Trevor rolling zero one. Roger, codger!

Trevor rolling zero one. Roger, codger!

Is age is a barrier to flying? Not according to our club captain, Trevor Doig:

That was my first question when – at nearly 71 – I went to “The Pa” to find out about flying. I had come from a sailing background, about 40 years on boats of some sort, fishing, scuba diving, coastal yacht racing and cruising, with some offshore yachting too. I enjoyed the lifestyle yachting offered and until then had not found anything else that interested me.

But having sold my yacht to buy a bigger one, I stopped to see if there was something else I should try. I really thought I was an old salt and would die with my sea boots on, but the very tentative idea of flying was born about 8.30 on a Thursday evening, sitting in front of my computer looking at the Trade Me “Boats for Sale” section.

Trevor Doig in an earlier guise. He’s the only man to find himself all at sea and in the air at the same time…

The following day, I went out to the local aero club at Bridge Pa and asked the fatal question: “What’s involved in learning to fly, and is there an age limit?” The answers were all positive and the lovely receptionist, Justine, made a booking for the following Tuesday. However, an instructor standing close by sensed my impatience and suggested that straight away would be OK. So I went for a trial flight with Andrew Leach as the pilot.

I liked it. Well, I liked it a bit, enough to tempt me to know more. I had done the parachuting thing and hated the aeroplane, but this was different. Perhaps it was because it had a door and I could stay inside. It was only a short flight, too short to really tell, so I bought a three-flight package and Andrew started teaching me; $160 per hour it was. I still hadn’t fully decided whether it was for me, but I wanted to give it a better try. I think Andrew giving me the throttle for the take-off sold it. I had always been a petrol head.

So I bought a 12-pack; yep, I was getting hooked and Andrew was reeling me in. I progressed fairly quickly to taking off; the basic flying was quite easy, as I had developed a nice feel for it with my sailing. But I’m not saying it was all easy going; far from it. At least twice when Andrew saw I was getting stressed and took over, I mentally decided to give it away and buy another boat. But he always managed to motivate me to go on.

I found the hardest part was the endless procedures and those interminable checklists. So I didn’t get to the solo stage particularly early, but neither did I disgrace myself, and I have to say, going solo was one of the greatest moments of my life – and believe me, I have had a few great moments. As my wheels came off the ground and the realisation came that I now had to land this thing, I patted the empty seat that Andrew normally sat in and said out loud: “Well Andrew, I am just going to do what you told me”. And I did, and the hook was firmly set.

I don’t remember a moment when I was more pleased with myself. Even proud. Yep, proud. After the wheels gently kissed the ground, I taxied back to the clubhouse and heard the cheers and claps from those watching; wow, what a moment. It will stay with me forever.

I have been led to believe that when I was starting out there was a discussion amongst the instructors as to who would take on this “silly old bugger”. Whether Andrew was present at the discussion I am unsure, but the end result was that Andrew Leach was the only taker, and he took me on. He was a really good instructor held in very high regard by all; we became good friends during the time I spent with him. He knew it was not easy learning at my age and went the extra distance for me. I will always be grateful to him and we continue our friendship even though he is now living in Wellington.

So about 15 hours later, I was ready to own my own aircraft. I loved the Tomahawk, but of course had only ever flown in them, so I enquired as to what else was available for me. The more I looked into plane ownership, I realised that owning a GA aircraft for recreational flying was just silly. I had obtained my Class 2 (PPL) medical certificate, but oh what a hassle – dealing with an organisation that clearly isn’t interested in recreational aviation. My biggest worry was that even though I had passed my medical this time, what guarantees would I have that CAA wouldn’t dream up another way to stop me? They had tried it already, by claiming my steady beating heart was about to fail. That frightened hell out of me and it was after quite some time and visits to various specialists that I found out that CAA had tried to discourage me without even showing my application to their medical people. Not nice chappies there…

Tango Romeo Delta aloft

Tango Romeo Delta aloft

Having beaten them at their silly game, I started where everyone should, by talking to club members, and at the best place, the club bar. Like most, I thought microlights were hang gliders with motor mower engines, but soon learned that they were indeed very real aircraft, certainly capable of everything that a small GA would do, and most of them better. Even the GA pilots were enthusiastic about them.

I did have the opportunity to fly in some club members’ microlights but none seemed to push my buttons until our club instructor, Ken McKee, offered to take me for a ride in his Tecnam Echo. A high-wing, very forgiving aircraft, it just fitted what I wanted. Face it: taking on flying at 71 was daunting enough, without having a plane with a mind of its own.

So seven months after I had nervously taken my first trial flight, I had ordered a brand new microlight from Italy. A Tecnam P92 Echo Classic. Andrew said: “You’re crazy”, but I am sure he meant in a nice way. I hoped so anyway. My wife certainly agreed with him.

The Tecnam Echo is a Class 2 microlight. Most of my less-well-informed friends and rellies (and my wife) thought as I had, that they weren’t real aeroplanes. I had a hard time convincing them that they were indeed very advanced aircraft. One problem, though, was that – being a different class of aircraft, I had to switch instructors; so when my plane arrived I was taken under the wing of our club microlight instructor, Ken McKee. I learned to fly my aircraft and did all the theory exams but just before I was to go solo again, Ken gave up instructing. Perhaps I had scared him too much. The end result was that I was left with no instructor.

After some weeks, a pilot in the aero club, Jerry Chisum, with more than 35,000 hours (yes, 35,000), said: “I will teach you how to fly your plane safely.” He took me up in TRD (my plane, my initials) and showed me how to stay safe. He corrected a landing problem I was having, and sent me solo, again. At last, I was a pilot with my own plane.

I went to see the Waipukarau instructor, Ross Macdonald, to sit more tests for additional qualifications to get my full pilot’s certificate and passenger rating. This was 2010. At the end of my second year with TRD, I was a 250 flying hours pilot and talked the “aviation talk” fluently. I built a hangar for my toy, which I call my toy box. All boys need toys.

But most of all we need to be taught properly. I never regret the time and money I spent learning in the Tomahawk; I am a better pilot for it. I am pleased to have had the benefit of four really good instructors, Andrew Leach, Ken McKee, Jerry Chisum and Ross Macdonald. And I will forever be grateful for the support and encouragement even right up to now from many club members who continue to make me very happy in my new lifestyle, but in particular Mads Slivgaard, Steve Holder, and Malcolm Belcher. I consider them my mentors as well as very good friends.

So that’s my journey to the skies. If you ever think that you are too old to try something new, think on this.

Trevor Doig

Tecnam ZK-TRD

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