Category Archives for "Flying"

Jun 10

Aerobatics: Principles and Practise by David Robson

By Mark Attwood | Flying

I knew I was on to a winner with this book as soon as I read the first line in the introduction:

“The practise of aerobatics develops sensitivity, feel, judgement and anticipation – (as the actress said to the bishop)”

Being someone who does actress/bishop gags to multiple sighs on a daily basis, I felt immediately at home with this book by veteran aviator, David Robson, a former member of the RAAF Deltas 7-aircraft aerobatic team (which flew his favourite aircraft, the Mirage).

I found this video of a 1970s documentary about the Deltas which is v. cool:

I’m not sure if he’s in this video or not, but David’s resume is staggering and makes him the boss when it comes to discussing aerobatics.

He plainly points out that he wrote this book as a result of two emotions: enthusiasm for flying and a concern for incomplete pilot training.

Since I have rejoined the flying fold I must admit that I have been quite surprised to see spinning taken out of the PPL syllabus. (Adopts Yorkshire accent): “When I were a lad, spinning were t’manadatory”

I seriously find it hard to understand how a licence can be issued to anyone that does not know how to recover from a spin. Spinning was the lesson I enjoyed most when doing basic training on the Bulldog back in the 1980s.

David talks about learning to fly on the Chipmunk “…when the flying training syllabus produced a complete, three dimensional pilot”, and I have to agree with his point.

Moving on to the book itself, it is packed with well written prose that is logically laid out, well illustrated and easy to understand.

He starts with some aerobatic wisdom, then moves into explaining aerobatic terminology then onto the physics and physiology of manoeuvring flight before giving full explanations of aerobatic manoeuvres in step-by-step detail. I also enjoyed the last section on designing an aerobatic sequence, and look forward to putting my new found knowledge into practise as soon as possible!

An excellent read that should be on the shelf of any pilot, regardless of whether or not you like throwing aircraft around in the sky or not because this book simply expands your understanding.

Jun 10

My early attempt at flying poetry

By Mark Attwood | Flying

Cleaning my office out this morning, I found this old poetry anthology I was in from 1990 called “Live Poets Society” edited by Henry Normal. It was a group of young people who came together to read out our poems to each other after I put a poster up in Manchester offering people the chance to “come out of the closet” as poets. We ended up doing some live gigs as a group, one particularly talented individual went on to win a Bafta (Dave Gorman) and, of course, Henry became one of the leading lights in British comedy. All wonderful people who I hope are all doing well 22 years on.

I was pleased to find a poem in the book that I wrote in 1988 which was my attempt to sum up an aerobatic sortie in verse. Unfortunately, this blog does not allow me to lay it out in the format I originally intended (to make an aeroplane shape), but here it is anyway….


Elastic is taught, clammy and near,
Looking around, prop is clear.

Rising gently, air is clean,
Sensing the power, fulfilling the dream.

Homogenous blue, tainted by abstracts,
Emotion runs high, elation it racks.

Limbs become heavy, gauntlet is lain,
Strain through the tunnel, time not to be vain.

Over too soon, sweating and panting,
Re-focus the mind, pick radio rantings.

Contact controlled, landing is neat,
Release is too short, freedom is sweet.

If anyone reading this has any flying related poetry, I’d love to read it.

May 26

Aero Expo UK 2012 at Sywell, Northamptonshire

By Mark Attwood | Flying

I had been looking forward to returning to Sywell for the Aero Expo 2012 for a number of reasons, as these videos hopefully explain…

I don’t think it can be underestimated what a difference glorious sun can make to an event like this. From the car park attendants jokes to the smiles of the faces of the young air cadets at the gate, to the gleaming teeth of the insurance representative and the pert buttocks of the scantily clad young women just inside the gates advertising (hang on, I can’t remember what they were advertising. Note to advertiser: next time pick some girls who are not quite as fit and scantily clad. We might get around to reading the advertising then) the whole thing had a fizz about it. Saying that, this was the fist time I’d been anywhere in years that was not either:

A. Involving 5 little kids shouting Dadda every 2.3 seconds incessantly, or
B. Anything to do with business

So, hand on heart, I am not sure how much of the effervescence was to do with what without going back in time and running some completely pointless empirical testing. Suffice to say, the sun was shining and everyone seemed happy.

And why not? What could be better, apart from flying itself, than walking around a field in my home county full of splendid flying machines? Exactly.

So, what was on show?

Many lovely things, I can tell you. For the purposes of this blog entry, I shall edit myself down to the stuff I really liked. This is not meant as a definitive review of the day, just some edited highlights.

