Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

West London Aero Club

My thanks to all who came to my talk at the West London Aero Club at White Waltham last night. It was great to get back to my ‘alma mater’ after a few years away. How the memories came surging back. Those who frankly find sentimental blog posts too much to bear are advised to read away now.

My first visit to this august and historic grass airfield was a birthday present ‘trial lesson’ back in 1987. I got my licence there about thirteen years later and it was where I proposed to my then girlfriend.

I had originally planned to propose before an RSC production of Romeo and Juliet that we went to see in Stratford-upon-Avon two weeks before. I had the ring in my pocket, the champagne was ready, we were sitting on a rug on the grass, bathing in sun by the river… and then I baulked. Not because I was scared to propose, but because, like a thunderbolt, it struck me how unbelievably naff the whole thing was. The ring stayed in a drawer at home for a fortnight.

Then after two weeks had passed and the ring had nearly burned a hole in the drawer, another sunny Saturday arrived and I drove Sophie down to the flying club at White Waltham. I checked over the aircraft that I had hired for the morning and then we clambered in. I fired up the engine and half an hour later we were waving to Sophie’s parents from a thousand feet above the garden of their home, just south of Hungerford. Granny was there too. Seemed like the right time, so I popped the question.

“What?” Came the crackly reply via the intercom headset.

“Don’t make me say it again!” I begged.

The answer, in pilot-speak was, ‘affirmative’, although I think she may have said, ‘Yes.’ Possibly even, ‘Yes, of course I will!’

I was very happy, that much at least was part of the plan. The ensuing tears of happiness, however, were not. I struggled to find the grass runway that merged into the rest of the airfield at the best of times; through smeared tears it all but disappeared. We landed, somehow, and climbed out and I put the ring on Sophie’s finger as we sat the wing of the aircraft.

That is quite enough sentimentality for one blog post. The photo above is of the cockpit of the first aircraft that I got to know. I owned a quarter share in G-AVBG, a PA28 Piper Cherokee, for a few years and learned to fly properly in her. Forty years old and economically-maintained throughout she had started to resemble something in a museum. Before the talk last night I checked through some old notes from my file and found the rather wonderful advice from the Chief Engineer at White Waltham that the seats needed urgent re-upholstering, lest they disintegrate dangerously from under the pilot during the next firm landing.