As any private pilot will tell you, flying isn’t just about getting from A to B, and it’s not just about admiring the view! The discipline of mastering an aircraft is rewarding in itself, and for pilots who really want to progress their flying skills after gaining their license, aerobatics offers a huge challenge and one that hones pilots’ skills as they learn the aircraft’s limits. Aerobatics is also popular with those who haven’t flown much before, particularly for thrill-seekers! To find out more about what makes aerobatics so appealing, we caught up with inspirational aerobatics pilot Lauren Richardson to find out how she came to aerobatic fame.
When did you first fly, what was the aircraft and what was it like?
I think it was a PA28 that my dad had managed to arrange for me to have a go in when I was 13 – he’d met a guy through work who flew and was willing to take me up. I remember the trip was a total surprise as I’d been told we were going to a museum somewhere, when it turned out I was actually going flying! I don’t remember much about the flight itself to be honest, but the overwhelming memory that sticks with me was how much effort my parents went to to give me that experience, we didn’t have much money and they knew how badly I loved aeroplanes and longed to learn to fly, giving me that first taste was a huge deal and something I will never forget.
When did you start learning to fly? How long did it take for you to fly solo?
I started learning to fly when I was around 20 I think – it took me a long time to save enough money to be able to have lessons. I made the choice to learn at the flying club at RAF Halton, which at the time was immediately adjacent to where I was living (it was a 10 minute run around the airfield boundary from my front door to the clubhouse). I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to go solo, I believe hours-wise it was around 12 hours ish, so pretty average!
How did you get into aerobatics?
Entirely by accident believe it or not. Ok perhaps that’s not strictly true but when I first started flying there was no way, just no way on this earth I would ever have considered doing anything so stupid, and so dangerous! What eventually happened was that almost immediately after I passed the Skills Test to gain my pilot’s license I left my job and moved away – the change in income status meant that I basically had to stop flying there and then, so for a good year and a half I simply didn’t fly. I ended up working a decent contract and saving some disposable income that eventually I decided to spend on getting back into flying, starting with a go in a two seat Pitts – I had seen a single seater sitting in the hangar at Halton and had always loved the look of the thing and just wanted to say I’d had a go in one, hence the two seater. I had no intention of letting the guy flying it turn me upside down or anything, I just wanted to fly it and see what it was like. Needless to say he did turn it upside down and from my very first loop, that view of the world underneath me as my head was pointing UPWARDS just blew me away and that was it. Instant love affair and I’ve never looked back!
Describe your favourite aerobatic manoeuvre.
Now this is a hard one because there are several, I will pick two if that’s ok. Firstly I’m going to go with the manoeuvre that has traditionally always been my favourite, and is still one that brings joy whenever I fly it – the humble avalanche (or if I’m in airshow mode the triple or even quadruple avalanche). The avalanche consists of flying a simple loop, with a full flick-roll at the apex (or in the case of the triple or quad, three or four full continuous flick rolls cascading round the top of the circle). I think the reasons I love this manoeuvre so much are because it’s fun to fly, presents the most gentle form of flick/snap rolling you can do and creates some fabulous shapes when you’re flying with smoke on – the curly pig tail trails usual come from flick roll elements.
My other favourite is the only manoeuvre I currently fly that consistently makes me laugh like a lunatic or even scream involuntarily when I do a good one – the tail slide. I actually wrote an entire blog post (http://theaerobaticproject.com/?p=837) dedicated to this figure that explains a lot of the feeling in there. Sliding completely backwards under gravity in an aeroplane is a very strange and unique feeling with an incredibly violent return to normality. A serious grin inducer.
Do you have any advice for aspiring aerobatic pilots?
For anyone wanting to get into aerobatics I would really just say don’t be shy, do something like coming along to have a go at one of the British Aerobatic Association special beginners competitions – you can fly with someone like me as a safety pilot to help you learn and have a go if you think competitive flying might be your thing. Otherwise just find a good instructor you will enjoy flying with, someone with a pedigree and who has a good aeroplane and just pluck up the courage to go and give it a try!
If you could attend one UK airshow this year, which would it be and why?
If we are really limiting it to just one show I am going to have to say it would have to be my own home airshow, Little Gransden. It’s my home field, a lot of my friends do a lot of the flying, it’s all done to support Children in Need and as such will always be one of the ‘little’ shows with a big line-up and an overwhelmingly positive outcome. The unique dual axis ‘curving’ display line also lends itself to some stunning views and some fantastic creativity from the performers. There is just something really quite special about displaying in front of the home crowd 🙂
Finally, what are your plans for 2014?
My plans for this year are to work hard, train hard, play hard, have some fun with my gorgeous man and get some good flying in – it’s that simple. I’m also hoping to make a few people proud of me, or perhaps even prouder than they already are!
We’re sure they’re already immensely proud of you Lauren! If you’d like to keep up to date with what Lauren’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her website. If you’ve been inspired to have a go at aerobatics yourself, check out our aerobatics experiences, buy a voucher and get airborne this year!