I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I finally closed the door behind me and sat down at home, on my own sofa, knowing that I’d made it. The season was over, it had been a success and I could finally take stock and rest.
It actually feels quite sad to be thinking and talking about flying in these terms, but I have to admit it’s been a hard season. The events I witnessed at Shoreham last year have changed the game entirely for us as display pilots and show organisers and although I really do hate to admit this, some of the shine has gone. It is definitely coming back but on more than one occasion I have found myself feeling tired, fed up and worried when before I would have just been enjoying myself, such is the burden of paperwork. I’ve wondered whether it’s all worth the effort and the risk and the pain, I’ve thought of stopping altogether as some I know have already done. Things have felt different up there, somehow more serious, more severe. I fear I’ve been smiling less than I really should when doing some of the most incredible things most people can’t even dream of being able to do.
There have been other times though where it’s all snapped back into clarity. I received an email from a young girl and her mother following one of my performances this year that actually reduced me to tears. Somehow, to them what I was doing was important – it was inspirational. My going out and performing against all my own personal odds hadn’t gone unnoticed and I found myself sobbing into my keyboard – it is all worth it. If all I ever do is inspire one person then will all have been worth it – I already know I’ve inspired and influenced many more than that. Flying is a selfish pastime as most of us know it, so to find ways in which to use it to give something back is the ultimate goal for me, and it seems I do sometimes get it right.
I’ve spoken at schools, universities, to groups of young women, to air cadets and to scout groups. I’ve stood up alongside other inspirational women at the tops of their fields to give schoolgirls pause for thought – who knows, maybe one or two who never even thought about science or technology or maths as career paths will be the next world-changers, the researchers and engineers transforming society. I am under no illusion that what I’m doing is extraordinary, but it’s also an incredible privilege to perhaps influence someone else to do truly amazing things.
The flying has been fun, lots of very varied shows flown alongside some of the most amazing people. This year I headed up to Scotland for the first time to display at the Scottish International Airshow, I performed at the RAF Cosford Airshow for the first time and I took a booking for my first international show in Ireland (sadly the weather meant I didn’t make it over there but it was still a milestone booking). I also displayed a different aeroplane for the first time, on behalf of its owner – one of my ultimate bucket list aircraft, the Yak 50. I spent time training with the most incredible guys to qualify for and then carry out my first ever formation display this season. It has been a year of firsts. Big, big things have been happening and I’m working very hard to continue pushing forward, look out for some really exciting things to come for next season…
Between displays, work and finding time to breathe, I’ve also been writing a bit more, albeit not on here. I will have my second ‘air test’ article published in Pilot magazine very soon, this time a full-blown review of the Yak 50 with some stunning air-to-air photographs.
So how has it been really? It has been gruelling, terrifying, painful, rewarding, amazing and the most incredible privilege. I still love display flying and am finding myself in a position where I’m beginning to believe that one day I may actually attain the unattainable. If I had ever said to my parents when I was little, that one day I wanted to fly spitfires they would have taken me to one side and told me not to be silly. People from poor backgrounds don’t get to fly, let alone fly warbirds – right? Who knows, one day I may make that dream come true, I’m certainly going to give it a go, and meanwhile I will just make do with flying badass aerobatic displays – next year’s main goal is to grin more while I’m doing it. Just watch.