Last weekend, a friend of mine was killed when his helicopter crashed in Scotland. And then, just hours later, another friend was lucky to walk away when his chopper flipped onto its side while making an emergency landing in Essex.
Strangely, however, it’s not a fear of dying that puts me off the idea of private aviation. It’s the surefire knowledge that nothing in all the world is likely to be quite so boring and pointless.
The idea of piloting your own helicopter or light aircraft, among the clouds and the linnets, far above the jams and the pressure, is an appealing prospect for anyone who doesn’t know what to do with his money.
Better still, you might imagine that you could enliven your journey by swooping underneath low bridges, divebombing fields of cattle, looping the loop over friends’ houses and landing for the hell of it in beauty spots and bird sanctuaries.
Only last month, I flew down the Okavango River in Botswana in a twin-engined light aircraft; following the waterway’s endless twists and turns just 6ft up, at 150mph. It was a joyous and brilliant thing to do. But unfortunately, if you tried that at home, skimming the Don in Sheffield, for instance, a man with adenoids and a clipboard would come round and take your licence away.
In fact, the whole process of learning to fly, it seems to me, is designed specifically to weed out those who might want a plane or a helicopter for fun.
When you want a driving licence, all you have to do is demonstrate to a man in beige trousers that you can reverse round a corner. But when you want a licence to fly, you must demonstrate to the entire Civil Aviation Authority that you are prepared to spend several months with your nose in various text books on meteorology and aerodynamics. Plainly, it only wants pedants up there.
Then you have to spend more months learning how to use a radio. Why? I know already. You just stab away at various buttons until someone comes over the speaker. Then you tell him what you want.
Oh no you don’t. You have to talk in a stupid code, saying “over” when you’ve finished speaking for the moment and “out” when you’ve finished altogether. Why? When I ring the plumber or the local Indian restaurant, I am able to convey the nature of my request perfectly well using English. So why when I’m in a plane do I have to talk in gibberish?
“Hello, it’s Jeremy. Is it all right to land?” is a much easier way of saying, “Weston Tower, this is Charlie Victor Tango on 8453.113 requesting a westerly approach to runway 27.”
But private pilots love all this sort of stuff. They love doing utterly pointless preflight checks, tapping dials and making sure that a bunch of goblins didn’t come in the night and chew through all the wires.
They never think: “I bought this plane to make my life more convenient but in the time I’ve spent checking it, I could have driven to Leeds.” And nor do they ever think: “If these checks are so foolproof, how come that in the western United States, more small planes fall out of the sky than rain drops.”
No really. In America, more than one person a day is killed in private plane crashes. Light aircraft, over there, are known as “dentist killers”.
And try this for size. You don’t have to check your plane if you leave it alone for a few hours in the day. But you do if it’s been left alone at night. Why? Do the plane goblins only come out when it’s dark? No. Will a comprehensive preflight check keep your plane in the air? No. The fact is that pilots love checking things. They love details.
I know this from glancing at the magazines they read. Boat magazines are full of boats skimming the waves with naked girls on the foredeck. But plane magazines are filled with lists of serial numbers and adverts for stuff that no one could conceivably ever want to buy. Quarter-scale cockpit models, for instance. And hideous pictures of Lancasters, at sunset, over Dresden.
Just last night, I spent some time in the company of two private plane enthusiasts who never once talked about the speed of their machines or the convenience, or the sheer, unbridled fun of skimming the treetops at 150mph. Instead, they talked for hours about parking and refuelling. I bet they think the best bit of sex is unwrapping the condom.
Certainly, they seem to have a weird love for the medical, which they must take every 15 minutes. I can’t see why this is necessary because medicals cannot predict a heart attack, which is about the only thing that will affect someone’s ability to fly a plane.
And you know what. Hardly anyone with a plane ever uses it to go somewhere useful. Instead, they take “the old kite” from their flying club headquarters to another flying club headquarters where they have some cheese and Branston pickle. And then they fly home again. What’s that all about?
And while they’re flying around, spoiling the peace and quiet for everyone on the ground, they are having absolutely no fun whatsoever. This is because they are at 3,000ft, where 100mph feels like you’re standing still. And they can’t come down low for fear of the man with adenoids.
So, the recipe for flying then. You drive to an airfield, check your plane for two hours, take off, sit still, speak gibberish into a radio, land, eat cheese and then sit still again till you’re home again. Repeat until one day you hear a loud bang . . .
He is of course, dead right. Except that he hasn't really got a clue what he's talking about. His great skill is in making everything sound dull and trite, even when the listener knows it isn't. He's not so much a journalist as a comedian; one that I find very entertaining. Well, that is when I'm not having my teeth extracted by an overweight sweaty Bulgarian wrestler who's wife hasn't allowed him near her for twenty years. Anyway.....
Sounds as if he had a trial lesson and realised he wouldn't be able to hack it for real.
"Those who can, fly; those who can't, drive" Shouldn't take J too seriously. Articles of that nature are meant to entertain, not inform.
I recall seeing Jezza flying in an F-15 and a P-51 during his 'Extreme Machines' series. I suspect he didn't laugh at the pilots for doing a full walk-round then? Oh - and wasn't he violently ill during both flights??
He's a funny man, loved the article, I like Jeremy, he's very opinionated and good on him for it!
and wasn't he violently ill during both flights
I almost cried with laughter watching that, Jezza in the back of an F15 ejecting his brekkie into a barf bag! This from "your quintecential mans man, tyre squealing and taking the p*** out of his camera men when he makes them i'll during his "driving"" Priceless!
I'm right with Jezzer. I read it and thought he had nailed the vast majority of things that are wrong with flying here. OK there's is a little comical effect but show me anything that is factually incorrect - then browse the threads here and elsewhere and spot the pedants.
Remember the 'why do people give up flying' thread - I think Jezzer got most of it in that article.
Of course I shall not give up because I enjoy doodling about and operating mainly clear of flying clubs and the like I'm largely clear of the people who would make me want to give up (or throttle them). And I ration the time I spend here!