It’s common for us to have a (sometimes not-especially-orderly) queue of friends and family who want to come flying!
Whilst not everyone who has tried it is a fan of small aircraft trips, we know plenty of people who are or would like to be, and an ever-growing list of destinations they’d like us to take them. We love sharing the experience with people – what a privilege to be able to introduce someone to the joy of flight and watch their face light up as they take off for the first time!
My younger sister, S, had reminded us more than once that she was ‘the only family member’ who hadn’t yet had a trip in the plane, so in April 2013 we planned to change that. The weather at home was reasonably chilly and not very inspiring, but J had been looking at the Scilly Isles as a destination for a while and was desperate to try it.
The Scillies are a beautiful collection of small islands in the Atlantic off the west coast of Cornwall. The islands are normally reached by air from Exeter, Newquay or Land’s End, or by ferry from Penzance. Flying in is definitely a time-saver as the ferry trip alone is around 3hrs, and to reach Penzance from London takes considerably longer. For us, the planned time en-route was just 2hrs 45min in total from Biggin Hill. As it was S’s first time in the small plane, we weren’t sure how she’d find it, so our Plan B was to cut the trip short and land away at Bembridge in case she found she didn’t like it.
J called up St Mary’s airport in the Scillies and informed them of our ETA. They seemed very relaxed and told us it was beautiful day on the island. The controller warned J that the runway has an interesting slope, and suggested he ‘come in low for a look’ (as many apparently do) before attempting to land. J had read a little about the airfield on pilot forums so was expecting and looking forward to a new challenge!
We headed over to Biggin, kitted S up with a life jacket and gave her a safety briefing about over-water flights. As we do with all new passengers, we also explained some of the sensations she might experience during the flight and encouraged her to let us know if she was at all uncomfortable.
We needn’t have worried about her tolerance – S had a huge grin on her face from the word go and it didn’t vanish all day. It’s infectious when you see someone go up for the first time and love it – I never get tired of sharing that with people! The few lumps and bumps in the air that day didn’t seem to bother her at all. We knew pretty quickly that the full trip to the Scillies would be feasible, so J and I then turned our attention to the navigation.
Rather embarrassingly, it was me who interrupted the trip due to having had too much tea to drink at breakfast time. The unfortunate consequence of this #BritishProblem was that I needed an urgent toilet stop somewhere around Newquay! Despite my pleas for him to make up another excuse, J took great pleasure in informing the controller that the reason for the diversion was due to a ‘passenger needing a loo break’, causing much giggling behind the scenes. He spiralled down very steeply from around 9,000ft to make the landing at Newquay, which S seemed to quite enjoy but which only served to make my situation worse!
I don’t regret the stop as we were introduced to a great airport and to the lovely folks at FlyNqy. Zara came out to meet us and to my relief was able to direct me to the facilities whilst J took the opportunity to have a cup of tea (none for me, though!) and get some fuel. We’ve called back into Newquay several times since then, and unfortunately for me everyone still remembers this incident and likely will for the foreseeable future. I guess everyone needs a ‘most embarrassing flying moment’ – this is mine! For now, at least…
After the stop we set off again for St Mary’s, with me slightly red-faced and J and S still laughing. We were also getting increasingly excited as the weather to the West was looking more and more promising all the time. We dropped some height after coasting out around Land’s End to enjoy the view of the islands on approach, which was well worth doing as they are incredible when seen from the air on a clear day.
As advised by the controller, J made a low approach to check out the runway, but once he’d seen it he felt good about how things were going so decided to land. We taxied to park on the grass with a stunning view overlooking the sea. The airport is up on a hill so it’s a great vantage point from which to see the rest of the island. GA landing fees depend on aircraft weight and are available here – for us it was just over £27 for landing plus a day’s parking.
The island of St Mary’s is not big, so it’s easily walkable from the airport into town and the footpaths take you via some gorgeous scenery. If we’d had more time, we’d have loved to have visited some of the other islands, but as it was a day trip we stuck to exploring St Mary’s. The town and waterfront are lovely, and we really had been so lucky with the weather. It was a good 10 degrees warmer than we’d left Biggin and glorious sunshine all day (I got sunburnt, but I’m generally quite good at that!). We couldn’t have picked a better day for S’s first flight!
We bought a picnic and ate it on the beach. J and S decided to start an arm wrestling tournament on the drystone wall, whilst I was the only one brave enough for a paddle (it was pretty chilly – unsurprising given it was the Atlantic – but I’m still glad I went in!). We walked back to the airfield via the scenic route and piled into ‘YC for the trip back home. No emergency toilet stops required this time, and just over 2.5hrs en route back to Biggin Hill. We stayed low over the water after take-off until Land’s end, enjoying the sun glittering on the sea and watching the Scillonian ferry below us.
A beautiful day discovering a new place and introducing S to the plane. We felt so lucky to be able to reach the islands comparatively easily and to make the most of such stunning weather.
Newquay (unplanned diversion!)
- ICAO code: EGHQ
- Elevation AMSL: 390ft
- Runway direction & length: 12/30 (2,744m)
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): £25 + VAT
- Facilities: FlyNqy have a briefing room, toilets, vending machine and tea & coffee facilities available. The terminal building has further facilities available.
- Transport links: The airport is at St Mawgan, around 6 miles northeast of Newquay. Limited public bus service runs into Newquay, otherwise local taxi companies. Nearest train station is in Newquay itself.
- ICAO code: EGHE
- Elevation AMSL: 116ft
- Runway direction & length: 09/27 (525m) and 14/32 (694m)
- Runway surface: 09/27 (tarmac & grass) 14/32 (tarmac)
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): £18.30 for ‘YC, varies according to MTOW
- Facilities: Briefing room. Buffet & toilets in main terminal building.
- Transport links: Walking into the town is possible and lovely if you’re not in a rush, otherwise local taxi companies will get you there in around 10 minutes.