gavin who looked after us and made us feel very welcome at the flying club.
My departure from Aberdeen was delayed by about 20 minutes. It was their busy time with incoming and outgoing passenger flights and also the oil rig helicopters taking off one after the other. The Haar just sits along the coast and just doesn't seem to budge. As Leuchars is on the coast they gave me a 'talk down' and I became visual with the runway lights just before the minima. They had kept the station open specially for me which was fantastic of them. The station commander, Clive Bairsto and Dan Arlett came out to meet me and they signed my books and presented me with a wonderful cheque for FSD.
I took off very shortly for Perth. I routed past Dundee and I could see the Haar progressing towards Dundee so I knew I would have to be quick. I landed at Perth where I got a great welcome. I picked up my next passenger, Jordan Bird and his grandmother for the short leg to Dundee.
The airport at Dundee is spectacular on the edge of the river Dee which is very wide at that point. I landed and was met by Lyle and Jim Watt from Tayside flying school and club. They had laid on a magnificent feast for the occasion, but initially the visit was marred by the fact that I had left my handbag at Perth. An anxious half hour was spent with Lyle trying to contact someone at Perth but to no avail. Just as he contacted someone who kindly offered to drive for half an hour back to the airport to retrieve the offending bag, Jordan came in. His Uncle had tripped over the bag on the apron at Perth and had brought it over for me. The relief was enormous and I was able to relax and enjoy meeting everyone at this very friendly flying school.
I am now staying in a delightful old farmhouse as the guest of some old family friends.
35 Airports visited 177 to go!
Thursday 31st May
The weather was shocking this morning, even worse than yesterday. Kirkwall was shrouded in fog, known as the haar. The plan had been to take Peter Henderson and Craig Taylor with me around the Orkney Islands (7 in all). As the morning progressed it became increasingly obvious that this was not going to happen. I decided to fly on to Dornoch, Inverness and RAF Kinloss, which werre my scheduled stops for the day.
Neil Thain was again at the airport to meet me and we refuelled GN. I said my farewells to these friendly people where I had been cocooned and overwhelmed with island hospitality. They seemed like lifelong friends. I spent about half an hour re-organising GN as the hold had become a bit of a muddle.
I climbed out through the thick fog and at 1200ft I punched through into brilliant sunshine on top. It was glorious and just like flying over a sea of cotton wool. About 30 miles from Wick the fog and low cloud dissipated completely and the breath-taking scenery of the east coast lay before me. I soon landed at Dornoch, a delightful 750m grass strip covered in buttercups and daisies. I was met by Sandy and Andy from the Council who administer the strip, and they signed my manuals.
Inverness was another spectacular approach and I taxied up to the Highland Flying School. Here I was treated to delicious tomato soup and ham rolls, and met Adam Gilbert who was to fly to Kinloss with me. I was particularly pleased to meet Peter Brooks, who runs the Highland Flying School, because one of the FFD scholars will do her training here at the end of June. Adam and I had a good flight to Kinloss but on coming on to final 408 at Kinloss a seagull flew into my wings. I was quite shocked and was only glad it was my wing and not my propellor. This has never happened to me before. On landing I inspected the wing and luckily there was no damage.
I have been made very welcome here at RAF Kinloss, wherer I am staying in a very comfortable room in the Officers' Mess, and been entertained to dinner and drinks sitting out in the sunshine. Kirkwall seems far away, but I hoe to be able to visit the Orkney Islands on my day off on Monday.
Wednesday 30th May
Dave Wheeler who runs the Fair Isle airport and is a qualified and very experienced meteorologist, told me that I would be able to get out early but that fog was coming in. All the family came to see me off and once more Fiona manned the fire engine. I was soon taking off along this short runway which runs out to the sea with a 200ft drop into the sea at the end. GN was airborne in half the runway. At first I had a 2,000ft cloud base but very soon I ran into thick cloud. I was heading for Kirkwall which has an ILF on both runways, and I had to do an ILF approach right down to the minima before I saw the runway lights and was able to duck in at the last minute. The controller from Sumburgh had been getting me weather from Inverness and Aberdeen in case I could not get into Kirkwall. I was met by Neil Thain, the airport manager, and received the usual island warmth and hospitality. Neil booked me into a hotel and here I am staying. This gave me a chance to look around the city - for although very small, it does have a cathedral - Neil proudly informed me. I wandered around the city and went into the cathedral which is stunningly beautiful built out of red sandstone. It had a great air of peace and I was able to sit and wind down within its age old walls. I did a bit of shopping and was just about to tuck into bed with my book when I had a 'phone call from Peter Henderson in the tower. "You had better come and tie your aircraft down as we have a strong wind warning of 40kts", he said. I got a taxi back to the airport and tied GN down. I used the opportunity to visit the tower to thank them for their help and met Peter, and Dave Dalrymple and Mags MacRae, one of the fire officers who helped me secure GN. I took up my 'goodies bag' and was able to present the controllers and Mags with a Sennheiser postcard and Jeppesen pens and keyrings.
