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Longest day flight 2012
I am convinced for the last few years I have suffered from what psychologist now call “SAD” (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or - for the more poetic amongst us – “winter blues”. The few short hours lingering between dawn and dusk during our winter, encourage in me, little in the way of action or deed. Hooray then for the Scottish Summer! Never mind the sunshine? what about the day length! There are nearly twenty hours of flying light in the middle of June, starting at 3:50 all the way through till 23:30. A day-length to be celebrated and savoured! Why not? The Druids did! Perhaps their unsophisticated approach was slightly less interesting than dancing naked around wicker men but the celebration was there. At the Scottish Aeroclub we neither danced naked or donned sheets and willow leaves.
As you’d expect, on the morning of the longest day we took to the skies as soon as it was legal. There is something magical in taking off at that time. It is neither light nor dark and always eerily quiet. The air is glass smooth, and offers little or no resistance to the chosen direction - whatever that may be. In the east there is the promise of a glorious sunrise glowing tantalisingly above the horizon. Its all very beautiful.
Destination? Breakfast and Kingsmuir! I have flown to Kingsmuir so often these last months my Quantum knows its own way. Tayside offers so much in the way of flying interest; everything from mountains to MATZ penetrations. At this time of day, flying east down the Firth of Tay is beautiful and thrilling; there is something of a “Boy’s Own” adventure about it. My imagination always serves me well at these times and on this occasion there was much to feed it. We were four aircraft; three flexis and the Tripacer. The slowest of the flexis being mine - making the Tripacer seem very fast indeed, flying as it does under our dawdling formation. Dundee (of course) was sound asleep when we flew abreast its southern flank; somehow the air seems incapable of supporting humans at that time of the morning - few signs of life. No cars on the bridge, a few on the streets but little or no movement at all. Only street lights and the flashing red beacons of the Law, oil rigs and transmitters.
Sleeping safely in our beds is a given in this country. Our navy has a “T” boat permanently submerged in watchful-wait for a renegade nation to launch a nuclear attack. The army is engaged in the theatres of Afghanistan, courageously suppressing the agents of Al Qaeda. The RAF keeps a waking eye on usurpers hell-bent on invading our skies. Sure in this knowledge we make the call to RAF Leuchars Radar to request a MATZ penetration. This would enable us to fly the east coast of Fife across St Andrews and enjoy the sunrise. “Leuchars Radar this is Golf Mike Yankee Romeo November.........” Silence. More silence..... Then....“Whi-whi-whi-whi..... go ahead Golf Mi Mi Mi ??????” Yep - we got him up! So much for the waking eye? Some of you will remember Mathias Rust? He was the 18 year old German who surprised the Soviets, piloting his Cessna 172 from Hamburg to Red Square in Moscow via Reykjavik. Never mind the “V” bombers or I.C.B.M’s - pile a nuke into a Cessna. It’s bound to get through and a whole lot cheaper! So it was with Perth’s flying Vermin as we passed over half a billion pounds worth of Typhoon; neatly arranged on Leuchars’ apron. A few well-placed molotov cocktails would have wrought untold damage. Thank goodness we’re on the same side!
To the east, St Andrews and the astonishing sunrise as promised. Some people go through their lives never seeing a sunrise, yet gasp in wonder at the special effects produced by the likes of George Lucas or Steven Spielberg. For no money whatsoever there is a fireworks display of the grandest proportions taking place off our eastern horizon day-in-day-out. It never misses in its reliable regularity and is subject only to the vagaries of Mother Earth’s mood. Eat your heart our Spielberg! Running into Kingsmuir, over St Andrews the Tripacer strikes south to allow the slower of our number an opportunity of gauging conditions. Given the amount of rain we’ve had it’s not such a bad idea to allow the lighter machines check out the runway. As there was no wind there were two landing options. We chose to land into the east, forgetting just how troubling the sun we had spent the last fifteen minutes admiring could be. Still, we got down safely and the others changed ends without a by-your-leave from an umpire. Firm under foot we were joined by the tripacer.
The banter and blether over breakfast was as you'd expect given a bunch of early-bird pilots. Ben Shippey (Tripacer pilot) was nothing short of astonished at just how well equipped Bill Davis was when he produced a "cuisine de chef" and food from his Quik, together with cutlery and coffee. Not so much a microlight; more of a gentlemens club really! I love the camaraderie of such occasions. Flying is more fun when shared. Sure there are solitary moments, impossible to relate to others, but for me the fun is in exchange and relish. Short of a group hug, getting together with others of a like-mind at times like this emphasises the community and brotherhood of our passion. Talking of brotherhood, a quick word about Kingsmuir. The facilities here are all you could want in an airfield. A well manicured runway, tea & coffee on tap, even a club room comfy enough to take refuge should the situation require or demand. All provided and maintained by Dave (the farmer) whose surname I don't know. He is one of the warmest and most obliging chaps you'll ever meet. He loaned me his car practically the first time I met him so I'd not be stranded at the airfield overnight!. People like that are scarce indeed.
Fortified by breakfast and confident our return flight would be granted a "carte blanche" by Leuchars we struck home just after six. The supersonic Tripacer waited till last and beat us home by a good twenty minutes. For the flexi Vermin this was the best part of the day. Cloud surfing and zigzagging our way back through still and gentle air, we even had time to enliven the early morning hot airbaloonist's experience. I bet they thought they were the first up! I spoke with Ben a few days later, he told me he was back in bed just after seven having not been missed. As for Graeme Gibson, his son Ryan and my son Richard, together with Bill Davis - we lingered in the club room, replete with satisfaction, drinking tea and thoroughly smug.