"The Dream to fly so low, so fast. . .was finally fulfilled - at last!" Gill Howie of Squadron Prints shares a recent experience with us.
For many years I have stood at the end of lots of runways around the world watching professionals fly their aircraft. For many years I have seen photographs and watched videos of aircraft flying low and fast through glens and hills and for many years I have watched display pilots at air shows looping and rolling with sheer perfection. For all these many years I have always wondered what it would be like to fly in a jet with one of these professionals - on Saturday 13 January 2001 I am very proud to say that I have now fulfilled my dream - I have done it! I have flown in a jet!! And this is a girl's perspective!
I have long been an aviation enthusiast since the days of flying solo in a Cessna 152 on my 17th birthday to my very first military squadron visit - the dream to fly in a jet was always there. I have flown in many types but never the elusive jet, and wow, was it worth the wait!
To give you some background information, I attend air shows all over the country and have met many great people. Twelve years ago I met a chap who was attending the RAF Leuchars Airshow with a Jaguar from 41(F) Squadron - we happened to meet in a bar later and we became buddies. After tours in Oman and back at Colt he was posted to the Jag OCU and became display pilot. As I lived in Lossiemouth at that time it was terrific to see behind the scenes from the first drawings of the display on paper to attending the very first public display of his display at North Weald - for three years I watched him practice and display and longed to be able to do that. Then came his posting to the Worlds Greatest Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows - many of you "scoff" at the Reds but they are a great bunch of guys who work very hard and many a time I have seen them look completely shattered from flying four or five times in a day - I now understand why they have to train hard!
So - my buddy decided to get married last November and as it was a non-conventional wedding he asked me to be his "Best Person" - I was thrilled and accepted. At the end of the speeches he stood up and informed everyone there that he had a surprise for me! Now Andy is a bit of a joker - especially towards me, so I was in a bit of a state of panic! He told everyone about my dream to fly and that he was going to take me flying on or around my birthday on 12 January! I was delighted and thought that it was to be in a small aircraft like a Cessna or something - no, he announced, it was to be the Delta Jets Hunter! I couldn't believe it and dissolved in to tears! I was just completely taken aback! I must admit that I really thought it was a bit of a wind up but on Friday 12 January I must have been the most excited person in the world and for the first time I was not concerned that I was another year older - I was on my way for an ejection seat brief. I had the biggest grin on my face and even more so when I found out that the weather forecast was good - sunshine in January?
My stomach was just a buzz with I don't know how many butterflies, but walking through to the ejection seat trainer was so so exciting - who knows what I was going to be like next morning. We went through all the safety things for ejection (if I had to use it at least I was going to die happy!) but to be honest I had no fear! I was flying in a great aircraft with a highly experienced pilot and friend so there were no worries.
We did all that and then went to sit in the aircraft in the hangar. I was surrounded by a wealth of wonderful aircraft all lovingly cared for by the staff of Delta Jets. There were several Hunters, a Gnat and the lovely Raspberry Ripple Bucc - I was in awe of it all! We climbed up the ladder and sat in this beautiful Black Machine - sitting side by side was really cool and Andy went through several safety features with me - I doubt if I took any of it in. I still couldn't believe that I was going to fly in a Hunter next day. I left Kemble even more excited - if that could be possible - and headed for Swindon where I was meeting up with friends for a birthday dinner. Naturally I was bantered and as a gift was given a sick bag. Oh my God - I was in a state of complete panic - never thought about that - how embarrassing if I have to use it! After much laughter and stories I retired to bed - sleep? Not a chance! There was no way but eventually I grabbed a few hours shut eye but saw every hour on the clock!
At 8 o'clock I was up showered and ready - I hadn't to be there until 10:30! Some friends arrived along with my Godson Cameron - all of three years of age but an improving and very enthusiastic spotter - I wonder where he gets it from! I think he was more excited than I was - if that was possible. We drove to Kemble, signed in and here I was walking into a hangar and going to fly in a jet! I cannot describe the feelings that I had - I wanted to burst out and tell the world that I was going to fly in the Hunter! I met Andy just as he was walking out to fly in the Yak and he instructed me to go and get kitted up! I went in to the pilots room and couldn't believe that I was pulling on my flying suit for a legitimate reason! I got such a buzz! Andy came back from his trip and out we walked - but I could hardly walk with the intense feeling of sheer joy and exhilaration and had to hold on to him as we neared the Hunter just looking so sleek and in brilliant sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky! After posing for some photos Andy asked if I was ready and I could only nod! For once in my life - I couldn't speak! I had the biggest cheesy grin that you could imagine.
