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.

http://www.alteredattitude.co.uk/ and for all you Facebook users check out (and ‘like’) G-SKNT here: http://www.facebook.com/GSKNT

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 (http://www.ichimusai.org/). 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!