I discovered Peter has lost a leg so I have persuaded him to come to the Orkney Islands with me tomorrow. He seemed really excited so I just hope the weather is good enough.
Tuesday 29th May
I left Wick in pouring rain. I had to fly high and in the cloud all the way to Sumburgh. Luckily the freezing level was quite high so at 5,000ft (flight level 050) I was still safe from icing. I landed at Sumburgh about an hour after leaving Wick. I was given a warm welcome and some lunch. There I met someone called Ivan Robinson. He offered to fly around the different airports in Shetland with me. As there was low cloud, someone with experience of the local area would be invaluable.
I had to wait until 2pm until Ivan had finished work. Soon after that we set off for Whalsay. Whalsay is a little runway 450m long, on a tiny island on the edge of a cliff. It was an interesting approach but GN did her usual thing and we landed safely. A quick signing of the Jeppesen manuals by two people who had kindly come out for the purpose, and we were on our way to Scatsa.
Scatsa is the airport for the big oil depot and it is not normally perrmitted for light aircraft to pop in. With Katie Miles's clever negotiations I was granted permission to land. The airfield manager came to meet us and signed the books, and again we were taking off. The cloud base was about 800ft and Ivan's local knowledge was invaluable. We went down the coast to Lerwick (Tingwall). This is a small airfield lying between two high hills. There is a very deceptive approach but again all was well.
After a quick cup of tea we were making our way back to Sumburgh. Ivan jumped out, having said to me "Polly, if you arer not able to get into Fair Isle then come back and stay with us". Everyone is so kind and welcoming. I taxied out once more, having rung Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle when he gave me a thorough briefing about flying into Fair Isle.
As I approached Fair Isle, I could see thousands of birds nesting on the steep cliff, it was very spectacular. I came across the runway in the middle of this tiny island before I had had time to think. I was too high, and had to do an orbit to position myself on to base leg. I landed and taxied up beside the fire engine. One of the voluntary firemen was my hostess, Fiona, who runs the local shop and Post Office with her husband.
In the evening half the 70 inhabitants turned out for a reception and I learnt a lot about this beautiful remote little island and about what everyone does here. It was a truly memorable evening.
Monday 28th May
After a relaxing no-flying day yesterday, I set off today with a passenger, Sharon MacKechnie who I met in Oban. She got an early ferry to Mull and met me, Graeme and Gail for breakfast.
Our first stop was Tiree. Here we had a large reception in the terminal with several disabled there to meet me. They provided coffee and home-made cakes and I gave a little presentation. Several people bought copies of my book, and a couple of people generously gave donations. It was a happy time, and we mingled with passengers for a commerical flight and everyone came and chatted.
We then set off for our next exciting landing. This was to be on Barra where we had to land on the sand. As we approached we could see a sandy bay with the control tower and wind sock. The bay looked very small, and as we arrived overhead I did a flypast to check it out. The sand looked wet and it was difficult to gauge how deep the water was. I called the tower and asked if the wet part was alright to land on. They assured me it was. So I came in on 'runway 33' and landed with miles of space. It was very deceptive. Graeme had flown in earlier and was busy filming our arrival. We were greeted and taken to the tower and chatted to everyone, after which we had tea in the restaurant. Everyone was very friendly.
We took off from Barra and flew to the south of the island to Castlebay, where a castle is built on a rock in the middle of the bay. We then turned north for Benbecula. Benbecula is an island between North and South Uist and is joined to both those islands by bridges. It is very flat. We had another warm welcome and another cup of tea.
We landed back at Oban where I refuelled, siad 'goodbye' to Sharon, and headed off up the Great Glen to Inverness, and then northwards to Wick. There was snow on Ben Nevis as I flew past up the Glen. I finally landed at Wick where the usual howling wind was blowing. Andrew Bruce looked after me with his exemplary professionalism. I have now landed at 21 airports.
