No, I don't

Fly, that is.

After Dad's death, I thought I should give it a go, just to see what all the fuss was about, so I booked a demo lesson with Cape Aero Club.

I arrived at Cape Town International Airport in a howling, 50mph South-Easter, and was met by the instructor, Rod Rodrigues, and shown around the aircraft, a Cessna 172, which is a very small aircraft indeed.  (Imagine a Volkswagen Beetle with wings and you'll be about right!)

I mentioned briefly that my late father had flown and that I wanted to give it a go.  He nodded and walked me round the aircraft, showing me which end was in front and things like that.

In we got, and he explained the controls and basic instruments.  He started up, told me how to use the rudders and toe brakes to taxi, and off we went.  The aircraft was so small and light that the nose-wheel actually came off the ground on the taxi.

Rod was cleared for take-off, ran the full-power check, and off we went.  Once we had reached about 1500 ft, he levelled the aircraft out (something of a feat in that wind), and asked me whether I was ok.  I said I was.

He asked if I could tell him what altitude we were at.  I read the altimeter, which had an inner and outer circle of numbers which had to be added together, and told him we were at 1500 ft.

He asked if I could tell him the heading, so I read the compass and told him.

Would I like to try the controls, he asked.  He assured me that he would keep his hands and feet on them and be ready to take over in an instant.  I agreed.

So we flew in a straight line for a while, whch was pretty easy, or so I thought, even in that wind.  Touch of rudder here and there, a little bit of control column, one eye on the turn-and-bank and another on the heading - nothing to it.

Would I like to try to turn 20 degrees to port, he asked.  Why not, I replied.  Having been very well brought up, I gently applied some left rudder, and as she began to bank, added a touch of control column, while keeping an eye on the compass and turn-and-bank.  As the needle swung through about 18 degrees, I started easing off on the rudder, and she steadied out beautifully at a heading precisely 20 degrees to port of the previous one.

"Excellent," he said.  "Where have you taken flying lessons before?"

I was baffled.

I looked at at him and said, "This is the first time I've ever flown an aeroplane."

He gave me a filthy look which said quite clearly, "Don't you mess around in an aircraft, young lady." He was too good an instructor to take a chance that I was lying, but he took his feet off the rudders, folded his arms, sat back, and started ordering me all over Cape Town.

I was terrified. "Oh. My. God." I thought.  "He doesn't believe me. He's going to make me land this thing, and I don't know where the flaps are, I don't know where the trims are, I don't know the stall speed, Oh. My. God." 

Eventually, after a few minutes of tense silence, he said, 'You're allowing your nose to creep up a bit.  Just keep the point of the nose on the horizon and make sure you don't allow the attitude to drift up."

By now I was so rattled that I had forgotten that the control column could move, not only left and right, but forward and back as well.

"I don't know how," I squeaked.

Another filthy look.  Then he said, "You move the control column forward."

"Oh yes, of course," I said, greatly relieved, and got us straight and level again. 

"All right," said Rod, "what's going on?"

So I explained what Dad had done for a living, and that I had been drilled in this stuff more or less since babyhood, and he saw the joke.

"Well," he said, "you've got it.  You can fly. You'll need to do the radio license and practice a few landings and takeoffs, but you'll get your license in no time. Now, it's time to go back - do you want to try the approach?"

So I did.  He ran the flaps, trims and throttles, and I ran the rudders and control column, and between us we managed a fairly creditable approach to Cape Town International in a Cessna 172 in a 50mph crosswind, bouncing around like a feather amongst the jetliners. He took over at the last minute, put her on the ground, and told me to go off and book my medical and come back for my first proper lesson.

I never went back, I think for much the same reason that Dad never flew again after leaving the RAF.  It was something that I was (apparently) capable of being good enough at to have to do it either properly, or not at all, and I opted to keep my feet on the ground.

But now and then, I think it might be rather pleasant to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon hanging around upside down in a little cloth aeroplane without a roof.