No I donít mean without a
partner in life. I am now talking about the first solo
flight in an aircraft. Believe me, a much more
daunting prospect. I had started flying again with Jim
in his Zenair CH701 Stol about 2 or 3 months ago. So
after 23 flying hours in total, 20 of them
at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, I was just
about getting around to
landing myself and thatís what itís all about, landing
that is. Most aircraft will take off, just by opening
the throttle i.e., putting your foot on the gas,
except in most aircraft you use your hand. Whilst
aloft itís my guess that most people can handle a
light aircraft in
light winds sufficiently well enough to get it to go
in one direction or another. However, landing is
another matter entirely.
First light with the sun just popping out
through the Eucalyptus trees at the top of the
I was due
another 3 Ĺ hours in the Zenair that I had already
paid for, but Jim managed to crash it. I am not going
to talk about that. No! The less said the better.
Needless to say I was not happy, OK, but donít worry
he walked out without a scratch, more than likely,
wishing to himself he had been killed to save the
embarrassment. So there I was with nothing to fly.
Then I heard that they were selling off the
QuickSilvers about 40 miles away at Chonburi
Flying Club. So before they were all sold, I went to
have a look at them.
Alright, they had a few hours
on the clock, but they were kept in excellent
condition by the head mechanic, Mr. Wisoon,
a very charming Thai gentleman.
They were all for sale, every one ranging from
$6,400.USD, to a whopping $19,000.USD. I
settled for one that I got a very good deal on at
$7,600.USD. It had brand new wing covers plus an engine
life left of 150 hrs.
planning to let Jim teach me in my aircraft but the
day after it was delivered to Eastern Flying Club
across the field from my house, Jim managed to crash
yet another aircraft owned 50% by himself and the other
50% by Paul. Young Paul as he is known
and I am old Paul,
naturally. Charming but there you have it. There was a
birthday celebration at Chonburi Flying Club
when everyone was invited so I took Noi and the boys
down in the truck. We had a little lunch & watched the
flying displays by the Thai Air force and Thai Navy
pilots and what they canít make a Quicksilver do is
not worth mentioning. Both Jim and young Paul
had flown down in their Renegade bi-plane
that they had bought from a cousin of the Thai King,
known as Mum. Apparently itís a royal name.
or so the boys & Noi where getting restless having put
up with indulging me all day. So we
set off for home. There
was also a free dinner later,
but to be honest I had seen enough for one day as
well. So back home it was. I dropped Noi and the boys
at home and went on to the airfield to see if there
was anything going on there. Very shortly after
getting there the news was that Jim with Paul on board
had crashed on take off. ďOh my goodnessĒ, as you no
doubt can imagine my saying.
Anyway, thankfully, they
both walked away from that one yet again,
suffering no more than perhaps
slight concussion. Again
the aircraft was a total loss. It reached a height of
about 50ft, and the official line is the engine lost
power? It came down at the very far end of the
airfield, and was on fire either before it hit the
ground or as soon as it did. Jim was groggy from
hitting his head, but very luckily recovereded
quickly enough to get out before the fuel tanks
next day he had to attend a Thai Air Force medical
center for a very full medical, having crashed twice
in just about as many weeks. So far and it may not be
over yet, they have only taken his ticket for two
weeks, to get over the concussion Hmm? We will see.
leaves me now with an aircraft and no one at our club
qualified to teach me to fly. You may well be
thinking maybe I was just not meant to fly.
Believe me I have asked the same question and I just put
it down to being tested. The point being if you really
do want to do something, short of being struck down on
the spot, you will find a way to do it.
Where on earth has the other end of that seat
what? I asked my good friend Mr. Ad the junior of the
two flying Dutchmen to fly
me down to Chonburi, so I could consult Mr. Wisoon
about the compass fitted to my aircraft, as for sure
itís not reading correctly. He put it down to
deviation caused by interference within the aircraft,
and gave me the manual to copy, in order to set it.
Iíll have to give that a try, and see if itís that,
but, as Booner,
my present flying instructor says, we never use them.
He, being a Thai Navy pilot,
who is about to join the Thai Airways
as a 747 pilot. This is true, in the local area from
one airfield to the other, is in
line of sight, while carrying a map in your head. To
say it would be difficult to look at a map in this
aircraft is an under-statement to say the least. Even
if you had the air charts and you had them in some
sort of folder or other, they would be
next to useless.
better off with a current road map. People put this
down to air defence or something like that.