First up was something I’d read about but never actually seen in the flesh: the Robinson R66. This is a five-seat turbine-powered helicopter with a two-blade teetering rotor system. Having flown a few hours in the R22, it was good to see this big brother to the R44 sat on it’s haunches and looking pretty confident…

Robinson R66 at AeroExpo 2012

Next up were a couple of WWI replicas that caught my eye. Obviously not for sale (shame) but definitely on show were a 1969 replica of a BE-2 (which was referred to as the Biggles Bi-plane) and a Red Baron Fokke-Wolfe. I stared over the edge of the cockpit and got lost in the intoxicating smell of wood, canvas, brass and steel. It’s a kind of “airplane” smell that you don’t get anywhere else. I’m always instantly transported back to my first flight in the back of a Chipmunk aged 13 and then into my imagination in a real pea-souper over the Somme, terrified, cold and lost in one of these kites.

I really cannot imagine how incredibly tough and brave these early fighter pilots were. Replicas or not, these were inspiring sights to see on show…

BE-2 Replica Biggles Bi Plane

WWI Cockpit at Sywell Aero Expo 2012 - Can You Smell It??

And here’s the Baron…

Red Baron at Sywell Aero Expo 2012

I was rather impressed by the Pipistrel Virus on display. The importer, an enthusiastic man by the name of Sergei, said it was not yet available in the UK but that it would be soon. I was taken by the lines, the cool cockpit, the fact that it uses 6 litres every 100km and can do 150kts. Very nice.

Pipistrel Virus at Sywell Aero Expo 2012

You can get more details of this slinky Slovenian here. Sergei did say this would retail for about 90,000 Euro when it does arrive in the UK – it will be interesting to see if it can achieve that price when it arrives.

As a little P.S. I’ll show you the Biggles Teddy (from those nice people at Transair) that my daughter is so enamored with, helping me to write this post…

Biggles the Teddy - Not quite how I imagined him when I read the books by Capt. W.E Johns

and a short video of my son test flying his new RC Helicopter that I picked up at the show for £30…

If you were at the show, please do share your experiences and stories. Many thanks.

May 04

Solo Sector Reccies

By Mark Attwood | Flying

OK, the weather has been pants, but I managed to squeeze in a couple of solo sector reccies this week, as my course continues at it’s leisurely pace – leisurely when compared to my first flying course 26 years ago which involved doing 30 hours in 20 days!, which were immense fun.

I’m really becoming rather fond of this little Eurostar. So much so that I’ve started referring to her as my “mistress” or “girlfriend”, always finding the joke far funnier than anyone I tell it to, who usually just look at me bemused as I hold up my iPhone picture to them. For example, I walked into one of my favourite local shops last night..

“Evening Mark”

“Good evening!”

(as I place my chosen goods/wine upon the counter)…”Nice day?”

“I’ve spent the day with my mistress”

Pause, waiting for quizzical look of slight horror.

Bingo. Now hold up iPhone to reveal Eurostar.



“£16.84. Sixteen for cash.”


So, for anyone that is interested here are my attempts to make a picture of a Czech minx purring gently in a the middle of a foreign field look even more interesting…(you can click to enlarge but I warn you they do turn on their side 🙂

Danger! Evektor Eurostar

Logbook Eurostar - I know, it does look photoshopped

Mar 28

Vertical Take-off in a Gyro!

By Mark Attwood | Flying

Fantastic video I found here of a guy called Clark Cogan performing a vertical take off in his gyrocopter using hydrogen peroxide rockets at the tips of the rotor blades.

I was surprised to see find that this was not a new idea and was famously tested on the Fairey Rotodyne (a 50-passenger carrying gyro) in 1957. This was a gyro that could cruise at 200mph! I mean, don’t you wish the sky was full of creatures like this:

I just love films like this. The optimism, confidence and brilliance of the engineering was astounding. Not to mention the voice-over. Class.

Hmm. Maybe the idea’s not dead after all…

(although I do suspect this may be computer animated 🙂

For more information, visit this excellent site:

Mar 04

My First Solo

By Mark Attwood | Flying

Last week my instructor turned to me, after 40 minutes of practised forced landings after take-off in a 15 knot half-crosswind, and said “You’re ready to go solo”. Because of the weather, I expected him to add “..but we’ll wait until next time when the conditions are more favourable”.

But he didn’t. He got out. And I flew my first solo circuit in the Eurostar.

