1993 and unbeknown to me the kids had clubbed together to pay for a one hour flying lesson out of Leeds/Bradford airport for my birthday. Well they did keep it a secret and come the day, when they told me the itinerary I have to admit to hiding a slight lack of enthusiasm.
After early navigational problems of finding the office I was given a concentrated induction/training lecture lasting about one hour, then it was out to the plane a two seater Cessna with wings over the cabin. A further review of the controls and then taxi to the runway and wait for permission to take off and fly from the tower, squeezed in between the flights to Belfast and Amsterdam. Headphones were donned to enable communications from instructor to learner and it was chocks away and a short run along runway one-zero at increasing speed and then lift off.
I had recovered my enthusiasm during the pre flight instruction when I realised It would be much better sight seeing than learning to fly. Imagine the surprise of the instructor pilot when I requested a flight path clearance to Castleford and Methley when the usual request was the Yorkshire Dales or the city of York.
Back to the take-off, where the single engined Cessna along with my stomach was climbing and heading for a position at Eccup reservoir to the east of Leeds. A confirmation with flight control as to our position, and we were off heading for that great horizon in the sky.
Navigation would you believe, was find the A1, travel south, turn right at Ferrybridge power station (you can’t miss it), then follow the river. Its known as visual flight rules.
The view from 1500 feet made Castleford and Whitwood look neat and prosperous, the view of the arrowhead weir at Castleford was something unobtainable at river level, the part sunken wreck of the barge only serving to make the view more unusual. My first view of Methley was of the two oxbow lakes of the river Calder with wooden angling jetties protruding from the banks, each bank surrounded with green protective bushes contrasting with the off yellow corn stubble. Now flying at 1200 feet over the Green Lane plantation at the side of the sand and gravel stacks, all standing out from this elevated view against the flatness of the fields. The pilot at this stage advises that we haven’t got long before flying back to base. (25 minutes out, 20 minutes to get back left us with only 15 minutes for sightseeing) The Cessna had a cruising speed of 90knots/150mph but the westerly turn was into a 30 mph headwind which slowed down the leg from Ferrybridge. So I had to miss out on an aerial view of the Lawn pond and Methley Woods. The restriction on time did not spoil the views to come. The Embleton Estate looked like a picture from ‘Yorkshire Life’, the view of the Old Rectory and the Cedars on the one side of the Church and then the cricket field and bowling green, both with games in progress made even the pilot bank round for a triple take. Waving to the figures on the ground had little effect – we were just a small plane in the sky. Now flying over The Hollings we kept the A639 in view to take an easterly course over Swillington to Hook Moor.
My visibility was hampered during this latter part of the journey with the plane on even keel (apart from turbulence) as we looked for speed on our now north easterly course to intersect the A1.
I wished afterwards that I had missed out on the Castleford/Whitwood section and taken in fuller coverage over the village. Take it from me it looks very different from the air, but it requires planning – you can’t just ask the pilot to slow here, turn left, go back again…… it doesn’t work like that.
I never did master control of the joystick, flaps and other aero controls – every time I tried I had to make a compensating action but I can recommend sightseeing from a very different perspective.