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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003, 11:02 GMT
A flight to remember
Peter Gould
By Peter Gould
BBC News Online

F-14 Tomcat on flight deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt
Being catapulted off an aircraft carrier is certainly memorable
On a blustery day at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, 100 years ago this week, a powered aircraft took to the skies for the first time.

Few inventions have changed the lives of so many people. Most of us have memories of at least one flight we took that will stay with us for the rest of our days.

Aircraft have taken soldiers to war, and carried refugees to safety. They have reunited families separated for years, and transported political leaders into exile.

They have also allowed ordinary people of modest means to cross continents, to see the wonders of the world.

For some, it may be a flight they would prefer to forget: bad weather, mechanical failure... the prospect of imminent disaster - a flight that was survived, rather than enjoyed.

Concorde memories

For me, the aircraft has been part of my working life as well as a means of enjoying holidays abroad. It has taken me to far-flung places I never imagined I would see.

As a BBC correspondent, you can walk into the office in the morning, and by the end of the day be thousands of miles away covering a breaking news story.

My most unforgettable flight? It is difficult not to nominate a supersonic trip to New York on Concorde, a memory tinged with sadness when I watched the last Concordes fly into Heathrow.

But I also remember a time during the first Gulf War when I found myself in the cockpit of an American tanker aircraft, refuelling fighter jets over Kuwait.

Catapult

The pilot was a reservist... his civilian job was flying 727s in and out of La Guardia airport in New York. Sitting there on the flight deck, I am not sure which of us had the greater sense of unreality.

In fact, most of the flights that stick in the memory seem to be connected with the military.

Being catapulted off the deck of an aircraft carrier was perhaps the most exhilarating; being winched by helicopter off the deck of a destroyer in the South Atlantic one of the more alarming.

But I also remember the excitement of my young children, gazing wide-eyed out of the windows of airliners, watching the world slowly passing by, 30,000 feet below.

People who fly frequently tend to take it for granted, but the invention of flight has transformed our lives.


What was your most unforgettable flight, and why does it linger in the memory? Use the form below to send us your recollections. And if you have any photographs email them to: yourpics@bbc.co.uk

I'm looking forward to the day we get beamed to places
Olaf, Germany

Ever sat in an overcrowded troop transporter for five hours with no windows to see what's happening? Or how about walking on to the tarmac in Nairobi to see the wheels of the plane you're about to fly in are so smooth it would take but a prick of a feather to make them pop. Flying - no thank you. I'm looking forward to the day we get beamed to places.
Olaf, Germany

'Stroking' Concorde's nose at the tender age of 10: what a magnificent machine!
Tracey Clayton, England

Most memorable flight was the first time I landed in San Francisco. Approaching the runway with the Bay underneath, clearing the beach and landing immediately. A real white knuckle ride, a colleague of mine nearly passed out.
Duncan, Alresford, Hampshire

I have been to Alton Towers but this 15 minute terror ride was the worst ever
Jeff Duncan, Dundee

Most memorable flight was London City Airport to Dundee - small plane (30 seats) - 15 minutes out of City Airport - we were caught in violent cross winds - one minute I was sitting drinking a G&T next minute the drink hit the roof and for 15 minutes I had my foot wedged against a partition in front of me and side tray to cling onto - I have been to Alton Towers but this 15 minute terror ride was the worst ever - even the stewardess was being sick and was pale for the rest of the flight. It did not help when the captain came on after this severe turbulence started and broke mid-sentence into silence just as we dropped a few hundred feet!
Jeff Duncan, Dundee

When a student pilot, I took off at Exeter with Concorde on the apron, the Red Arrows getting ready to line up, and when I made contact with ATC, they said to look out for a Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane in the area. Definitely one to tell the grand-children
Paul, Devon, UK

I spent a lot of my childhood in Seattle, USA as my father went to work for Boeing, and his pet projects were the 747 and 747-400. When I was a small child, I would look up at the sky and call any plane in the sky a Boeing. Most memorable flight I can remember was on a British Airways 747 flight from Seattle-Tacoma to London Heathrow, and I was allowed up in the cockpit. We were flying over Greenland at the time, and although it was the middle of the night, it was broad daylight.
Kate, Manchester, England

I never really liked flying but am now just about used to it! The last flight was from London to Bangkok - a return journey of 24 hours but it was so smooth the seatbelt lights never went on once... people go on about Concorde but I think 747's are also amazing and quite underrated. Safe flying everyone!
Johnny, Windsor, Windsor, UK

