Tony Wells - CFI- Microlight Pilot

 

I often used to pick up in waiting rooms the Readers Digest Magazine. My favourite feature was “My Most Unforgettable Character,” a collection of memories about a specific person in the writer’s life. I could actually catalogue quite a few of these as both my main jobs entailed moving on a lot and working and meeting many people. Only a few, however, I would tag as “unforgettable.” Then one day in June 1996 I met Tony Wells.

I had decided to have a few flying lessons, not really with the intention of gaining a pilots licence but as something to try to do in what I hoped would be a varied and early retirement from work.

I had seen a traditional powered hang glider type of microlight skim over a hedge where I lived and land in a nearby rough field. The pilot stopped the engine lit up a cigarette, strolled around a bit  then just as casually started up, took off and disappeared. I thought this was a wonderful thing to be able to do.

A liitle bit of research and speaking to someone who had a pilot's licence at work I was directed to Mercury Flying School and Tony Wells, CFI, Microlight Pilot  Sole Owner & Sole Employee. I had phoned and asked for an appointment but was told by him , "Just turn up, you know where we are." I didn't know at the time that Tony didn't really do "appointments" in fact he didn't do anything formal at all really.

I arrived down at Tarn Farm, Cockerham on a very warm hazy June day and unusually (as I was to find out later) Tony was on the ground. He was eating a meat pie and a number of others were milling around in the club hut and we were introduced. I had by then found out that there were two types of microlight aircraft, Flexwing (which I had seen land in the field) and Three Axis Control. I started to explain that I wasn't too sure which type I would like to try but was quickly and firmly told, "Dont be daft, you are too old for Flexwings get in that one, I will be with you in a minute".

He pointed to a Cyclone AX3, registration number, G-MYKF which looked rather the worse for wear and was in fact  the complete Mercury Flying School Fleet. It was being filled up with fuel with the aid of a plastic funnel and a drum of two stroke mix and I was shown by someone the precarious method of getting into an AX3 without treading anywhere that would cause any damage.

Within minutes, Tony had jumped in the engine started on the electric starter with a cry of "Clear Prop" and the aeroplane was taxying across the rough field to the runway. I had expected a bit of introduction of things like pre-flight checks, where the controls were and what they did but apart from a brief halt at the end of the runway a single test of maximum rpm and we were rolling forward, accelerating and then much sooner than I expected climbing away from the field. At about 1000 ft he headed due west and told me to hold it straight and level. All I was doing was controlling the pitch and roll using the stick which on an AX3 is more like a car handbrake situated between the two pilots.

Unknown to me at the time Tony was busy adjusting the rudder, the power and the aircraft trim but said , "Its easy isn't it ?". This was the Tony Wells method of instruction, making it primarily a load of fun and only telling you what you needed to know as and when the situation changed. Someone told me later. "You teach yourself to fly and Tony happens to be there" but I discovered later he preferred to let you become comfortable in any situation before giving you any new problem which was just the way that worked best for me.

Soon we were over the massive beach at Pilling Sands and Tony throttled back the engine to tick over giving a pleasant silence put the aircraft into a left turn and told me to keep it at 50mph in the descent. "Just use the stick and don't let it get less than 50". He didn't explain how but it quickly became apparent that lifting the stick reduced the speed. "Try and get it pointing to the dry bit of sand".I could see the bit he meant but it looked very small to me and I commented on it.

"You could land Concorde on that he said reassuringly, you will be alright, keep it at 50". It suddenly dawned on me that I was actually being given the responsibility of landing it never having been inside a microlight half an hour earlier. We seemed to be hovering without any airspeed when he mentioned that soon as we got lower it would seem to speed up but now it was even more important that I keep it at 50.

"When you get to about toilet seat height you pull up the stick and flare for  landing". His hand was reassuringly close or even on the stick when all this happened and we gently skimmed on the sand. I dont know to this day how much I had to do with the landing but it certainly felt good. With a sudden instruction "I have control", he opened up the throttle to full and we were soon up again at 500 foot and he started mentioning important things like wind direction and how to tell where it is coming from and always land into wind. Another circuit and another landing without me worrying about balancing the turn with the rudder or setting the trim or setting the power just trying to get that descent to 50 mph was the important thing.

Around again same procedure and all too soon he said head for those white bags. These identified the location of Tarn Farm in the distance and only then did he mention having flying lessons. I said I would like to but I couldn't as I was colour blind and it had stopped me training as aircrew in the Royal Air Force.  "That doesn't matter now in private flying" he said, "Get your medical formed signed and sign up for our 15 hour block booking for £765, you can put 50 minutes in your log book for today as exercises 1,2,3,4,5 & 6.

