Next Club meeting will be Mon 12th September 2005 at 7pm in Stewart's Bar (top of Western Rd, Billericay)
We will be eating at Stewart's in their private room at approx 9pm.
The food is superb, if you wish to join us. (£12 a head).
New members are always welcome, just come along and join us.
Did somebody say it was easy?
This article first appeared in the BWPA Newsletter and was published in shorter form in Microlight Flying in 1998.
This edition is unique to EssexMLers and includes different pictures.
The weather forecast had included showers, but the day wasn’t that bad. Though there were a few
clouds around, the nearest visible shower was a good few miles away. As we took off, small spots
appeared on the windscreen. During climb out, these turned into a few larger spots so we turned into a
tight downwind leg instead of continuing. The raindrops got bigger and faster until it was getting
difficult to see through the windscreen. At least open microlights do have the advantage that it is
possible to look around the screen and see where you are going. “Ouch” came the voice on the
intercom - the guy in the right hand seat had just been hit in the face by a hailstone. “Worry about that
when we’re safely on the ground”, I thought as we banked hard round over the trees onto a very short
final approach. The little Thruster microlight behaved perfectly well as we settled to a three point
landing on the wet grass and taxied quickly up to the hangar, splashing mud all over the wings, the
cockpit and the two of us. When the engine stopped, we could hear the rain thundering on the fabric
covered wings. “Time for a cuppa”, I said, for want of any more inspired comment. It is difficult to
think of a clever comment when only a minute earlier you had hit your flying examiner in the face
with a hailstone … well, isn’t it? The General Flying Test - the final hurdle to becoming a real,
licensed pilot - and I’d just blown it by reading the weather wrongly.
A long (long) time ago, I was a keen, if infrequent, glider pilot. That was until the combination of
child-rearing and a career took too much of my time. I never lost the urge to fly and kept myself going
with the occasional gliding holiday and sitting next to the window on airline flights. I’d always loved
flying: I had also regretted being unable to share that love because I was never qualified to carry
passengers. That is until about four years ago when starting in the relationship with my present
partner, Ginger (no jokes about Biggles, please), we found that we had a mutual interest in flying and
a new microlight training school had opened for business about ten minutes drive from my front door.
On most flyable days I could see a small aeroplane trundling gently round the sky. It looked for all the
world like a little motor glider: could this really be the microlight? I thought that microlights were
those noisy pram things hanging under a triangular umbrella. Wrong! This was a Chevvron. A brief
phone call confirmed it was a microlight and also confirmed a trial lesson booking each for me and
At the time I was struggling to pay off a mortgage which I had taken out just before the house-price
slump at the end of the ‘80s, but I could just about afford to feed my addiction to the air as long as I
restricted myself to no more than an hour a month. That forced me to accept that it would be many
months before I could hope to have a licence, but the Chevvron was pleasant to fly, Tony and ‘G’ were
good instructors and Debbie’s toasted sandwiches and hospitality in the club hut made it worth
visiting the field even when we couldn’t afford to fly. Ginger and I became regular visitors and soon
remembered those lovely aspects of small
airfields that non-fliers miss: the peace and calm, the ducks visiting from the nearby
reservoir, the pilots visiting from nearby aerodromes, the skylarks (in season), the
hares dashing (in their season ) about the short grass of the runway and the occasional
chance to get airborne and be outflown by a passing goose on its way home for the night.
Little did I know at the time that feeding my addiction would result in me making a 200
mile round trip every flyable weekend and even staying overnight in a motel in the
middle of the Fens, just for an hour’s training in my desperate attempt to become a qualified pilot.
Not long after I had gone solo in the Chevvron and was within sight of my pilot’s licence, the flying
school had to close. We had to find somewhere else to fly or give up our dream. I was devastated. I’d
spent so much of my spare money on learning and was so close, it seemed a crime to give up. We had
been told that the Chevvron was not an easy aircraft to land properly and trial lessons in a Cessna
150 and in a Shadow microlight showed that they were indeed much easier, so we were sure that it
would not be long before I was back on track to a licence. Ginger, bless him, even said that if we
couldn’t both afford to fly, he would make sure that I at least could. Over the next year and a half, we
tried several other flying schools but we missed the atmosphere of our first love and never settled in.
One day, passing the now overgrown strip that we used to love so much, and seeing the sign “Beware,
Active Airfield” almost lost in the weeds, we decided that we would strike out and form our own
syndicate, buy our own aircraft and start again (fools!).
