First Solo

From paragliding to microlights: Sandown's Dan Subhani

The only thing Dan Subhani wanted to do after his first solo? Get back into the air!

After his first solo, Dan Subhani just wanted to do it all again – immediately!

How did you get into aviation?

In 1993, I saw a TV programme about paragliding, and straight away booked a paragliding course on the Isle of Wight. I even did competition paragliding, until one day, 11 years ago, I got sick and tired of walking uphill. That’s when I got into microlighting.

How did your flight training go?

Because of my paragliding background, learning to fly wasn’t too difficult – it just took getting used to having an engine. Also, having gone up regularly with a friend of mine in his flex-wing microlight, I knew what to expect. The hardest bit was navigation, as I trained in North London, which is close to Luton and other busy airspaces.

Tell us about your first solo?

It was brilliant! When my instructor said: “Off you go”, for a moment I just sat there, wondering if he was serious. It took a few seconds to soak in, but then I was euphoric. Flying a powered aircraft on your own for the first time – there’s no feeling like it. I wish I could do a first solo every day!

After landing, the only thing I wanted was getting back into the air. I was desperate for more solo flying, but unfortunately, the next lesson was dual instruction again. It turned out that being ready to solo doesn’t mean you’re a good pilot, it just means the instructor wants to evaluate what syllabus parts still need more attention…

How did you come to take over Sandown Airport – have you ever run an airfield before?

No, I’m actually a computer network engineer. Back in 2016, I volunteered to run the microlight scoring systems for the World Air Games in Dubai where I got talking to some guys. After a while we shook hands and when my wife picked me up, she saw my face and asked: “What have you bought? Another aeroplane?”. “No,” I replied, “An airfield.” Everyone thought I was mad, but I was ready for a new challenge.

Sandown is hugely popular – what’s your secret?

Enjoy what you do and don’t listen to others. I built an airfield that I would like to land at: a place that feels enjoyable and welcoming, with BBQs, live music, and good food. No big restrictions, no PPR in summer, no high vis, and no miserable people. With Sandown, I want to put some fun into aviation! Supported by a team of volunteers, I’ve put my life into this. With the result that, in 2016, we had 3,000 aircraft visiting a year… now, it’s 15,000.

How did the Spamfield microlight rally go this year?

It went really well. Everyone had a good time. Perhaps the tower was a bit stressed at times with 30 aircraft in the circuit and 15 waiting to join, but there were no problems. We had around 300 aircraft visiting in total, 200 of them flamping. Flying and camping is already popular among microlight pilots and now lots of GA pilots get into it as well.

Everyone raves about the food you serve, are you a chef in disguise?

I’m not a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking since I was five years old. I’m half German, half Pakistani, so food is in my blood. First thing I did when arriving here was get rid of the greasy spoon and bring in my own recipes. We’ve got a wood fired pizza oven, with homemade sauce, as well as basil growing next to it. Pilots come over from Belgium just for our pizzas – they call ahead to check if the oven is on. We smoke our own beef and cut our salad fresh from the garden every day. Nowadays people aren’t flying to an airfield just for a cup of tea and a rubbish bap anymore.

Do you get to fly much these days?

Yeah, I regularly fly to Elstree for curries and to Germany for schnitzels. Also, every September I go microlight touring for a few weeks, this year to Italy and Spain, and in October I’ll go paragliding in Turkey.

What do you love about flying most?

The freedom to take off and go, without all the security now in place. When I want to visit friends in Liverpool, I don’t have to worry about trains, ferries, timetables, or strikes… I just hop into my aeroplane.

Dan Subhani

Without any previous airport managing experience, Dan Subhani turned Sandown Airfield on the Isle of Wight into a huge success.

When November 2011
Where Plaistows Airfield
Aircraft GT450 microlight
Hours at solo Approx. 40
Hours now Approx. 1,000

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