Friday 30 December 2011

stuff and nonsense

It has come to mind of late, that I may well have been losing touch of some of the things that are most important in my life. This flying business has been taking over so much of my time that most everything else has been put on hold or neglected in some way, this blog being no exception.

I’ve had very little time in the hills, virtually no time climbing and minimal time on the mountain bike over the past couple of months, and it became very apparent to me on Tuesday, just how much I’ve been missing it all, even if I’ve failed to realise it at the time. On Tuesday I met up with my old friend Adam for a blast out on the mountain bikes over on the Long Mynd.

I love the Mynd, it’s just a beautiful part of the world, the views of Shropshire and across the borders into my home county of Powys are truly gorgeous, and the geography of the whole thing is wonderful and makes for some cracking walking and/or biking.

It had been a good month since I’d last had the bike out, a fact of which I was all to well aware on the first bit of ascent. The pain in my legs and lungs was almost entirely quashed by the simple joy in my heart at being out, up there, breathing the fresh air with the wind in my face and a good friend by my side.

The joy did rather change to fear and cramp in my hands and feet as our descent of Minton Batch under what can only be described as ‘rather muddy’ conditions very quickly revealed just how poorly my tyres grip in slippy, gloopy Shropshire muck (my tight-fisted desire to not spend any more money on bike parts may have now developed a tyre buying exception clause). A major sidewinder moment left me wondering exactly how I’d managed to not end up on my face in a pile of sheep droppings as I heard the never to be forgotten cry of “there’s a puddle in my gusset!” from a rather amused, if damp Adam riding behind me.

Wet it was. Muddy it will probably remain for the rest of the winter, and a joy it will always be. I love Minton Batch, I love the Long Mynd and I love being out in the hills.


Roll on the winter and some more soul clarifying days and nights into 2012. I’ll be back to re-sample my sanity out there as soon as I can.

Saturday 3 December 2011


I apologise, I’ve been shockingly neglectful over here of late, but for good reason, I promise!

Bumblie is now returning to it’s routes as an outdoor/gear/adventure blog, with the occasional bit of aviation and aerobatic related nattering, but the vast majority of the flying writing will now be happening over on The Aerobatic Project site. I have a gear review coming up on here, and a few mountain biking and winter posts in the pipeline, so don’t you worry, things will soon start getting interesting again, I promise.

Meanwhile, please do head on over and have a look at the new site, a whole lot of work has gone into it and will continue going into it from now on.

In fact, I’ll post the latest piece of video goodness up here too – this is the kind of thing the Project is going to be featuring much more of in the future, not that I’m at all excited!

Saturday 26 November 2011

the aerobatic project

Well this is it, it’s up, the site is live!

New blog, news page, photographs and videos. Wander over and have a look, please!

Let me know what you all think. Thank you.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

biking on empty

Just lately I’ve been suffering. Illness is the curse of the common masses, especially at this time of year and doubly so when you’re running yourself down by working all hours of the day and not getting to bed until gone 1am each night. So yes, I caught the annual cold. It’ll be nice if I don’t catch another for a while, because to be honest, spending two weeks barely able to focus let alone do anything, really isn’t helpful or motivating in any way. Sorry to moan.

This weekend just gone I was still coughing and croaking, but having begun to feel as though I had at least started to partially resemble a human being again (so long as you didn’t look too closely), it was time to get out and do something. The plan had been for Matt and myself to head down to South Wales to spend the weekend mountain biking at Afan. I’ve been wanting to head down and check out the trails there for goodness knows how long, and this weekend was meant to be it – we were going. Anyway, predictably we didn’t go – me having barely (i.e. not) recovered from my cold and Matt becoming seemingly more and more convinced that his last ‘off’ at Penmachno may actually have done some real damage to his wrist (bud, if you read this, go get an x-ray ok?). With the two day epic postponed, we did decide we’d at least get the bikes out for a run on the Saturday, and having heard that a new section of black graded trail had recently been opened up at Llandegla, and neither of us having ridden said new section of trails, off we went.

Of course no trip to Llandegla would be complete without an hour or two’s procrastination in the cafe over a cuppa and a bacon sandwich/slice of cake (depending on what type of mood you’re in – both are really good). Eventually we were also joined by Adam of fame, who had decided to come up and join us to test out his new BB and cranks, and then we were off. Out into the mizzle and mist we charged, wheezing and whinging our way up the fireroad to the top of the hill (yes, ok, it was just me wheezing, but I’m proud to say it wasn’t actually me that did all of the whinging), whizzing our way down the initial few km of red graded trail until we were off onto the black.

For anyone that hasn’t ridden at Llandegla before, the black trails aren’t really black. They’re red. There’s very little full on technicality and the severity only really becomes apparent when you ride at some considerable speed. The singletrack is smooth, flowing and littered with jumps, berms and the occasional small drop. The steep climbing switchbacks and the intimidating looking boardwalk are also for me minor highlights (am I odd for enjoying the climbs?) and the whole thing has always been just really rather enjoyable fun, until you get to the end of the fun stuff and are faced with a few km of dull, tedious, flat track back to the car park…or at least that’s how it used to be.

The new section of trail, for those that know the forest and the old trails, has been built starting just before ‘The Twins’ on the red trail (so you’ve already ridden the old black trail and have re-joined the red again). It’s after the run off into ‘JJ’s jumps’ and is blindingly obvious as it starts with an epic long section of fast, undulating built up boardwalk.

I should admit here and now that the one and only part of the trail I did not ride was the initial rock drop onto the new boardwalk – I was being a coward, I hold my hands up to it. The rest of the trail was just fantastic fun, with long fast descents strewn with jumps that just beg you to carry enough speed through them to let them just fling you skyward with virtually no effort whatsoever, interspersed with some brutal, hell climbs (ok so these were by this stage in the day for me quite unpleasant as my sub-optimal health levels were catching up with me). I won’t say any more actually, just that the new section of trail really makes the venue fully worthwhile now – I always enjoyed riding there before, but now it really is something quite fabulous. There’s still no real technicality, but the grin factor when you just let go and let the trail carry you is immense.

The sunday did in the end also yield some mountain bike action, with all three of us returning (after a bit of an issue with a certain party member’s van that had to be left in the car park overnight), just having a play on the jumps in the skills area in between eating cake and drinking hot chocolate. Adam and I also decided to have a crack at the blue trail once it had gotten dark – I have some new lighting combinations I was wanting to try out. Unfortunately by the time we’d wombled our way back to the top of the forest we were in such thick fog that neither of us could even see the obstacles we were riding over. Sheer sensibility dictated that we simply rode back down the forest tracks to the car park rather than stumbling on with our eyes unfocussed in the thick foggy gloop. A good call me thinks.

The lights did work incredibly well in the clear, and at some point in the not too distant future I have every intention of writing a post detailing my setup and talking about how and why I think things do and don’t work for night riding, not just from a rider’s point of view, but from an electronic engineer’s too (for that is actually what I am in case you were unaware of my professional background).

Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story short, the new sections of trail at Coed Llandegla are well worth a ride if you enjoy fast, flowing, jumpy trails (and the cafe is still fantastic), and my fitness levels are still remarkably good considering how ill and lazy I’ve been lately, which is nice.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

long time coming

The last thing I posted up here was a bit of a look at who I am – the person with whom you are sharing this relationship. I believe there is definitely a relationship between writer and reader, even if the two have never met and are never likely to, the relationship still exists. On here I share a great deal of myself at times – the real ‘who I am’ if you like. My last post described parts of my actual life that many of you may not have known about, but really, it’s in these late night outpourings that you get a closer glimpse of the type of person I really am.

I don’t mind sharing, I’ve always been keen to give of myself, whether it be as a shoulder to a friend in need, a listening ear to someone just needing to vent, or as a willing volunteer in a team out on a hillside somewhere in the middle of a dark, rainy night answering a call for help.

On these pages sometimes I give a little bit more of myself than I’m necessarily comfortable with, not that you, as the readers, would ever realise (unless I actually told you at the time). My writings aren’t always aimed to please or inform, sometimes they are simply a form of release for my over-active mind, my emotions or just a way of attempting to win the battle with insomnia. A few of these blog entries are entirely selfish in their writing, and yet I’m aware that sometimes it is these entries that many of you find the most moving or inspirational.

This blog has been running as a project of mine for a few years now. It started life as a means of staving off the boredom of days spent in an office with no work to do (at the time I was a field engineer and as such my actual ‘work’ was usually out on site somewhere). I never actually intended for any of my writings to necessarily become part of a public forum – they were just for me, as a means of maintaining the creativity that I’d had cultivated as a child. After a while it became apparent though, that people were actually reading what I was writing, and my approach changed. I suppose the ‘diary’ eventually became a real blog, with postings that were meant to be read and enjoyed.

