Having made the decision to learn to fly, the next task in hand was to find somewhere that would teach me!
Being a computer programmer for a living, the first place I turned to for advice was the good old Interwobble. The first instinct is just to type “flying schools” into Google and see what we get in return.
The first immediately obvious thing is the difference in website quality, ranging from quite professional through to 404s. Clearly you can’t directly gauge a school on their website; this surprised me at first, I figured that they would be trying to attract the relatively cash-rich Internet generation.
The second obvious thing was the wind range of hourly prices and aeroplanes flown by each school, without much information to differentiate them.
Plan B then, which was pretty much a follow-on from Plan A anyway; get in the car and actually visit the schools.
A dull Saturday while my partner was away gave me the perfect excuse; not that I really needed one. I was itching for any reason to go and get my first look at the schools.
My first stop was Tatenhill Aviation at the airfield of the same name.
They’d ended up on my list because their website was one of the nicest to look at, and their prices were one of the cheapest!
The drive there was quite pleasant, and I found the airfield without any trouble.
The weather had made sure it was a quiet day, so there was an instructor round who I was able to chat to and ask various questions about the training.
And I got to sit in a plane for the first time! Ok, it never left the ground, and never even moved, but it was an experience nonetheless!
Popped into the little cafe afterwards, and had a coffee and a chat with Margaret; who I’d read about from other people’s PPL Diaries.
Overall impression was that it was a nice, friendly, place; albeit a little on the small and quiet side, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I hadn’t spent as long getting to Tatenhill as I expected, and had plenty of time left in the morning, so I decided that rather than heading home I would head to the second airfield on my list; Halfpenny Green (Now known as Wolverhampton Airport).
I knew from my research that there was a handful of flight schools based here, though the only website was for The Flight Centre who seem to mainly deal with commercial ratings. Their prices certainly reflected that!
It was the other two schools I was interested in. The airfield impression was markedly different from Tatenhill; where that gave the air of a casual airfield, this had the feel of a small run-down airport.
RJP Aviation was the first, and I spent a pleasant hour or so having a cup of tea with Tony there and met one of the instructors. He answered most of my remaining questions, and I left there with a good feeling for the place.
On the way out, I popped into “The Flying School”. A friend had done his training with the instructors who’d gone on to form this school, so I had to at least take a look. Unfortunately it seems like they’re still just getting going, and didn’t have any prices other than for a trial lesson. The solitary plane was a bit of an issue too, as I figured that would make booking harder (not to mention no possibility of hiring it after I passed!)
The day was getting on, so I headed home. And this is where I found out the main problem with this airfield; from where I live in Birmingham, it’s practically impossible to get to! The journey into Birmingham city centre took over an hour, ruling it out completely.
The third airfield on my list was Wellesbourne-Mountford. I’d discounted it at first, because it seemed like it was quite a way out, and it wasn’t until I told my partner about it that we realised we passed it on the way to his parents and that it was only just off the M40 by Warwick!
Well within travelling distance, and in fact, almost exactly the same time to get there as Tatenhill.
Made the trip down there together on the Sunday following my previous excursions.
First impressions were as different from Tatenhill and Halfpenny Green as they had been from each other. This was clearly an airfield, but rather than the solitary school in the corner, was much busier with several schools and lots of people around.
Ok, the people probably had something to do with the improved weather, but the difference was there.
Visited each of the schools there in turn, and popped our heads into the cafe to see what it was like.
Nobody was in at Take Flight so we left with a very glossy brochure, and no real lasting impression other than it seemed like a bit too much of a business and not a nice club.
Wellesbourne Aviation was next on the list. This turned out to be a very friendly and busy club, with a good sized club house and selection of modern aircraft.
I got to sit in my second and third plane, being shown the differences between their two types (Robin HR200 and Piper Warrior) while referring back to the Cessna 152 I’d sat in at Tatenhill.
While their prices were a little higher than others, we left with a very good impression of them!
Pilot Flight Training was next door; not much to say about them, we popped in and were given a leaflet, and that’s about it.
Lastly there was the South Warwickshire Flying School, which we’d passed on the way in as it was a little more out of the way than the others.
This was a place that really highlighted the difference amongst the clubs. They flew Cessna 152s, and since David had not seen in one (but had sat in the Robin and Piper with me earlier) I thought I’d ask whether we could see the plane they used. We were pointed towards the plane on the grass and warned “don’t touch anything”.
Not the best approach to get someone to spend several thousand pounds learning to fly with you, that!