Well, maybe. But
my guess is that if the Cambodians decided to invade
they wonít bother with Thai air charts anyway. They
will go to the book shop and buy a road map, eh? Anyway,
whatever. I would still like a compass that I can rely
on. So, back to the point. I
asked them at Chonburi for Mr. Boonerís phone number to
see if he would be prepared to teach me. Sure enough
he was. So after about 4 hrs in this aircraft, having
had one day in fairly heavy winds
for this sort of aircraft and as a student, I thought
so. He said that on Saturday
I was to go solo. Now, I normally wake up early, but
Saturday morning I was awake with my head full of
flying at 3am, having deliberately stayed up late
Ďtill 11pm the night before. The reasoning being that
if I was up late, I might sleep in till around 5am.
Not so, I was also probably flying in my sleep. So I
answered my emails, watched
the early morning news and was off to the airfield at
first light. A further cup of coffee and the all
essential pre flight checks,
I rolled my Quicksilver out
of the hanger just as the sun was glimmering through
the eucalyptus trees at the top of the field. Every
nut and bolt of which there are hundreds is inspected.
The tires are kicked & the propeller is inspected for
any damage and back to more
One day before solo, or so I thought.
Training with Booner before going solo.
The winds were light as they
always are at that time of day and the sun was now
dancing on the mirrored glass ordaining the Wat
( temple )on the other side of the
valley. I had been flying this aircraft for at least
4 hrs and had landed it at least 10 times
on my own the day before
well really. Nothing to worry
about at all I kept telling myself. Well, Booner
arrived about 7am and we prepared to fly around and
around, landing after landing, which I thought were
quite well done. I wondered if he was going to say
youíre on your own now. He didnít and after about an
hour it was the end of the lesson when after the last
landing it was back to the hanger. I was wondering
what had happened to my solo, but I wasnít
going to say anything, as
that is up to him. Naturally I was wondering
if I had been doing
Then it came out. I was
braking my glide too low. He told me, I had been
testing his nerve, not getting it wrong for the
weather conditions on the day, but I had to learn to
brake the glide higher because if it had been a day
with more wind I could well have been in deep doo doo.
So the next lesson came along and could I get it right
now, no. By the lesson after that I was getting there
again, but still no mention of a solo flight. Then
it was Saturday 25th of April 2004 after an
evening lesson in heavier winds when he
told me I would be flying
solo early next morning,
with light to no wind.
The Chonburi by-pass just by the flying
Chonburi Flying Club Airfield
Safely on the ground at Chonburi
You have no
idea what that is like, or if you have please let me
know. Booner, took me up for two touch and go's first
thing on Sunday which were very well done by me. Then
on the second landing he said, ďStop
and let me out, you
can go aloneĒ. We are talking about 7am
or thereabouts and having let him out, taxi-ing down to
the far end of the runway seemed very short indeed.
Then I have to do it
myself - I had to take to the air
back without damaging the aircraft all on my
you might know I am not religious in any way, don't get
me on that one. However with all the antics that I
have got up to in my life I have long thought that
someone or something is looking out for me because I
reckon I should have been dead under the wheels of
some truck or other, at about seventeen years
of age. I was totally
crazy in my youth. If there was a throttle, there were
only ever two positions - fully open or fully closed. I
was given an award for the best crash of the season
when I used to race cars and I have a picture of my car,
a Mini with its roof about 8' in the air but the
wheels were above that. I crashed at about 60 - 80mph
about two years ago and only broke a collar bone
while on a four day motor-cycle International Enduro event in
coming round after about half an hour or
so all I wanted was a fag. (cigarette in
English ) So I asked who or what had taken care of me for so long to look after
the aircraft because I can't afford the repair bills.
the last checks sitting at the far end of the runway
at 01, that is approximately 10 degrees off north to
you, and I was slowly opening the throttle to full
revs. I was in the air in about 50 meters or so, the
aircraft being so light with only me in it. Climbing
with one eye on the air speed indicator. Don't want to
stall on take-off; that's
very bad form. Finally in the air after about 30 hours
of training and now alone.
It was fabulous, it was
fantastic, it was all those things, times ten
but now I had to do the circuit and
get down again in one piece. So left turn over the
fields that run just to the south of my housing estate
at about 200 ft then
left again at about 300ft
then nose down to level off and
throttle back to about 5200 rpm.
cruise down-wind Ďtill I was just about level with the
duck sheds at the far end of the runway,
left again lowering the revs to about 4500 rpm at a
high of 250ft and
lastly the next left turn to final. Thatís
all there is to it apart from the fact you have to
now land without breaking the aircraft.