I enjoy the blogging process immensely and find watching the ‘stats’ is a simple yet effective pleasure – I love seeing the numbers gradually change because each incremental increase means that something else that I’ve written or photographed or shared has been looked at by another human being. We all like to communicate and most of us like to share – it’s a big part of what makes us who we are. Every person that reads my blog or my Facebook or Twitter feed gains another fragmentary insight into me as a person, and as I’ve already stated, I do like to share.

So where is it that I’m going with all of this? Lately much of my time has been taken up with working on the biggest project of my life – one that I’ve alluded to in previous postings. My fight to become a top class aerobatic pilot has begun, and whilst I’m very much at the ‘beginner’ stage right now, I’m working hard to make sure that I will actually have the opportunity to push myself onward to bigger and bigger things. It isn’t easy.

The project at the moment is focused around the new website that I’m working on – the site that will be showcasing not just who I am and what I am trying to achieve for myself, but will also be aimed at sharing my inspiration, motivation and enthusiasm with as many other people as possible.

What I’m trying to achieve is nothing short of extraordinary, and I know that. In order to achieve something extraordinary you have to become extraordinary yourself, and in my mind anyone who has the desire to do so also has the capability – often all people need is a little bit of encouragement in order to start to achieve their potential. I’ve had a great deal of encouragement from a great number of people, many of whom I’ve not yet met. My humble beginnings (for I am not rich, in fact far from it – affording to fly is something I simply am not able to do, and yet somehow I make it happen…) are not something that I have ever allowed to hold me back – if I’ve wanted to do something I’ve found a way to work and make it happen. Anyone can do this, anyone can find ways to reach their potential and achieve their goals if they are willing to commit to what it takes – and this is what “The Aerobatic Project” is about. It’s not just about me, it’s not just about flying, it’s about a person becoming something, it’s about believing in yourself and making what some may say is ‘impossible’ actually something to fight for.

So yes, it has been a long time coming – the realisation that I’m capable of becoming somebody, that I have no reason not to believe in myself. The knowledge that one day I’ll be able to look back and know, that no matter what the outcome, the effort I put in was total, the way I fought was with passion and genuine commitment. Even if for some reason I don’t manage to reach the places I’m aiming for, I know I’ll be able to look back and feel truly proud because everything I did was everything I was capable of. There will be no regrets.


The website isn’t live yet – I’ll let you know when it is and you can all head over and lend your support through those lovely little statistical numbers. I’ll appreciate it more than you realise.

If any of you feel you’d like to offer any direct support, be it through sponsorship of the project (which is going to be a big battle), through taking photographs or assisting with the videos, introducing me to like-minded individuals and pilots, by offering articles (oh yes, I’ll be keen to feature more than just my own writings with this one), by sharing my links on your own sites or featuring the project in other media, or even just by saying hello and offering a kind word, then please drop me a line! I’m always super keen to receive feedback of any sort so please do let me know what you’re thinking, either in the comments box here, on the site when it goes live, or by contacting me through Twitter/Facebook/Youtube or via email: all my links are now here:

Oh, and thank you for reading :)


Friday 4 November 2011

who am I?

It’s about time I posted up a bit more of a profile, so for those of you curious to know a bit more about the girl behind the blog, here you go!

  • Name: Lauren Richardson
  • Age: 24
  • Location: Mid-Wales (almost North Wales)
  • Main occupation: Radio Transmission Engineer. I also dabble in Technical Training.
  • Other occupations: Blogging, Gear Reviewing, Writing
  • Hobbies: Climbing (trad, sport, bouldering, Scottish winter, ice, Alpine – pretty much the full spectrum), Mountaineering (all mountain craft – walking, navigating, wild camping, scrambling etc), Mountain Biking, Mountain Rescue (yes, it’s a hobby!), Flying and Aerobatics.

So those are the basics, but I want to talk about two particular aspects of my life that are probably the most important and basically sum up who I really am:

  • Mountain Rescue: I’m a full member of the NEWSAR, the Mountain Rescue and SaR team that covers the ‘North East Wales’ area (which is huge – we cover all the way from the north coast down to Welshpool/Newtown and right across to the M6). I’m also the ‘Comms Officer’ for the team, which basically means I spend vast amounts of time behind the scenes dealing with team radios, laptops, mapping software and all other things tech – people don’t realise just how much technology is used by teams nowadays, it’s rather impressive let me tell you. The crux of the Mountain Rescue thing though, is giving back something to the outdoor community – I’ve always wanted to help people and joining a team seemed like a great way to give of myself, my knowledge and my experience. The bonus is we save lives – it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
  • Aerobatics: I’m a private pilot. I adore flying, and this year I finally fulfilled my wish to have a go flying a Pitts Special – the trouble was it didn’t stop there. After my first ever go at aerobatics I was completely hooked, and a few months of training later I went to my first competition…and won. Ok, so it was only the Beginners class, but I still won and for me this has probably been one of my proudest achievements to date. Since then I’ve qualified to fly in the next category up (Standard class) for the next year’s season, and over the winter my aims are to train myself to a high enough standard to be able to have a good crack at winning something next year. I’m also in the process of building a new website with lots of cool pictures and video to publicise my flying and hopefully inspire others to look into the world of aerobatics and realise that you don’t have to be rich in order to experience what has been for me, something truly incredible and life-changing.

So who am I? Just a girl who likes to enjoy life and is willing to work hard at anything and everything that’s important.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

aerobatics–my first video

Here we go, my first experimental in-flight video, hope you enjoy it!

Monday 24 October 2011

‘not for girls’ the deuter race x air 14l pack

Wow I’m such a slacker! I’ve had this bag for ages now and am only just getting round to writing the review. Slap my wrists Webtogs!

Anyway, what do we have this time? Basically having run out of things I really wanted to try out camping/walking/climbing wise, my mind was instinctively drawn to kit that could be used for my other main outdoor hobby (no, not aerobatics) – mountain biking.

The Deuter Race X Air is a lovely looking piece of kit – a very simple, 14l hydration system compatible rucksack, designed primarily with cyclists in mind. Idea for longer days out on the mountain bike where you want to carry a waterproof and some sandwiches in addition to all the regular kit you carry on a short trail centre blast. In fact Deuter say this:

The Deuter Race X Air 14 L Backpack is a compact and sleek bike pack for fast and light tours.

The proven Aircomfort-System with mesh shoulder keeps your back cooler and drier.


  • Front pocket with stowaway helmet holder
  • Interior valuables pocket
  • 3M reflector and attachment loop for the optional Safety Blink
  • Hydration system compatible
  • Mesh pockets
  • Weight 940 g
  • Capacity 14 L
  • Dimensions (H x W X D) 47 x 22 x 15 cm”

Deuter Race X Air 14 L Backpack

Looks nice no? I was really pleased with this pack when I first received it, although a couple of things niggled right from the off – firstly, it’s not actually that light despite being marketed as a ‘fast and light’ style bag. Over 900g for a 14l sack isn’t what I’d consider all that lightweight really, especially when you open the bag up to find that it has nothing in the way of organisational pockets or the like, despite its weight. Now, I also do like my biking packs to have stash holes for things like pumps and multi-tools, so I wasn’t overly pleased to find this minimalist open void that just swallows everything you throw at it – however I was impressed at just how large this thing does seem to be inside and how much kit I managed to fill it with – it’s certainly big enough for a summer day-ride, although you might want something bigger in winter if you’re carrying insulation layers and the like.

Secondly, despite often being marketed as a hydration pack, this bag does not come with a hydro pouch. This wasn’t a big problem for me as I already have several, but if you’re looking for a full hydration pack system bear in mind this one doesn’t come supplied with a pouch. (I tested both a 2l Source roll-top pouch in this and a Nalgene 2l screw-cap pouch, both of which fitted fine – I also don’t see that there would be any issue using a larger 3l pouch if you wanted to).

Thirdly, it seemed to ride up my back somewhat when I rode with it – walking or even running with it were mostly ok, with the large gap in the vented back system meaning this was the only bag I’d ever used that hadn’t made my back sweat. Sadly none of the niceness of having a sweat free back actually matters when you find yourself hurtling downhill and unable to move your head back properly to see because your bag has ridden up and the stiff back system is now digging into the back of your neck…

It was after that little ‘incident’ that I swapped bags with my riding partner Matt and swore (quite profusely) that I never wanted to see the Deuter again. A shame really, but for me a biking pack that interferes with your head movement is an absolute no no. Don’t necessarily let this put you off though – please read on.

