If you can drive ... you can fly

FLYING HIGH: Reporter Lucy Townend flies a Tecnam Sierra plane to Foxton with the help of chief instructor Neil Jepsen.
FLYING HIGH: Reporter Lucy Townend flies a Tecnam Sierra plane to Foxton with the help of chief instructor Neil Jepsen.

It was described to me as three-dimensional driving.

There's your usual left and right movements, some backward and forward ones, but in a plane there's also up and down thrown into the mix.

Recreational pilot David Cameron told me if you can drive a car then you can fly a plane.

And I can drive a car.

I do so most days, and if we're getting technical, it's in my brown beat-up Nissan Sentra called Ned.

David was the one who convinced me to give flying lessons a go.

He said it would be a piece of cake and I'd be hooked after my first airborne adventure.

And, because he's the flying director of the Manawatu Districts Aero Club and I'm a bit of an adrenalin junkie, I said to him, "You know what, you're on".

The man given the task of teaching me how to fly was the club's chief flying instructor Neil Jepsen.

We started with an on-ground lesson where he ran me through the basics like safety features, the aircraft's axes and the plane's movements.

We talked about pitch, moving the aircraft's nose up or down, yaw, moving it left and right, and roll, rotating side to side.

We talked about guidance systems, navigation tools and using visual observations to help with direction and keeping the aircraft level by using the horizon as a cue.

We talked about the cockpit's controls, the engine, how far above sea level we would be and how fast we would go.

Once all these fundamentals were ticked off all that was left was to fly the thing.

He took me up in the club's only aircraft, an all-aluminium 2006 Tecnam Sierra nicknamed PAJ, short for Papa Alpha Juliet.

Somewhere soaring above Feilding, Neil gave me the joystick to fly PAJ solo.

It's an extraordinary feeling knowing that one small stick can control an aircraft.

A slight bump of it left or right and we'd be turning.

Pull back and PAJ would head up towards the heavens, push forward and we'd be nose-diving back down.

The power that joystick held was almost inconceivable to me.

I quickly discovered the key for a smooth flight was to be gentle, controlled and calm, and, as Neil had said, aim to balance the nose on the horizon.

We landed in Foxton for a quick breath of fresh air and a glass of water before heading back up into the air again to make our way back to Feilding.

I was more adventurous on the return flight and even had a go at banking the plane, by dipping a wing and turning 360 degrees.

Put simply, and cliche pilots probably say all the time, you feel free in the air.

There's a sense of comfort being thousands of feet above everyone else soaring through the clouds with the Manawatu district sprawled for miles underneath me.

The landscape was dotted with familiar townships and framed by the Foxton shoreline on one side, the Tararua Ranges on the other.

Thousands of feet above it all and it still looked like home. As we hurtled down the runway and PAJ slowed down to a stop, the endorphins from flying ebbed away and all of sudden, I felt in touch with my stomach.

My first-time flying experience came down to the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good, I survived and so did Neil.

The bad, David's right, flying is addictive.

And the ugly, I hurled my guts as soon as we landed.

The giddy feeling of flying PAJ by myself mixed with the boundary-free movements of a microlight meant within minutes of landing my morning coffee was seen again on the grass. Regardless of a burning throat, shaky knees and queasy tummy, would I do it again?



If you're interested in giving flying lessons a go, prices range from $50 to $100.

Any pilot licence requires practical experience and an examination process.

More than 50 hours of flying time is desirable, including 25 hours under dual instruction with a qualified flying instructor, 25 hours solo flying and five hours of instrument flying, where you go "under the hood" and wear a face mask which allows you to see the dashboard but not the outside.

For more information call 06 357 9288, or email aeroclub@aeroclub.co.nz.

Manawatu Standard