I was amazed by the grace, manoeuvrability and speed of the WWII vintage plane
Paul, Colchester, UK
Although my feet were firmly on terra-firma, my most vivid memory of flight was watching impromptu demonstration by a Spitfire during a visit to Duxford a few years back. I cannot think of a more perfect marriage of beauty and sheer brute power, despite its sixty years of age the Spitfire's spectacle was the most awesome sight in aviation that I'd ever seen. I was amazed by the grace, manoeuvrability and speed of the WWII vintage plane and the almost primeval howl of that Rolls Royce Merlin engine as the pilot flung the machine through a series of tight turns and passes.
Paul, Colchester, UK

I took my first flying lesson yesterday and the instructor let me take control of the aircraft from the moment we were in the air until the final landing approach. 45 minutes buzzing around the skies above my county at 3000 feet - what a rush!
Rich, UK

Of all the aircraft I have flown in, from gliders to large commercial jets, by far and away the best was my flight on Concorde. This is the only aircraft I have flown in where you can positively feel when it speeds up and slows down in the air. The power felt amazing, plus the view from 58,000 feet and being able to see the darker skies above and the curvature of the earth. All this whilst sipping Champagne. Truly amazing. I long for the days when I will be able to fly higher and faster. The views and thrills as an astronaut must be amazing.
Craig Goodwin, Farnborough, Hampshire

On a clear day after performing practice manoeuvres in flight, we encountered an approaching small-engine aircraft coming on our right side so close, about 20 ft. away from our aircraft flew past us with incredible speed that it suddenly shocked me and at that moment I could no longer take control of the aircraft. All I could think about was to land immediately with cold sweat and my insides going crazy, of course i did not confirm to the instructor my sudden shock and inability to fly, i just flew. We then finally were approaching the airport for land and still shaken with cold sweat, I managed to maintain positive control of the small aircraft and then we landed. Boy...I was happy to be on the ground from a close mid-air collision!
Ricardo Alvarez, DALLAS,TX-USA.

One of my best memories was when I rented a Cessna 182, in Florida USA, and flew with two of my sons and the instructor Kamal Patel, from Miami to Homestead. I am a private pilot and doctor, having many years of not flying. The exhilarating experience that I felt when flying over continental United States heavily populated, seeing the lights, homes, cars and highways down below, gave me a sense of immense well being over the skies, of this big country, feeling capable of going anywhere and become familiar with its landscape. I would like to repeat the experience and fly many hours above the USA.
Dr. Jose Nigrin, Guatemala

When I was living in Maryland I had to pick up my daughter from Washington National - she was at Tufts University in Boston and was coming home for Christmas. The traffic was really bad, so I flew my 4-seater Grumman from our local airport into Washington, about 20 miles away. The big planes flew in down the river onto the main runway, but light aircraft came in from Virginia to a smaller cross runway, and as I was on final approach I looked down and saw I was right over the Pentagon. Beautiful view, but I wonder if they allow that route today?
Brian, Aldershot UK

There are many fine stories of superb Airmanship - sadly - they do not get the credit sometimes
Warren C, Swindon, Great Britain
This is not a story of my flying experience, rather that of my father, an ex RN CPO based in Portland and HMS Ark Royal for a time. He was used to configure the autopilot systems on the Gannett aircraft. On one test flight they were flying high and the pilot was obviously in control, this is where it got a little tricky - he had to make adjustments to the controls - with the pilot giving him instruction. A device failure meant that there was a problem and the aircraft fell into a nose dive - spinning - from about 20k ft. It was the skill of the pilot that saved them - as he managed to gain control and pull up (without snapping the wings off). My father during this was unable to help as he was stuck on the ceiling (aircraft in wild spin) with the navigator pulling on his leg to bring him back towards his seat to buckle up (he had taken the belt off to adjust the settings that were behind him) There are many fine stories of superb Airmanship - about the pilots that work with my father - sadly - they do not get the credit sometimes - and most people will never hear of it, so thank you for reading my father's story.
Warren C, Swindon, Great Britain