Matt (aka @carriedcarpet for all you Twitter types), being a different shape to me (I am an ‘average’ slim woman, he is a slightly taller, trim but athletic male) seemed to have none of the back issues I did, and hence the next glowing part of the review is from him:

“Not for Girls.

Some people spend their weekends with their girlfriends or their wives, visiting national trust properties, cafes and random events or beer festivals. I spend my weekends with Ingrid, a feisty German girl who is super quick, but also rather unforgiving. Ingrid is my cross country hardtail and before you all feel sorry for me I have to say that I see myself as one of the lucky ones, my bike doesn’t bestow me with in laws and though she throws me off at the slightest sign of cockiness, lack of commitment or skill, she rewards my passion and effort with the pure thrill of speed . The sheer concentration of a long technical downhill gives an almost meditative effect, removing the strain and tension of a hard week at work (that is, when I don’t fall off her in which case I often end up face down in a stream...)

So to the matter at hand, Laurens Deuter Race X Air running and biking pack. I usually use another brand of biking/hydration pack (think humps and deserts) so I was keen to do a swap on a ride around the black run at Llandegla Forest (which it should also be noted is the home of one of the best bacon sandwiches in Wales.) From the off the mesh back system fitted well - this isn’t a new thing and has been around for at least ten years, however Deuter have made something lightweight [ed. – see my earlier comments about weight] which also seems to fit my rather scrawny/athletic physique really well. As a bike pack it’s fairly minimal, with external mesh side pockets for jelly babies (or if you’re posh energy gel), a zipped front pocket and an internal divider in the main compartment to separate out your hydration pouch from the rest of your stuff. If bells and whistles are what you are after this probably isn’t the pack for you, however to my mind less is definitely more, and what this pack does is provide something simple but in a really well tailored and designed package. I took the pack running round the Ironbridge Gorge and this seemed to be where the pack really came into its own - the back system was really secure, even with 5kg of weight in it, none of the normal annoying bouncing up and down and the waist belt didn’t cause my top to ride up, luckily preventing too many tourists on Ironbridge being shocked by my bare mid riff. Some people baulk at the idea of a built in rain cover, thinking it’s best to keep essentials in dry bags, but for this type of bag it is a great feature. Having still not quite got used to people trying to run me over when running at night, pulling out the hi-vis raincover means I have an extra chance of survival when out in the dark. The other bonus is that on the rare occasions I bike to work I can transform my muddy pack into something a bit more smart and socially acceptable.

My only real niggles with the pack was that there weren’t enough clips to stop spare straps flapping around, something common to most packs and easily sorted with some elastic or duct tape. I also had a bit of a hang up about the mesh shoulder straps, they worked brilliantly and were really comfortable, but somehow they made me think about tights. However Ingrid didn’t share my hang ups, she really liked the bag and I wouldn’t dare argue with her!”


Matt and Ingrid pack testing at Llandegla, after my tantrum


So there we have it – two rather different opinions on the same pack. I didn’t find it fitted me terribly well, which wasn’t a problem whilst walking (my first excursion out with it had been a day’s bog slog in the Berwyns and I found no fault with it whatsoever, in fact I rather enjoyed using this pack as a walking day bag – however my primary use for it was meant to be as a mountain biking pack and for this it simply didn’t suit me). Matt found the bag actually fitted him really well and enjoys using it for biking, running and walking on regular occasions.


The link bit:

Thursday 20 October 2011


Every so often in life, you come across something or someone who changes everything. Sometimes it’s just a simple thought process or a question that inspires you or plants a seed. Sometimes it’s an act or an experience that immerses you so completely that you know in an instant that the course of your life has been irreversibly altered.

I love life. I love living, I love feeling. Simple things like sitting down and enjoying a meal with a friend – simple pleasures and moments savouring tastes, smells and company. Talking, laughing, joking, sharing opinions and ideas. These simple moments are sometimes all we need to grow, to start to realise that aspects of our lives work while others need to be worked on.

Very rarely some people find focus in a singular activity. I suspect many people may never experience the pleasure of this kind of clarity in focus. I must be lucky – I know what I want, I know who I am and who I want to be.

Finding ways to make things happen may be hard and sometimes I sit here and worry. I find myself seriously wondering if I’m making a big mistake in trying – is it all pointless? Am I wasting my time? Can I do this? Can I make this happen? Do I have the fight in me? Do I have the focus and the ability?

None of these doubts actually matter – I know what I want and what needs to be done, I can see the barriers and the obstacles and deep down I know I’m capable of entering the fight. Whether I will win is never going to be certain, but isn’t life all about the journey rather than the outcome?

I’ve spent much of my life feeling like an underachiever, when the reality is I have been achieving things many people consider to be amazing. I guess I’m growing mentally, I can now meet people, make friends, talk and realise that even though they may not really know me, they believe in me. Suddenly I’m finding that I actually believe in myself too.

Sometimes it takes big things to make us realise the small ones, and sometimes it’s the small things that have the biggest effect.


To all of those people in my life who have ever believed in me, said a nice word, done a nice thing or simply wished me well – thank you. You are all catalysts.

Monday 10 October 2011


Up there we had been dodging rainbows, skimming and skipping over the clouds. I giggled as I realised I didn’t know how to do what was being asked of me, but there was no frustration, no embarrassment, just pure exhilaration. I felt like a small child who’d been handed a gift – grinning with sheer, unbridled joy as I ripped open the wrapping paper.

Playing with the clouds, chasing railway lines through my up-turned canopy. I must be the luckiest person in the world to be able to see and feel life this way.

Sunday 2 October 2011


For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been doing very little in the way of exercise just lately, due to the fact that my ankle injury has led to a recurrence of an old chronic knee injury. I’ve been desperately trying to rest it all to allow time to re-hab and heal, but for an active person like me, this has been agony, which is why, today I risked it and went over to Machynlleth with Matt and our mountain bikes.

I’m not going to say too much, nor am I going to post up any nice pictures (I did take the camera with the intention of getting a couple of snaps, but somehow the urge to keep riding and riding just meant I never stopped long enough to take any). Basically, getting out on the bike was the tonic I’ve been sorely craving. My injuries held up fine, my fitness levels were no-where near as bad as I’d feared they would be (they were bad, just not as bad as I’d resigned myself to!), and the trail was one of the best man-made trails I think I’ve ever ridden.

My short conclusion is, to anyone riding mountain bikes in Wales, who hasn’t yet ridden the Cli-MachX trail just outside Corris, near Machynlleth – get over there. It is awesome, especially the black graded final descent (apparently the longest in Wales). Go go go!

Saturday 24 September 2011

back to school…

…or at least that was what it felt like in one critical respect: that old familiar dread. Getting up in the morning, having breakfast and putting the uniform on knowing that in half an hour I’d be back in class sitting there feeling a deep seated, dark, black dread…

It’s not that I’m a stupid person. I always did quite well at school as it happens. My dread always came as a result of my slightly psychotic nature and a constant (if misplaced) fear of failure and humiliation. Basically I hated school, I hated being there, being asked questions, having to speak, having to be someone. All I ever really wanted to do was fade into the background and be forgotten, left to my own devices, in my own little world. To an extent my personality hasn’t changed all that much since my school days: I’m still shy, I’m still terrified of failing and am constantly worried that people will think badly of me or that I’m about to make myself look like an idiot. Of course I am a fair bit older now, more mature and have spent several years learning how to cope and survive in the real world – nowadays my shyness is hidden under a veneer of enthusiasm and implied self-confidence. Sometimes the confidence is even real and I can live life genuinely believing that I am someone and can be someone…

When it comes to flying I have a love/hate relationship with the learning process. On the one hand I love to learn, I always have. On the other hand I hate to feel like an idiot, and despise making myself feel like I’ve made someone think I’m stupid. Aerobatics is great – I came into it completely green, with no knowledge, no skill and no pre-conceptions. I knew I knew nothing and was utterly content to be guided and taught with no fear of sounding stupid, because after all you can’t be ignorant about something you’re truly ignorant of.

