After over two hours on my own, suspended in the tiny Cessna 152 training aircraft, navigating my way over the fields and railway lines of Normandy in north-western France, I was filled with nervous excitement when I spotted an airfield in the distance.
That airfield was Rennes airport and I had never seen it from the air or landed there before.
It was a defining moment in my life story because this was one of the final stages of gaining my Private Pilot’s Licence – a solo cross country flight, landing at Rennes and Dinard before returning to my home base of Jersey, the largest of the English Channel Islands.
For a nineteen year old I was quite mature and confident. In that same year I was promoted to a Deputy Store Manager in a supermarket with 23 staff. That was one thing, but flying solo at two thousand feet over the English Channel, map-reading my way down the French coast and finding an unfamiliar airstrip was quite another test of self-reliance altogether.
I contacted Rennes Air Traffic Control and was cleared to descend and join the circuit.
Although I was still a student pilot, my training had been thorough and I had picked things up quickly owing to a lifetime of affinity with aviation. In fact I had ‘gone solo’ one fine but grey afternoon on the grass airstrip at Lessay, after just nine hours of training – one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Flying solo for the first time had been another defining moment for me – that heart-pounding moment when the instructor says, “When you land this time, pull over on the side of the runway but keep the engine running.’
Then, said my instructor, John Pedley, ‘Ok mate, you’re ready. Just do one circuit, request a full stop this time, park it over there and I’ll see you in the bar. Enjoy yourself.’
I was born with avgas in my blood. My father had joined the Air Force as a mechanical apprentice at fifteen and was fixing Spitfires on Malta, Sicily and in Egypt during the War, before a lengthy career as an aircraft engineer for British Airways in Jersey. My eldest brother became a commercial helicopter pilot, having served with the Army Air Corps, and my sister was a stewardess for British Airways. No wonder I loved assembling and painting model aircraft kits as a child.
When I was seventeen, Dad got me a summer holiday job at a small airline he had joined while in semi-retirement, called Intra Airways.
I had the joyful job of cleaning the aircraft on the turnaround between flights. I had felt important, driving support vehicles across the airport apron, putting locking pins in the undercarriage of the old Dakota DC 3’s, wiping oil off the engine cowlings and directing passengers which way to walk to the terminal building. The downside was in having to empty the bucket from the chemical toilet, but even that unsavoury task did not diminish the joy of working with my father and being ‘one of the guys’ at Jersey airport.
So on that July day in 1980, as I joined the downwind leg of the Rennes circuit and began my pre-landing checks, with my hands on the controls, I felt literally as free as a bird.
I think I had goose bumps as the tower controller said, ‘Golf Romeo November – you are clear to final.’
Before I knew it I was cleared to land. The wheels greased smoothly onto the bitumen and I taxied my plane to a parking spot in front of the control tower.
As I turned off the engine, I threw my hands in the air and yelled ‘YESSSSS!’
I think it was a little from nervous relief as it was from exhilaration. The concentration had been intense, realising that the only person I could count on to bring that plane down safely was me.
I had to have my log book stamped by Customs to prove I had been there, before flying on to Dinard, then back to Jersey.
When I gained my wings at the Channel Islands Aero Club in Jersey that Summer, I was very proud of the achievement.
When I reflect on it though, a large part of my pride stems from the fact that it represented the realisation of a huge dream come true.
I had set the goal to obtain my licence; I had researched what I needed to do; I had sought the finance required – I took out a two thousand pound bank loan; I enrolled in the course; I studied the things I needed to study – navigation, meteorology, principles of flight, air law, radio procedures, airfield procedures, flight planning and much more.
I had made a commitment to myself and I saw it through, overcoming occasional fear and self-doubt, carried with the wind of desire and determination beneath my wings.
As a metaphor for life in general, it was a great testament to the power of a dream.
Sir Winston Churchill once remarked that, ‘Nothing can stop the totally committed will’ and I am a firm believer in his maxim.
If you decide that you really want something, and of course it fits with your ethical and moral values, then if you commit to its completion, and really apply yourself, you can overcome any obstacle, rise to the challenge and live the life of your dreams.
We are blessed to live in a free country, surrounded by resources at our disposal if we will but look and ask. We live in a place where the seemingly impossible can be made to happen, and the difficult – well that just serves to make the challenge worthwhile.
So I hope that you have not given up on your dreams and settled for less because opportunity is all around us.
I recommend that you encourage others as you yourself would like to be encouraged. The power of a good support team is not to be underestimated.
Life coaching, lifestyle consulting or whatever you prefer to call it, can help you rediscover the dreams and goals you may have filed in the ‘too hard basket’. What if, just maybe, you could still do them?
Do you dare to dream?
Until next time, may you live your life with passion!