Radiation Diary – Look to the skies

I let the mere wrinkle that radiation eventually falls to the ground pass over me as my friend, with a swanky light aircraft, suggests we hit the skies of Yorkshire to buzz some power stations. I mean, look for radiation. I thought why the hell not, let’s do this! Besides being a pilot, he’s also a director of a successful software/media company in Leeds, so it could be a good opportunity to talk tech or just watch the Yorkshire scenery.

I travelled to, what felt like, the arse-crack of nowhere; passing some very dangerous looking bridges with flood water perilously close. I was glad for not washing my car beforehand – my iPhone’s sat nav made me rattle down a potholed lane to a dead end. As I tried to turn around, a huge and very pissed off German Shepard guard dog kept me company. Nice fangs grandma.

I could see the airfield, but not how to get there. Apparently I went the not from round here way. By going down another potholed cut-through between two shipment containers, I finally got to the carpark; or should I say, a place you abandon your vehicle.

I didn’t judge. There was something friendly, provincial, and cute about this airfield. That didn’t last long. As I entered the crew room, I felt like I was in a western movie, where the music stops and the eyes assess me. Maybe they expected some kind of grand charismatic alpha-male entrance and a tally-ho. With not a single nod or hello from anyone, I sat my unwelcomeness down while everyone continued in their cliques.

Luckily, my captain and co-pilot rescued me – the pair looked far too glamorous and friendly for this place. I usually think juxtaposition is a word for the pretentious, but today it felt appropriate. These two dapper pilots deserved an executive lounge, not a shed. Let’s get out of here, fashionistas.

Nope, wait, we weren’t allowed to use the perfectly solid tarmac runway… Oh no. We have to take off from the grass, “make sure you keep to the North side” the chap grumbled. Captain Loz wasn’t sure we’d actually get to the runway given the capped, low profile wheels on our very clean looking Diamond DA 40D Star TDI (circa £150,000 plane). The red, recently upholstered, leather seats and a ridiculous bank of electronics made me feel safe, even if the grass remained a concern for my inexperienced mind.

After safety checks, wiring up the headsets, transferring fuel from one wing to another, we set off to taxi. However, we stopped in soggy grass waiting for the engine to warm, causing concerns that we’d sink and get stuck! Luckily, the grass wasn’t that bad, or we weren’t that heavy. As we started to manoeuvre into position, another plane performed near-stall acrobatics, side slipping and showing incredible skill. Gulp. We finally lined up and with a brief communication with the shed, we were off. No drama. About 5 minutes later we’re asking to land again at a different airfield! That journey would have taken 30 minutes by car. I have entered a different world, where straight-line speed and little traffic give you immense super-powers!

We landed so that the co-pilot could go for her own lesson. During this time we met another pilot who was interested in buying a share of the Diamond. Timeshare for the skies. So, in quite a random event, we had two more passengers to hunt for radiation!

That turned out pretty well in the end, because Captain Loz was getting his geek on talking planes and things, while us non-pilots could just enjoy the scenery!

After buzzing power stations (see the video below) we landed, on tarmac – yay. The co-pilot decided (was pushed) into taking her Aviation Law exam. This extra event was causing an issue however, Captain Loz isn’t allowed to fly in the dark, and it was coming fast.

In a turn of fate, the instructor wanted to take some aerial pictures of his steed, so his wife accompanied us in the Diamond, with a huge telephoto lens and we set off for home. The instructor followed behind with our original co-pilot in his ACROBATIC plane. So in a completely random, unplanned event: here we were, watching acrobatics from a front row seat in the skies. Amazing! You’ll see pictures in the video towards the end.

The landing was a little perilous due to the low light conditions, but Captain Loz took the mature approach and made a second pass when the first felt wrong. “That’s the kind of attitude that saves lives”, he said. Agreed.

Oh – we found no abnormal radiation.  Who cares!

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