I have a pilot’s license. I went through the pain of learning to fly, of being taught, of sitting the exams and having someone watch me and question me and work out whether or not I knew what I was doing or if I’m actually an idiot. I’ve been through all that and have no desire to go through it all again just now thank you, just like I have no desire to go back to school to sit at the back of the class praying that the teacher won’t ask me any questions. Having to ‘re-learn’ everything in the Pitts was not something I wanted at all, to such an extent that I’d been putting off doing any real circuit work and actually learning to fly and land the aeroplane as much as I possibly could. It was daft really, my own bizarre mis-conception that because I could fly a ‘conventional’ aeroplane, I should be able to fly a Pitts Special without too much effort…

A Pitts Special is an incredible aeroplane, and at no point is she to be underestimated. Treat her right and she’ll let you play with her, treat her badly or arrogantly and you’ll soon learn your place. SKNT and I have been flying together for a while now, and I’ve been quite happy to just play with her in the upper air, letting my mentor and teacher take control to get us back down, but of course it was essential that sooner or later I’d be able to take her out by myself, and as such I’d have to learn to actually fly and land her…

Landing is an interesting matter. It’s quite well known that Pitts Specials can be a bit of a handful and a challenge to learn to land, and it’s certainly been my experience that good landings are more of an art-form rather than a science. Learning to land was the part I’d really not been looking forward to – it should be easy, it shouldn’t be hard to learn, I should be able to pick it up really quickly…every bounce, every go-around, every fluffed approach were all things I knew I’d hate myself for because of course I would be making myself look like a useless idiot, and of course Paul was going to judge me for that wasn’t he…

Paul is a great instructor, ok yes, he has his faults as we all do, and at times I find myself feeing frustrated and even aggravated with him (bear in mind we’ve spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company now, and I’m not the most patient of people), but at the end of the day if anyone asked me what I thought of him as an instructor, I’d tell them I think he has a way with being everything he needs to be exactly when he needs to be in order to help someone progress. That, to me, is the essence of a good instructor and teacher…And so it was, after I’d finally swallowed my pride and accepted that my only option was to accept that I was going to be useless, and that it didn’t matter, I started flying circuits with Paul.

It has come to mind recently that an aeroplane isn’t simply a tool or a machine, but that it has a soul. SKNT certainly does, and a character to match. Simply controlling an aeroplane isn’t really flying. Confidence is needed alongside huge amounts of respect and humility, but once you get the balance right (or more to the point, once I had started getting the balance right), and you accept and listen to the guidance you are given, everything will start to settle into the right places. And so it is, that after a few hours of flying round and round and round and round in circles, occasionally landing but more often bouncing, whacking the power on and going around (or just going around after a truly terrible attempt at a side-slipped approach), of swearing to myself, hearing Paul saying the same things over and over again until they finally went in, of forgetting where to turn, of fidgeting in my harness, of wishing my seat was more comfortable or that I was on the beach in the Bahamas instead, of wondering when it would all end, of wishing I was a better pilot, of more swearing at myself, and of finally realising that I am a better pilot, of flying perfect and near-perfect approaches, of landing and stopping and backtracking and flying again, of smiling and realising that every bit of hardship and pain is worth it, of sitting and thinking that I’m madly in love with this type of flying and this type of aeroplane, of realising and knowing that I can do this, of still stuffing it up and swearing at myself occasionally, of going out and flying and relaxing and breathing and focussing: I have finally learned to land.

And so it went, that last Thursday Paul got out of SKNT and sent me off for the first time without him. After a shaky start and one of the most incredible pieces of decision making I’ve ever witnessed from anyone (I made a fairly major mistake and landed horribly shaken and prepared to walk away), I flew a few circuits and landed a few times, and left the airfield as a Pitts pilot, no longer just a student any more.

If it isn’t hard, it’s probably not worth doing!

Monday 19 September 2011


Terrified. Unsure. Alone and trembling, breathing deeply trying to gain composure…

That’s how I sat, in the back seat of a two seater Pitts Special, alone with nothing but the wind and my own thoughts for company.

Sherbern-in-Elmet, Yorkshire. The Tiger Trophy competition. Paul and I had headed up, he flying the Pitts and me driving my new second home (the van). This was quite a big one – all classes competing, from the Beginners (just me as it happened), all the way up to Unlimited. Lots of pilots, lots of banter, lots of flying. The whole thing was a fantastic experience for me, being only the second aerobatic competition I’d ever attended. I managed to fly my Beginners sequence on Friday, admittedly not as well as I was really capable of, but in all honesty I hadn’t prepared all that well and hadn’t really been overly concerned with the sequence – immediately before flying it and being judged I’d been practicing a sequence for the next class up (Standard). Being the only entrant I’m loathe to consider that I won (can you win a competition if there are no other competitors? I don’t really think so…), but despite my woeful lack of preparation and my somewhat distracted state, flying in some thick miserable haze of poor visibility, I still managed to be awarded a respectable 70.7% on my scoresheet.

Saturday’s competition was great. I’d hoped to be able to compete in the Standard class, but paperwork and my lack of endorsement precluded that happening. That’s not to say I didn’t fly, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The competition in itself was for me a wonderful and eye-opening experience – I got to watch some fantastic flying and meet a wide range of amazing and friendly people, pilots, judges, partners – all people enthused about aerobatics and the life that surrounds it (to any of you that were there and kind enough to talk to and make a young, shy pilot feel welcome, thank you!).

Two days previously, I’d spent the day at Shobdon flying circuits with Paul, gradually feeling more and more confident that I actually was starting to get the hang of landing at last. The good landings had continued all day until a moment of insanity clearly struck my normally sane instructor – he got out of the aeroplane and sent me off alone for the first time. (Quite how wise a decision this had been on his part came rapidly into question as I had a rather shocking near crash experience on my first landing, but that’s another story – ever cool, calm and collected, Paul managed to talk some sense into me and sent me back out to make less of a hash of things and as a result salvaged a good chunk of my confidence and esteem, and as such I left the airfield having been signed off to fly the Pitts solo, albeit by the skin of my tightly clenched teeth…). Anyway, my point here is that on Thursday I’d managed to achieve my aim for the winter, somewhat sooner than anticipated, and had solo’d the aeroplane.

Preparation is quite important to me in life. I like to know, as far as possible, what is expected of me and what I have to do, so at the end of the day hearing Paul ask me if I’d consider flying my ‘proficiency endorsement’ flight solo in the competition box, instead of with an examiner in the front seat acting as safety pilot (as I’d been led to believe would happen), I spent a good few minutes stunned and wondering whether this was genuinely the most ridiculous idea I’d ever heard, or if his belief in me was justified (could I really do this? Was I really capable? Could I really be ready for this?).

Terrified. Unsure. Alone and trembling, breathing deeply trying to gain composure…

That’s how I sat, in the back seat of a two seater Pitts Special, alone with nothing but the wind and my own thoughts for company.

After a good deal of procrastination and thinking, I eventually swallowed my lack of self-confidence and listened to the voices of the pilots willing me on, and the voice of the man that really knew what I was capable of. Paul and Ron saw me to the aeroplane and then headed to what had been the judging line earlier in the day, off to watch me fly the 2011 Standard Known sequence to prove that I was capable of safely flying and competing at this level. This was my first ever solo aerobatic flight…

Take-off scares me. A 200hp Lycoming engine attached to a big propeller on the front of a relatively light-weight aeroplane with only me in it is not something to be underestimated. Rudder inputs to compensate for the gyroscopic effect of such a big propeller on such a short fuselage, changing as I change my attitude to lift the tail to allow myself to see the runway ahead of me, lumps in the grass throwing and bouncing us around as we rapidly accelerate – it’s a relief when I can finally pull her up and take flight. I start to breathe again.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve caught the aerobatics bug, but caught it I have and I doubt I’ll ever be cured – not that I want to be. Flight is something special, and aerobatic flight seems to me to be the embodiment of the focus and freedom I’ve spent my life searching for. The mountains are the only other place I’ve ever found such clarity of thought through sheer necessary focus, and only then for an instant at a time. In the air the challenges aerobatic flight presents me are everything I crave – clarity, focus and emotion all folded into one.


The Standard Known Sequence for 2011 – my first solo aerobatic foray

“The box, just find the box. Get higher, just relax, get it done.” My thoughts are my own, my emotions personal and private, but in the following moments they are nothing but crisp, logical necessity.

“Shit, there’s cloud. Ok just keep circling outside the box and wait for it to shift, it’s only momentary…”

Nothing went exactly to plan. My mind was full to beyond capacity, I couldn’t remember the sequence, everything happened too quickly. All I knew was I had to stay in the box, maintain the heights I’d calculated for each manoeuvre and fly everything safely. It all happened in such a blur I barely had time to realise what I was doing and that in those moments everything I’d been striving for over the past year of flying were suddenly being realised…

Landing at a strange airfield is always something that I find mildly traumatic, and being in a high-performance biplane that I’d only solo’d once before wasn’t something that was particularly helpful to my already broken nerves. Yes, my nerves were broken, but clearly not yet shattered as my eventual landing was as perfect as I could ever have hoped for – not so much as a skip, just a nice settled gentle touch down allowing me to roll the nose forward and see where I had to put my feet to keep myself in line. The relief was immense but very quickly replaced by the horrible knowledge that I’d landed on a runway from which I had no clue of where to taxi. Having to ask stupid questions over the radio is something I suspect I’ll get used to doing, but at the time I found myself chattering away to myself in private in between said stupid questions, just to maintain some semblance of sanity as I meandered my way back across the airfield, parking and shutting down my engine.

