How to feel on top of the world at Goodwood

Cessna plane over Goodwood.  Picture courtesy of Goodwood.

Cessna plane over Goodwood. Picture courtesy of Goodwood.

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CLARE HAWKIN sees the area from a different perspective and enjoys the thrill of a pleasure flight at Goodwood aerodrome…

The cars seemed to crawl along, the fields were lush and still, while the sea looked as inviting as any Mediterranean waters, the waves twinkling in the glorious evening sunlight.

With just a small door between me and a drop of 12,000 feet, I felt as safe as could be, and with pilot David Hodgkinson expertly manning the controls I could sit and admire the views.

In a small plane, the pace of life is blissfully calm, and I had picked the perfect evening to enjoy a bird’s eye view of our glorious countryside.

While the day had started with umbrellas anxiously poised for action, by the afternoon the sun had burst through in spectacular style leaving unrivalled conditions for flying.

And steeped in history, Goodwood aerodrome has that evocative atmosphere, a palpable scent of the past, which all adds to the enjoyment of flying here.

Our flying machine for the evening was a very fine specimen indeed – one of Goodwood’s new fleet of impressive Cessna 1725 Skyhawk SP aircraft, equipped with all the latest technology, although for those who want a more historic slant, there is also the option of flying in a 1943 Harvard AT-16 11B – the next best thing to flying in a Spitfire.

After a brief chat with David, and signing the appropriate forms, there was a thorough health and safety check before climbing into my seat.

For people who are into gadgetry – and I must confess, I’m not one myself – you will be amazed at the technology on board.

Two screens take the place of all the traditional buttons and levers and the plane’s navigation system can use beacons down on the ground to plot the course, and if you want to create your own soundtrack for the flight, there is even an iPod dock.

David talks me through the dials, checks we have enough fuel, that the doors are locked and seatbelts firmly in place.

After pulling the throttle twice, the plane grumbles magnificently into action and we are soon taxiing along the airfield.

Once we’ve been cleared for takeoff, there is a final safety check then we are building up speed and before you know it, we are in the air and rising above Goodwood House, with Chichester Cathedral soon coming into view.

It really is amazing what you can see: beautiful houses and swimming pools normally hidden from view, sprawling gardens and neatly-kept lawns, a patchwork of fields, intersected by meandering lanes, farms and shades of green stretching as far as you can see.

You realise just how lucky we are to live in such a scenic part of the world.

Chichester Harbour lay before us in all its glory, in varying shades of emerald and blue.

We passed over Thorney Island and Hayling Island and while over Portsmouth in a reverie, David asked if I’d like to take the controls.

It was a real thrill, but equally scary, considering the space beneath you – but the controls are dual, so any problems and the pilot is there straight away.

All that were needed were small movements to tip the plane up and down, left and right, although as I did each, my stomach did lurch slightly as I realised I was actually in control, albeit for just a couple of minutes – it was definitely the high point of the evening.

Passing over the golden sands of Wittering, and across to Bognor Regis, you could see all the way to Eastbourne the view was so clear.

And then it was on to Arundel, for an early-evening view of the castle, which looked resplendent in the sun.

Half-an-hour passes quickly, and we were soon on our way back to the aerodrome, but not before I was given one last chance to get out of my comfort zone and take the controls again, with the instructions ‘head for the landing strip in the distance’.

It came up quicker than expected and I was quite glad when David uttered the words ‘I think I’d better take the controls now’.

After a smooth and safe landing, I was ready to take off again, so enjoyable was my time in the air.

The flights are an ideal way to celebrate a birthday or special occasion or just as a way of unwinding at the weekend.

The views will take your breath away and leave you feeling literally on top of the world.