I don’t do rollercoasters. There’s no point because they don’t excite me. Is it because I’m boring? Well, maybe. But there is a reason.
In 1992, the Chief Flying Instructor at Cornwall Flying Club was a former RAF test pilot called Dick Smerdon. He was a walking caricature of a pilot, complete with handlebar moustache sprouting from the burst blood vessels in his cheeks, caused by decades of G-force. Friendly and razor sharp he pottered around the club dressed in a khaki flying suit, making jokes and generally causing mischief.
Flying single-prop Cessnas from a field somewhere near Bodmin in South West England was clearly not as exciting as flying at Mach 2 in a metal box, so his kicks had to come from something else. What better way than by scaring the bejaysus out of unsuspecting student pilots for shits and giggles.
He did this to me twice.
On my second flight with him, wide-eyed and eager I sat in the hot seat of a Cessna 152, call-sign G-WACG ready for take-off. I was perfecting my best pilot voice (copied from my childhood holidays to Zante):
“Golf whiskey alpha charlie golf, radio check 122 decimal seven and taxi runway three, two,” I crackled, pretending to be Maverick from Top Gun.
As the propeller span and the little plane bounced along the grass, the vibrations bounced around my chest. Five thousand feet and a few sharp turns later I was smug-factor seven. I'd figured out how the thing worked and I even knew what the dials meant. Then this happened:
“ENGINE FIRE!” Dick was bellowing at me, his body jerking with excitement and his rounded face glowed crimson red. I remember staring at him:
“ENGINE FIRE!” Then he grabbed the ignition key and turned off the engine. I had no idea what to do. The propeller gradually came to a complete and eerie stop. I looked at him suddenly aware of the sound of the wind rushing around the outside of the cockpit.
“Pick a field then! Emergency landing!” He said, obviously amused.
"Brilliant. My flying instructor is a fucking lunatic," I said under my breath (which incidentally is a skill that later became hugely useful as a parent).
What kind of mad man switches off aeroplane engines mid-flight? There was no fire. It was a perfectly serviceable engine. We began to lose altitude quickly and I chose the field furthest from the power lines, cows and buildings.
We were going to land in a field. Worse, it was me that was going to land it.
To be continued.
CEO & Co-founder of the PopUp Business School.