So often when reading the obituaries of RAF flying aces from World War II you see how they started out on planes as hobbyists at their local flying club. They inhabited an improbable 1930s of grass aerodromes, pink gins and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. Our future heroes seducing the local girls on long summer evenings after a cheery bout of aerobatics over the Surrey countryside.
The good news is that this world has not entirely vanished and a little bit of time and not a huge amount of money could see you embracing your inner Group Captain. ‘Our members range from accountants to commercial pilots looking for a bit of fun,’ ground control at the West London Aero Club says in between bouts of radio static. ‘Getting a pilot’s licence depends on how quickly you can pick it up. I was doing my GCSE’s at the time so it took me a little longer.’
Our source is evidently a late bloomer as you can actually start flying as young as 14. Once you’ve passed a basic medical from your GP and found a flying club to try out you are well on your way to going solo.
To achieve this you need to get either the Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence – not exactly the 20 Minuters but which requires a mere 30 hours flying, or the 45 hours required to get your more comprehensive Private Pilot’s Licence. Both will allow you to hire light aircraft, fly solo and even take passengers.
The hours required for a licence will cost you in the region of £5,000 for the LAPL and up to £10,000 for the PPL depending on which club you join. This provides a pretty reasonable hourly rate to hire a plane and an instructor. Joining an aero club to take the lessons will cost another £200 for annual membership but will cover your insurance and allow you to hire out the club’s planes once you pass your flying test.
“The perception is that it takes so much money and time,’ Rob Wildeboer who runs Goodwood Aero Club tells me, ‘but flying is for everyone.’ In fact, those looking for the more raffish experience could do no worse than Goodwood. As well as operating a fleet of Cessnas, Goodwood also has a 1950s Piper Cub and a Harvard Warbird, the same plane used to train Spitfire pilots. They also share the airfield with the Boultbee Flight Academy where you can pay to take out two of the five remaining Spitfires left in the UK.
‘Most people come in for a trial lesson they’ve been given it as a gift and then get bitten by the flying bug,’ Wildeboer continues. ‘Once you’ve learned to fly it opens up so many possibilities, you can start doing aerobatics, flying gliders or even jets.’
Or even spiriting away your paramour for an aerial jaunt around the countryside? ‘At £10,000, it’s cheaper than an expensive watch,’ Rob observes helpfully – and way sexier.