Yesterday was an entertaining day – firstly I had the hilarity of commuting into London amid train delays and all manner of tube-related hassle, oh and plenty of rain on the streets (it’s been a while since I’ve been into the big city). I then had the not inconsiderable stress of meeting my hosts at the RAeS for the annual Ballantyne seminar – one of their flagship events aimed at encouraging more young people into aviation and aerospace.
My nerves had been getting the better of me since about mid-afternoon on Monday – I’ve done very little public speaking beyond running the odd technical training course for groups of 6-10 adult engineers. An audience of around 250 14-18 year olds and a smattering of industry captains was for me, ever-so-slightly intimidating.
Writing my presentation was no mean feat in itself – I mean, what on earth was I meant to talk about? I’m just a pilot, right? I settled on using a few of the fantastic photographs that Mike Jorgensen (www.actionairimages.com) and Tom Pitts (www.pittspictures.co.uk) have taken for me in the past, a couple of videos and lots of winging it (pardon the pun). Basically my aims for the day were to meet and potentially impress a few key people, not make a big fool of myself and primarily to introduce the sport of aerobatics to a who new group of potential fans (and hopefully inspire a few along the way).
Hitting the stage after two very capable chaps from QinetIQ, talking about compression garments and G-Forces (fascinating stuff actually), and before James Allison, Technical Director of the Lotus Formula 1 Team (who also happens to have formerly been an Advanced Aerobatic competitor and still flies an Extra 300), I felt a touch over-awed to be honoured to speak in such company. Of course then sitting and listening to a few fantastic people from NASA talking about Astronaut training and human factors really didn’t help my feelings of perhaps being a little out of place. Happily though, everyone was impressed by my presentation and I ended up being repeatedly told I was an ‘inspiration’ (having groups of young teenagers come up to you, ask you some fabulously intelligent questions and then tell you how cool they think you are is a feeling that’s hard to beat!).
All in all the event was a fantastic experience for me, I made some potentially important and fascinating contacts, I inspired a few people and I had a fabulous time. I really need to thank the Royal Aeronautical Society for inviting me to take part.