... How I Learned About Flying... 'Steak Tartare... Well Done...'

by Peter Hunter

how I learned about flying

' steak tartare well done'

   'Gatwick Zone - Delta Papa clear south east en route to Seaford. Request to London Information' I was on my way, about to cross the coast on my first overseas flight as pilot. I had so far flown the grand total of thirty hours and had ten more to go before I could apply for my Private Pilots Licence

    but I had done everything required from me, all the solo cross-countries, stalls and spins emergency landing practice - everything

    hour after hour in the circuit - the whole syllabus except the total hours required.

   We had landed at Gatwick, then a quiet airport, unlike it is now - to clear customs outbound and have a coffee before proceeding to Toussus-le-Noble in France

    the general aviation airfield serving the Paris area. In November 1972 - I recall the landing fee at Gatwick was only ten shillings - fifty pence in today's currency. - but even then it seemed a lot.

   Originally my wife Celia had paid in advance for the forty-hour pilot's course and I now planned to spend the remaining hours 'checking out' on different types of aircraft and widening my experience

    things, which many pilots would normally progress to after they had got their licence

   After departing the Kent coast at three thousand feet, the visibility deteriorated under a darker, lowering cloud base. This was not what we had expected - the forecast for the trip had been much better otherwise we would never have set out. Although I had logged only thirty hours experience I loved flying by instruments - and was already good at it and keen for new experience

     hence the early 'foreign check-out' the whole of my training was punctuated by accusations that I was 'trying to run before I could walk'. That is why I was now saddled with Stickpusher, instead of the Chief Flying Instructor with who I had flown my first five hours

      In addition I was adding a Cherokee 180 to the list of types the club would allow me to hire, the more powerful version of the Cherokee 140, which was also on the club fleet - two new types, the overseas check plus a weekend in Paris with my wife

    it all made good sense to me

   All except the weather at this rate it was becoming IMC - Instrument Meteorological condition and although I was far too inexperienced to have been given the rating, the occupant of the right hand seat, my instructor Stickpusher, of course as condition of his job, had one. What I did not realise - the rating was only valid in British airspace - there was no equivalent in France - we were charging at one hundred and forty miles per hour into illegality.

   'We must do a one-eighty and return to Gatwick' pronounced a panicky Stickpusher.

    'No way' answered his more assertive student. In my mind I had paid for the flight, promised Celia a weekend in Paris and was determined to get my own way.

   'It's not that bad - we are tracking radio beacons all the way. Let's see if we can get some radar cover' as I switched to Paris Information.

   If I had known at the time the extent I was intimidating the poor instructor into breaking the rules I would not have done it but my innocence and enthusiasm won. I was already far more experienced on instruments than my thirty hours as a precocious student portrayed. Prior to starting to officially learn I had flown from the right hand seat from Biggin Hill to Aberdeen - an eleven-seat twin-engine machine - all under the supervision of an airline pilot

     and all in thick cloud

   Perhaps not quite legal - but all bloody good experience.

   We broke cloud well short of our destination and call Toussus. Unfortunately the same met forecast that had misled us about the visibility had done the same with the wind strength. As it was Friday evening and I had already done a half-day's work, we had planned to arrive shortly before sunset. Now it was going to be just one minute after and the Toussus-Le-Noble controller was not amused

   Something about the airfield closing at sunset - and I think then - in 1972, a requirement for a full instrument rating to night-fly in France

    we were about as welcome as a pig in a synagogue with a very cold 'bon soir' and a 'bollocking' for Stickpusher from the French air traffic controller and the waiting customs official was getting very agitated at being kept late.

    I of course blamed Stickpusher he was the instructor and supposed to be giving me an overseas check and he should have know their rules and made me adhere to them

    I hired a car and we drove into Paris to find a suitable hotel. I was paying for everything but for some reason he desperately wanted to drive and it suited me to let him

    We later ate dinner in the hotel

   Celia had chicken I ordered steak tartare

   'I'll also have steak tartare ' requested Stickpusher, 'and I'll have it well done please'.

  Peter Hunter 2013

from Peter Hunter's too many miles

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