A few questions later, Ron told me he was happy and that he’d sign me off. Next year I’ll be flying alone and competing with the others at the Standard level.

Still terrified, but now sure. Standing alone and trembling with excitement, I have composure. I am an aerobatic pilot.

Sunday 11 September 2011

alcohol, tents and bog-trotting

Picture the scene – I’m at Shobdon airfield having just landed the Pitts for the nth time (I’m on the circuits at the moment trying to make my landings more consistent before Paul lets me loose on my own) and have a somewhat mad rush home because we’ve run late due to the rainy weather.

I rush back, to discover that the chap I was supposed to be meeting at my house, was in fact not at my house despite the message he’d sent saying that he thought he was…cue a short search and phonecalls to reveal that he’d made the mistake I’d told him he would, and had ended up at the house the sat nav will have you believe is ours (when in fact it is not).

Five minutes later and a certain Mr Phil Sorrell (aka DaylightGambler) had arrived on my driveway along with his dog, Angel, and a big bag full of alcohol.

This was to be the beginning of a slightly unconventional weekend for me – firstly because a trade deal of cider in exchange for a home baked toffee apple cake meant that on Friday night I ended up insanely drunk on a combination of the aforementioned cider and several different single malt whiskies, secondly because on Saturday I spent the entire day wishing I was dead. The hangover caused by Friday night’s excesses (actually, we were still drinking at 5am Saturday so I really do have no-one to blame but myself) was truly horrific and as a result we did nothing but sit, lay down, sit, grumble, eat bacon sandwiches, drink coke and finally bake the promised cake.

Eventually the pair of us (aided by my long-suffering legend of a husband) gathered ourselves together enough to head out onto the hills on the estate out back with our tents, for a surprisingly lovely ‘wild’ camp. There’s something about walking up into the hills by the brilliance of a near full moon that’s truly special.


Phil admiring the view  (yes, this is indeed where I live, and I most certainly do know how lucky I am)

Upon waking up on Sunday morning after said camp, the view was stunning. The bad weather had cleared for a few minutes and we sat and just drank it all in for a while, braced by a clear wind and with eyes set upon a life-affirming landscape vista.

Our tranquillity was broken a short while after we’d managed to brew the all important cuppa, by the grim greyness that we’d been expecting and so we set upon striking camp with a deal of haste before we got drenched.

After a breakfast omelette back at home we eventually settled on doing a simple walk at Lake Vyrnwy and heading up along the line of the waterfalls on the northern side. At least, it was meant to be simple…


Lots of water!

Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of bog-trotting and marsh wandering, and so the next few hours were not necessarily my idea of heaven – it looked on the map like we were heading for a nice simple circular route up following the stream until we reached an old dwelling with a track leading back down through the forest to the road…The distinct lack of paths on the map were a clue to the nature of what was to come – the Berwyns are an area reasonably famous for their bogs and peat hags.


It may LOOK lovely, but the next part was really rather cack

Ok, so at the time I didn’t really enjoy having my boots fill with stream or my trousers absorbing several gallons of boggy poo water, but it’s always a good laugh afterwards, and this walk was no exception, and the area is undoubtedly a beautiful wild place and somewhere I truly feel at home.

Phil has been excellent company, and I look forward to sharing a few more days in the hills with him (assuming he’s not decided I’m some mad woman he never wants to be involved with ever again), although perhaps will less whisky next time…

Monday 5 September 2011

filler in

So what have I been up to of late? Just general life business I suppose, you know, van building (I have a transit I’m converting into a ‘stealth camper’ of sorts), aerobatic flying and general Pitts Special flying, mountain biking, looking for work…

Yes, I did say looking for work. Depressing as it is, the only way I’m going to be able to keep up the flying and attempt this mad career change thing (which, incidentally is still a notion open to options…current thinking is centring around possibly trying to get a commercial license and flight instructor rating, although I’m investigating everything else I can think of too), is to get more engineering work. More contract days would be ideal and we shall see what happens.

If anyone knows of anybody in need of a Radio Engineer, then let me know, please!

Also partially related to the career change and flying thing, is my latest major acquisition – the ex-police Ford Transit I’ve just had a bed built into the back of. It’s fabulous! I’ve always wanted a van camper, ever since I can remember seeing one a few years ago on a climbing trip. All hardcore outdoorsy people seem to have them – climbers, bikers, guides etc. Up until now I’ve never been able to justify the extra cost of owning and running one (over the cost of running the estate car), but with plans afoot to do more consecutive flying days, it makes no sense to be driving backwards and forwards to the airfield everyday (a 2.5 – 3hour round trip), and hence the van has become a hugely sensible option. It will also give me somewhere to chill out before and in between aerobatic flights AND somewhere to cook dinner/brew tea etc, thereby also saving on the amount I spend in the cafe. It all makes sense, honest!

The current build project, now that the bed is mostly done, is the ‘mountain bike quick access storage’ thing. I have some cunning ideas in the pipeline and some interesting bits of hardware on order, so hopefully in a week or so it’ll all be sorted and I’ll be posting up a complete set of ‘pimp my ride’ style photos for you all to yawn at.

Speaking of mountain bikes, this weekend just gone Matt, Philip and I finally managed to get over to Bwlch Nant yr Arian (near Aberystwyth) to try out some of the trails there, and I must say we were mightily impressed. Stunning views, a great little cafe, brilliantly fun sections of fast, technical singletrack, scary exposure and relatively sociable fire-road climbs all made for a fantastic day out. We will be going back I’m sure!


Fantastic view from the cafe deck. The Red Kites are great to watch too.


Somehow, despite deliberately taking the camera with us, we failed to get any good photos on the trails, but the big grins on our faces here tell the story – a truly fabulous day out on the Pendam and Summit Trails

Oh yes, and I probably should just mention that flying-wise, plans are afoot for me to be competing at the Tiger Trophy up at Sherbern-in-Elmet (near Leeds) on the 16th and 17th of September. Hopes are that I’ll be able to enter the Beginners category again on the Friday, and also enter the Standard on the Saturday. So right now I’m studying like mad to make the very most of my flight time in training over the next couple of weeks. I love it.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

aerobatics–some people say nice things!

I’ve recently been pointed toward the British Aerobatic Association website and their write-up of the Gunpowder Trophy event, and I was delighted to read this:

“A very stylish and assured performance from Lauren Richardson secured her the Beginners Plaque”.

There are also a couple of nice photographs to look at (including a rare one of me that I actually really rather like!), so if you are so inclined have a click here:

Monday 22 August 2011

support me, please!

My last posting about my experiences (and win) at the Leicester aerobatic competition happily coincided with being my 200th posting here on Flight of the Bumblie. I’d been hoping for something decent to write so that worked out well!

Anyway, this post is a little bit different, as for the first time I’m trying to kick off the self-publicity engine. I have to admit that this isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and in all honesty I’m not a big fan of people who try to make themselves out to be some kind of big deal…BUT, I’d really like to start pulling in more readers and gaining more exposure for the site here, even if many of my writings are nothing more than ramblings (loads of them are going to be good though, I promise)…

Hence, we now have a nice little logo (look left) – 100% inspired by the wonderful Pitts Special S2A, G-SKNT, who also happens to be the image in the site banner (look up) It’s also 100% hand drawn and graphically converted by yours truly. I have every intention of drawing up a few more graphics in the near future – some nice little aerobatic sequences could look awesome I think.

Anyway, if you click on the logo, you’ll be taken to another site where you’ll see a variety of T-shirts, mugs and hoodies available to buy with the logo on. I don’t make much on the sales of these items (actually, insanely little), but that’s not my aim – I’ll be wearing a Flight of the Bumblie hoody when I’m out and about and bumming around the airfield etc, simply in the hope of attracting some attention and hopefully some more people to come over and view the site.

So, any of you who feel generous and would be keen to help me out and support my ongoing endeavours in the world of aerobatics, and of course in my outdoor and rescue life, please consider buying something and wearing it out and about!

Sunday 21 August 2011

it’s the taking part that counts…the Gunpowder Trophy, Leicester (beginner aerobatics, part 2)

Well that was fun. Yesterday was the big day – Paul and I headed over to Leicester for the Gunpowder Trophy Aerobatics event in G-SKNT. This was to be my first foray into competition aerobatics, and not only was I over to watch Paul compete, but I was entering the Beginner’s category myself alongside Rob, another of Paul’s students and two others.