Saturday 26th May
Emma, Jamie and their two boys Hamish and Dillon drove me to the airport at Oban. The boys wanted to see GN and they both sat inside and loved it. I had met them all the previous night at a Scottish evening. I checked GN and found that one of the wheel pants was terribly loose. I looked at it and found a bolt missing. Luckily there was a kind gentleman called Neil who is building a Jabiru who repaired it for me, but it delayed my departure by about 2 hours.
The flight to Mull was delightful. Mull looks glorious in the sunshine, and after about 11 minutes I could see the beautifully manicured grass strip in front of me running along the water's edge. Lots of people were flying in for the 40th Anniversary of the airstrip, so unlike the usual 1 or 2 aircraft there were 10 or 11, and it looked fabulous.
I decided to fly up to Stornaway in the afternoon. The weather forecast is not too good for the next couple of days, so I decided to tick some airfields off. Stornaway is about 106 nm from Mull. I flew past Coll, Rum and Eigg on the clearest of days, and then negotiated the mountains of Skye (The Cullins), flying down vallies to get across in the most direct route possible. I encountered one or two storm cells but was able to fly around them, and very soon I was on final for Runway 36 at Stornaway.
With my Jeppesen manuals duly signed in the tower at Stornaway I set off towards Plockton. I routed around the storm cells and followed the coast of the mainland. Plockton is a tiny village on the edge of the water down what can only be described as a fiord. The runway stood out clearly and I just went in and landed. There was no-one there so I walked across the runway, climbed a gate and went towards one of 3 bungalows on the edge of the runway.
I had seen a man gardening, so I went to his house - they were delighted to meet me as they had heard about me, so Graeme and Carolle are doing a great job. They offered me a cup of tea, but I rreally needed to get back in case the weather deteriorated. He signed my books and I took a photo of the two of them. As I climbed back over the gate I heard my first cuckoo of the year. The birds were singing and the hedges were full of rhododendrons and wild flowers. It really was a most glorious place.
I soon returned back to Mull where I plan to take a day of rest at the lovely Glen Forsa Hotel on the edge of the runway.
Friday 25th May 2007
A panic this morning as it was on the News that Derry Airport was closed. Would I get out? This was a concern. There was no need to worry as it was only closed for commercial flights, and I was able to get away.
I landed on Islay where I had to get up to the tower no less than 3 times. I think air traffic controllers must be amongst the fittest people in the world climbing up and down all those stairs! On to Colonsay where I was met by Alex Howard. Alex owns the island and was very welcoming, and took me to his hotel for lunch.
There were many co-incidences - Alex's son goes to the Dragon School in Oxford, where our 3 sons went. He belongs to 'Flying Farmers' and the 'Air Squadron', both of which I belong to.
Another warm welcome awaited me in Oban, but flying up to Oban evoked many memories as I flew beside the island of Mull, where we went for many family holidays. Entries are short as I am having real problems with getting on line, and am having to relay this report.Thanks to Alice Auckland for relaying for me.
Thurs. May 24
A morning in Belfast City Airport went really quickly. I did two radio broadcasts and went early to load and check GN. She really has been a 'star' and waits patiently for me to load her up once again. Eventually I climbed aboard and taxied out. The weather forecast was not good with a cloud base of under 2000 ft. The minumum safe altitude was 3,800. There is one main road running from Belfast to Eliskillen so I decided to follow it. I found the road easily and followed it through the valley. Enniskillen is situated on a stunningly beautiful lake and the runway was easy to pick out.
As I taxied up Alan Cathcart who is the part owner of the airfield came to greet me. A really warm welcome awaited me. We went into the club cafe which was very nice and there was a sea of faces. I had a nourishing bowl of soup and then Alan introduced me. I gave a short presentation and then people started queuing up to buy my books. This was great and as always, everyone had a story to tell.
The weather was closing in and the rain came down in sheets as the fog rolled across the runway. Alan rang Londonderry to check on the weather and whether the ILS was working. All was well and with a cloud base of 600 ft at Londonderry I bade farewell to all those lovely people at Elliskillen and took many happy memories away with me. I was supposed to take Geoff Burrows, a delightful disabled person with me, but the weather was so bad that he would not have enjoyed it so Alan promised to give him a flight on a better day which was so generous of him.
I climbed to 5,000 ft to make sure I was well above the Minimum Safe Altitude and called Londonderry. I was cleared to the ILS and as I broke cloud at about 1000ft the water and city lay before me. It was a stunning approach.
