My First Solo

Paul Stone

He signed up because it seemed like a nice freebie. But as soon as he stepped into the aircraft, Paul Stone was completely captivated with flying.

How did you get into aviation?

At 16, I wanted to become a chemical engineer as I thought they could ‘blow up things’. However, the Royal Navy flying scholarship sounded like a great freebie with 30 flying hours. I didn’t have any aviation experience or expectation of the course, but from the moment I stepped into the aircraft, I was absolutely captivated. Within only a few hours of flying, I was convinced aviation would be my career. 

How did your flight training go?

It was exciting. I was 17 and away from home for a month. CFI Fred Wells ran the place and was into King’s Cup Air Racing. 

“Within only a few hours of flying, I was convinced aviation would become my career”

This was 1983, and most of our instructors were quite eccentric old-school aviators. They’d grown up in the 1960s aviation environment, which meant we got a slice of that amazing era. I liked being with a group of cadets, all living and breathing aviation. Since I’m a very competitive person, I set myself the goal of soloing sooner than the rest. 

What do you remember from your first solo?

I remember the runway, 21, that it was a left-hand circuit and that, after climbing away, I did the classic thing of looking across at the right-hand seat. The flight itself wasn’t very eventful, but I also recall that it wasn’t my best landing. There was at least one bounce on the runway and I walked away feeling not very proud… 

That scholarship was a light bulb moment. Afterwards I aimed for the most exciting and challenging flying job possible, which back then was flying Sea Harriers off an aircraft carrier. I ended up surviving 475 deck landings and commanding both 800 and 801 Naval Air Squadrons. During my time in the Royal Navy I learned that no matter how badly you cock up, it’s the recovery that counts, and you absolutely never stop learning.

Old Warden is regarded as a top display venue for visitors, but do you enjoy it as a pilot too?

Certainly! Flying the Shuttleworth Collection is a massive privilege. Every day I pinch myself, realising that I’m given this exclusive look into history. It’s a full multi-sensory experience – sight, smell, sounds, feel and even taste. Putting yourself in the cockpit seat, you get a glimpse of what the brave pilots experienced who flew the really early designs, or flew these aircraft in combat or air races. I joined the Collection in 1996 and spent a year pushing and polishing the aircraft before being selected to fly them. You start with the Tiger Moth, work your way towards WWII aircraft, then back to the Edwardians. In the past 25 years, I’ve been lucky enough to fly nearly the entire collection.

What’s the Collection’s most challenging aircraft?

The DH88 Comet. It’s a 1930s air racer – this one actually won the 1934 Mildenhall to Melbourne MacRobertson Air Race – and a handful to fly. Designed to be aerodynamically streamlined, the visibility over the nose is non-existent. Also challenging are the WWI rotary engine aircraft, where the whole engine rotates. Instead of traditional throttle and mixture controls they have what’s called a ‘fine adjustment lever’, which controls the fuel and is anything but finely adjustable! If you move the lever half an inch in the wrong direction, the engine will stop. Their huge gyroscopic effects make these aircraft hard to control.

And what’s been your favourite of the Collection aircraft you’ve flown so far?

I have three favourites: the DH88 Comet, as it’s the most challenging and beautiful. The Sea Hurricane, because it’s a Royal Naval aircraft and one-of-a-kind. And the Avro Tutor, which was actually a very poor trainer as it’s too easy to fly. It’s got great handling qualities. It’s so flattering, it’ll improve any bad landing.

What do you love about flying most?

For me, the best thing about flying is the variety. I really like to experience the different challenges that the different aspects of aviation bring. I’ve flown more than 200 aircraft types, from the latest RAF Typhoon combat aircraft to the 1910 Deperdussin, obtained my seaplane licence and recently owned a gyrocopter. In aviation, there’s always something new to discover.

  • Shuttleworth offers fantastic family-friendly Great British picnic-style airshows where you can get up close and personal with the vintage aircraft. Visit shuttleworth.org.

Solo stats

Solo stats: Ex-Royal Navy, military and civilian qualified test pilot and Chief Pilot for the Shuttleworth Collection Paul Stone has flown more than 200 aircraft types.

When 20 August 1983
Where Stapleford Tawney airfield
Aircraft Cessna 152
Hours at solo 7h, 10min
Hours now Approx. 4,700
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