Being woken at 6am isn’t exactly my idea of a good start to a day, especially when I’ve failed to actually get to sleep until about 4am (was it nerves? Being in a strange place? Maybe I shouldn’t have had that Gin & Tonic?), but fortunately I think Paul is beginning to get to know how is best to handle me – being woken at 6am to be handed a freshly brewed cup of tea is about as good as it gets! Frustratingly we arrived at the airfield at about 7am be greeted by a steely grey sheet of low cloud and drizzle…

Sitting around at airfields is an integral part of the flying experience, and actually in this case despite the fact that we were meant to be at Leicester for an 8am briefing, being forced to relax for a few hours while the weather cleared may well have been a blessing in disguise. It gave me time to get rid of the “oh my god can’t I just go home and not do this??” butterflies, AND I was even bought breakfast when the cafe opened at 9am…I’m really not sure quite what had gotten into Paul…

Anyway, enough of the boring stuff, eventually we crawled into G-SKNT and made our way across country beneath the grey gloom to Leicester, where we were met by a somewhat mad rush as Paul was asked if he could fly straight away to get his first sequence done before they started on the Beginners. Frustratingly I missed his flight as I was busy being briefed by the organisers, but I’m led to believe that despite the rush and lack of ‘chill out time’, he flew quite well…

The whole experience was all quite alien to me but I found myself made to feel incredibly welcome – the organisers clearly keen to encourage and include us newbies. I’m not sure if I made a bit of a pain of myself, but no-one seemed to mind all the stupid questions I was asking, in fact I think they rather enjoyed it – I was keen to find out as much as I could about the whole thing and how it all works, and what better way than to ask the people involved?!

I was also joined by Phil and Adam, who made the whole day even more enjoyable by just being there and having a good laugh – thanks guys.

The mad rush continued as the Beginner’s event kicked off – I managed to watch two of the other three competitors, (including Rob who had a great crack at it but unfortunately had a bit of a “bollocks!” moment flying his Half Cuban), making mental notes to myself about how the crosswind seemed to be affecting them, and just basically making sure the sequence was totally clear in my mind. All credit to Paul – the poor sod was overloaded to begin with by firstly flying us in, then immediately having to fly his first sequence, then upon landing having to go straight back up with Rob and then me once again straight after…hectic.


Strapping in…not nervous at all here…

Ok, I admit, I was terrified. I knew exactly what I needed to do, what I needed to fly, how I needed to fly it and what I had to avoid doing. I also for once felt it was all pretty clear in my mind – I knew where the ‘box’ was, I knew what the wind was doing, I knew where my decision points were going to be and what my decisions would need to include. I’ve always worked well under pressure, and happily it seems that yesterday was no exception.

Once we were airborne the tasks were simple – get the aeroplane trimmed, get to the side of the box, fly through it and do the warm-up manoeuvre…

This was probably the part that made me the most nervous – on the first pass through the box I needed to fly a roll in two halves – flying inverted for a few seconds checking everything was all ready for the sequence to be flown. Frustratingly, I’ve had a mental block on rolling back upright from inverted, always managing to stuff something up so rather than being all in balance and flying a nice straight half roll, it usually all goes a bit squidgy and feels horrible. My ‘midnight’ reading during my insomnia of the night before may have paid off though, as this time it all felt pretty good and I switched into business mode…

Apparently I ‘wasn’t hanging about’ as I flew my sequence, and this was no bad thing. In my mind it all happened in a nicely paced, controlled manner, and for once I actually flew the way I was meant to – everything clicked, it all worked. Of course their were mistakes and things I should have done better, but this time I just flew, I didn’t dwell on the mistakes, and I just did what needed to be done; remaining aware of where I was in the box, where the wind was taking me and making the decisions that needed to be made with time to spare. Nothing was rushed, and I enjoyed every second of it, every sensation and every movement.


Yellow is the best colour

Once we’d got back down my mission was to find a drink and to find the toilet, whilst indulging in a mode of ‘super faff’ in between, all of which meant that by the time I went down to the registration office to find my score sheet, I was being accosted by all manner of people asking '”was that you flying the last one?”, or simply saying “congratulations!”. My responses were all along the lines of “Huh? What?” until I was told that I’d just won my category

The rest of the day was spent watching the pilots in the Standard and Intermediate categories, which in itself was an enjoyable and really informative experience, especially as I had the chance to watch Paul pull out a performance good enough to win him the silver medal in Standard (well done mate, it was really inspiring to watch you fly like that, even if I didn’t tell you at the time).

Before the rather lovely transit flight back home, there was to be one more painful part to the day however. The award ceremony. I hadn’t realised that as I’d won a category I’d have to go through the trauma of being presented a prize and having my photograph taken several times. Yes, I am quite dense sometimes.


I think Paul (seated on the left) may actually be smiling here, I did have to zoom in and check though as it came as a bit of a surprise


“What?! Drape myself over the plane here? But I’ll get covered in oil!” (Genuine conversation)


God I hope the photos going onto the British Aerobatics website don’t actually include the ones like this.

All in all the day was a fantastic experience, and one that I’ve learned a whole load from. I’m super keen to train more and start competing in the Standard Category next year and just have a great time with some more great people. Thanks everyone, the event was ace!

Special thanks must go to Paul Stanley of Altered Attitude Aerobatics, firstly for flying with me, secondly for putting up with me and all my nonsense, and thirdly for being a fantastic and inspirational instructor. I can only encourage anyone who fancies seeing what it’s like to look at the world through different eyes, to check out his website and consider coming over to Shobdon and having a go – you’d never forget it. and for all you Facebook users check out (and ‘like’) G-SKNT here:

Tuesday 16 August 2011

aerobatics, the beginner’s perspective (part 1)

2011 has been a bit of a strange year for me all told. Several events have led to major changes in life, lifestyle and perspective – the most significant of course being our catastrophic house fire back in January. Nothing I’ve experienced works quite as effectively to focus the mind on what is actually important, than losing all your possessions (although I can’t say I recommend it to anyone). The events following the fire also served to change a few of my views on life – living in a borrowed caravan on my own driveway for instance, led to me realising that actually houses and home comforts, whilst being nice, aren’t actually really necessary. Being seven months on from the fire and having still not had all of the [frankly piffling amount of] insurance money we are owed has taught me that insurance companies are generally pretty damned useless and should not be relied upon (and also that having a nice comfy sofa to sit on is something we all tend to take for granted). The list goes on and on and on, but at the end of the day, no matter how negative the events of life, all of them can be used to have a positive effect on your perspective if you allow it. All of them.

So, here we go, perspective. It’s all too easy to get bogged down and focussed on little things and miss out on the bigger picture – losing perspective. This applies to pretty much any aspect of life (as well as life itself of course), and flying aerobatics is no exception. The biggest learning curve I am currently going through is very definitely one of perspective, or perhaps perspectives [plural]. Let me explain:

Flying itself is a fairly complex pastime to take up – you have all sorts of things to learn and think about and eventually you kind of have to do them all at the same time. The controlling the aeroplane bit is actually a relatively small part of what it is to fly – you have to navigate, talk to people on the radio, maintain heights and headings, listen to people on the radio, look out for other aeroplanes, keep track of how much fuel you’re using, keep an eye on how the engine is performing and a good number of other things, and all of that is just in straight and level flight. It sounds like a lot doesn’t it? When you’re first starting out learning to fly (actually, no matter how experienced you are this all still applies) it can all seem quite overwhelming, to the point where the big picture can end up blurred or lost as you fixate on perhaps just one or two things at a time – for instance concentrating on maintaining an altitude and spending far too much time looking at the altimeter and trying to make micro-adjustments can all to often mean you fail to spot that other aircraft heading toward you…

Learning to fly aerobatics is something that gives me immense amounts of satisfaction, primarily because it presents such huge challenges – learning how to handle a high performance aeroplane with precision and accuracy is enormously difficult and as a result incredibly rewarding. It can also be hugely frustrating at times, and sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by this and lose sight of the sheer joy of it all.

I’ve always been a perfectionist in everything I’ve ever done, and to me mistakes are the enemy, things to be analysed and understood so that in future the causes can be resolved and the consequences eliminated. This is at once a really good way to approach aerobatic flying, and also a really bad one because I often end up fixated on what I’ve just done wrong in a manoeuvre in the middle of a sequence rather than focussing on what should be coming next (which as you can probably imagine then usually leads into a spiral of more and more mistakes and frustration). The big picture in this case is really quite simple – what does it look like? I need to be thinking “what is it looking like to the judges on the ground?”, and if I’ve screwed something up, “ok, what can I do to minimise the impact of my mistake on the rest of my sequence?”. I should NOT be thinking “bollocks, bollocks, bollocks, arse, that was shit…oh crap I can’t remember what’s next”.