At 1730 I had a meeting with the Mayor at the Guildhall where I presented her with a 'Wings ARound Britain' certificate and a copy of my book. She was very excited as I learnt that Amelia Earhart had landed near to Londonderry and it will be the 75th anniversary of that occasion in August. There will be a lot of celebrations because of that. The link between London and Londonderry is very strong. This was forged originally by the City of London Guilds. I asked her if she had heard of The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN) which she hadn't. She was excited to hear about it and very much hopes that we can forge another link over the Amelia Earhart connection.
Wed 23 May
How can the weather change so quickly? But that is what it did. My alarm woke me at 6am. I had planned to go for a walk to the lovely gardens on Gigha Island, but when I looked out of the window I couldn’t believe my eyes – there was a fine drizzle and low cloud and mist. “Oh my God” I thought “How am I ever going to get off that strip with long wet grass, and uphill gradient and I was terrified of getting bogged in. I rang Peter who faxed the weather through to me as there was no way I would be able to get the weather from Gigha. It looked gloomy, but the redeeming feature was that at Belfast the lowest forecast cloud base was 400 ft so I could go down the ILS (Instrument Landing System) into Belfast and with that I could go to 250 ft so I would definitely get in. I determined to go. I sat in the aircraft with the rain fairly belting down and the visibility dropping by the minute. I couldn’t see the end of the runway. Nothing for it but to ‘go for it’. I revved the engine with the brakes on – let her go and bless her – she zoomed along the runway. On reaching 60kts, 2 stages of flap and we were off – straight into the mist and mire, but I was away and if I had left it much longer I may have been stuck there for days. I called Campbeltown who told me they had an Islander on final at about the same altitude as me. I climbed another 500 ft to make sure I was above him. 30 Minutes later, I was still in thick cloud and speaking to Aldergrove, Belfast’s main airport. I told the controller I would descend to 1000 ft over the water to see if I could become visual. Miracle of miracles I reached the cloud base at about 1,200 feet and there in front of me was Northern Ireland. What a relief! Before leaving I had rung Scottish Control to file a flight plan “Are you the lady flying to all the airfields in the UK?” he asked “affirm” – “I thought you might be and I just want to wish you all the best of luck” I find these little nuggets of gold so uplifting.
A hectic day – first a great reception at Newtownards, a little airstrip where Ron Armstrong the Chairman of the Flying Club came to meet me accompanied by some ATC cadets. There was a real link with this small airfield as Sir Douglas Bader opened the new flying club building. As ‘Flying Scholarships for the Disabled’ was established in memory of him there was already a bond. We had the usual round of photos with journalists and a TV company. Everyone was so friendly and I was soon taking off once more waving frantically to all my newly made friends and with a final wing waggle I was on my way to Aldergrove. Here I was to meet with Judith Thompson who has Spina Bifida. She was to be my first disabled passenger in Northern Ireland and also the first one who had never flown before. She was naturally anxious, but determined to come. Hans was there with the new electronic tablet with Jeppview, an electronic form of maps and charts for me to have on my knee. Hans had come over from Holland specially to film me using the new equipment and to fly with me. He was to fly in the back. We were just loading Hans into the back when who should arrive but Chris Pearson from the British Forces Network who I had last seen in Belize on my polar flight! He is coming tomorrow to meet me at Belfast City. The flight with Judith and Hans was magic. It was wonderful to take Judith who was rather nervous but seemed to enjoy everything except a couple of bumpy patches and was nervous when we turned.
We were met by Joanna from the City Airport and by Mary and Patrick Knatchbull who I hadn’t seen for at least five years. I was to stay the night with them but prior to that a trip to television and radio studios for a couple of interviews. The radio one was fun. It was a 15 minute interview with someone called George and he was dynamic and very easy to get on with. Back at Mary and Patrick’s delightful house overlooking the water we sat and chatted over dinner catching up on all the news. Patrick and Mary had deferred going sailing by a day specially so that they could look after me.
Gigha Island is a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland. It has its own definite charm with a population of about 1,200 people and one hotel. It used to belong to the Horlicks family and it was they who planted the well known garden that I never got to see. The hotel dining room had been full the previous night and it was warm and comfortable. The elderly people on the next table were celebrating the man’s eightieth birthday and the hotel had made a magnificent birthday cake of chocolate piled high with raspberries. Everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and it was like one big happy family.
