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Flying Lesions in an Ultra-light.

First flight or introduction. 8/11/02

My appointment was for 10.00am.  I arrived at the little airport just over the road from my house at about 9.30am. Well I say airport; this is slight exaggeration really. What you find there is a few – OK, I suppose – hangers, a windsock and a dirt ‘runway’. I had meet Josh there earlier in the week about 9.00am one morning. Josh is one of the instructors teaching in a Micro-light, you know the sort, where you move the canvas wing around to change direction. He was trying to make some grass grow on the runway. He had dug some tufts of grass up from the very far side of the field & was busy planting them on the dry, parched earth. Given enough time he will succeed but I really don’t think my little lad, Black, has that much time. Anyway it was early morning and the sun was not so hot yet so I guess it’s a fair enough pastime. From Josh I learned a little about the sort of thing that went on there plus a little about the club’s hopes for the future. But I was not going to learn with Josh.  I wanted to fly an aircraft that looks at least more like a conventional aircraft. So I was going to learn with Jim - he has a Zenair CH701.


So getting back to this morning – 8th November 2002. The CH701 was still in bits, a student pilot had made a heavy landing last week and managed to split a rim on the main landing gear, also managing to put the main spring out of kilter a little. So there was Jim, an American chap, busy fitting the new parts having finally got customs’ clearance from Don Muang Airport in Bangkok. The parts had been flown in from the States on Friday of the previous week but there had been a hold up. Now you have to know Thai customs or even customs in general to appreciate the sort of problems you can have. Reading between the lines and having talked to Josh a little, much of the problem is Jim himself.  It’s not exactly his fault; I don’t know him well yet but he seems to be a straight up bloke. But that is not the way to succeed in Thailand in a lot of cases. You have to be flexible, you have to have the odd bottle of whisky and the odd bank note with a big smile. It’s just no good knowing you’re right and they are wrong over the duty payable on aircraft parts and wanting to stick to that no matter what. Basically, no matter what, they have you by the - well you know – whatsits!  If you get their backs up or even worse, make them lose face once, you are in for it for ever. Unfortunately Jim is in for it. He upset them a while ago and he’s in a red file now. So it was easy to see that the 10.00am flight was going well for a burton. In fact it was about 1.30pm, before I was actually sitting in the plane but before that the Asian Electrical truck had turned up to reconnect the meter. Apparently the bill had only been paid three weeks before, but they had managed to disconnect it again anyway. By now you may well be thinking what a shower this lot are, but again you have to put in the Thai angle. Just because the electric has been turned off doesn’t mean you are dealing with a rum crowd at all. It just means that somebody there has turned it off. I had been in my new house about a month when one of their little blokes turned up to turn of my electric. There he was with his clip board and a screwdriver. Pay up 1,500.00 Baht (about US$20) or sit in the dark. My landlady had told me that the bill would be paid through her bank each month and I was to reimburse her at the end of the month.  So I looked at his paperwork but I couldn’t find my address on it anywhere.  OK it was all in Thai, but I was just looking for 14/8 which was not there. So I paid up then got on the phone to the landlady soon afterwards. She sounded surprised but then if she had no cash in the account she would, would she not. She promised she would get to the bottom of it soon and she did. The little man with the screwdriver had come to the wrong address and, give them there due, he was back the same day to return the cash.  However if I had have been like Jim I would have been sitting in the dark for a week I guess.

Anyway back to the events of today the ‘elecky’ man, Jim, Bill and myself walked over to the far side of the field. Bill, an architect, working over here - another American - opened the box without really looking and stuck his fingers in there only to find that the fuse thing was missing.

But there was also a very nice little green snake in there ready to bite this fingers. That gave him a bit of a shock never mind the elecky. Jim had sent his secretary to pay the bill earlier this morning but the bill and receipt were with her in the office. So, to start with, there was some confusion over that. Anyway the elecky bloke promised to return at about 2.00pm to sort it out. I left about 2.45pm & he had not returned.

Now, back to the flight.  I had been thinking all week about this trying to put together any item I had read or any discovery type documentary I had ever watched about flying over the years in order to be just a little ahead of the average student. OK, I knew a bit but all that thought really had been in vain. I have to admit I was a little nervous, not about the fact that there are no doors on this thing at all and one is only being held in there by a loose fitting standard car type lap & diagonal seat belt. The whole flight was very much like one of those fair ground rides, you are very sure in your head that they have taken every precaution to stop you falling out but you really do have to keep reminding yourself of that. I was more afraid of losing the cash out of my pocket and basically getting it all wrong. OK I didn’t get it all wrong but I did lose my fags - that was a real bummer as I really would have liked one when we landed.

My next real lesson is next Thursday when I am going to leave all non-essential items on the ground and I am going to really tighten that seat belt up. Not because you are less likely to fall out so much but if it’s tight it will be a constant reminder that I am strapped in. Therefore I can concentrate more on controlling the aircraft.  I learnt – OK, I practiced - keeping it straight and level, plus turns to the left and right. I ride an off road motor bikes and they toss you around a bit, but at least with them you can see what is tossing you around. With one of these very small aircraft you can’t see what’s doing it. OK, you can’t with a big one either but with one of these you seem only to breathe on the stick or very slightly touch the pedal and you are now flying on your side. That’s where the tight seat belt comes in. I did that over the sea at 500 ft.- well the second time anyway as the first time I tried it we ended up at over 900 ft. which is too high apparently and all the time I had been circling I had been gaining height without realizing it. 

This airport has a right handed flight pattern and apparently unless you know differently most have a left handed flight pattern. Anyway that’s what Jim said… I think. I know what a crosswind leg is and a downwind leg plus a base leg. Thinking back and thinking on to a time when if I am going to do this on my own - which is not so far away if I am to do it - I should be solo inside 25 hours, that’s if I am really bad. It could be as little as 18 hours if I show any real aptitude. What is most concerning to me at the moment is losing the airport – yes, I mean losing the airport. At the moment I am listing to Jim saying something like now we are on the crosswind leg and you can see that your flying at right angles to the airport.

Oh yes where is the airport then, yes I know we have just taken off going one way then we have made a right turn, so you should just be able to look down and see the landing strip. You know that field – that takes you at least five minutes to walk across - well where is it? At 500 ft. it’s that little bit of brown with the small Lego buildings in the middle. It’s even worse on the down wind leg when the instructor says look for the air field on your right about 45 degrees behind you. Well the only way you can possibly see this is by turning in your seat and putting your legs outside the non-existent door and looking behind the aircraft. I will take his word for it at the moment just trying to judge from the dirty water-filled quarry directly below my right hand. Next week it will be below my left hand according to Jim.

You know when you see the hero in the pilot’s seat on the films? Yes, the films where all the real pilots are shot dead by the terrorists and the hero has never had any flight training. But with a few encouraging words from a flight controller in the tower he brings the stricken jumbo jet in safely. You’ve seen the one, where the plane has ‘dodgy’ landing gear and half the side blown out.   In your dreams.   More next week if you are interested.  

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