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:


  1. Well done Lauren! Fantastic achievement to be winner in your class first time out.