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Ulster Flying Club (Newtownards, County Down)

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Address: Newtonards Aerodrome 61 / Portaferry Road / Newtownards / County Down BT23 8SG

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      06.08.2012 15:36
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      Oh why weren't we born with wings - surely we were made to fly.

      The first time I heard this it was followed by a trip to casualty, a number of x-rays and a broken foot. My son ( age 2 at the time) had attempted to fly from the top of the staircase with predictable results. But from the dawn of mankind we have looked up at the birds and longed to join them. For some people this desire runs stronger than others - in fact I understand a few people actually prefer to keep their feet on the ground - but this isn't really something I can understand. The sky beckons like a siren, and I find myself drawn very strongly towards it, as do both of my sons. We had seriously considered a foreign holiday - or even just booking a round trip ticket anywhere cheap - just to give them an experience of flight - but in all honesty a large jet hardly feels like flying. Yes you can look out the window, but you can not feel the dip of the wing, the acceleration of the motor - you hardly feel movement at all.

      HISTORY:
      Then we heard about the Ulster Flying Club. This group - formed in 1961 operates out of a small airport on the outskirts of Newtonards. The airport was originally home to the North of Ireland Flying Club, first formed in 1922. The Marquis of Londonderry, an aviator himself, donated the land for an airport on the edge of his Newtonards estate, making the Newtonards Airport the first civilian airport in Northern Ireland ( Belfast Harbor Airport - later renamed City Airport, and now George Best Airport opened in 1938). The airport originally opened in 1934, but was requisitioned for military use during the second world war, and apparently civilian flying was suspended at this time. Thirteen soldiers, too young for overseas service were killed during a Luftwaffe raid in April 1941. The airfield was returned to Lord Londonderry after the war - in rather poor condition, he set about restoring it, before it was sold to Shorts, and then transferred to the current flying club. Another historical moment for the club was when the modern clubhouse was opened in 1976 by Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader CBE.,DSO.,DFC. Bader lost both legs in an aircraft accident but went on to command the 242 squadron during the second world war. His exploits are legendary and will be well known to anyone who has seen the film "Reach for the Sky". The Douglass Bader foundation today offers free flights to youngsters who have undergone amputations, and operates out of several air fields, including this one.

      TODAY:
      The Ulster Flying Club today offers a number of services, from sight seeing flights, to flying lessons. I understand small planes may also be chartered for business flights. In addition to the Airplane flights, helicopter tours are also available. In addition there is a very small gift shop, a tea room and a pilot lounge. Hangar space is available for privately owned planes, and of course this is the prefect landing spot for visitors in light aircraft from England or Scotland. The club does offer full training to achieve a pilots license, and also serves as a base for the Army air cadets flight training. The facilities are very clean, comfortable and even luxurious. There is also a small green area where the children can run about and watch the planes and a picnic table.

      DISABLED ACCESS:
      The clubhouse is easily accessible by wheelchair. There is are disabled toilets as well, and the field itself is also wheelchair accessible. The planes themselves may not be though. The plane we flew in would have no space for a wheelchair - and there really isn't very easy access to get in and out of the plane either. In fact my attempts to climb in were rather undignified, and we won't even go into what happened when I got out. I happen to be one of those people who really prefers to be left alone though. I was offered assistance politely and then the pilot had the decency to step back when I politely declined. I found all of the staff exceptionally polite and helpful, and I'm sure they would do anything possible to assist, but if you are booking for anyone with sever disabilities - I would suggest contacting them before hand and explaining what your requirements are.

      PRICES:
      We paid £99 for a 30 minutes - up to 3 people, one of whom will be able to fly the plane if they wish, but the other two will not. There are several other packages including helicopter tours at £99 per person, flights for only one person at £90 in a smaller plane, and discounted packages for flying instruction on weekday evenings. For any type of chartered flight you will have to contact the club, and please be aware that all such flights must file a flight plan and may require some time to arrange. Longer sight seeing tours can also be arranged, and if you want to see any particular sights they are happy to oblige, as long as your plans do not conflict with commercial airspace. We just let the pilot choose, as we were not fussed where we went - as long as it was in the air. The actual route we took was beautiful, flying past Helen's Tower and over the Ards peninsula, you will see beautiful coastline and Strangford Lough, as well countryside and Portaferry. The Ards Pennisula really is a beautiful part of this country an and excellent location for sight seeing, but as I said, they are quite flexible and this is a wonderful way to really take in a lot of sights in a short time.

      OUR EXPERIENCE:
      This flight was a birthday gift for my youngest son. I was not aware that only one person is allowed to fly, but once you see the plane, the reason for this is obvious. It is very small and changing seats would be impossible mid flight. My oldest generously offered to let his brother fly as it was his birthday, but my youngest did not want to sit next to a strange man - even though the pilot was very nice and friendly. It worked out for the best anyway. My youngest was delighted just to be in the air, and kept his face pressed to the windows, but really wanted his brother to make the plane go down in the ocean. I'm not altogether certain he would not have just tried to go wherever he wanted to, as I would not have been right next to him to give directions and I don't think he would listen to a stranger. He also had quite a lot of difficulty with the headphones and microphone and was only able to communicate by shouting into my ear.

      My oldest wasn't quite sure about actually flying the plane either. he did look a bit nervous, but the within seconds of taking control his whole face lit up and he absolutely loved it. In fact he has always wanted to be a paleontologist, from the time he was quite young. Now he isn't completely sure between paleontology and being a pilot with the RAF or Army Air Core. This certainly was the experience of a life time for him and something he will never forget. - it could be a life changing experience for him. Both boys are anxiously awaiting their 12th birthdays now so they can join the army cadets. It was as if something came to life in the air for him. It was a choppy ride as at only 7 years of age, he didn't have the most perfect control of the plane, but it was exhilarating and he was disappointed when the time came to hand control back over to the pilot.

      My youngest was also mesmerised by the flight. The anticipation was obvious on his face from the moment the engines fired up and once the plane lifted off it was an expression of pure ecstasy. He did want the plane to go up and down more. If he had been flying I think he would have wanted to try nose dives. I'm glad he wasn't flying. But when he is older I will certainly save up and take him again. It was expensive, but I honestly feel that we got more from this than a foreign holiday, and travel is something I really struggle with now. I will remember the looks on my sons faces for the rest of my life, and that alone was worth the price. Their eyes still light up and their voices change when describing their flight. It is almost the way some people might describe a religious experience.

      As for myself, I did enjoy the flight. You can really feel the sensation of flying in a small plane like this. It really is magic. If I had the money, I think I would spend the majority of my life in the air.

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