Two years of flying

Written by Mark Smith on Monday 14 January 2019 8 minute read

Time Flies

So it caught up with me out of nowhere, somehow, I’ve been flying for two years, if you start from when I started Microlight lessons proper on a cold 14th January 2017 day. I had had trial lessons throughout the years in Cessna 152’s, 172’s and done aerobatics while in the ATC (Air Training Corps) in a Grob Tutor, but had never got anywhere with it for many reasons.

So what changed? Well, my trial lessons where all sporadic, with years in between, usually bought for me as birthday or Christmas presents. I knew at some stage I’d do it properly, but wasn’t sure when. I’ve always been an avgeek, I flew R/C airplanes, flew countless hours in Microsoft Flight sim and spent many days watching the local GA Aircraft performing circuits, longing to be doing the same. Then, in March 2016 I had another trial lesson in a C172 at Ards airfield, bought for me by my now fiance Sarah (she was a keeper after she got me that!). I was really getting the itch to go for it and I had a great time, flying the plane right down to short finals and to top it off my daughter also joined me in the back seat!

Some Day?

When I left the airfield that day I felt great and it cemented with me that the bug was not going to leave me, perhaps it was time to start considering this for real? There was a huge but though, and that is cost. PPL costs are insane, over £8-10k depending on how long you take, this mixed with rental costs just shut off this option for me altogether.

But, I’ve always liked microlights, from first reading about the Jabiru in Flyer years ago and watching the local examples flying past my parents house, I thought they were an excellent and affordable way to get into the hobby. I also loved the CFM Shadow after seeing it in an episode of Flightline, an old show on Discovery Wings, I knew they weren’t all just kites with wings (sorry flex-wingers!) and many could out perform their GA counterparts.

Fast forward to December 2016 and Declan, who I worked with (and started the syndicate with), said he was thinking of getting a microlight licence after getting frustrated with the NI weather when learning to paraglide. “YES!” was my answer, “do it, and I’ll do mine along with you”, this was the incentive and kick up the arse I needed!

The Trial Flight

So it was murky January day, as you can see from the page header photo, but that didn’t matter to me at all, I was going flying! I met Ken, probably the most experienced Microlight instructor in Ireland and also met the T600N Thruster. I was slightly nervous, having never flown a microlight before, but I was pleasantly surprised, it was so much fun!

The first thing that struck me was the amount of room in the cockpit, to me it seemed a bit bigger than a 152 cockpit, certainly bigger than I was expecting, and the visibility was great. Ken got the plane started for me and he got me to taxi the plane to the runway (I’d never done this before!). I took off, and we headed down Ards Peninsula with me in control where Ken got me familiar with the affects of the controls, instruments and the local area (seriously Ken does a great aerial tour of the WW2 airfields along the peninsula!).

I was loving it, Ken got me to try just straight and level flight, some turns, and we headed north up the east coast to head back to the airfield. As I mentioned in a previous article, I had been reading the Microlight Pilots Handbook prior to the lesson so I had plenty to talk about and ask for clarification on. We chatted the whole time, I’d recommend anyone to do a wee bit of homework before a trial lesson.

On arrival back at Ards, Ken said he’d let me do the approach, it was on runway 33 and from memory it was a bit bumpy (it prob wasn’t bad at all in hindsight!) so Ken helped me get her down on runway 33 and that was it done, what a feeling! I loved the Thruster, though it was bloody freezing of course - invest in good gloves, a jacket and warm shoes before venturing into one in January!

It was really great having someone going through the training at the same time as me, that helped a lot.

Myself and Declan chatted endlessly in work about lessons, the exams, what we did wrong, what we did right. It was really great having someone going through the training at the same time as me, that helped a lot.

Where I am now

So that was the journey to get started, so what have I been doing for 2 years? Well, I continued my lessons and after 6 months I had completed all training and exams and got my licence, unreal! I managed to get the instructors plane stuck in Kilkeel after I failed to spot fog just out to sea on a solo navigation flight, lesson learned there! I soloed after 6 and a bit hours and got through the NPPL(M) in the 25hrs min time, Ken was a great instructor, he doesn’t take any nonsense in the air and will tell you off if you try to kill him, but this sets you up well on your own, you always have him in your head!

My own plane?

At the time it was something totally out of my league, no way was that option.

On my first lesson, my future hangar mate, Ben, was doing a bit of work on a plane he had recently bought (Ben and I did a flight in our planes a few months ago you can read about), I remember being amazed that a fairly young guy was there with his own plane, how cool is that? At the time it was something totally out of my league, no way was that option.

Well 5 months later I brought back my own plane as part of a syndicate myself and Declan had started with 2 other recruits from [NiMicrolights](). It was a Jabiru, they very type I had admired for so long, if you’d have told me that one day I’d have my own plane I’d have laughed my head off, no way! I still can’t believe I am doing this some times!

Going the shared option is great, it obviously keeps costs down, but you also have your own wee club of people to speak to, we are always heckling each other on WhatsApp and we try to meet at least once a month for a chat and cover anything that needs discussed such as maintenance etc. It’s also better for the plane, you never fly as much as you’d like so more people means the planes works more and keeps its engine oiled.

Trips

I have been to Scotland, flown around NI several times, perfected zone transits and done hundreds of touch and goes I also got over my fear of PFLs (practise forced landings). I’ve basically spent most of my time practising basic skills to bring up my experience and confidence to the point where I feel comfortable going further afield.

I brought my daughter for a fly in to Carrickmore which she loved! I was very impressed with her as it wasn’t a smooth day by any means, bumpy round the mountains and thermals everywhere, she couldn’t have cared less. You can see us on short final below!

I’ve been trying to get up as much as possible while also getting to grips with aircraft maintenance and servicing, i’d never touched an engine before starting on this journey. Again, Ken steeped up here and gave us so much help, showing us the ins and outs of the engine, I really love this aspect as well now.

Friends

I’ve also met a lot of great people from I started, everyone is friendly and of course enthusiastic about flying and airplanes. I love chatting away over a cup of tea and HobNob and hearing the more experienced pilots talking about trips and things not going quite right. They are also full of… really invaluable advice!

What’s next?

Well, for 2019 there are a few things I want to check off

  • Take my mum to Kirkbride for breakfast, then a tour of a few airfields in Northern England, hopefully Feburary this will happen!
  • More trips and fly-ins
  • Get my class 2 medical done so I can fly south of the border
  • Visit Donegal, Sligo, Aran islands and Cork (my work HQ is in Cork)
  • Get at least 50 hours flying done
  • Have a great time and share flying with more people, if you want a flight give me a shout.

I think this is a pretty decent list and I’ll maybe review this at the end of the year and see how well, or not (looking at you British weather) I have done at ticking this list off.

The Blog

Also, I started this, as a way of documenting trips, talking about things that interest me and sharing the hobby with people. I’d love to get my YouTube channel up and running properly, I got a new camera and have already testing flying with a cockpit and wing cam, which looks great. Don’t expect RoryOnAir or Trent Palmer level videos though, but I’ll try my best!

So that’s it for this article, hope you all have a great 2019 and I’ll maybe cross paths (wings?) at a fly-in or airfield later this year.

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