In July 1997 I flew to Orlando, Florida with some friends and their family. I had never flown before and was fairly apprehensive because I didn't know quite what to expect.
I remember the cabin crew announcing mid flight that they expected to encounter "moderate turbulence" upon arrival in Florida, but this turned out to be somewhat of an understatement as we flew into a storm that is typical of Florida during the summer months. I will never forget the panic stricken fear that engulfed me as the aeroplane lurched from side to side and seemed to drop endlessly from the sky leaving my heart and stomach in my mouth. The combination of mounting pressure in my ears, the sudden darkness and eerie silence inside the cabin, and the rain and lightning outside all added to the sense of impending doom. I can honestly say that I have never been relieved as much as when we had finally landed and I got off that aeroplane! I spent the entire two weeks of our holiday worrying about the return journey home, but as things turned out I quite enjoyed it this time around. Looking back with hindsight and with the benefit of experience gained from taking many other flights since, my initial fear was perhaps unfounded. I enjoy flying now and I look forward to it as an important part of my own family's holiday's abroad.
Mark Benwell, Basingstoke Hampshire

My most unforgettable "flights" were in World War2 vintage bombers. I am a freelance television cameraman by trade. Five years ago, I got a call to run 2nd unit camera on a documentary about the B-25. We shot in Ypsilanti, Mi. As luck would have it, the director wanted shots of the plane in the air as well as from the ground. The Yankee Air Force which are the curators of vintage planes offered to take us up in both a B-17 and a B-25. Sitting inside listening to the big radial engines drone and feeling the aluminium skin vibrate, quickly brought to mind the old newsreels and training films you see in documentaries and war movies. One of the scenes was the recreation of an aerial battle with an Me 109 coming out of the clouds, a p-51 owned by Jack Rousch of Rousch Automotive in Dearborn, MI added to the reality. I don't think my feet touched the ground for a week!
Edward Chick, Lapeer, MI USA

Flying over India on the way back from Oz was the most interesting flight I have ever done. The constant connection of villages, towns, cities, dams, lakes, farms and the unexpected organisation of it all was gripping. And passed a few hours. More philosophically, all of the long haul flights I have done have served to make me realize just how small the earth is. Perhaps we should look after it better.
Pete, Andover, UK

My lapsed Catholicism didn't seem to have been a good career move at that moment
Jon Harvey, Cadiz, Spain
The strangest, if not most alarming journey, I can remember was on a scheduled domestic Spanair flight from Madrid to Malaga in 1999.
The weather was pretty appalling with heavy rain and blustery winds, but nothing to be overly concerned about - or so I thought.
I began to ponder life and how fragile it is. There were nuns genuflecting in their seats adjacent to me and my lapsed Catholicism didn't seem to have been a good career move at that moment.
After about an hour of silence from passengers and cabin crew, the aircraft suddenly banked to port - almost at an angle of 90 - and the engine noise indicated that we were losing altitude. We were either about to land, or the pilot was in more trouble than we imagined. The lights of Malaga - God bless 'em! - were now visible at about 20,000ft. below and never have they appeared more welcome. In heavy rain, I gather that pilots need to land quite heavily so that the wheels achieve adhesion through friction more quickly. When this aircraft hit the deck, we nearly bounced back up to 30,000ft! such was the impact. My spinal column recalled this for several days afterwards.
Jon Harvey, Cadiz, Spain

My most memorable commercial flight was on a Virgin 747 from Heathrow to New York almost ten years ago. We were just south of Greenland when we encountered completely unexpected clear air turbulence. The aircraft pitched 90 degrees on axis in the blink of an eye - the right wing was vertical to the line of flight - but the plane righted itself seconds later. The contents of the cabin were strewn everywhere, people were bewildered and thankfully no-one was hurt.
The Captain came on the intercom and said something to the effect that we had just passed through one of "life's little bumps" and that it would be smooth sailing from here on and into New York and would we please accept a complimentary bar for the rest of the flight. You have never seen such consumption in the space of and hour I can tell you.
But hats off to the Captain and his Co-pilot fro keeping their cool and relaying that to all on board. They stabilised the plane in record time and from a very uncertain scenario beyond their control. That was one of those moments when one realizes why pilots get paid the big bucks. They brought a potentially disastrous situation under control in seconds and my hat went off to them.
R Jennings, Ruislip, UK

My most memorable flight was my first. Having joined the RAF at the age of 17 and 2 months, we were taken from Recruit training to another airfield where we boarded a Shorts Belfast. I was hooked. I flew in everything I could wangle afterwards, and took up gliding!
Pete Mason, St Annes, Lancs

30 minute flight in a Tiger Moth from Duxford over Cambridgeshire; absolutely magic, we did very steep turns and wingovers. Best of all I got to take the controls too.
Chris Greenfield, London, UK

