How much experience do I need?
The minimum requirement is for a PPL.
What if I haven’t flown a complex aircraft?
You will need to undertake differences training. This is likely to be a minimum of five hours with an instructor approved by the group.
What if I have flown a complex aircraft?
You will need a check flight with an instructor approved by the group.
What is a complex aircraft?
It is an aircraft with retractable undercarriage and constant-speed propellor. It is just a legal term in air law. It does not mean complicated or difficult to fly.
So what is involved in flying a complex aircraft?
It is not that different to a simple aircraft. Raising the undercarriage consists of operating a switch once you are climbing away. You won’t notice much happening as the wheels come up, apart from a clunk and a reduction in wind noise. Lowering them is a little more interesting. You need to make sure that you are within the allowable speed for lowering the undercarriage, just as you would for flaps. You operate the same switch, but this time there is a noticeable change in trim and the aircraft does slow down quite sharply. You need to be ready for the change in trim and be prepared to apply more power if required. But a few hours’ practice will be all you need. Oh, and you won’t forget to lower the undercarriage because there is a warning siren that goes off if you throttle back without lowering the undercarriage, and if you ignore that, the undercarriage will lower itself.
The constant speed propellor is very easy to handle. As the name implies, once you have set the revs to a particular value, they stay there regardless of what you do with the throttle. The main difference is that the rev counter does not change as you move the throttle forward and backward, and nor is there much change in engine tone. Instead, the manifold pressure gauge responds to the change in throttle and you quickly learn to watch this, rather than the revs. Apart from take-off and landing, you will probably leave the revs set to 2400 and just fly on the throttle. But just as in a car, when you might want to change down before accelerating, you can get better climb performance if you increase the propellor revs just before you apply full power. But, again, a few hours’ practice will sort you out.
Are there any costs apart from the monthly and hourly rates?
Not usually. The fees are set so as to cover fixed costs, such as insurance and rent of the airfield, and variable costs such as the 50 hour inspections and the Annual. In addition, we put aside money for the propellor and engine overhauls in the long run. We have not needed to ask members for any further funds in the past ten years. However, you should be aware of the possibility of an unforeseen major item of expense, in which case the members would have to agree how to deal with it.
How are the fees and rates set?
The group has an Annual General Meeting every year (obviously!) in January or February at which the finances are discussed. Members then vote on the rates for the following twelve months, bearing in mind fuel costs and any known maintenance issues. Rates have gone up and down over the past ten years.
Speaking of maintenance, how well is the aircraft maintained?
Very well indeed, is the answer to that. All legal requirements are met, but the group has a policy of keeping all systems in working order. If something non-essential fails, the members will decide whether to wait until the next 50 hour or whether to get it fixed immediately. Anything essential will be done at once.
Can I go abroad in the aeroplane?
Is availability really as good as you say?
It really is! With six (sometimes seven) members, it is very rare for there to be a clash. The booking system is on a first-come, first-served basis. You simply go online and look at the booking calendar. If a day is free, it’s yours. You can block book up to five consecutive days at a time without asking anyone. If you need it for longer, then you should ask. Don’t forget, also, that if you find the aeroplane is booked on a particular day, you can always contact the member concerned and talk to him or her. They might be happy to swap for another day, or to share a flight with you at reduced cost to both of you.
There are very few rules, but a couple of things would make you unpopular. Please don’t book the same day of the week for several weeks, and please don’t book “weather days” – in other words, booking for two days when you only plan to fly on one of them, but want one in reserve.
Do I have to fly if I have booked?
No, and this is really important. Safety is our paramount concern. If a member has any doubt at all about the advisability of a flight, just cancel it. We all do this, and nobody will question it. It might be for an obvious reason, such as a hurricane blowing through, but it might equally be that you have woken up and don’t feel quite right about flying.
Do I have to contribute anything apart from money?
Yes, but it is quite fun. We have occasional cleaning parties when we give the aircraft a thorough wash and clean-out. Not everyone can come to every one, but you should turn out when you can. The actual cleaning is quite social and only takes an hour or so. We then usually repair to the local pub, though this is not compulsory.
The other thing is mowing the strip. A grass strip needs mowing, obviously. We take it in turns to do this, taking a month each. The group owns its own tractor and gang-mowers.
Three members have jobs: the maintenance guy, the treasurer and the secretary. When you have been a member for some time, you might consider volunteering for one of those jobs.
Are the finances as good as you say?
The main point here is transparency. We produce and circulate full accounts every month – a balance sheet and a profit and loss account. You don’t have to be an accountant to follow these as they are pretty clear. Members can see how we are doing month-by-month, so there should not be any surprises. You would be able to examine the accounts before making a decision to join.
Is there a social side to membership?
It is very informal, but yes. Some members do enjoy flying together, and we also have occasional meetings in the local pub near the airstrip.
How do I sell my share if I want to leave?
That is up to you. You will be expected to advertise it, find a buyer and agree a price. You are free to sell your share for whatever you can agree with a buyer. There is one caveat: the rest of the group will want to meet your replacement and we do reserve the right to veto a sale to someone who is unsuitable, but we would need a pretty good reason for doing that, and it is unlikely to be a problem.
What happens if I get into financial difficulties and can’t pay my fees?
We hope that won’t happen! If a member cannot afford the hourly rate for whatever reason, he or she should obviously not fly until they can. We do have a distress procedure. If a member genuinely cannot pay their monthly dues for some reason, they should make every effort to sell their share. The group will allow the debt to build up and will expect the member in difficulties to square up when the share is sold.
How do I join?
Call our Group Secretary on 07775 801071 or email email@example.com to get started. We will be happy to show you the aeroplane and the airstrip, but if you would like to fly in the aeroplane we would like to see your licence and medical just to be sure that your interest is genuine, and we would ask you to pay for the flight. Unfortunately, we have been caught on more than one occasions by people taking joyrides on the pretext of being interested. The member selling would be happy to reimburse you in the event that you agreed to buy their share.
Once you have reached agreement with the member on terms, we will invite you to a social meeting with the other members of the group. This is important for you as well as for us. You need to know that you can get on with us, and we need to know that we can get on with you.