Warbird flying – UK
Occasionally in life, an opportunity comes along that fulfils a long held dream. For me, being able to get involved with a genuine World War II warbird is something I’ve wanted to do since I got my pilot’s licence. That opportunity came around much sooner that I expected and so I now find myself a proud new part-owner of G-PBYA, the UK’s only flying PBY-5A Catalina build in 1943 and based in Duxford, UK.
My first up close and personal encounter with a Catalina came a few years ago whilst diving off the coast of Biak, an island out here in Papua, Indonesia heavily contested during WWII. Ok, I had seen them in museums too but this was the first time I’d ever been allowed to get up close and even go inside; although this one was down on the sea floor at 30m or so! It was actually pretty eerie seeing such a large, historic aircraft left to the fishes but it didn’t put me off the idea.
I actually did the deal for my share whilst out in Indonesia and first got to see what I’d invested in on the first day of my type rating training earlier last month at Duxford.
It took just under a week to complete the training which involved a written exam, ground training and then a couple of flights totalling 1.5 hours. The flying mostly involved getting used to handling such a large aircraft with it’s various idiosyncrasies, the biggest of which is the significant adverse yaw during turns requiring plenty of rudder inputs to keep things in balance. The other major thing was looking after those monstrous Pratt and Whitney Twin-Wasp radial engines. There is no noise on this planet quite like the sound of a pair of 14 cylinder radials on full chat, perched a few feet above your head. You’ll be able to read all about my type rating training in next month’s (the Summer edition) Flyer Magazine and I will of course be posting updates every time I’m back in the UK flying her.
Following on from the Catalina flying I was offered the chance to spend a day flying around southern England in a friend’s Piper L-4 “Grasshopper” – basically a military spec J-3 Cub, also used during WWII. Never one to turn down an opportunity, I met Andy at Henstridge airfield ready for a day of playing. We really lucked out on the weather with one of those perfect English summer’s day – bliss!
The first port of call was to Compton Abbas airfield for a spot of lunch and to meet up with some fellow aviators. I love Compton Abbas – it holds a special place for me, being the first airfield I went to solo during my PPL (private pilot licence) training. It’s always a busy spot on a nice day and there were plenty of aircraft coming and going whilst we enjoyed lunch outside on the edge of the airstrip.
Lunch over it was time for some more flying to a couple of private airstrips (or farm strips as they’re often known) along with a couple of other aircraft and their owners; Johnny’s lovely Vagabond and David’s immaculate Jodel. I was sitting in the front of the Cub, with a very trusting Andy behind me who was letting me fly the legs from Compton Abbas to the farm strips. Now, I’ve not done any light aircraft flying for well over three years and small piston aircraft are quite different to the large turbine Porter I usually fly. But the Cub is simply wonderful to punt about the sky – so responsive and light on the controls, an absolute delight!
Landing was mostly a question of having the approach path and speed correct, both of which Andy helpfully talked me through. The trouble with being known as a bush pilot is everyone thinks you’re some kind of expert, which I suppose I am if you’re talking about landing a Porter into a remote Papuan airstrip. However, a Cub into a narrow grass farm strip is quite different. Thankfully I nailed the landing on what was not an especially wide airstrip, even by my standards!
A quick cup of tea and a chat, we were airborne again en-route to Jonny’s farm strip near Hungerford. After a brief circle of the town, Andy and I found it eventually and I setup for the landing. Feeling confident after my first success I embarked on a curved final approach and it all seemed to be going so well, until the touchdown. The less said about that landing the better! Some more chatting on the ground followed which we could have continued all day but sadly we all had places to go, so I took up David’s offer of a lift back to Henstridge in his Jodel in order to get there before their 5pm closing time. Another wonderful aircraft and another reminder of why I need to get into this sort of flying more often. Anyone got a share in a Cub for sale?