Apprehensively I parked up next to the
cars (seemed logical, but certainly not a formality) and went to find
to my instructor, Paul. There really weren't any options other than
to head for the caravan. Cleaning the rust of the old stove in the
caravan, we made our acquaintances and I explained more about
Fidgetstick/ and what we were trying to achieve. Foolishly, I also
inquired as to the whereabouts of the “microlight” that we would
be flying in today, as the little aeroplane sitting outside was all
well and good, but this was to be a microlighting review. I did my
best to gloss over and not convey any surprise over the apparent lack
It was explained that I had fallen foul
of a common misconception of the uninitiated, in that a microlight is
essentially an aircraft that weighs less than 450kg. They come in
many guises – from the flex-wing “hanglider and a basket” style
craft that I had envisaged to this “little aeroplane” fixed wing
aircraft that we were to experience today.
Not to beat around the bush, we were
soon strolling towards the microlight and strapping in. Taking off
from the airfield at Deptford, just off the main A303 in between
Salisbury and Warminster, the airfield abuts the military restricted
airspace over the Salisbury Plains. Keeping out of harms way of
shrapnel and heavy artillery fire were to be a priority. It's always
reassuring when someone asks you “how strong's your stomach?”,
you just know what's coming next!
Hard bank to the right just after take
off and climbing followed by sharp left and falling quickly. A few
more quick changes of direction and I fail to recall the exact moves
– by this time I was desperately trying to keep a grip on my
camera. A few minutes of showboating and aerobatics and we set a
course for the iconic Stonehenge monument. Crossing the Plains in a
microlight is a beautiful and enchanting experience, enjoyed by very
few. The bright yellow rape seed and sun shimmering off the surface
of the lakes made it very difficult to take in anything but the view.
Paul explained, in between a number of
bumps and changes in elevation caused by thermal pockets and windy
gusts, that their facilities hadn't always been so basic and that
this is somewhat of a rebuilding phase. He elaborated that they used
to have multiple aircraft that were tethered to and sheltered by a
hangar structure. One day, they arrived at Deptford ready for a days
flying, following what must have been a particularly wind torn night.
They found that the hangar and all three craft had been swept out of
their night time resting and into the trees lining the north end of
the runway. Everything was written off in what must have been a
bitter pill to swallow.
Since that time there have been ongoing
challenges with local residents, other airfields and local
authorities in trying to redevelop the site to make the facilities
much better suited to the people who want to learn and experience
We approached Stonehenge and couldn't
help but marvel at the site of hundreds of people, on a scorching hot
weekend, marching around and gawping at a big pile of rocks in a
field! That said, the sight from the air was indeed spectacular.
We made our way back to land and Paul,
who by now I had come to appreciate as an utterly eccentric,
extremely competent and totally passionate aviation enthusiast, felt
that we could sneak up on the waiting crowds (my wife and two of his
students). The plan was to follow the line of the valley from the
north of the airfield and down to the west, essentially flying below
the level of the cars parked by the runway, hidden by the valley and
the surrounding trees. Paul had told me earlier how on a thermal day
(and this was one of those) the thermal pockets could cause a craft
to drop many feet in the air, and since we were flying so close to
the ground, I was a little twitchy.
When close enough, Paul gunned the
engines and the aim was to try and get to the onlookers before the
sound from our engine did, and as we soared across in a Top-Gun style
impromptu and unsolicited fly-by, we were more than a little smug. We
drew the line at flying upside down over them just to give them the
finger aka Maverick! Gliding gracefully round using little power we
landed safely on the grass and brought our short but very sweet
adventure to an end.
I hope that Paul and the loyal members
of Swallow Aviation can get the approvals they require to give them
just the basic facilities they need to provide a service on the
ground like they provide in the air and one that would only serve to
enhance the enthusiasm, passion, expertise and experience that they
so clearly possess. A thoroughly delightful group of people, a buzz
of excitement and a nice suntan from sitting in a field soaking up
the rays and chatting about flying for the next couple of hours.
A strange experience, as initial
hesitation was overcome by the enjoyment of the ride, never once
feeling that safety had ever been compromised.
A taster flight with Swallow Aviation
costs £25.00 for 15 minutes, up to £99.00 for 1 hour. I recommend
at least 30 minutes to get the most out of it. To achieve your NPPL
Microlight license, you'll need about £2,500.00 and time to devote
to learning – a minimum of 25 hours flying time is required in
addition to the ground study. Swallow Aviation provide courses for
all of this.