Then came the great day when the instructor gave you the signal to go off on your own. Off I trundled across the grass to the famous caravan and awaited the signal to go. I sat there full of trepidation and fear and when the signal came I took a deep breath and off I went on my own. It was only one circuit and landing but it worked out OK and I taxied back in with a grin from ear to ear. Another feather in the cap!
Now you might think that from that point on all would be plain sailing. I was told to go off flying on my own to the local area and enjoy my time as a reward for going solo. I will point out that whenever it was a bit windy the drill was to pull the controls all the way back and to latch them under the adjacent seat belt next to you. Whether it was normal practice or a bad habit I had picked up I will never know. So, off I go with the controls strapped under this belt since it was a bit windy and then I waited by the caravan for the ‘go’ signal. It duly came and I casually and over-confidently lined up and opened up the engine power and started the take-off. I was about twenty seconds into the take-off when my left hand must have realized that something was missing. Yes it was the controls that were missing! I looked down and realized my error and grappled with the seat belt to release this vital part of the flight. Meanwhile, by this time I was roaring away across the airfield like some demented maniac. Finally it came adrift and I spiralled into the air like a homesick angel since the controls were set in the fully-back position. I managed to control the flying beast after a short while and all seemed OK apart from a heartbeat out of control and one very hot and bothered pilot.
What happened next is inexplicable. One of the after take-off checks is to apply the handbrake and then release it so that the wheels stop spinning. In my haste to do this I accidentally flicked two vital switches for the engine to the ‘off’ position and suddenly there was the propeller standing still in front of my eyes like a flag pole. All the noise had gone and I was suspended in time and space with nowhere to go. My heartbeat hit the ceiling again. I quickly realized what I had done and flicked the switches to the ‘on’ position. Nothing happened so I pushed the aircraft nose down and thought that the only way of escape was to put me and the aircraft onto the ground somewhere. What saved me was that by putting the aircraft in a nose-down position the propeller caught the slipstream and suddenly turned and the engine fired up. What a bloody mess I was! Where was I? No idea at all! Somewhere in Southern England in the air that is all I knew. I managed a slow look around and found the airfield somewhere behind me and there was this chap in the caravan standing on the roof flashing all sorts of signals at me. The signal was to land and go back to the flying school now – not later. His simple, mundane, boring life had been interrupted by the thing called a pilot leaping in the air like someone possessed and then stopping the engine when he felt like it.
“Let’s get this chap back on the ground before he kills someone” must have been his immediate response.
I was in a state of shock by this time and I obeyed the signal like a tame lapdog and landed out of reach from the prying eyes of the caravan man and scurried back to the flying school. My instructor knew something was up and came over to me as I fell out of the Auster and literally kissed the earth. I confessed all to him and he just laughed and said: “It’s always the second solo that is the worst.”