Next weekend I’m heading to Leicester to be judged in my first aerobatic competition. This will be the first time anyone will have told me what my flying looks like – the first time anyone will have told me their perspective on my big picture. I’m excited.beginners sequence notated

Recently I’ve been doing some fairly complex flying, learning manoeuvres and sequences that are far beyond any that will be expected of me in the beginner’s (or basic) category. Hopefully this will mean that I’ll have a good chance of not screwing things up too badly. In the next category up (the Standard category), the sequences are about 10 manoeuvres long, including one that is “Known” and one or two “Unknown” that are given to you on the day to be learned and memorised. Next year I will be entering the Standard category and hoping to do quite well, but right now the single, 5 manoeuvre “Known” sequence of the Beginner’s class is feeling daunting enough…

The 2011 Beginner’s Known Sequence, the Beginner’s Perspective

The diagram above is the sequence I will be flying, with some of my ‘notes to self’ included. Allow me to attempt to explain:

  1. The whole thing will start at an altitude we’ve worked out taking into account all the height gains and losses of the manoeuvres to come. We’ll be flying parallel to some form of line feature (probably the airfield runway at Leicester) – this will be what I use to make sure we’re not changing heading during the manoeuvres. Three distinct wing rocks (dipping one wing to one side) then herald the start of the sequence – the first wing rock being just before we start to dive to gain airspeed, the final two being carried out during the dive. At approximately 160mph we will pull to straight and level for a moment or two before we pull into the first manoeuvre: the Loop.

    Pulling sharply at first to begin the climb, I’ll be looking out to each wingtip to make sure we’re pulling up straight. I’ll relax the pressure a tiny bit and allow the aeroplane to pull upwards through the vertical, pulling slightly harder to gain the second, slower part of the circle. At this point I’ll be looking up through the canopy watching the horizon come into view. I’ll be making sure our wings are level as I’m also really relaxing the pressure to allow her to float gently over the top and begin her descent. We’ll drop gracefully downwards through the vertical, gaining speed, tracking parallel to our line feature. A sharper pull out during the fast bottom section will bring us back to straight and level flight after we’ve hopefully drawn a perfect circle.
  2. Next, the Half Cuban (half Cuban 8) starts exactly the same as the simple loop we just flew. I’ll pull until we’re floating over the top, but then, just as begin our descent I’ll push the stick forward and arrest our loop so that we’re end up flying downwards at 45degrees, inverted. At this point, I’ll have been looking at the sighting frame (a piece of metalwork that lets us judge angles against the horizon) on the left wing to know where to stop, and looking up through the canopy I will see the ground below us with our line feature running parallel to us. We’ll pause at this descent attitude for a moment before a sharp roll to the left will swap our horizon back to normality (blue up, green down) and we pause again, now in a 45degree [upright] descent. After another pause we’ll pull back to straight and level flight and will hopefully now be flying in the exact opposite direction to which we started (still watching that line feature).

  3. Next, we have yet another looping manoeuvre, but this time with a twist (quite literally). The Quarter Clover starts just the same as our other loops have, still making sure we’re not going all egg shaped by pulling too hard over the top, but this time as we’re pulling through and diving downwards, I’ll start a slow roll to the left, very carefully watching my line feature – I will be stopping the roll when we are at a 90degree angle (perpendicular) to this feature, at the same time still pulling out of the loop. This is a difficult one to explain, but basically we should have done a loop, but ended up flying out on a different (90degree) heading – we’ll be flying towards the [runway] line feature at the end of this, once again perfectly straight and level.
  4. We’ll be coming out of the last manoeuvre quite fast, which is good because the next part of the sequence is the energy sapping and somewhat intimidating Stall Turn. A very sharp pull back on the stick will see us pulling about 5g until I arrest the movement with the sighting frame showing me that we are flying vertically upwards. Its important that we are actually vertical and not slightly over on our back here (an accidental inverted spin is very easy to get into in this one). Taking a look at both wing tips, I need to make sure we aren’t yawing (nose dropping to one side) or rolling off heading – as the aircraft slows I’ll be needing to input a bit of right rudder to stop the yaw, and some right aileron to stop us rolling left due to the engine torque effect (this becomes greater the slower we are flying). Flying straight up means we slow down pretty quickly, and just before our wings stall I’ll kick in full left rudder to make the aeroplane seemingly pivot around the left wingtip. Well, this is the plan – if I get the speed wrong it’ll look a bit weird. Immediately after I’ve kicked the rudder left, I’ll need to push in full right aileron to stop us rolling in the turn, and push the elevator forward. Once we’re round, I have to make sure we fly a perfectly vertical down line for a few seconds (the ground will start coming up to meet us pretty fast as we accelerate), before pulling out sharply to straight and level again. The pull will be quite high ‘g’ again and I’ll need to make sure I’m using my core muscles to make sure I don’t grey out too badly. We should also end up heading straight away from our reference feature.
  5. Assuming I haven’t screwed everything up, the final manoeuvre in the sequence is one that I regularly manage to fluff up in isolation, although oddly when I’m not over analysing what I’m trying to do, my Slow (aileron) roll technique is often pretty much spot on. I guess the trick is to just fly this one and not think about it too much!

    This type of roll isn’t as simple as you might think – unlike a ‘ballistic’ style of roll, you can’t just pull the nose up, whack the stick to the left and let the aeroplane do it’s thing in a nice ballistic zero-g arc (this is the simplest type of roll and one of the first things you learn when you start flying aerobatics). No, this type of roll requires that you remain straight and level and just roll round the longitudinal (nose to tail) axis of the aeroplane, which means that you need to use the rudder to offset the differing amounts and directions of lift that the wings are giving you at the different points of the roll…yeah, I’m struggling to explain this…

    Ok, try to picture an aeroplane as it’s momentarily flying in a ‘knife-edge’ attitude – say with the right wing pointing vertically up and the left wing down toward the ground. At this attitude the wings aren’t producing lift, and in fact the most lift is being produced across the fuselage of the plane (yeah, that one was a revelation to me too). At this point the weight of the engine will be pulling the nose of the aeroplane downwards because of the reduction in lift. The way to stop the nose dropping earthwards (which will actually be to your left as you sit in the plane), is by putting in some right rudder. Of course as the roll progresses, the wings are constantly changing angle, and as such the elevator and rudder inputs also need to change to maintain that straight line…so yeah, it’s one of those things that feels utterly impossible until it clicks and starts to just work by instinct – I still tend to balls these up when I’m trying them in isolation and thinking too much!

So there we have it, that was the sequence I’ll be flying next weekend. Hopefully I won’t get too bogged down by details, and perfectionism, or fear or stress, and will be able to simply enjoy the dream of flight. Wish me luck. 

Tuesday 9 August 2011


I live for moments, for brief encounters and fleeting glimpses - those moments that linger in my mind despite sometimes never really existing. Fantastic ideas, wishes and desires, held deep inside a fervid imagination, all were and are triggered by moments.

If this is not a basic element of human nature, then it is certainly an elemental part of who I am. My mind likes to wander to places that I can never really reach...if I could reach them then where would be the fantasy?

Moments come and go, some lasting for more than a simple flash or glimmer - these are grasped and held tightly, being built up from imagination and fantasy, into dreams and aspirations, they become my desires. Many other moments have been lost before I had even realised they were happening - they linger with me as either haunting questions that sink, heavy, into my soul, or as the occasional warm grin that I fail to control.

Life is momentary.

Monday 8 August 2011

swedish summer, part 1

Phil and I have just arrived back home after spending a week in Sweden with my good friend Anders ( Anders is an ex-colleague of mine from back in the ‘bad old days’ of fantastical engineering projects that were mismanaged into a burning hellfire from which a few of us managed to emerge only mildly singed (yes, there are some bad memories, but they were fun to re-visit over a few drinks – once you’re out of the hell you can look back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all).

Anyway, we’ve stayed in touch, and finally this year I managed to get out and take him up on the offer of a visit and a few days hiking in the wilderness. We were also joined by another old colleague of ours, Torbjorn, meaning that we were four out in the wilds. A good number I think.

The trip was a bit different from any I’ve done before, being that as I was still nursing a sprained ankle, and that the primary focus was not on peak bagging or distance covered, but just on being ‘out there’ and enjoying the wilds and cooking good food! Oh yes, this was not to be a ‘lightweight’ trip – carrying several kilos of meat and baking products was never going to be a lightweight option, and frankly I’m glad! There’s something wonderful about spending hours walking and then stopping to cook something properly whilst having a good old natter, none of this dehydrated mush nonsense.

