Come Fly With Me

When the Idler discovered Alex James was learning to fly, we couldn't resist the opportunity to wheel across Albion's skies with him in a wonderfully dinky little plane. Alex writes on the joy of those marvellous flying machines.

The Idler - Feb/Mar 1998
Pictures by Alasdair Bury

It's amazing what happens when you stop drinking for awhile. Life becomes full of activity, new routines emerge, things get done. Making changes fills me with energy and possibilities. I went out last night and got absolutely wasted, for old time's sake, and when I woke up today I noticed that I have been learning to fly an aeroplane.

Nearly everyone is apprehensive about flying on airlines, and it's not surprising: it's a ridiculous thing to be doing. I think it's because you have absolutely no control over the situation and also because you can't see out the front. Even though you're more likely to get killed on your way to the airport or win the lottery, there is fear. When you're a musician you have to go everywhere, usually on aeroplanes. So it made sense to learn how to work one ~ and it's straightforward.

The first incredible thing is that planes cost the same as cars, which is really weird. A light aircraft is a beautiful thing; there's no mysterious electronics or bewildering unfathomable boxes, it's nearly all mechanical. The basic aeroplane hasn't changed much since the Wright brothers, apparently. You can take one to pieces with a screwdriver. Of course, the really good thing about planes is that they fly, and quite fast, too. The one I'm learning in has a cruising speed of 110 mph, and in an aeroplane you go straight where you're going, not like on a road which mucks about going around corners and in the wrong direction.

You don't have to be a flash harry pop star person to have a plane. Plane people are ordinary people with planes. Rich show-off types generally go for helicopters, which cost about ten times as much. There is surprisingly little showiness, as the great affair is to fly, it doesn't matter what sort of plane you've got or what sort of trousers. It's wholesome.

Flying is a drug. As the earth peels away and spreads out beneath you, you know God. He's your mate. The word "exhilaration" is not adequately qualified to describe the feeling of absolute terror, of death imminent, the adrenaline pumping as you willfully take your life in your hands. Speed, acceleration, lift, knowing now you can go anywhere. England is so pretty from the air, so many trees. Somehow it's nowhere near as scary when you're the one driving.

An aeroplane with no engine is not a brick, it's a glider. There's no need to worry. You fly so much lower in a light aircraft than on a commercial airline, so you can see so much more. It really is fantastic, sensational, empowering. It's the same feeling of boundless new possibilities that you get when one of your friends passes their driving test when you're seventeen. New horizons. Britain stops being an island, too; the atmosphere is your playground and you can be in France before you can say "transponder frequency spectrum". France or Ireland or Holland or Belgium even.

There is still a pioneering feel to flying light aircraft, they're so simple and mechanical. Flying is full of reassuring procedures ~ safety checks and power checks. A high Zen factor is inevitable as you inspect all the moving parts and dials, prior to take off. You know your aeroplane. Fly away, it's dope. It's the shit.

Photos scanned and article trascribed by Lindsey. Thank you, Lindsey.