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Sportability flying day to be held at APT Old Sarum Airfield.
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APT & Sportability


Irma Skeeles

I wasn't too disappointed to see grey skies on the morning of Saturday 3rd April. There wasn't going to be any flying whether the weather allowed it or not. I had arrived the previous night fora flying lesson and was very happy that it had taken place and was safely recorded in my logbook. My friend Margaret and I had booked the mobile home for the night as we had decided to stay for the APT 10th Anniversary celebrations the following day and, for me anyway, festivities could still be enjoyed even if the weather was fickle.

On arrival, we had noticed the space next to the Club House was taken up by a grand-looking marquee but the inside still took me by surprise: spacious, carpeted tables covered in different brightly coloured cloths; Margaret and I quickly fumed ours to display the colours of the flag of Italy in which I have a personal interest. The chandeliers, the fresh flowers on each table and the glass of champagne with which each guest was greeted, imbued a sense of occasion much greater than I had anticipated. By the time the Jazz band struck up their first catchy tune and the Mayor of Salisbury had arrived, there was a happy buzz in the crowded space. Champagne kept flowing, and then the plentiful and varied buffet, which helpful hands brought to the table for those who couldn't scramble for it, kept everyone happily munching and chatting until it was time for the official photographs. At last, here was the chance to get to meet more of the students I had heard about and seen at a distance, but had never actually spoken to. So many questions I wanted to ask, despite the lack of time to get all the answers. However, the ice had been finally broken and I now look forward to each visit to Old Sarum not just for the flying lessons but for the next encounters with the marvellous staff and the students with a mutual, driving force to take to the skies. Mad I may be, but absolutely over the moon about it!

How did I happen to be at the APT 10th Anniversary on 2nd April 2004, apart from the fact that Jack Simpson had invited me?

I have to go back several years. Approaching a milestone in my life I was speaking to my son, Damian, about reaching one's objectives. I mentioned how lucky I felt that I had been able to achieve most of the things I wanted, despite all the difficulties: a home, a lovely family a satisfying and worthwhile career. What else could I aim for, that wasn't in the realm of dreams? Before I die I want to fly! It came out suddenly and the reaction was that, surely I remembered I had flown even if not often. When I explained what I really meant, polite noises ensued. I felt obliged to mention that I had seen disabled people who had become private pilots albeit much younger and much fitter and more suited to the pursuit than I. I knew, however, that I was speaking as a nut-case, not as a supposedly sensible mother and teacher.

Nothing more was said by anyone on the subject until my special birthday when, from South Africa, where my son was working, came an e-mail with apologies for absence from the day's festivities and a mock ticket for two flying lessons! But: Where? When? How? Still, the thought that the idea was not completely foreign to my nearest and dearest, was the best present. I sank in my dream, like an invigorating bath, whenever I needed a booster. Occasionally, I would mention the 'tickets' to students and friends, purely as confirmation of the faith of my progeny in my potential.

Five years later, again time to take stock. "You haven't taken up the offer of flying!" Ah, they really think I can do it! Let's enlist both Damian's and Stephanie's help in looking for a suitable venue if they really mean to support me (I shall need at least one companion for the Journey). Old Sarum came up trumps, despite the distance, and the phone call to the Secretary, Jack Simpson, dispelled the last lingering doubts of whether I should go for a trial flight, even if it were to be the beginning and the end of a dream realisation. The offer of accommodation for 3 at the APT mobile home made the long journey a more attractive proposition, especially at the low price quoted.

Saturday 31st June, 2004. On a very hot, sunny day, we arrived late and tired for our appointment at Hangar 3, Old Sarum Airfield; overcrowded but very friendly, was our first impression. Jack approached to greet us, followed by Raymond and Fiona. Then the lovely sight of GUS, the red and white Shadow, which matched well my outfit, as my children commented, as if I hadn't already noticed. I chose to believe the colour coincidence a good omen but my main concern was focused on how to get on board, and whether I would remember the function of all the dials and more importantly, whether I would be strong enough to operate the controls. So many painful doubts, and all unnecessary. Jack did not spare efforts to put us all at ease and ensure my comfort.

Raymond, my instructor, was like a soothing, cool balm - friendly, calm controlled, instructive, he imparted the confidence needed to approach the experience in the right frame of mind. Just relax and enjoy it was his mantra. And I tried and eventually did enjoy it, every minute of that marvellous, exhilarating first flight. I was allowed to take the controls for a while, Raymond assuring me hands on my shoulders, that I really was in control. At the time, I had not been aware of his footcontrols, and I believed him, and enjoyed the thrill all the more. The following day I took the opportunity to use up the first half of my children's birthday present and made up my mind there and then that I would spend the second half as soon as possible, before depleting my funds on further lessons.

My children were warned: if I take to it, flying that is, I am afraid there may be nothing left when I go . Well I still love every minute of bringing my once only-dreamed-of pastime to reality and my main objective at this moment is to be able to make a solo flight. Raymond and I both know it may be a long time to come but I shall certainly keep trying. I now feel confident enough to manage the journey without a companion, which means I can have more frequent lessons. The uplift I get from flying can last over a week, just by reliving the experience. With more frequent lessons I should be permanently scuba diving in serotonin. Gradually, the APT team and I are working out how to solve practical problems. In my last lesson I felt so much more in control than in the first one, that the solo flight is becoming more of a possibility, albeit distant, than ever before.

What about the reaction of family and friends? My own family and relations in England think I am a nutter but a safe one; my friends make noises of admiration; my relations in Italy look at me with indulgent expressions mixed with incredulity, until I show them proof. This, fortunately, I can do, both with video films and photos, because my first flight was well recorded. So, whenever I want to cheer myself up after a dreary or harder than usual day, all I have to do is to take a look at them and think about my next flight and the welcoming APT team that awaits me at Old Sarum.

Irma Zanini Skeeles