A view from the Eurostar cockpit

It wasn’t a moment of fanfare. There were no dancing girls or trumpets. Not because it wasn’t a great moment. It was. Just that it had been 26 years since my first ever solo, so I had been here before emotionally.

I experienced a strange sense of being out of my body and looking down on my life like a movie. As my instructor was giving me my brief, I had a wry smile on my face that he probably interpreted as arrogance, as was transported back to that field in 1985 at RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire.

My instructor then, on the week long Glider Proficiency course with the Air Training Corps, was Flight Leiutenant Babbage. I’m not saying he was fat, but I believe the envelope of our Venture glider (a plucky VW Beetle-engined self-propelled sail plane) was pushed to it’s limits every time he hauled his 50-something voluntary aircrew bulk into it. I remembered how he heaved himself out of the cockpit to take a piss by the wing whilst telling me I may experience some slightly different handling characteristics. I was more interested in how he managed to get his nadger out of his flying suit with such dexterity whilst also remembering the salient points of a brief to a 16-year old who was about to risk life and limb by convincing a large pile of red and white balsa wood powered by a Hitler-inspired engine (did Babbage not see the irony, I wondered?) to depart from it’s Earthly footings then turn Hitler off and glide back down to Earth in a co-oridnated manner at 9.30am on an English Thursday.

I remember the sheer excitement of that moment. It’s an experience nobody ever forgets, and rightly so.

My first solo was made doubly exciting by the fact that the Venture, without the weight of my Master, could now actually FLY. What had previously handled like a barge on a canal and took hundreds of feet to take off now felt more like a sports car. It was off the ground in seconds!

The climb rate was astonishing without Babbage, who was by now no doubt shaking the remaining dribbles of urine from his not-seen-since-1972 nadger.

I remember saying stuff out loud like “whoooo-ah”, “woo-hoo”, “jesus”, “mummy”, but not neccessarily in that order.

I had had something like 3 hours total flying training at that point, and here I was in command of my own ship for the first time.


There were three other moments I remember about going solo then that were the same as last week. A very brief frozen moment in time when you are looking at yourself flying from the outside of the aircraft thinking how cool you are. Then a moment of total terror as you realise there’s nobody there to help you if the engine stops followed by a realisation that you’ve got to land the bloody thing and the instructor is watching you from the ground with his fingers crossed.

Hold off, hold off. Don’t you dare fucking balloon. Touchdown. Brilliant.

I don’t remember of we used radio back in ’85, but last week my instructor came through and said “Well done. that’s a 9 out of 10” to which I replied “I think you’ll find it was a 10 out of 10” and then a hastily added “That was a joke, I didn’t really..”

It’s very hard to pull off humour on the radio. As I’m sure Terry Wogan would testify.

So, large gratitude is given to all those instructors over the years that have seen fit to send me solo, recommend me for training, passed me on a test or just been such bloody brilliant pilots and men that I want to name check them on my blog: Flt Lt Babbage, Harris (sorry I can’t remember your first name, but I’ll never forget what you said to me after I got lost and delayed 7 Heathrow-bound passenger jets after blagging my way out with a fake practise-PAN), David Hoy, Flt Lt. Paul Barber (I miss you, Sir), Flt Lt Hewitt (ex Red Arrows), Dave Greenwood (I was so sorry to hear they’d taken your medical off you), and John Bradbury.

Thank you one and all.

Here is a picture of me next to another great Slingsby, the T67 Firefly, at Denham in 1986.

A young Mark Attwood and a Firefly

This was the one and only time my Dad saw me fly solo before he died, which was actually the best solo of my life.

Jan 22

Real Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

By Mark Attwood | Flying

Well, I am certainly looking forward to this Wonderland Film on BBC on Monday 23rd January. It’s a film following the microlight “Round Britain Rally” featuring the author of “Propellerhead”, Antony Woodward.

I couldn’t get a clip to share here, but here’s an image from the BBC site:

Magnificent Men

Antony was also a guest of Libby Purves on Radio 4’s Midweek. Here’s the link to Listen Again on iPlayer (don’t know how long this will be live for, so apologies in advance if it’s been taken down by the time you read this).

Finally, I couldn’t end this blog post without showing those of you a clip from the fabulous film that inspired the title of this documentary film, and inspired me as a child: “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” – a simply wonderful film that starred the incomparable Terry Thomas and Eric Sykes (the theme to which I used to drum to on parade with the Air Cadets in the 1980s through the streets of Northamptonshire 🙂

Finally (again) I really couldn’t end this without sharing that fantastic theme song:

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