I was serving a 4-month tour in the Falklands. I had a "jolly" in a Hercules. On the flight we were bounced by 2 F3 Tornado's. After the "engagement" we had a photo opportunity. The air loadmaster lowered the ramp and we crept up to the edge (cameras ready), the F3 then slowly crept very close to the ramp, you could see the Pilots face around his fitted mask. Also you could here the induction roar from the engines - truly memorable. The air loadmaster said he'd never seen something as close as that in the air!
Stephen Priestley-Dean, Larkhill, Wiltshire

For 15 years I looked up at the Glacier peaked 4200meter Aguille Vert from my home in Argentiere. My ambition was to fly over it, but my dream was to fly around the Argentiere basin via the Droits, Courtes, Mont Dolent and back over the Chardonet encircling the entire Argentiere Glacier. In the heat wave of August I realised not only the ambition, but also the dream!
Samuel Coward, France

Flying is the only way to go! God bless all who fly
Helen, Wellington, New Zealand
Remembering the thrill of taking off and landing in a seaplane in Rose Bay, Sydney. There is nothing quite like the rush of water right beside your head - a long time ago. Compared with today's aeroplanes, the seaplane was so small and fragile, maybe that was what made it so wonderful. Today's jet planes are wonderful, but - oh well, flying is the only way to go! God bless all who fly.
Helen, Wellington, New Zealand

In 1949 I was a Cadet in the Shaw Savill shipping co. I was on the S.S.Mahana in Auckland, New Zealand and had been given leave for five days with instructions to rejoin my ship in Wellington. I went to Rotorua with a girlfriend and by the time I could drag myself away from her I had missed the last train to Wellington. I managed to book a flight which would get me to Wellington in time to be on board before we sailed on to Littleton. The plane was full and most of the passengers had cameras hanging round their necks, the reason being that they knew something that I did not!! The old wartime Dakota rumbled along the runway and finally we were airborne. I settled back in my seat to enjoy my first ever flight. After about half an hour the pilot said we were going to climb to 13000 ft and circle Mt. Ngauruhoe as it had just started to erupt. Of course all the chaps with cameras were Press photographers! We then proceeded to fly round the perimeter of the volcano and could see the cauldron below us hurling huge lumps of molten lava, what seemed like hundreds of feet into the air. It was truly the most exciting flying experience of my life! The photos in the press the following day were dramatic and I was very lucky to witness such an example of natures wildness.
Tim Tilden-Smith, Punta Gorda, Florida U.S.A.

I was still grinning the next day!
Andy Johnson, Manchester, UK
As student pilot, I've had several really memorable flights. Obviously I'll not forget my first take-off and landing. Sitting watching two 747s take-off not 50 yards from me as I waited to take-off from Manchester airport in a light aircraft with less power than my car was an impressive sight. However I remember vividly my first lesson in stall recovery. There was the apprehension of knowing (in theory) what was supposed to happen and what I was supposed to do followed by the cold sweat as I reduced the engine power to idle and watched the speed reduce. The sheer willpower involved to not re-apply the engine power against all better judgement and my instincts for self-preservation as the incessant noise of the stall warning system assaulted my ears. The feeling in the pit of my stomach as vibration built up with the turbulent airflow as the stall approached. And then the sudden roll combined with the dropping of the plane's nose as the left wing stalled and we literally fell 300 feet in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The relief as I went through the stall recovery drill and the aircraft began levelling off and the airspeed increased again and finally the exhilaration of having done it - better than any rollercoaster! I spent another half hour stalling and recovering the aircraft. It's an important part of the training but it's also great fun - I was still grinning the next day!
Andy Johnson, Manchester, UK

While flying home from the Caribbean I watched the sun rise across the blanketed clouds. I suddenly realised how small I was amidst all creation. I was one amongst countless billions seeing life and light emerge as had since the dawn of time.
David Kingsnorth, Sheffield, England

Flying on a commercial flight into National Airport (now Reagan International), Washington, D.C. in 1981 during a thunderstorm, we heard a "boom" as we approached the airport from the north over Georgetown. Smoke poured out of the right engine. The pilots aborted the first approach and flew past the airport to come in from the south, down river from the airport. As we flew over the Potomac River and past the airport on its east side we could see fire engines rolling out onto the tarmac. It was deathly quiet on the plane until we touched down, whereupon the passenger gave the pilots and crew a well-deserved round of applause for their superb handling of the situation.
Greg Powers, Wichita, USA




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