Learning to fly at 82

Post date: 
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
Photo of John sitting in the pilot's seat

John Allison had been dreaming of learning to fly since he was 12 years old, but there was always something stopping him. Now, aged 82 and with deteriorating vision, he thought it was time he took the plunge and shared his story with Connect.

 
I was born in Bradford in West Yorkshire in 1935. I’ve had age-related macular degeneration (AMD) since 2004. I can only see middle distances which makes it difficult to cross the road and see traffic far away.
 
I wanted to fly since I was a young boy when I saw an advert in a magazine that said, “Fly with the Royal Air Force” and I thought, “What a good idea”.
 
I joined the air cadets and tried to get a flying scholarship. There were 200 of us applying for two places, but I had broken my left arm and did not do the exercises I was supposed to for it to heal properly, so I was not successful.
 
Then I thought my time had come when I had to complete National Service, but I was sent home with suspected tuberculosis and that put a stop to that.
 
When I retired I could see, but I had family commitments and couldn't learn to fly so it went on my bucket list and I decided that I would do it this year.
 

Learning to fly

What I really wanted to be able to do was control the aircraft in the air. With other transport you can go left and right, forward  and backwards, but you cannot in an aeroplane, instead it is all dimensions.
 
I also wanted to experience a completely different view of the world by flying 1,500 feet above the ground. I think mankind has a privilege to be able to fly and it is a wonderful feeling.
 
Although I have AMD, and it was difficult to see the instruments on the instrument panel in front of the aircraft, I could fly alongside someone else.
 

The first flight I had was a sort of experience flight, where I just sat there as the passenger. When we took off, Mike the instructor controlled the aircraft. When we had got up to about 1,500 feet, he said: “Here you are, here’s the control column, it is all yours”.

I thought “Oh my goodness, am I going to show myself up and make a fool of myself?” But I grabbed hold of the control column, then relaxed, and like anything else, when you are more relaxed, you do it properly.
 
In all, I controlled the aeroplane for about 500 miles. I could see the altimeter and recognise whether we were rising or falling.
 
It is like any other skill, you have to keep practicing and you get better and better until it becomes automatic and you do not have to think about it.
 

Flying in the future

I would like to go back and have more lessons. It is a bit expensive and I shall probably have to save up to be able to do it again.
 
I would highly recommend flying to anyone who wants to learn, but I would say they should have a trial flight at first. I found out after I had had my experience that my daughter had gone for flying lessons. Her brother had bought her a flying lesson, but she hated every minute of it, and they had to turn back after a very short time.
 

I think it is such a privilege to be able to fly in the air. I look at birds and think “I wish I could fly like they do”.

Further information

  • John has written an article about his experience for the Microlight magazine. Visit their website to find out more about John’s flying experience. 
  • There are lots of flying schools around the UK so why not try one of them out?
  • If you prefer a sport closer to the ground, British Blind Sports UK has many options to try out including goalball, cricket and archery. You can call them on 01926 424 247. 
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