As this happened on my birthday, I have some pictures of the event – click here to see them.

I presented myself at the offices of Southern Flight Centre at Shoreham and settled down for a pre-flight chat with the FI. He was (I think) pleasantly suprised to find that I wasn’t just another ‘trial flight’-er and actually had some prior flying experience. He suggested that we make the trip into a flying lesson and I found myself in the left hand seat for the first time in 13 years!

The pre-flight checks were far more involved than I remebered from my microlight days and seemed to take forever – ATIS to check, magneto and carb heat RPM drop, etc, etc, but we were soon ready to go. After a brief explanation of differential braking, I found myself taxying the aircraft to the hold, where we did our power checks, set takeoff flap and called “Golf Tango November, ready to depart”.

Turning onto the runway, I pushed the throttle forward and held on to the yoke as the speed came up. I could feel the aircraft getting ‘lighter’ as the airspeed increased. As the ASI got to 65 knots, a smooth pull back got us unstuck and we were climbing out. I was hooked again already as I looked down over the port wing and saw the ground falling away!

I was pleased to find that although I was *extremely* rusty on a lot of things, my general handling skills weren’t too bad considering the 13 year layoff! After a brief refresher on effects of controls, the FI talked me through trimming for straight and level then challenged me to try to maintain height and heading without looking at the panel. I did fairly badly at first, taking us 200 feet down and almost 30 degrees of course, but once I’d got some outside references sorted out, I managed much better. There seems to be considerably less ‘seat of the pants’ feedback in a PA28 compared to a 450kg microlight!

Gentle (rate 1) turns were next, and I found these fairly easy and there were no major problems. Steeper turns found me struggling to maintain altitude and airspeed until FI told me to use a bit of throttle to compensate for the increased drag and so forth. At this point, I was starting to feel that I was working quite hard just to stay ahead of the aircraft, and I kept finding myself rolling slowly out of the turns unless I made a concentrated effort to keep the bank on, although I would like to think that this was more an indication of the inherent stability of a well-trimmed Warrior, as opposed to any shortcoming on my part! 🙂

Climbing and descending introduced me to the joys of the carb heat lever – the FI’s explanation of why this control was needed went straight over my head at the time, but as with a lot of things in aviation, reading the books later at home made everything clear.

By now, we were just about in position to join the circuit at Sandown, FI asked me if I could see the airfield, I said no, because I was expecting to see a runway, not realizing that the strip at Sandown is entirely grass! Doh!

The approach seemed to me to be somewhat on the ‘interesting’ side – we arrived on final with about 300 feet too much air below us, and the FI threw in full drag flap and loads of side slip to bleed off the altitude as we headed for the numbers. I guess I’ll find out in due course whether or not this is normal for short field landings – it does seem to make sense in some ways.

Once on the ground, we chatted about flying generally with some of the other pilots, most of whom my FI seemed to know quite well. I must have looked a proper wally, hanging on to their tall aviating tales like an over-eager schoolboy!

The trip back to Shoreham was more of the same, with some beacon and instrument flying thrown in just to really confuse me. We persuaded the FI to demonstrate a wing over for the benefit of our back seat passenger, who’d never been in any kind of aircraft before. He had me try to line us up in the circuit, which I failed miserably to do. My turn onto base leg was about 3 miles too wide, and as for trying to get us lined up for final, well, just don’t even go there…

Back on the ground after a total of 80 minutes in the air, I had an awful feeling that my life was never going to be the same again.