Tuesday 22 May 2007
Signature Flight Support at Glasgow really looked after me very well. Brian Johnstone greeted me with "I have put the heating on in the pilots' lounge so that you are nice and warm. Help yourself to tea or coffee" Pauline Gallacher arrived. This time she was in her flight suit and looked very smart. She had a gorgoeus orange tiger which she tucks in the lower leg pocket of her trousers "I never travel alone" she said with a laugh. Scottish TV sent a crew and both Pauline and I did some interviews. We were soon taxiing out to the runway at Glasgow and were on our way to Prestwick .It was a glorious 16 minute flight although busy and a bit bumpy from the hills beneath.
On landing at Prestwick we were directed to Greer Aviation who looked after us royally. As we got out of the aircraft a whole group of Air Training Corps (ATC) cadets were lining the route. They snapped to attention and I felt like the Queen inspecting the troops. It is really exciting to see so many young people getting so much out of ATC. They all looked smart in their uniforms with highly polished shoes. It is a joy to see the young getting such a good start from the ATC. They all look you in the eye and have something to say for themselves with confidence. Pauline, in spite of being a victim of Cerebral Palsy commands great respect from the young cadets.
We sold some books and Bert Greer from Greer Aviation pushed a bundle of notes into my hand - a generous donation to FSD. Thank you Bert. We were driven to the main terminal, painted in purple and with 'pure dead brilliant' scrawled across the wall. That, I believe is their slogan. We were met by Mark Rodwell the CEO who is an Australian from just South of Sydney. He introduced us to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society. A delicious spread greeted us and between mouthfuls Pauline and I answered questions from the press. Pauline left from here and took a train home. It was very convenient as the station is in the terminal so it was easy. A photo shoot at the aircraft and once more I was on my way to Campbeltown. It appears that Campbeltown is on an island but it is just a long isthmus from the mainland. A huge ex military airfield with a massive runway lay in front of me as I flew across Aran Island.
On landing at Campbeltown the fire engine came up and reversed in beside me. All the firemen crowded round for a photo-shoot. Another journalist was there and a quick cup of tea and some questions whilst John signed the Jeppesen Manuals and I was away. As I climbed out the controller said "Would you like to stay with me until you let down at Gigha Island" "Affirm" I said with relief because there is no Air traffic controller at Gigha Island.
In fact, there is no controller and no windsock and as I flew over the Southern end of this tiny island, I wasn't even sure if the landing strip was the landing strip. I circled overhead and looked for something more obvious but in fact there was only one strip of green in the shape of a runway so I went for it and did a short field landing and stopped within 200 metres. Even then I wasn't sure that it was the airstrip! I turned round and taxied back to the beginning of the runway "Where should I park the aircraft?" I was wondering. Then at the end of the strip I saw a rather uneven square of fenced off field on a gentle slope. "I guess thats where I should park" I thought to myself half expecting to sink into a bog. I taxied gingerly and turned into wind.
I pulled out the inimitable mobile phone and called the hotel. Very soon Valerie arrived and we humped the luggage across the field to the farm gate. "Am I in the right place" I shouted to her and to my relief she replied in the affirmative. We drove through groves of beautiful trees to the hotel. I have a lovely room, warm and cosy and a window overlooking the sea where a few boats clanked on their moorings and the ferry crossed to the mainland. It is quiet and peaceful.
Six airfields covered now and only 206 left to go. It is fun and the interest is gaining momentum. Scotland has embraced us.
Monday 21 May 2007
An early wake up call and the last minute rush had begun. A myriad of small things I had forgotten and had to do and it was soon 0830 and time for my first radio interview with Radio Oxford. Such stalwarts and always such support. It was soon time to climb into beloved GN (Golf November). I taxied to the holding point of our little strip and there perched on a post was the most glorious brightly coloured woodpecker. He was totally unphased by my presence or the noise of GN. This was a good omen.
Flying into Birmingham and taxiing up to the Elmdon Centre once more gave me a real sense of 'deja vu' and I felt a whole raft of emotions and memories flooded back. As always Birmingham had organised a wonderful reception preceded by a press conference with some lively questions. A message came through that the Eurofighter couldn't come after all but that took the pressure off the timing and meant I could relax a bit. I was determined it wouldn't spoil the send off. There were so many wonderful sponsors there and of course family, friends and my volunteers. Jo Kelly, Managing Director of Birmingham International Airport gave a moving speech, followed by the Chairman of the Trustees of 'Flying Scholarships for the Disabled'. Mandy Pantall gave an enthusiastic speech about what FSD had done for her, and tears of emotion were welling up in my eyes.
Dr Knezevic from the Mirce Akademy announced that as a result of the data collected on my polar flight they were starting a research centre in my name which was a great honour. Jeppesen presented me with their flight manuals which were all duly signed for my Birmingham landing. They also presented me with their book about Captain Jeppesen as it is the 50th anniversary year of Jeppesen.
