RAF flying lesson is a real stomach-churner

WITH Prince William taking to the skies last week on his first solo flight with the Royal Air Force, Hunts Post reporter ANDREW McGILL visited RAF Wyton to find out what it takes to handle a light aircraft…apart from a strong stomach. THIRTY seconds into

WITH Prince William taking to the skies last week on his first solo flight with the Royal Air Force, Hunts Post reporter ANDREW McGILL visited RAF Wyton to find out what it takes to handle a light aircraft...apart from a strong stomach.

THIRTY seconds into our flight, the small aircraft I am in is thrown violently to the side by a sudden gust of wind and I wonder what I have let myself in for.

Thankfully, my experienced pilot, Flight-Lieutenant John 'Floozy' Flewster quickly has the plane back under his control before the next gust hits us.

We are flying in a Grob 115E light aircraft, identical to that flown by HRH Prince William at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire just hours previously.

The small plane feels somewhat claustrophobic with its wingspan of little more than 30ft. It can carry 33 gallons of fuel which can propel the plane more than 700 miles. By contrast, 33 gallons of fuel will barely allow a jumbo jet to taxi to the runway it intends to take off from.

We are flying in formation with another aircraft and the identical effects of wind turbulence can be felt on both planes almost simultaneously.

Most Read

However, worries about the wind fade away when, half way through the 45-minute flight, we embark upon a series of exercises, including hard breaks to either side and loop-the-loops.

Flt-Lt Flewster yanks the joystick backwards and we climb higher and higher before I find myself upside down above the skies of Huntingdonshire. It is a surreal experience.

The G-force while completing the manoeuvre is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

It feels like my face is full of iron filings and the aircraft floor is a large, powerful magnet.

Adrenaline surges through me as we complete the loop but it is not long before my stomach begins to suggest that being upside-down is not something it agrees with.

"It takes a few times before you get used to it," Floozy grins at me.

The Royal Air Force trains 150 new pilots each year split between three bases - Wyton, Cranwell and Church Fenton, in Yorkshire.

Basic training involves 60 hours of flight time in the Grob 115E and takes approximately six months to complete.

At any one time there will be around 25 cadets at Wyton aiming to get their wings.

On completion, newly-trained pilots go on to specialise in helicopter, fast jet or multi-engine aeroplanes.

Squadron Leader Kev Hughes said: "The amount of pilots trained in any one discipline adapts to meet the needs of the service.

"At Wyton, military instructors teach the cadets the basics of what it takes to handle an aircraft. Though many will have prior experience, there are some who come to us never having flown a plane before in their lives."

Prospective pilots are trained in general handling, navigation, formation flying and instrument flying. Around 10 hours of the 60 hours of flight training time are solo flights.

As well as the cadet pilots, Wyton is also home to the Pathfinder Flying Club and trains students from the University of Cambridge and University of London air squadrons.

The East Anglian Air Ambulance and police helicopter are also based at Wyton, while up to 100 air cadets aged 13-21 take to the skies every weekend.

There are around 30,000 flights at Wyton every year - an average of 82 flights per day. Flt-Lt Flewster explains that the base does receive some complaints from neighbours but pilots endeavour not to disturb those living locally.

Back in the air, I am just about recovered from the loop-the-loop experience when Floozy ushers me to grasp my side of the dual-control joystick. With the flick of a switch I am controlling a light aircraft flying in formation.

I nervously guide the plane left and right and up and down with tentative touches. As we are the lead aircraft, my moves are mirrored by the second plane and I briefly feel a sense of supreme power.

Flying the plane is an exhilarating experience - something like playing on a Nintendo Wii and driving a car to the power 100 - but it is with some relief that Floozy re-takes control and I settle back into my seat.

We are in contact with the ground as we fly over St Ives and are warned of strong cross-winds as we come in to land. "Do you want to land it?" Floozy asks me. My icy stare is answer enough.

Flt-Lt Flewster points the plane at almost a 45-degree angle into the wind as we land with a gentle bump on the main runway at the RAF base.

My legs are shaking slightly as I step onto the wing, and the Earth has never felt quite as firm as it does underfoot after 45 minutes in the sky.

There is something addictive about flying but I can't help feeling glad to be back on four wheels as I drive away from the base.

INFORMATION: For more on the Royal Air Force and training to be a pilot, visit www.raf.mod.uk/rafbramptonwytonhenlow