Before starting my commercial instrument rating, I owned a third share in a Scottish Aviation Bulldog, an aeroplane I came to love from the bottom of my heart. I had instigated the purchase of this fine machine but lack of funds as my aspiration to fly commercially grew, meant it had to go. The account below is from the day I said goodbye to what will always be a favourite in my memory.
Camouflage paint doesn’t work when an aeroplane is silhouetted against a cornflower sky. It does however present an imposing image, especially when it is daubed onto an inverted Harvard whose cockpit is not all that far from one’s own.
As the Harvard peeled away back to chase the summer sun dropping into the western sky I returned my thoughts to the serene bimbling ones I had been enjoying before I had caught sight of the warbird a few minutes earlier as it had attached itself to my port wing.
A fitting good bye flight this. I had started by climbing through the puffy white cumulus clouds, flirting with them as I dipped my wings in and out of their edges, playfully kissing their soft underbellies, tickling their tops with my undercarriage, going in hard with a strafing attack, pulling up at the last moment before allowing my steed to drop down into its comforting embrace once again.
Cloud surfing complete, I had climbed into the smoother air above the cloudbase, gradually building up the pace from gentle wingovers into slow graceful rolls, watching the world rotate magically around that magnificent propeller, the very same propeller that had seen me through my last few hundred hours of fun filled frolics in the vast playground that is the sky. Using a railway line for reference I looped and rolled, relaxed but alert, always looking but with enough in reserve to savour the moment.
Floating over the top of a loop whilst watching the world all topsy turvy is simply magical; the ground filling the cockpit is reassuring rather than frightening as the g-force builds and level flight is once more attained.
But not for long, a gentle pull back on the stick allows us, just momentarily, to hang there, nose pointed to the heavens, the propeller refusing for just a short while to relinquish its grip on the air around it, before I kick the rudder and the nose transcribes an arc through the blue horizon and once again that tug on the harness as I hang there, nose pointed at the lush green fields below, picking out white balls of wool grazing on that greenness, those couple of seconds filling the senses with an appreciation of life, before pulling on the stick to bring the world back to the normal way up.
Eventually the aeros fix for the day was fulfilled and I headed east, throttled back, my mind full of fond memories, fun times, laughs, trials and tribulations all forgotten now. I had never thought it possible to fall in love with an aeroplane to this extent, but I had. We were often as one these days, each communicating with the other in our own special way. I valued the unrivalled view from that panoramic canopy, filling my eyes with special and unrivalled views on every trip we made. I loved the arc the propeller made, the way the handling was secure and predictable, the ability to cruise in comfort yet hurl each other around the skies too.
That is when the Harvard had appeared on my wingtip. It meant a lot, the pilot knew why I was up here and had taken the effort to seek me out, the effort that only a true friend will make for another. As he departed and left me to my thoughts a lump appeared in my throat and a couple of salty tears glistened as they rolled down my cheek highlighted by the sun shining from that beckoning sky.
I must have flown this way 500 times by now, but still love the scenery of the Downs as it unfolds beneath those red tipped wings. I doubt I shall ever tire of it, the lushness of the fields, punctuated by yellow swathes of corn, inky green hedges, picturesque villages. The waves, tips coruscating in the sunlight, full of all those mysterious blues, the cliffs white and standing proud, marinas full of boats, small decrepit motor boats alongside huge palatial extravagant yachts, their sails flapping like handkerchiefs on a washing line.
I dived for the ocean, flying along at cliff height, the one time it really does feel like you are moving quickly when flying, admiring the colours, the houses and the cars all looking like you could pick then up and rearrange their order. A windmill standing proud, people walking their dogs, kids on the beach enjoying the surf, an elderly couple walking hand in hand, enjoying their memories, fishermen casting their hopeful lines.
Time to climb a little, admire the architecture of the cityscape now passing by, the piers, the buildings, the layout of the streets, everything laid out like a moving map below me.
Reaching the river that would lead us back, I turned inland, making every moment last as long as possible, no cameras, just memories, the type that nobody can take away, that will stay with me forever and always bring a smile to my face and a skip to my heartbeat.
Fate was kind to me and my steed , touching down smoothly as the grass came up to meet us and then it was over, our time as soul mates over, an era complete but with no regrets harboured. Time moves on, priorities have to change, but love for that aeroplane will stay with me always.