9am on a Saturday morning would normally see me sipping a coffee, maybe checking some emails and catching up with the worlds overnight events but today is different, today it finds me handing my passport over to the Military Police. The reason? I’ve been invited to spend some time with Pilot Andrew Daniel and his Rutan Long EZ at Horizon Flight Training.
It all started many months previously when discussing the state of General Aviation in Wales, was it thriving or was it waning, after all its often seen as elitist and a “rich man’s game”.
So after getting approval to enter MOD St Athan I travelled across the runway and down the taxiways to the Hangar containing Horizon Flight Training, An interesting experience in itself! Meeting with Andrew I was introduced to the guys at Horizon including Neil Boyles, the Operations Manager. A shy retiring type [ex-para] he was happy to talk about the goings on at Horizon and how things were definitely getting busier there. Neil is clearly a man who is passionate about flying, perhaps at odds with his previous career of jumping out of perfectly good aircraft!
Going into the main hangar I was struck by the sheer variety of aircraft operating from Horizon. It ranged from single engine Cessna 150’s and Piper Warriors through to multi-engine DA-42 Twinstar and onto privately owned L29 Delphin Jet Trainers originally built for eastern bloc countries to train their fighter pilots.
We then met the Long EZ, Andrews own plane. A beautiful looking, high performance canard aircraft with large swept wings, rear engine (pusher prop) and a retractable gear that make it stand out from the rest in the hangar. Owning a plane must be for rich men only surely? Apparently not, picking up a Long EZ for around the same as a top of the range Ford Focus is about right and running costs are much less than even a Cessna 150. Considering you get a plane that will allow you to fly to Cyprus from South Wales in one go, suddenly that Ford’s not looking so much of a bargain is it!
Andrew bought his aircraft largely so he could fly whenever he wanted. While most people who learn to fly are happy to get their Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) and fly once every few weekends, it was clear that was never going to be enough for Andrew. After gaining his PPL he began studying for his Air Transport Pilots licence (ATPL) and getting the flight hours in is crucial to that.
When talking about the work he has to put in Andrew became quite candid about it. He was clear about the sacrifices he’s had to make. It was a contributing factor in a relationship breakdown for example. But perhaps the sacrifices are what drives him to finish what is a complex and extensive course of studying and examinations.
The whole time we were talking, a good few hours, there was a steady stream of pilots coming in and out of Horizon for flight training or just hiring an aircraft for an hour or so. There was a definite buzz about the place and when they were not flying, they were chatting and swapping stories.
Then came the immortal words “you in a rush, want to go flying?” – well I didn’t need asking twice! A quick prep of the Long EZ, and a refuel (including a 100LL shower for me!) and we were strapped in and powering up the Long EZ taxying out with just minutes to spare before St Athan ATC went offline for Tea & Medals.
Andrew flew us out over the Gower, up to Brecon past the iconic Pen Y Fan and back down to St Athan via Newport. Wales always looks so much different from the air and being a crisp sunny day the views were particularly spectacular. The flight itself could use up a whole new article so perhaps we’ll save that for another day!
One thing the flight did though is show the sheer beauty of flying, especially in Wales. Within the space of 10 minutes you can go from flying over a beach to flying over 3000ft high mountains. Not many places in the UK can claim that.
Not everyone who flies wants to fly commercially, many flying schools tend to ignore this (or worse, aren’t interested in this). Horizon though seems different. If you want to lean to fly and just potter around for a couple of hours a month they will welcome you as much as someone who wants to go on and fly jumbo jets. If you’re not flying or the weather is bad then you can just pop down for a chat & a coffee with any of the guys there.
The whole atmosphere is one that puts the fun back into aviation, it’s not a clinical “rotating door” flying school, its one that has time for everyone who comes through the door and you will always find a willing pair of hands to help you out.
So is GA alive and well in Wales? The answer appears to be yes. Horizon was certainly busy and judging by the amount of other aircraft in the skies around South Wales, other clubs are too. Flying shouldn’t be about booking a slot at a flying club and just turning up, filling out the paperwork and handing the aircraft back. It should make you want to get there early, talk to people, have a coffee, get advice. Horizon definitely feels like that kind of place!
You can out more about Horizon Flight Training on their website http://www.horizonaircraft.co.uk/
A selection of images from across the flight including Swansea Bay, the Brecon Beacons and Cardiff Airport.
Take off from MOD St Athan
Landing back at MOD St Athan