ďLine up the
numbersĒ I can hear Booner saying in my head ďline up
the numbersĒ No there is no radio but you hear it
anyway. You remember all the things that the instructor
has ever said. In fact for a few days I had probably
been dreaming of them. Now the numbers are lined up
and the throttle is way back, way back...to what? Oh I
don't know, you have to listen at
this time, just fly by the seat of
your pants as thereís no time to be looking at
instruments. You need to make sure you have pressure
on the stick which means you have the air speed
those numbers lined up. Six feet off the ground you
are looking at no.
19 disappearing. That's the number at
the far end of the runway meaning 10 degrees of south
when coming the other way, and it's
time to break your glide or in other words stop from
ploughing into the ground. Now level up dropping the
revs again while pulling back on the stick to flare,
that's to say point the nose slightly in the air while
making sure you don't balloon, thus don't go up
again, because now you have no airspeed to count on.
So the last thing you want is to gain any height
bringing about a stall too high. Now it's back on the
stick ballooning a little forward on the stick to stop
it. Back on the stick, lower the revs again,
then finally touch down gently. I
had done it!
touched down like a feather, I had done it, and it had
all worked, just as it should. Now it was time to open
the throttle and do it all again, at least another two
times before stopping for a well-earned fag, with a
swig of water.
circuits completed with no go- a- rounds meaning that
there were no aborted landings and that water was
looking so good. However, Josh the senior of the two
flying Dutchmen had other ideas. He thought I would
look better wearing the water. So after the impromptu
shower it was sure time for that fag & the discussion
with Booner about my efforts. Booner said all was good
and cleared me for going solo any time the winds are
Just after 6am, flying towards one of the many
reservoirs. It's cool; what more could you ask?
On the way to Chonburi Flying Club.
Not far now. there's the lake at the end of
the runway, just peering out of the mist.
One of the very many quarry sites used to
prepare soil for building.
Sri Ratcha Airport on the way to Chonburi
I have made several cross -country flights, all
without the aid of a working compass, apart from the
$2.USD item that is attached to my wristwatch. The
last being 29-04-04 to an airfield called Doc Rey.
This was the most challenging, because for the others
you could just either follow the road, or as in the
case of the first one, there is a building that is by
the airfield, which can be seen
even from the ground at the home airfield.
Unfortunately, I failed to find the airfield
and land that day,
but I did find the area by the side of the lake. Josh
told me when I had returned
that it was very much overgrown and
unless you knew the site well, it could
be very easy to miss. So having not found it, it was
time to turn for home. At this time I noticed that the
sky was looking very black in the direction of home,
and black skies
generally mean thunderstorms
with very high winds;
not good. Not good, but what
choice? The choices are :
you carry on and
hope for the best. You find any likely spot to land,
like a dirt road, a flat field, even an empty car park
by the side of a factory perhaps But how bad is that
weather looking? OK I canít
see any rain yet, but those clouds are passing above
me and straight on my heading at a very alarming rate.
After about another twenty minutes, I was passing over
the top of the race track and those long straights
looked very inviting indeed. I didnít fancy going on
and having to put down just a head of a storm in the
nearest ploughed field as they can look very inviting
from 500ft but very
different close up.
So what to
do, carry on, or land at the track? I made the
decision to press on, more from the point of how do
you explain an aircraft turning up at the pits. In one
sense they may have been tickled pink to find me land
there, or on the other hand, they may have been
straight on to the DOA (Department of Aviation) and who
knows what sort of trouble I may have been in then? Oh
well, now I will never know, thank goodness. What I
did do was increase the revs.
and point the nose down to
gain more air speed to get home ahead of the storm
which put on a further 15 mph of airspeed. Not having
a clue what the ground speed was, I could see some
smoke in the far distance, which was blowing
horizontally, coming from the direction of my left,
meaning from the south, which is normal at this time
of the year. So I knew that, when I finally did get
home, I would be using runway 19
and could go straight in.
now I was at the far side of the reservoir with the
home airfield in sight. It was a beautiful sight as
probably any sailor will have a similar story of
reaching port just ahead of a storm. But having done
that as well, believe me I know which is the most
worrying, or at least now I do. Straight in to base
leg, turn left to line up the numbers on final, lower
the revs for a gentle landing, then straight back to the
hanger. Job well done, all in one piece. No having to
explain why I had to put down at the race-track, or
in a ploughed field, not to speak of farmers with guns
wanting all sorts of cash for landing in their field.
So, where to next?
The Local reservoir to the North of Pattaya
on the way back from Chonburi you have seen
photo's of this before in the story about the two
young Thai boys.
Can you see my home airfield yet?
Can you see it now.
Oh that's where I left it.