Flight Report: G-CJXD ~ 19th April 2017

I’ve written before about how, as the holder of a commercial pilot’s licence, I have to undertake a competency flight test with an examiner if I wish to earn money from flying. Over the last few years, however, my battle with anorexia has meant that I haven’t flown much, and what little flying I have done, has been entirely private and purely for fun. In fact, I haven’t undertaken a paid commercial flying job since I took the Churchill Dog balloon for a walk in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and with anorexia still popping in and out of my life as it chooses, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I was, however, forced into needing a flight test. The reason? I’d moved house!

In the UK, a commercial pilot’s licence can have restrictions and limitations placed upon it, based on the type of flying you wish to do and the size of balloon you wish to fly. I hold an ‘Unrestricted Commercial Licence – Rated for Group A Balloons’ which means that, with the aforementioned flight test, I can fly “fare paying passengers” in a balloon up to 105,000 cubic feet (essentially taking 4 passengers at a time). As I’ve only been flying privately, however, I don’t require the flight test. I can just jump in a balloon and fly.

The problem, though, was my address. I needed to update my licence with CAA but if I did so without the flight test they would, quite rightly, only send me back a Private Pilot’s Licence. You only get back what you send in. And so, for no other reason than paperwork, it was back to The Dog House at Frilford Heath to fly under the scrutiny of an examiner.

It’s fair to say I was nervous about the flight. I’d always flown with Chris Dunkley when being “signed-off” but Chris wasn’t available and so, I’d turned to Colin Wolstenholme. I’ve known Colin for years, he’s a famous face in ballooning (having worked for all the major UK manufacturers) but he is known for his attention to precision and detail. And I was very much out of “commercial” practice.

Arriving at the launch site, with Colin in his trademark red hat ready and waiting – it’s never a good start to arrive after your examiner – I set about running Colin through the administrative side of flying. I explained the met forecast, the planned direction of flight and ran through the weight calculations that ensure safe loading of the balloon. A NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) had been issued earlier in the day regarding parachuting in the area. Not on our direct flight path, it was still nice to be able to say I’d seen it and printed it off. I was flying for a paperwork issue, so it was good not to be caught out by another one – especially as Colin had also printed it out!

Inflating the balloon was straightforward but there was definitely a nervous tension in the air. Even though Colin was helping, and both my crewman and passenger were knowledgeable and experienced, everything just felt unnatural. The muscle memories that we rely on so much to simply “get on and do it” were gone. Nobody wanted to put a foot wrong, to cause me to fail, and it created this awkward, stuttering tone as we worked that kept my heart noticeably pounding even as I took off.

Posted on by 5WC in Bumble, Hot Air Ballooning First Edition

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