Today I’m feeling a little odd and can’t quite get myself together enough to write what I want to about the trip, so forgive me but this posting is just going to be one showcasing a few of the photographs I took – I hope they give you a taste of what we saw and where we experienced, I will write more soon I promise.


In Sweden, there are many ‘refuges’ and huts with emergency VHF radio-phones on the trails, always with a water source nearby. This one was where we chose to make camp on the first night.


This is my lovely little tent (still adore the Vango Apex), pitched on a rocky hell platform. So, so uncomfortable – seems that this place wasn’t such a great pitch!


One of the amazing boardwalk sections. Here you can also see one of the ‘red crosses’ marking the trail – I will say more about these in another posting.


The view from the boardwalk, yes, this was one huge bog – there were many of these to cross


At this point I decided I needed to raise my pulse a bit, so I hacked on ahead and waited for the others to join me at a more leisurely pace.


If it weren’t for the trail markers, this would truly have been wilderness (actually it was, even with the marks!)


One of the glorious forest sections. I love this photo.


And finally, the ‘guidebook’ photo – the longest boardwalk I have ever seen, across some kilometer of deep bog. This was utterly hilarious as many of the board sections were underwater and near invisible, oh, and rotten!

More to come, watch this space!

Sunday 24 July 2011

nemo zor ‘hyperlight’ mat

Warning: those of a sensitive nature, and those who don’t appreciate my occasionally rather crude sense of humour, are probably best off skipping down to the first sub heading. You have been warned.

Never have I ever found writing a review of a piece of outdoor kit so difficult. And it’s not that I’ve been lacking in opportunities to test this damned thing – I’ve slept on the Nemo Zor mat on the patio outside, in a tent on rocky ground, in a tent on grassy ground, in a tent on tussocky ground, in a bivi bag and in the house (ok I haven’t actually slept on it in the house, that would be silly, but I did spend a while laying on it).


My first Zor arrived in the post and thus I dutifully unwrapped it, keen to see what all the fuss was about. For a self-inflating mat the Zor certainly is light and it really does pack down incredibly small – so far so good, this was exactly what I was wanting…

I unrolled the bright yellow coil of mat onto the kitchen floor, taking note of the neat little stuff bag and the even neater velcro strap that Nemo supply for storing it (the strap is an especially nice and useful touch), I also laid aside the little packet of repair patches…

“Great! It’s huge!” I thought to myself as I admired my latest sleeping partner lying flaccid at my feet. Unfortunately I was to be bitterly disappointed a short while after I started to blow…

I really like the valve that Nemo are using – it’s a little bit like those child-proof lids you get on bottles of medicine, in that you have to push to unscrew or screw the thing up tight, but this cunningly means that you can simply push the valve closed between breaths, without having to tighten it up. A nice touch I thought.

“Mmm, it’s firming up nicely now”, was my next thought as I gently blew, my lips tightly sealed around the reassuringly solid valve stem. I decided to keep going, pumping until it felt really hard between my fingertips…

I like to think I’m a pretty accommodating sort of girl, willing to put in a degree of effort in order to see results. Unfortunately, no matter how strong the desire, sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes you will get let down…Basically, whilst inflating the mat out of the packet for the first time, one of the sections where there is a cutout in the insulating foam had allowed the two halves of the outer layer to stick together (being vacuum packed probably hadn’t helped). After I’d inflated the mat and proddled the stuck-together part, the dissolution of the union had lead to a tiny tear forming in one side. I didn’t really notice this at first, but upon attempting to sleep on the thing outside that night, it became readily apparent that I was going to have to dump my latest partner – he was a complete let down in the [bivi] sack.

Ok, in all seriousness, I wasn’t mightily impressed to find a brand new product managed to damage itself like that when I inflated it. I would have happily stuck one of the supplied repair patches on and made do, but upon looking at the patch kit I realised there was no glue supplied (I’m not marking Nemo down for this mind), and I had nothing that would do the job, so the mat went back and was replaced with another identical Zor, which happily did not self-puncture itself (well done Webtogs, great service as usual!) and the proper testing could begin at last.

The Specs

The Zor is wonderfully light, in fact I believe it is actually the lightest mat of its type around at the moment – an impressively small 405g for a full-length self-inflating mattress. I believe it’s closest rival is the Therm-a-Rest Prolite which weighs in at 460g for the ‘regular’ size (183cm long, same as the Zor).

It also packs down pretty damn small – only fractionally bigger than my friend’s Neo Air (which is an entirely different type of mat altogether anyway, but I digress).


Yes, before you ask, the bottle of wine was indeed the best thing to use for a size comparison. Please note I’ve made no real effort to compress it here either – just rolled it up quickly and whacked the strap round, it will go smaller if you really try

Nemo also make a short version of the Zor, which is obviously considerably lighter again, at 285g for a mat length of 122cm (so between 1/2 and 3/4 length depending on how tall you are).

The Review

Is it light?
Does it pack down tight?
Did I sleep alright?
Did it set the tent alight?
Was the price right?

I’ve already mentioned that the Zor is impressively light for what it is and it packs down lovely and small – both elements that make it ideal for lightweight backpacking use, and also adventure racing type stuff (unless you’re super hardcore and use bubblewrap or something daft like that). I used the Zor in the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon a few weekends ago where I was really impressed at feeling able to carry a full length mat and be relatively comfortable, whilst still managing to remain within my own self-imposed pack weight and size limits.


That said, the ‘did I sleep alright’ element does need some discussion. No, I didn’t sleep alright during the SLMM, but that was nothing to do with the mat – my badly sprained ankle and seized up knee meant that I just couldn’t sleep because of the pain. The other times I’ve used the Zor have always been in a more relaxed ‘backpacking’ type environment, so either in a bivi bag or in a tent, and whilst it’s been ok and I have managed to sleep on it, I can’t say I’m in love with the Zor if I’m brutally honest. It’s just too thin – you have to inflate it to be really quite hard, otherwise you tend to bottom out through it, and the solidity required in order to not bottom out is almost as hard as the ground would be anyway. But of course you are being insulated, and on grass the discomfort levels are significantly reduced. It could just be that I’m getting soft – my lovely thick heavy duty therm-a-rest just feels so much more plush (but then it would do – it’s much thicker and much heavier).

Ok that was a load of waffle, I must apologise. I have mixed feelings about this mat – most of the time I’d like to be more comfortable and would probably choose to carry something thicker and heavier, BUT for the times when weight, and more importantly for me, pack size are critical, the Zor is actually fine – the only thing beating it being the ultra uncomfortable but effective custom cut down 3/4 length closed cell foam mat I use on Alpine climbs.

Did it set the tent alight? A bizarre question you might be thinking. ‘What on earth does she mean? Is this some kind of deep spiritual introspection or something?’. No. It is a very literal question, that has only been raised after an alarming incident in a tent on the summit of Cadair Berwyn…

Seeing your world suddenly lit up bright blue when you move any part of your sleeping bag across the surface of your camping mat, is a some what shocking experience (pun fully intended). I’ve never seen anything like it, honestly – it was mad! I could slide up and down (imagine rubbing a balloon on your jumper to make your hair stand on end), then move my fingers close to the mat’s surface and there would be huge bright blue sparks of static arcing everywhere! Super fun, but not a little disconcerting. Admittedly I haven’t recreated the experience yet – I’d been waiting and hoping to make a short video but haven’t quite gotten round to it. I just hope that you can’t set fire to a down sleeping bag using the static electricity generated between it and the mat…(I had been wondering where the name ‘Zor’ had come from, and I can’t help but think it’s quite apt considering the product’s electrifying nature).

(No, it didn’t actually set the tent alight, but it was certainly a bizarre sight.)

Finally, is the price right? Well that all depends on what you’re willing to pay for what is actually the lightest, full-length, self-inflating sleeping mat of this type available on the market. Frankly I think the price is fine and well in line with everything else out there (£79.99 at time of writing).


All in all the Zor is a great bit of kit, far more comfortable than a closed cell foam mat, light weight and packs down lovely and small; just don’t expect 5* luxury – at only 2cm thick there is a definite knack to getting the comfort level right, and some people may well find it just too thin to ever really get a comfortable night’s sleep. I like it though for the most part, and I will continue using it whenever I don’t want the extra weight, bulk and hassle of my old squidgy therm-a-rest.


The link bit

You can buy the Nemo Zor from Webtogs here:

You can browse other mats here: