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UK skies are crystal clear for light planes

WHILE the cloud of Icelandic ash has kept most of Europe’s airliners firmly on the ground, anyone with an interest in flying smaller aircraft will have noticed the volcanic activity has not interrupted all sections of aviation.

Many light aircraft even took advantage of the empty skies over the weekend to fly through controlled airspace around airports such as Luton and Stansted. And now the clocks have changed and the weather is spring-like, thoughts are turning to what new flying adventures can be sampled during the summer season.

One of the best-kept secrets in aviation is air racing – we’re not talking the modern Red Bull Air Race-style Formula One in the skies that tours the globe each year to plug an energy drink. The traditional form of handicapped air racing dates back to the early days of flight, when brave pioneers would battle to win trophies and set records. Air racing helped drive innovation and technological development in the aircraft industry during the 1920s and 1930s. One winning aircraft of the famous Schneider Trophy races – the S5 and S6 manufactured by aircraft builder Supermarine – went on to become the acclaimed Spitfire fighter.

Today the Schneider Trophy is still up for grabs each year, along with the King’s Cup which was first awarded in 1922 by King George V. There can be little more needed to fire the imagination of competitive pilots than the knowledge that their name could be inscribed alongside the likes of aviation celebrities and previous winners Geoffrey de Haviland, Alex Henshaw and Alan Cobham.

It is remarkably easy to take part. Any fixed-wing propeller-driven aircraft can join in provided it is capable of at least 100mph in level flight. Pilots must have accrued 100 hours in command and undergo a check flight with a qualified instructor, such as Roger Hayes of the Skysport UK flying club. The racing season takes in seven or eight events a year with two races per venue and a social function, which can be a black tie dinner. Up to 40 aircraft compete, which makes for a stunning spectacle as the racers come together in the final surge for the finishing line.

Away from air racing, the number of flight experiences on offer in the UK is breathtaking. From the most famous air shows such as Duxford’s Flying Legends to intense aerobatics in the latest composite stunt planes or lazy flights in classic biplanes – all can be sampled in our skies.
www.airraceuk.co.uk or call Roger Hayes on 01285 851311

THE BLADES
NOW in their fifth consecutive display season, The Blades display team enter 2010 with a full calendar, an exciting events schedule and a unique experience at one of the world’s biggest air shows. The Blades are the UK’s only full-time civilian aerobatic team and the pilots are former Red Arrows. Their purpose-built facilities are less than an hour from London and provide the base for truly unforgettable events. Operating as an aerobatic airline, all guests enjoy the incomparable experience of flying close-formation aerobatics. This summer, The Blades are offering packages to join them at their private chalet at Farnborough International Air Show, where guests will be able relax with the display pilots whilst being looked after by dedicated hostesses. Each day eight guests will be given the unparalleled chance to fly with The Blades. www.theblades.biz or 01604 671309.

AVIATOR HOTEL
FOR many pilots, once the initial excitement of popping over to France for lunch has worn off, finding those treats that satisfy the flying cravings while keeping the peace at home are hard to find. The Aviator Hotel at Farnborough Airport has a fantastic weekend break package that taps into the glamour of aviation’s heritage. For £385 per couple you get welcome drinks on arrival, an upmarket Aviator Air room, three-course dinner in the brasserie, “Aviation” cocktails in the Sky Bar and a relaxing breakfast. Guests then get the chance to take control of a small aeroplane out of Blackbushe aerodrome with a qualified instructor on a flight to include two take offs and landings and a pre and post-flight briefing as part of a one-hour lesson.

Information about the Aviator and its “Loop the Loop” package can be found at www.aviatorfarnborough.co.uk or 01252 555890.

FLYING LEGENDS
JULY’S annual Flying Legends Air Show promises to be extra special this year as its Duxford home celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It is the place to see some of the best airworthy examples of famous aeroplanes, including the Spitfire and Hurricane that helped win the battle, take to the skies. One of the world’s greatest air shows, Flying Legends, culminates in the famous “Balbo” – a flypast of up to 30 war birds. Platinum Pass Hospitality packages are on sale promising a fantastic way to entertain clients or staff with guests accommodated in a luxury marquee with a private garden area overlooking the flight line and top class catering. Best of all, because Duxford is an operational airfield, those guests wanting to arrive at the event in style and avoid the crowds can choose to fly in. Information can be found at www.iwm.org.uk/duxford or 01223 499353.

ULTIMATE HIGH
COTSWOLDs-based Ultimate High designs bespoke events for clients looking to create stimulating and memorable days for guests. Enthusiastic, professional ex-military pilots take guests skywards in a fleet of exciting aerobatic aircraft on high flying adventures, which include Aerobatics, Air Racing and Air Combat missions to “shoot the bandit”. All flights are tailored to the individual and encourage extremely nervous first-time flyers as well as providing the ultimate thrill for adrenaline junkies. Whether looking to launch new products, create a team building event, offer management training, or provide incentives for treasured staff, Ultimate High will bring guests back down to earth with a huge smile. Best of all, the flights require no prior experience. “You fly the plane, you feel the ‘G’, you get the thrill.” Information about Ultimate is at www.ultimatehigh.co.uk or 01285 771200.

GOODWOOD
IMAGINE flying a Second World War aircraft on a “fighter sweep” along England’s south coast. Sounds impossible? Yet that very experience is on offer at Goodwood Aeroclub, part of the historic estate and site of a Battle of Britain airfield. The 1943 Harvard aircraft is the closest most pilots and non-pilots alike can get to flying a Spitfire and surely ranks as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Those feeling less adventurous can sample a modern day Cessna training aeroplane which boasts all the comforts of a classic car. Flying at Goodwood can easily be combined with a visit to the iconic motor racing circuit or a day’s horse racing, or perhaps one of the major events that have put the estate on the map such as the Goodwood Revival or Festival of Speed. A stay at the estate’s own hotel and dinner in the Kennels club will make any weekend complete.
www.goodwood.co.uk or 01243 755066.