After all the strapping in and checks and even more checks the engine started and I just cannot express how I felt - I have never had a feeling like that before! Something similar is like standing at the end of the runway when a Tornado is sitting in reheat - you know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach - well, that was how it felt! The smell of aviation fuel hit me as Andy was running through yet more checks - the pins were stowed, the canopy shut and we were ready. After clearance Andy asked again was I ready and I just wanted to cry! Here I was strapped in to a beautiful black Hunter about to fulfil my dream to fly so low, so fast! More importantly with my best friend in the world! I cannot express my emotions - I suppose it was like all the aviators who fly solo for the first time! We taxied out waving to everyone who had come to support me and wish me luck and my buddies Tom and Gav who were dashing about taking the photographs! Lining up on the runway my eyes filled with tears but I had to stop myself - I just thought that if I cried now I wouldn't be able to see anything. Take off clearance came over the radio and Andy moved the throttles forward and we were off. Not being one for paying attention I think we rotated at around 130 knots, but if I am wrong well who could blame me! We stayed low and I looked over at all the spotters in the car park and was about to wave when Andy pulled back the stick - wowee! What a feeling! We levelled off and headed towards Hereford Mast avoiding Aston Down which was active that day and in the distance I could see the Severn. I really thought that is would be noisy and that there would be a huge feeling of speed, but it was quiet, serene and just perfect. The view was outstanding and I had decided to take a small instamatic camera so I was clicking away watching the Severn disappear below me, over Abergevenny and heading towards two large mountains looming towards us. We swooped over the top and around to the left then right and I didn't have a clue where I was - didn't spot any hillwalkers though! It was an unbelievable yet superb feeling! Andy was checking all the time - I just sat back and enjoyed it! We then came out of the valley and headed for Shobdon - I heard Andy call up requesting a fly through - what a buzz that was - in some ways I wish I had been there to see it! Crazy I know, but it was just the emotions. We again pulled up at a fast rate of climb and with the sky being so blue there were loads of trails to watch. Again Andy asked if I was okay - I was fine and I only wish he could have seem the smile hidden by the oxygen mask. The mask was the one thing that I didn't like - it was just such an awful smell of rubber! I looked down at my sick bag and thought - no way am I using that.
We were floating along or so it felt and he asked if I wanted to do a loop - I was mad that he even had to ask! Pulling up we were directly under a 747 but he was much higher than us - the canopy in the Hunter made the view spectacular and I was just screaming - fantastic! I was really on a high now. We headed back towards the Hereford mast and then towards Kemble - we flew through at 1,000 feet and once the circuit was clear we ran in for some aerobatics - hopefully one day I will be able to find out what we did - we ran in on a knife edge looking down at everyone on the ground and then I was completely lost - we were upside down, round and round - here, there and everywhere. I cannot find words to describe it all but my best memory of it all was when inverted the straps of my harness were standing on end and I always remember when watching Andy's Jaguar video and seeing them do that - I always wanted that to happen to me! Here it was - all I could shout was "look at my straps" - crazy I know, but the complete feeling of euphoria, excellence, joy, and every other emotion that you could think of was amazing! When we became straight and level on the down wind leg Andy looked at me and I just couldn't speak - I was completely gobsmacked! We turned back in towards Kemble to land and he warned me that it was quite a bump! Nose up we hit the runway, then slowing down I suddenly realised that it was all over - taxiing back to the Delta Jets Hangar we waved to everyone as we passed and I thought "Look at me - I have just been flying in the Hunter!" I just couldn't say a word and the tears started just as I saw the look on my wee godson's face as we arrived back. I was delighted to be able to show off my unused sick bag. The fresh air flooded in and I was so glad to get that mask off but I was grinning from ear to ear! After being unstrapped I climbed out of my beautiful airplane walking on air. What an experience and what a fantastic forty-five minutes of my life - I don't think I could ever express how I really felt! I will never ever be able to thank Andy Cubin (and his lovely wife Dawn) enough for my trip! My signed Squadron Print is already framed and up on the wall - it says "To Gill - a perfect passenger!"
For anyone who would like to fly in the Hunter contact Delta Jets at Kemble Airfield: Tel: 01285 770917 - I have no idea of the cost. They are also having an anniversary weekend to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Hunter on 21/22 July, 2001.
To buy a print of Delta Jets' Hunter T7 WV318 as shown opposite, visit the Squadron Prints website by clicking on the image.