We arrived at CRM Aviation Europe training centre located at White Waltham airfield on a cold Monday with snow falling on the T67 Slingby Fireflys that were lined up in an orderly fashion on the apron. ‘Seems like a no fly day’, I thought to myself.
There was a cold easterly chill outside but the warm welcome from the staff along with a cup of tea had us all smiling and settled in no time.
Jonny and Suzie were our lead Instructors and since it was clear we weren’t going to fly, we took the chance to become acquainted with one another and listened to an array of their captivating stories, past and present experiences from their thrilling careers in the aviation world. From the stories of the glamorous days of Suzie’s life on Concorde to Jonny’s remarkable experiences, a current Boeing 747 Captain who has also previously flown the Airbus A320, Boeing 737 and the 777! These guys were truly amazing, a few stories from their careers and within half an hour they had us all hooked. "Well, we best start the course then" said Suzie.
Before getting in the aircraft it was essential that we understood the theory of UPRT. If we ever find ourselves in an undesired state, a spin, entering a spiral dive or even inverted in the air, we would know how to execute the correct recovery. The theory was explained in detail and related to the commercial jets we will one day fly. The Instructors were engaging, and the classroom environment was entertaining far from what one would expect when the word “theory” comes to mind. Real-life scenarios were discussed along with listening to ATC recordings and analysing flight data - amplifying just how serious this course was. In a word…Lifesaving.
Having completed the classroom-based activities in the morning, we spent the afternoon becoming familiar with the aircraft. From the exterior through to the cockpit and the layout of all its controls. Sitting in the aircraft was as far as we got for day one. The light snow continued to fall and the forecast was looking marginally better for the next day so we retired to our rooms with hopes of flying the Firefly the following day.
We reported at 0800 and the pre-flight checks on the aircraft were already completed by the staff when we got there. Weather? Checked. Flight plan? Briefed. Sick bag? Check. We were ready to walk out for sortie one! I climbed in to the T67 and Suzie fired up the firefly. After a short taxi, we took off and headed west towards the open blue skies which then soon became our playground. On the radios we could hear “Yellow two” and “Yellow three” taking off in formation not far behind us coming to join in on the fun.
After about 15 minutes of me flying the aircraft and becoming familiar with its controls, Suzie took control and asked ‘are you ready?’ With an almighty boot of the rudder we entered a spin and the air in my lungs was sucked out instantly. Once recovered and back to level flight, I somehow managed to utter the words ‘that was epic!’, whilst discreetly securing my 5-pin harness further. We proceeded to execute the spin a few more times. Then it was my turn, Initiating and recovering from the spin till I perfected the manoeuvre confidently
Next up. Spiral dives. Starting off with what looked like a harmless manoeuvre to, I could then rapidly feel the G-force increasing as the spiral dive become tighter and the aircraft began to plummet. Another testing but thrilling scenario to correct and recover to ensure safe conduct of the flight. That concluded the lesson with perfect timing as the weather turned and the showers came rolling in.
A picture-perfect day for flying as we arrived at CRM with the crisp air in our lungs and CAVOK on the TAF. Quite the opposite of the first two days. A true testament to British weather! The aircrafts were checked, fuelled and ready for us to go upon arrival as usual. Once again, before we knew it, we were lined up and ready to take off on Runway 03. Once airborne, this time we headed out to the North to commence a lesson which consisted of recovering from unusual attitudes and loops. The feeling of being suspended above the ground, inverted at 5000ft is quite an experience. The hour quite literally flew by and it was time to head back into the airfield for lunch. A well-timed break before the afternoon session as my body was starting to feel the effects of the flight.
The afternoon session had us looking at stalls depending on the aircraft’s configuration. A practical form of putting all that theory from the classroom to test and seeing it at work inflight. We ended the final lesson by the Instructor demonstrating the tragedy of Air France and how applying the rules of UPRT could have saved them and the passengers on board.
A successful few days with memorable experiences gained but more importantly, the lifesaving knowledge and skills attained in the prevention and recovery of an aircraft when it enters an undesired state.
I am truly thankful to all those at L3Harris and CRM Aviation for making this possible.