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Flying High On My First Helicopter Lesson at Doncaster Sheffield Airport

A helicopter lesson for my birthday

I think I’d like to take a helicopter flying lesson‘ one careless, throwaway comment to my husband and here I am months later staring at a voucher for a flying lesson. ‘Oh shit‘, is my first response. Didn’t he realise that was just a dumbass comment that I never actually expected to become reality?

After all, it’s not as though I can afford an helicopter! Not unless it’s one of the matchbox variety anyway. I love flying in helicopters, and have some awesome memories of flights over NYC, Las Vegas, and Toronto, glaciers in New Zealand, and the Keys in Florida. But, flying one myself? Has Jason forgot what happened on our snowmobile outing?

Helicopter lesson
My new toy…

Heaven or hell?

I’m seriously touched that he remembered, but the enormity of being in charge of a flying object, has me both excited and terrified at the same time. As the big day approaches, I become more nervous but there’s no need to worry. I’m instantly put at ease with the friendly greeting we receive from Matt, his wife Helen, their HUGE dog, and gorgeous five month old baby Tabatha. A cute baby is a cunning plan to distract nervous first timers!

Matt starts briefing me on the controls and I’m trying desperately to take it all in, wondering whether I will remember what the cyclic is supposed to do (let’s call it a steering wheel for ease), the collective (hand brake?) or the foot pedals (clutch?). Nevertheless, I feel a tinkle of excitement as we walk out to the hangar, clamber into the tiny bubble cockpit and I strap myself in.

Helicopter flying lesson
Trying to look cool
Flying in a helicopter
Look at all them gauges

How many instruments?

So much for my theory that there’d be an auto-pilot button! I’m bewildered by the vast array of instruments and dials, and listening to Matt talk to the tower is like earwigging on a conversation in a foreign language. I try to zip it while he talks to air traffic control, but it is difficult. I have too many damn questions!

We taxi (yes, taxi) out to the runway. That really means we effortlessly lift into the air, and hovering just a few metres above the ground, slowly make our way out to the runway while Matt chatters in gobbledegook to the tower. It’s surprisingly quiet and much smoother than I anticipated.

Then we are off, we have clearance and swoop down the runway with me chewing Matt’s ear off with a million questions about dials and flying. Matt provides intriguing snippets of information about the area, the Cold War and the uses of the airport, as I start to relax and enjoy the views out towards the Humber. Who would have guessed that this tiny little airport was once one of airports able to accept emergency NASA shuttle landings? Or that Cold War, rocket 🚀 type spy stuff was going on behind the drab beige walls of the hangars?

My turn to fly

Before long Matt asks me if I want to take control. Hell yes! I’ve been itching to get my hands on those controls and see how they handle. He warns me about manhandling the cyclic, and reminds me to rest my hand on my knee and keep pushing it forwards. I can feel myself gradually start to relax, as I start to feel how the aircraft responds to the pressure. Pull back and whoops up we go! Push forward and we level off.

Of course, I have to try whooshing to the left which leaves my stomach somewhere in the opposite side of the cockpit as an involuntary squeal escapes. I focus on this one simple motion, leaving Matt to control everything else. At one point, I realise he has let go of the controls and I am flying. Hoorah! It’s exhilarating and mildly terrifying, but I could get used to this.

It takes 45 hours to get your helicopter flying licence, so that sure isn’t travelling the globe for less, but who knows, maybe if I had my own helicopter I could save a fortune on my travel expenses!

Flying in a helicopter
Why not do a helicopter selfie?

Homeward bound

Matt regales me with tales of weather patterns and his prior flying and before you know it, we are lining up to return to the airfield. The only problem with this outing is that once is not going to be enough! I still haven’t done a loop the loop after all and I really want to try to get to grips with the other controls.

If you want to try something different, a truly exhilarating way to see your local area, you really need to head down to Doncaster Sheffield airport and go for a lesson with Matt. He will soon put you at ease and you even get a celebration certificate to mark the occasion.

Flying back in the helicopter
Homeward bound in the helicopter

Your chance to win

if you don’t fancy paying to fly in a helicopter, here’s another way to jump in the cockpit with Matt. Book tickets to our ‘Black Tie and Tiaras Charity Ball‘ and try your hand on the fun casino table. We will be making available two prizes for our top male and female hustler, and one of those lucky winners will WIN a flight experience. You will also be helping out Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice and are sure to have an awesome evening.

Have your say

Have you ever flown a helicopter? How did you find the experience? How long was it before it became totally not scary? I would love to hear from you.

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

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  1. Wow, what an experience! Congratulations with taming the beast ;). A month ago, I tried to sail a yacht for the first time in my life, so I can easily relate to your feelings of being excited and terrified at the same time. Being in control of such a complicated device is enormously satisfying.

    • Ooh another thing on my bucket list. I’ve sailed in Australia but only at someone else’s direction. Would be great to learn for myself

  2. Ha! I love it, Anne! Totally a bucket list experience to fly a helicopter. I don’t think I realized you could even take just 1 lesson. I figured you’d have to sign up for a course or package. How cool you can just give it a try. Your hubby clearly understands what a thrill-seeker you are deep down!

  3. What a fun article to read. It reminds me of when I got the same experience for my birthday. It was in Paris and flying over the City was spectacular. Great birthday gift and definitively memorable. Happy flights on more birthdays!

  4. What an awesome birthday gift! Flying in a helicopter would be so much fun, not to mention learning how to fly one! LOL, I love your thinking – having your own helicopter would totally save on flights. 🙂

    • Ha ha totally. The only problem is the not insignificant cost of learning and then of course, hiring or buying a helicopter but a girl can dream

  5. Omg, that is so awesome!! It was so sweet of your husband to remember and you’re so cool for doing it even though you were nervous. Like you said, they made you feel so comfortable though! Sounds like such a cool experience!

  6. This sounds like such a fantastic experience! I’ve never been in a helicopter myself but I’d love to do it 😀 Very cool fact with that little Airport being an emergency landing for NASA. Thank you for this insight in flyin g a helicopter 🙂

  7. Woots! I’m sure it was one of the best (and craziest) birthday gifts you ever got.
    I get excited just by reading your story. Though I’m a aerophobic, I’d really love to learn how to fly a helicopter one day. Anyway, happy birthday to you! Here’s to tons of awesome adventures ahead 🙂

  8. Wow! What a thoughtful, yet overwhelming gift. I’ve only been in a couple of helicopters, and I can’t imagine actually flying one. Looks like you handled it like a champ.

  9. Wow! Such a cool experience! We flew on a ULM a couple of years ago, but never on a helicopter. Would totally love to try it once!

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