“You have control!” Three adrenalin pumping, buttock clenching, grin inducing words I did not expect to hear when I woke up one morning! Rewind 24 hours and I received a call from Stewart, friend of The Islander, and owner of the Aviation Centre based out of Son Bonet, Palma’s original airport. Did I fancy a fifteen-minute trial lesson in one of his helicopters to give me an idea of just how much fun it would be to learn how to fly one? Well, as you can imagine, it took less than a heartbeat to agree to such an adventure.
So, at 10:45am on a glorious Tuesday morning I arrived at the Aviation Centre to be met by the delightful, perpetually smiling, Stewart. His enthusiasm for helicopters is infectious and his calming manner soothed my slightly fraying nerves. There was absolutely nothing to be worried about, Stewart assured me, we were just going to go up, throw the thing around, see some breath-taking views and have a lot of fun. And I can assure you, he wasn’t wrong.
We started the trial lesson with a briefing on how to control the helicopter. We talked through how to use the anti-torque pedals, collective pitch control and the cyclic pitch control, with Stewart making it sound as simple as riding a bike. So there in the small briefing room I quickly came to understand the principles of helicopter flight, now I just had to put it into practice.
Briefing finished we took a leisurely stroll over to the landing strip, where I was able to admire all of the helicopters and planes that this ever-expanding company have to play with. It was a sight that would have even the least enthusiastic flyer buzzing with anticipation. As for me, I love all things that fly or float, so this was a sight for sore eyes. I’ve been lucky enough to fly in helicopters a couple of times before, but I’ve never had the opportunity to take actual control and I could barely contain my excitement.
It was time. I stepped up into the cockpit, got strapped in and donned my headset. Stewart ran me through the controls again, and, as he had rightly pointed out, they made much more sense in the flesh. I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t more than a little nervous, and slightly fearful for our lives at the prospect of me being in control. To fly a helicopter for real takes serious coordination of the three major controls, and whilst I’m happy at multi-tasking, I was slightly concerned I would have us looping the loop. However Stewart’s cheerful demeanour once again put me at ease and it was time for take-off.
It was electrifying! There is something so very very different being in a helicopter, to being in a plane. It somehow feels closer to actually flying, if that makes sense. You really feel the fact that there is very little between you and the ground, as we soared at speed out over the runway and off towards the mountains. Within seconds I could see how addictive flying one of these incredible machines could be. And it was at that point that I heard the immortal words “you have control”, and pretty much everything clenched. The Cyclic control is so incredibly sensitive that the smallest of movement had us tilting left and right, forwards and back, with me over compensating every time. But slowly but surely I relaxed as I realised that the tenser I was on the controls the more I jerked us around. At one point I think I was actually flying straight and level. It was a proud moment!
As we neared the mountains Stewart took back control to allow me to admire the breath-taking views that were about to appear before me. I’ve been fortunate to see this stretch of coastline by car and by sailboat, but never from above, and I can confirm that it is the only way to see it. It’s like the opening sequence to Game of Thrones as miniature villages pop up, dotted out on a carpet of emerald green, with an electric blue ocean stretching out as far as I could see. I was mesmerised, and as we flew over Valdemossa and Deia I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. The most surprising thing for me, as we turned to head home, was how small the island seemed from this perspective. She was literally laid out for us to see from all four corners, in all her resplendent glory.
Having now unclenched, Stewart asked if I’d like to take control again, showing me how the combination of controls had a totally different effect on the helicopter, as up to this point I’d only been in charge of one. I was loving the feeling of flying so much that I forgot to be scared and grinned for the camera. I didn’t want the experience to end and started to do the calculations in my head about how to go about getting my pilot’s license.
But sadly the experience did have to end, but it wasn’t going to end quietly. With a devilish grin, Stewart said that it was now time to practice an engine failure. “Marvellous” I said, that clenching feeling creeping back. But in actual fact it wasn’t frightening at all. Helped by entirely by the knowledge that I thankfully was no longer in control but was in the safe hands of the seasoned professional, who has landed in some of the most fascinating places, in all kinds of conditions, to my left. Needless to say, there was nothing to be worried about as we pulled safely out of the fall. For the final part of my trial lesson, just before coming back in, I got to practice hovering. I think I need a LOT more practice on that one, but it’s the perfect excuse to book another lesson.
I really cannot praise Stewart and the Aviation Centre highly enough. They were professional in everything they did, making me feel safe and calm, yet they made everything so much fun. It was a real adventure and a thrill and a privilege to have been given the opportunity to actually take charge of such a beast. So if you, or a friend or family member, wants a taste of what it is like to be a pilot, or perhaps you want to take your first steps into realising that dream, or maybe you simply fancy a birds eye view of this spectacular island, then these are 100% the guys to do it with. Go on, I dare you! J
The Aviation Centre
+34 971 60 80
Prices starting at €129
All flights are weather permitting
No lower age limit, but all passengers must have their own seat