Riding without stabilisers and flying a Spitfire for the first time – A Take-off guide for newcomers to 2 wheels and/or 2 wings.

  1. Context: Riding your bicycle without stabilisers for the first time is as stressful, exciting and rewarding as flying for the first time, one of the most iconic looking and sounding aircraft ever (my view obviously), the Supermarine Spitfire. Whilst there are clear differences between your first bike and the aeroplane, the piloting concept is the same. You are now ready to read on…………
  2. Pre-flight preparation – take stabilisers off the bike/service spitfire aeroplane, locate your pilot gear, check weather, read instruction book, attend briefing (parent-cycling expert/a suitable Wing Commander), check restrictions i.e. Excessive Noise (wailing child/noisy Rolls Royce Merlin engine), post event celebration planning (think positive), check take-off area is free on the day.
  3. Turn up on time, check that the support crew are all present and paying attention, double check the weather & wind direction (use a hankie or windsock), get into pilot gear and get ground crew to check helmet is screwed onto your head correctly, gloves etc. Check first aid facilities, check take-off area is available and with no big distracting crowds.
  4. Get into the saddle/cockpit and get comfortable, and importantly, check saddle height & handlebar reach/control pedals and joystick reach. Check everything works from steering to brakes to flaps (these are: potential flap-ping by parent-cycling expert/the wing and tail flaps on aircraft). Go over Safety routine.
  5. Taxi to starting point at one end of the take-off area & glare at the horizon. Top Tip: On the bike, its preferable to start with a tail wind, and a head wind in a Spitfire, & a side wind is bad for both! Fire up the engines (heart rate-adrenaline/V12 Rolls Royce Merlin). Grip all controls tightly. Raise heart rate/engine revolutions ensuring that the bike is held upright, and the Spitfire brakes are on.
  6. When given the ‘all-clear’, shout 3-2-1-Go! And push off with strongest foot first/pull back the engine accelerator lever. Do not be afraid or surprised of the initial acceleration/thrust. DO NOT back off, as this will cause both bike/Spitfire to fall over.
  7. Once moving, accept that the view from both cockpits is limited in the first few metres. Your senses are being driven by forward motion, engine & wind noise. Some weaving is expected and is only got rid of by more acceleration. Don’t look back to see the look on the parents/ground crews faces.
  8. As the speed increases, you can look up and focus on the line of the horizon. Give full power now. The wind noise is louder than the engine, although don’t be concerned about sparks coming from the engine(s).
  9. A final push of power, pull back on the bars/joystick and your airborne. Note: ‘Airborne’ is the correct term for the Spitfire take-off only, and you must clear the trees/hedge at the end of the take-off strip. You must also avoid these trees on the bike as well, whilst technically, not taking off  from the ground.
  10. Turning to the left, make a smooth 180 degree turn, remembering not to lean/bank over too much with the relatively slow ground/airspeed. Once pointing back to where you’ve just come from, increase speed and straighten/level out. The bike/Spitfire will start to feel like they’re flying themselves at this point. As you will be smiling by now, glance over at the parents/ground crew in recognition of personal achievement as you pass them. Before the other end of the runway, carry out another smooth 180 degree expert turn and then head down the take-off area again.
  11. Keep an eye on energy/fuel levels as running out of either at this stage will be disastrous.
  12. Landing & stopping probably hasn’t been on your priority list so far, and energy/fuel will dictate it will be sooner or later. On both the bike and Spitfire, you should be landing into a head wind, so do your take off procedure, but in reverse. On the bike it’s just fine to head straight at your ground crew, and in the Spitfire, it really isn’t.
  13. On the bike & in the Spitfire, you need soft landings, so in the case of the bike, grass, and having other people willing to catch you etc is fine. In the in the case of the Spitfire, it’s just grass.
  14. When you’re world has finally stopped moving, make some quick checks before leaving your saddle/seat. In the case of the bike, check trousers are not caught in the chain & in the Spitfire, check that the propeller has stopped spinning.
  15. The celebrations should have been initiated by your parents/ground crew at this stage, so join in, pose for photos, have an appropriate (age-related) drink and start thinking about the next step…….
  16. Which is called, getting back on the horse, or in this case, the bicycle/aeroplane as soon as possible!