Soon we were ready to leave. Lots of fond farewells and then Mark Salter, a paraplegic and one of last year's FSD scholars climbed into GN and we were off. A good wing waggle on take off to say farewell and we were on our way.
Glorious sunshine was the order of the day and we flew over Newton le Willows, better known as Haydock Park at the Northern end of the Manchester low level lane. We headed out over the water and could see the Isle of Man in the distance. We had such a warm welcome there as we were met by the Airport Manager who signed the manuals for IOM. Once more on our way we headed over the glorious IOM and out over the water bound for Scotland.
We had a great reception at Glasgow with Donald Morrison who is PR manager for three airports greeting us and presenting me with a beautiful perfume spray. Pauline Gallagher was there with a whole bevvy of Air Training Corps (ATC) cadets to greet me. I gave them all one of my postcards and more photos were taken with GN. Finally I was met by my great friend and former volunteer secretary Alice Auckland who has now moved from near us to Helensburgh and she drove me to her home where I have spent my first evening relaxing with friends.
Sunday 20 May 2007
It feels strange to be writing a daily diary again – I can never be that disciplined at home! The preparation for this next challenge has been far harder than I imagined and logistically bigger than both my world flights put together. I know now that I just would never have managed to be ready or even to contemplate such an undertaking without the phenomenal help of my 30 volunteers. The UK has been divided into 10 media areas. The volunteers have been divided into five teams each with a team coordinator. Each team is responsible for two media areas. They have contacted every single airport and there are 212 of them! They have liaised with Airport Managers, Operations Managers, Managing Directors, Owners, PR Managers. Many of them have never worked or come into contact with the aviation world. They have taken to it like ducks to water and are now familiar with all the jargon that goes with it. We have two people volunteer to look after the media, both have been Trojans and we have been made a promotional TV DVD to send out with TV press releases again free of charge. There was someone to look after the link with the Air Training Corps and one to look after liaising with all military airfields. We have a PR consultant and a Treasurer as well as a loyal quiet person working in the background liaising all the disabled passengers’ details. The website has been built & cared for by antipas designworks free of charge. I could never have imagined a group of people working so well together and their work ethic, loyalty, charm, sense of dedication, sense of fun and sheer care has been nothing less than a marvel. I must start by acknowledging this and saying publicly a huge thank you to them all. Then there are the sponsors. I am just so grateful for all of them for making yet another project possible. They are like my family now as they have all supported previous challenges. The aim of this flight is to raise awareness of ‘Flying Scholarships for the Disabled’(FSD) and to promote sales of my book “Wings Around the World” the proceeds from which go to FSD. Without the generosity of the sponsors the whole project could not have taken place. Now it is up to me and my team to deliver. We must find ways to increase the publicity both for the sponsors and also for FSD and we are working hard on this. Sponsorship is a ‘business deal’ and for our part it is essential to find ways of supporting our sponsors with as much media exposure as possible. We cannot do this alone, and we need your help out there to increase the opportunities.
To raise the profile of FSD we have invited people with physical disabilities to fly on as many sectors as possible. Lots of people have applied but we still have room for more. If you are disabled and would like a free flight – just apply on line on this website. I am looking forward to meeting you all.
The Royal Air Force has always been involved with FSD since its inception in 1983 and they have really done everything imaginable to support this flight. Watch this space! The most significant involvement must be the Air Training Corps and it is our hope that young people in the ATC will come and meet me wherever I go. We want to raise the profile of the wonderful work the ATC do to introduce young people to the joy and freedom of aviation under the disciplined umbrella of the RAF.
Then there are the airfields/airports themselves. Each and every one of them have waived the landing fees and many are putting on receptions, barbecues, book signings.
My family and friends as always have been so supportive. They all put up with me running around like a scalded cat or a headless chicken whichever way you like to think of it! Behind it all is Peter, my husband of nearly 41 years who I adore and I guess he must adore me because he works tirelessly to back me up and support me with everything I do.
The list is endless. So many of you out there have helped already in one way or another offering hospitality, introducing me to others who can help. Above all your interest, love, care and boundless support is so much appreciated. If I started to name everyone – you would never get through the list so forgive me for not mentioning anyone by name except my husband Peter.
Now we are ready for the ‘off’ and tomorrow I shall leave Birmingham and head towards Scotland. Your support is what I need so keep following and I hope you have as much fun as I am sure I shall have.