We joined overhead and he took a short circuit in to what looked a very small runway covered with sheep which obligingly seemed to hop out of the way at the correct moment and soon we taxied towards the hut.

"Who is next ?. Show him how to refuel it someone."

The weather was wonderful that Summer of 1996 and Tony seemed to have an abundance of pupils with no obvious system of organisation but it all seemed to work somehow. He and the poor little AX3 seemed to be in the air from dawn until dusk and that was the priority.There would be plenty of bad weather and time to sort out your training syllabus and log book and do a bit of maintenance on the aircraft.

It is true that he would sometimes fall asleep during a lesson but this was reassuringly good almost like being solo. He was always alert for the landing though and think he did this for your confidence.  Other times he would distract you with a wonderful view and secretly adjust the Altimeter before questioning you about your height. "It doesnt look like 2000 feet to me, what do you think ?". He would make sure you got lost frequently, suddenly close the engine when you least expected it for an emergency landing or joyously demonstrate how to lose height quickly by side slipping into the runway.

If during a flight you ever asked him how you were progressing his answer was invariably. "you are useless, and keep the ball in the middle". The trouble was he didn't tell you how to keep the ball in the middle or how to know if you were at the correct height on the final approach. I found that out from other pilots and following their tips and tricks on subsequent flights would get a response such as , "At last the penny has dropped".

He knew I was not comfortable in turbulence and would often say . "Get up there, it's paper dart weather". He knew I was not keen on practising recovery from a stall and when I questioned him about doing it alone he said, " I wouldn't worry you are not going to ever get accidentally near a stall. I know you." I was worried about going solo and once said during a flight , "A mistake a day keeps the Solo away". With that I was directed to head for Middleton Sands with the reply, "Well we will see about that because today is the day."

It was always  a lot of fun, he made it that way, and I went solo on Middleton Sands, Heysham just before Battle of Britain Day on Sept 10th of that year. Every pilot remembers their first Solo but I was lucky enough to remember both that and looking down on Tony Wells from 500 foot just a small dot on the sand, an extraordinary character.

Later when I had my licence he had given me the confidence to switch off the engine completely at 1000ft or so with no means of me restarting it until I landed and side slip just for fun or fly the length of the beach at about 10 foot high along the edge of the waves his voice always with me. "Ball in the middle, you are a stick and rudder pilot." It was supposed to be fun and it was then.

This was almost the end of an era in the 1990's and what I thought was the imminent demise of the fun side of flying. Before then people were flying around in non registered homebuilt aircraft without formal lessons or licences and actually flying them to Tarn Farm for instruction and be put on the straight and narrow to obtain a pilots licence. I even became an Aircraft Inspector and Check Pilot myself.

Later years have become more and more regulated obviously much safer but I am not sure better. We have Radios & Transponders, Insurance, Flight Plans, Radio Courses, and Procedures, Check Flights if you miss a few months.  We have soaring fuel costs and Hangar Fees all this in addition to all the extra formality seem to be the opposite of what I wanted out of flying. I just liked to turn up at dawn, just me and the sheep, take off unannounced. I liked to change my mind about where I was going, chase a cloud or two and land in remote places take a stroll and return when I wanted.

I gave away my own aeroplane. G-MZEL,  and stopped flying in September of 2003 having flown 315 hours mostly on my own AX3 or a shared Rans S6 with my number of take offs being exactly equal to the number of my landings entirely thanks to Tony Wells CFI.

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Tony Wells,  died of Cancer Aug 11 2004, Age 65

He enjoyed careers as a Paratrooper, Fireman,

Ambulance driver and Deep-sea diving instructor 

Flying Instructor and unknown to most was a poet.

 

Crystal Clear Day


Two thousand feet above the farm
The air is crystal clear and calm
Five thousand feet above the bay
Hills and Lakes not far away

Three six zero is what I steer
Upon the day that's crystal clear
Over Cark and Barrow near
Ten more miles to Windermere

Lakes Coniston, Wastwater, Bassenthwaite
Hills and Valleys still bathed in morning dew
Oh give me the words that I may speak of
Speak of this fantastic view

And I think of pilots gone
Of Ian, Simon, Dick Clegg and John
And so I dedicate this to you
This crystal clear day that I flew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Click on Thumbnails

Tony Wells CFI

Cyclone AX3

G-MYKF

Cyclone AX3

AX3 Cockpit

A Flexwing

Solo

G-MZEL Landing

Approach Runway 18

My AX3 G-MZEL

Rans S6ES (Shared)