Thursday, 6 May 2010

Granny learns to fly: third member of the same family learns to fly with Phoenix Helicopters:


If you are reading this you are probably a helicopter pilot. Statistically you are probably a man and your other half is probably not as keen on flying as you are. She may even resent the time, effort and funds you devote to flying. She may rather have a conservatory which she argues would add value to the house, would be used summer and winter and be a brilliant party space. You know that a conservatory would cost a fortune to heat/cool depending on season and be too noisy for parties (and by the way you hate parties). This may even be causing tension in your relationship. I have the answer. Read on.

Three years ago my husband started having helicopter lessons. It was bliss. He went off with a sandwich every morning and returned euphorically happy at the end of each day. Instead of valuing things in pounds sterling we measured them in helicopter hours which made even the most expensive clothes/meals seem cheap. He got his license just before his 60th birthday and then wanted me to go flying with him to map read and twiddle the knobs. It was exciting but disruptive as all plans were changed at the drop of a CAVOK. I hung around the airfield while he plotted and A checked. Worse still, we would arrive at short notice at the home of unfortunate friends who happened to have a garden meeting the 5 s criteria and expect them to be thrilled that we had upset their neighbours and deadheaded their roses.

Then one day my husband said it would be a lot safer for us both if I learnt to land the chopper in an emergency and why didn’t I have a lesson that day to see if I liked it. I loved it. But it was pointless having a few lessons; I had to learn to fly it properly to have any chance of landing in extremis. I announced to the world that I was going to get my license (big mistake) and embarked enthusiastically on a course of lessons. The day I mastered the hover and my first solo flight remain serious high points in my life. But after that the struggle began. The exams were terrifying and I failed two of them first time which was demoralizing. Gradually the penny dropped that this particular granny was not the natural pilot that she imagined she was. My instructor (whose ambition I suspect was to build up hours in order to progress to greater things) lost his cool with me and I lost my nerve. The next instructor was patient but inexperienced. Flying hours and bills were increasing alarmingly and in inverse proportion to skills and confidence. After 100 hours I gave up. I had done nothing but fly for several months; my hair needed cutting, my house tidying, I had neglected my duties across the board, spent a fortune, polluted the planet and got nowhere. Worst of all my pride was seriously dented.

Meanwhile my husband had cleared space in the garden, overcome avgas obstacles and was longing to have his chopper at home but couldn’t whilst I was learning. He came up with an idea, a last ditch attempt, to retrieve the situation.

He suggested I changed to another flying school and airfield. Good decision; I never looked back. I had an amazing instructor, Paul Andrews* who loves teaching people to fly helicopters and has no ambition to do anything else. He is hugely experienced and a natural teacher. He sussed immediately that my biggest problem was keeping straight and level. He drew a felt tip horizontal line on the canopy and that problem was instantly solved. He also called me “sweetpea” and “my sweet” which did wonders for my self esteem. Paul had a relaxed jokey relationship with all his students and as a result we all had a great time together. He spent as long explaining things on the ground as we spent in the air. Consequently the bills reduced and the skills, satisfaction and confidence increased. A few flying hours later I took and passed the test.

Now seven months on we have the the helicopter in the garden and we are living the dream. We are both obsessed by it. We fuel it up together and share the planning, A checks and flying. We sit up in bed reading helicopter publications and plan wonderful trips round the UK for when the weather improves.

Most helicopter accidents are caused by pilot error. I have heard it said that it is safer (and less expensive) to have two pilots in a single engine helicopter than one pilot in a two-engined machine. It therefore makes sense to encourage your partner to learn to fly; it is also a lot more fun for both of you. Who knows, she may one day come to realize that flying a helicopter is more exciting than having a conservatory.


If flying a helicopter is seriously important to you, do encourage your partner to take it up. Your other half may not have your passion or talent for flying. In which case it is essential that she (it is likely to be she) has a suitable instructor in order to keep her enthusiasm alive and minimize time and costs.

Philly Sargent

*Paul Andrews email:
web site:

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