Breathtaking views of Yorkshire from the air
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 April 2013
Yorkshire looks wonderful on the ground but for the finest views you have to fly high, as Chris Titley discovers. Photographs by Andy Bulmer
‘OK squadron leader, you are cleared for take off.’ Those mythical words were ringing in my mind as I sat at the aircraft controls on a windswept Yorkshire runway, anxiously awaiting my maiden flight as a pilot.
This being a civilian flight the control tower doesn’t give any such clearance of course. And the entire ‘squadron’ consisted of me, my instructor Dick Cummings, and cameraman Andy Bulmer, all strapped into one rather small plane.
Still, the excitement was palpable as I awaited my trial flying lesson. Not to mention the nerves. I couldn’t help picturing Harry and Christa on Look North that night. ‘Later, the Sheffield squirrel that’s taught itself to crochet. But our main story tonight: fireball from the sky – how a routine training flight turned into a nightmare as a rookie pilot plummets into the Leeds Institute for Puppies and Orphans…’
I shouldn’t have worried. Multiflight has been training pilots for years out of Leeds Bradford International Airport. And my instructor could not have been more experienced. Dick Cummings, 66, has been teaching people to fly for 42 years. Three decades a policeman, he started flying on his days off – and still gets a buzz from being in the air.
He led the way from the Multiflight offices to a shiny blue and white Cessna 172, only about 30ft long with straight, high wings and thin propeller blades.‘They’re light, very manoeuvrable but also quite stable,’ said Dick.
Inside the small cockpit Andy and I were given a pair of clunky blue headphones. At first glance the dashboard seemed to be made up of hundreds of dials – but in fact there were only 12. Dick pointed out the artificial horizon, the altimeter and the gyroscope. Basically all the needles and numbers enable the pilot to safely land the plane even if thick fog obliterated the view.
The plane has a top speed of about 115mph, which means the average modern saloon car could go faster. But of course the Cessna has a distinct advantage. ‘The big thing with an aircraft is you can go fast in a straight line,’ said Dick. ‘There are no traffic lights, no slowing down for big lorries. You can just go somewhere.’
I had to ask. Has he ever experienced any difficulties while piloting a plane? Dick nodded. The engine has failed on him twice. ‘The first one, I managed to get on a runway. The second one was into a potato field down near Coventry. That was interesting.’ This seemed like the perfect moment for Dick to pass Andy and me a sick bag each. ‘I don’t like that warm, wet feeling down the side of my neck,’ he explained. ‘It has happened.’
Then there was a lot of talk between Dick and the control tower. It was just as you might imagine: ‘This is golf bravo echo uniform x-ray requesting clearance for take off,’ said Dick, before confirming something or other as being ‘one zero niner niner’.
I am a nervous flier. My nine-year-old daughter has taken to holding my hand to help me through take-off on holiday flights. So it was quite strange to discover that in this tiddly aircraft sitting on the vast acres of runway Tarmac at Leeds Bradford International Airport, I was more excited than frightened.
That changed when we set off down the runway and left the ground almost immediately. It felt like a near-vertical ascent. Then – wham! – we were knocked sideways by the crosswind. We were buffered about a good deal until Dick got us a few thousand feet above Leeds and all was tranquil again.
I unscrewed my eyes and took in the view, which was exhilarating. We saw Yorkshire stretching out ahead of us all the way to the Wolds. Down below was the blocky Harewood House. A small triangle of houses nearby turned out to be the Emmerdale set. From up here a golf course looked like a patchwork quilt.
After a few minutes Dick let me try my hand at flying. He was right – the Cessna was surprisingly responsive. Pull on the W-shaped control column and we soon started to bank, turn it left or right and we rolled in that direction.
One of the most striking things about flying is that it requires less concentration than driving – at least for the bits between take off and landing. Because it was a beautiful clear day we could see there was no other aircraft anywhere near us. So unlike being in a car, where you’re eyes are glued to the road, up here you could look down at a map for a few moments or drink in the scenery without having to worry about rear-ending a BMW or veering down the motorway embankment.
We were quickly above York. Here you realised how insignificant everything in the city looked compared to the giant Minster. As our flight took place after heavy rainfall, we could also see the remnants of the floodwater on the racecourse.
We turned and headed back to Leeds. Below us the oblivious city was doing lunch as we looked out for landmarks. All too soon it was time to hand over the controls to Dick who made a perfect landing back onto the Leeds Bradford runway.
It was a spectacular, unforgettable experience. My thanks to the unflappable Dick Cummings, and to all at Multiflight. And now I know why Yorkshire’s known as God’s own county – because it looks all the better from the heavens.