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Flights in a Spitfire - make it happen!

Evening Standard features Flights4all

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The flight of your life

17 February 2006

Take the controls of a light aircraft for a trip over Kent and you'll never want to fly economy again, says Helen Birch

"Right now I'm going to fold my arms and sit back," said Brian, barely concealing a smirk, "and you're going to fly the plane." I knew this was coming, after all, that's why I'd booked myself a trial flying lesson. It's something I'd always wanted to do. But now the moment's actually arrived, the idea is paralysing. I've been in the plane, a tiny, two-seater Cessna called Juliet Whiskey, for just 10 minutes and my head is buzzing with jargon. What are ailerons again? What happens if I push down on the pedals? And, crucially, is it the VFT or the VFI that tells you if the plane is going to crash?

I look over to Brian, my instructor, who, as good as his word, is sitting back with his arms folded. I grit my teeth and grab the controls. First mistake. A plane is not a bit like car. The control column is incredibly sensitive and Juliet Whiskey's nose soars upwards. "Be gentle, just rest your hands on the controls," says Brian. "Don't grip it so tightly." I do as I'm told, and there we are, cruising at 100 knots into the horizon with the Medway estuary glistening 1500 feet below us. It feels fantastic; vulnerable, yet totally exhilarating.

"Now turn left," says Brian, just as I'm beginning to relax. " How steeply?" "As steeply as you like. All that will happen if you roll too far is that the plane will turn upside down and fly that way," he grins. The plane suddenly banks at about 45 degrees and it's like being on one of those vile theme park rollercoaster rides. Did I really do that? We straighten up again, and as we bump and buffet our way slowly throught some low-lying cloud, the horizon disappears. Another split-second panic, before Brian takes the controls again and urges me to sit back and admire the view of Leeds Castle nestling like a bagel inside its moat far below us.

After Brian has brought us safely back to earth, he lets me steer the plane bumpily down the runway. Ah, so that's what the pedals are for. We've been airborne for 30 minutes, and I've been in control of Juliet Whiskey for 10 of them. I feel I deserve the certificate Brian fills out for me. I just wish I could do it all over again.

A one hour trial lesson includes 20 minutes instruction on the ground and a 30-minute flight and costs £94.50 from Flights4all.

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