It’s not often in life that you can look back on a ‘season’ and honestly be stunned at what you’ve achieved. More often than not we are all used to the typical new year’s resolution feeling, whereby we managed to start off a phase of life with the best of intentions and some admirable goals – sometimes even achievable ones; and yet there we sit, the year getting along and it is blatantly obvious that yet again time has passed us by, nothing’s changed, nothing’s new and we’re in almost the same place as when we started.
This year for me has not really been one of those. Looking back on the past few months it still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m now a fully fledged display pilot. I have a feeling I may have made it look a whole lot easier than it actually was!
I’m sitting here now, writing this from a seat on a Ryanair flight after which I will disembark and head off for a few days well earned rest, lord knows I deserve it this time round. The past few months have been unbelievably tough – personal problems and a catastrophic relationship breakup, along with the ending of a contract (and thankfully soon to be the starting of a brand new job) have all sat alongside my efforts in making a go of my first ever show season. All told I really don’t think I’ve done badly.
My display career started off with a fabulous wedding display down on the beach at Bournemouth, followed by my first proper airshow over at Welshpool. To say I was nervous about both of these would be an understatement, the pressure is a whole different kind to that experienced at a competition – after all not only are there a whole load more people watching but some of them are actually paying you to put on a good show!
The intimidation factor has gradually reduced as the number of displays racked up over the year, the nerves are still very much there but just for a shorter period beforehand now.
The airshows at Welshpool, Old Buckenham, Cleethorpes, Little Gransden, Shoreham, Santa Pod and Seething were all incredible experiences, with for me the absolute highlight of the year being a somewhat mixed bag down at Shoreham…
For any of you that follow either my Twitter feed or Facebook page, you’ll know that on the weekend of the RAFA Shoreham Airshow I was due to not only display on both days of the two day event, but on both days of the two day Rhyl Airshow in North Wales too. I managed to get the first display out of the way at Shoreham before having some minor issues en route to Rhyl – a cracked fuel tank weld led to a bit of an in-cockpit fuel issue (somewhat of a brown trouser moment for me as I realised I could see precious and flammable avgas dripping over my feet, through the join in the floor panels and then down the outside of KDR’s perspex floor). With my first ’emergency’ landing duly out of the way I was essentially grounded for the weekend, of course meaning three of the four displays I’d been due to fly simply couldn’t happen. I must admit to initially being a little disappointed about this and not a little worried about the effort it was going to take to get the aeroplane back airworthy again (a story for another posting), however the weekend turned out to be one of the very best I have ever had. I made a whole host of new friends, got to experience the very best side of the airshow scene, had some fantastic evenings out and even had the honour of being invited to have a sit in the driving seats some incredibly rare and valuable aircraft. The friendships I gained over that weekend mean far more to me than any number of air display fees ever could and I feel truly privileged to have been welcomed into such an amazing community of incredible people.
So here I am now, off to relax and unwind, able to look back on a season of heartache and effort during which, despite all the pain and hardship I have been recognised as someone who might perhaps be worth something and capable of becoming a proper airshow flyer. I wouldn’t say I’ve made it, not by a long long way, I am just a baby starting out in a very tough world, but I think I have a chance, the efforts haven’t been wasted.
It’ll soon be time to start training again – next season will only be bigger, tougher and hopefully even more fun than this one has been 😉