How to fly a plane

I didn’t expect it would feel this good. The little cockpit of the Sukhoi is hot, and a minute ago – not to put too fine a point on it – I was pretty sure I was going to be sick. But now I’ve got the control column and my eyes are on the horizon, then looking out to sweep left and right. A couple of thousand feet below, the Surrey countryside is the very picture of Blake’s green and pleasant land. I push the column gently to the left, and as I do I feel the plane bank in the same direction. It’s only been under my command for an instant, and yet immediately the movement feels instinctive. We straighten up and then swing right and my stomach – normally fairly strong but unsettled, let’s say, by 15 minutes of turning in tight circles tipped over on one wing and a couple of snapping rolls – begins to calm down. The aerobatics were for the benefit of the photographer, Tom Miller, feeling equally queasy (I’m relieved to say) in the Yakovlev 52 flying within metres of us, turning as we turn, rolling as we roll. But now the pictures are done, and I am free to fly.