Learning to fly when you are middle aged is nothing unusual these days, but learning to fly at over 55 and totally blind is regarded as madness by most people. For me, it is only another challenge. I have always enjoyed setting myself some goals, especially to raise money for charity.
|Martine and Mark Jefferies|
A few years ago, I did a tandem parachute jump; I also walked twenty six and a quarter miles round Rutland Water in seven hours, and last year, I was the first member of the public to drive at 65mph for 8 miles on a new bypass in Bedfordshire. These three events were organised to raise funds for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. This year, I have decided to do something for a local charity: the East Anglia Children's Hospice (EACH).
My first step was to find a pilot who would be prepared to teach me. I live in St Neots in Cambridgeshire, a few miles from the Little Gransden aerodrome where the British aerobatic champion, Mark Jefferies lives and practises his stunts. To my mind, he was the best person to ask.
When I approached Mark, he accepted straight away. Mark is both passionate about flying and also about charity. He is involved in raising funds for another children's charity, "Children in Need" which he does through an annual air display in Little Gransden (this year it will take place on 26th August).
The first time I met Mark, he was wondering how he would be able to teach me, but after the first lesson, (where he developed a sore throat from talking non-stop for over an hour), he realised that it wouldn't be so difficult.
He has to give me numerous instructions quickly and precisely - how many degrees to turn, when to stop banking, climbing, levelling etc. He also uses his left hand to reinforce his instructions. I have to learn to feel the movements of the plane, listen to the changes in the sound of the engine, and respond quickly but gently to Mark's instructions. I trust him 150 per cent because I know I am in very good hands.
On the day of my first lesson, the weather was clear with a light wind. After climbing in the cockpit, safety belt and headphones on, Mark went through the safety checks with me "TTFFGGHH”, (tail, throttle, flaps, fuel and so on), and explained all the dials. I pressed the starter and off we taxied down the grass runway. He opened the throttle and we took off.
It was an amazing feeling, different from a commercial aircraft. My hands and feet were resting on the controls while Mark was doing all the manoeuvres, explaining and describing everything. Gentle movements are very difficult to feel when you cannot see but essential for a smooth flight. I realise that this puts more pressure on Mark to think and speak quickly, and on me to respond with equal promptness and precision.
We practiced 90 degree turns, which again are difficult to measure without losing height, when you do not have the horizon for reference. With Mark's help, I now understand that it is necessary to keep adjusting the position of the joystick to maintain the nose level when turning and to avoid climbing and descending too fast.
At the end of the lesson, as the wind was light, I brought the plane onto the final approach, and while Mark was looking after the throttle and rudder, I responded to his precise instructions, bringing the plane to the ground in one piece. I did not know until we came to a standstill that I was in charge of the controls on my own, just as well.
For me, flying is exhilarating but it requires great concentration because I never know what the next instruction is going to be or when, to which I have to respond immediately and smoothly.
|Martine and the Cherokee pa28|
After my first lesson, I realised that it was beneficial for me to have learned to drive beforehand as I am now better able to measure my responses and control my movements.
Mark seems confident that after a few more lessons, I will be able to take off, fly a rectangular circuit and land the Cherokee pa28.
The fund raising event is planned for the afternoon of 14th June, (weather permitting). We are hoping to raise over £5,000 and are also looking for commercial sponsorship to help pay for the fuel and use of the plane.
You can visit Martine's site and contact her by clicking the link at the top right of this page.