The Thruster is a lovely aeroplane to fly, as long as you are not the sort of pilot who believes that the
feet can go to sleep once the machine is airborne. Being ex-glider (and nearly Chevvron) pilots,
neither Ginger nor I had any real trouble getting used to the co-ordination of stick and rudder needed
for balanced turns. It has crisp responsive controls and is stable enough in the air to make flying a
pleasure. Until you are within three feet of the ground, that is! Then it can bite. The Thruster is a
microlight aeroplane with conventional three-axis aerodynamic controls (rudder, elevator, and that
sort of thing). Its engine is mounted high, above the cockpit, which means that the more power you
give, the more it wants to point its nose at the ground. The undercarriage is of the old-fashioned “taildragger”
type - like a Spitfire. To be honest, that is the only thing about a Thruster that is like a
Spitfire, but is sounds good. All in all, this adds up to a wee beastie that needs a pilot who can juggle,
all at the same time, the control of the stick and the rudder pedals, the throttle and the elevator;
responding to the effects of gusts on the very light airframe and guiding the thing onto the ground in
the classic three-point landing attitude. Get it wrong and the simple leaf-spring undercarriage will
bounce the aeroplane blithely back into the air with insufficient airspeed to do anything but come
ignominiously back down onto the runway with a rattle and a bang that can be heard in the club hut.
A lovely aeroplane to fly, but a little devil to land - and we thought the Chevvron was difficult! Ha!
It takes many, many circuits and many, many, many landings to learn the knack. When you can do
that with a head wind, it takes many more circuits and landings to manage the same thing in a crosswind.
By the time Ginger and I discovered this we were, or should have been, committed. We had
sunk most of our limited savings into buying a second-hand Thruster and making it legal to fly. We
were confident, however, that we were nearly there. After all, we had the machine, it was based at a
well-run private strip not too far from home and only a few miles as the crow flies from an active
friendly flying school where they had agreed we could do our circuit training. We didn’t reckon
on the NOMBYs (Not Over My Back Yard!). The Rotax 2-stroke engine, as used on the
Thruster and most microlights, is much quieter than the larger engines used on conventional
light aircraft such as most club Cessnas and Pipers. Sadly, however, we still carry a bad
reputation from the early days of microlight flying, not that many years ago, when the
engines were not fitted with silencers and the aircraft flew really slowly and only on calm
summer evenings. Whether the people who complain at the sound of a microlight engine
are right or wrong, we still have to live with them and we wanted to be welcome back at the flying
club once we had our licences. So after a few unpleasant arguments, we admitted defeat once more
and went in search of a new training field.
Our faithful instructor came to the rescue. He had just started work with a new school operating at a
small airfield deep in the Fens, flying Chevvrons. I enrolled at that school with the intention of
reverting to flying Chevvron until I had my licence, and then converting back to the Thruster. It
nearly worked, too. I was solo again on the school Chevvron and building my hours round and round
the circuit without the slightest squeak of a complaint from any of the few neighbours. It was nearly
time for my exams and the flying test when the school closed and the Chevvron was taken away. The
game of snakes and ladders continued.
We still had our own machine, though, so not all was lost - it was just a hundred miles away, only two
and a half hours by road each way.
So there I was. After becoming addicted only 10 minutes from home, four years later I was spending
ten hours on the road each weekend just to get a couple of hours flying round the circuit trying to land
the Thruster consistently - washing and dusting where piling up at home and the kitchen was
becoming a health hazard. At last, though, I was flying the Thruster solo and the written exams which
had all lapsed were passed again. The last remaining hurdle was the GFT, the practical flying test.
The unhelpful Spring weather was proving awkward and it was only on the fourth attempt that we
decided that it should be possible to get the GFT done between the showers. We did it in several spurts: first out to the south, do the
general handling exercises - turning, climbing, descending, then back for a cup of tea; followed by circuits with a few examiner induced
variations and back for another cuppa; out again for “unusual attitudes” (not recommended with a bladder-full of tea),
then back home. I did pass, in spite of the incident with the hailstone. The licence came in the post yesterday. Nothing can
stop me now …
This morning I got a phone call from one of the other syndicate
members. The tail spring is cracked and the aircraft is grounded.
[The broken part was replaced and the Thruster is back in the air. I’ve settled in
and really enjoy flying. It still feels strange not to have to wait for an instructor
before I fly. Ginger has flown his first solo. The Thruster celebrates her 10th
birthday next month.]
Text & pictures Ó Copyright 2004 Joan Walsh, except the photo of the Chevvron which is from an unknown source.