Flying high over Cornwall's coast

PUBLISHED: 10:43 14 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:43 20 February 2013

Flying high over Cornwall's coast

Flying high over Cornwall's coast

Lesley Double talks to Ellie O'Toole about her journey into the dizzy heights of the flying world.

High Flyer

Lesley Double talks to Ellie OToole about her journey into the dizzy heights of the flying world.

Given a trial flying lesson at Lands End Airport as a birthday present, Ellie OToole put off taking it for a whole year as she knew she could quickly become addicted. However, just before her birthday in May last year, she decided that the time was right. "I managed to have my trial lesson at Lands End Airport on my birthday," Ellie recalls. "I was so excited, and asked the flying instructor if we could go upside down. He went white and said: not on your first lesson. It was a fabulous experience and 40 minutes later I was hooked on flying and have been ever since."

Ellie found that her job as a self-employed horse dentist allowed her plenty of time to enjoy her new passion. "I took lessons as often as I could and passed my pilots licence in three months," she continues. "I then passed all my other exams and so I am qualified to fly in cloud and at night."

Suffering from withdrawal symptoms over the winter months and when the weather proved too bad to fly, Ellie was delighted when a friend asked if she wanted to help run a flying school, and even more ecstatic when she ended up as the sole director. "By this time I had bought my own plane," Ellie says. "Its a Cessna 150 Aerobat, a two-seater, which had been used at Lands End Airport for many years. It is lovely to fly, is brilliant for training, and is relatively cheap to run."

The flying school, Fly Cornwall, operates from locations including Lands End and Newquay Airports. "This gives students a variety of situations: grass or tarmac runways, short or long take-off and landing. The airports we use have full Air Traffic Control, so students can then go on to fly to any airport and know how to get in an out. Its important for them to realise that they may be surrounded by other aircraft, so they must listen to ATC instructions. And flying to another airport allows them to experience route planning, weather conditions and navigation."

Ellie doesnt teach, but has a very good flying instructor in Simon Hurley, and two other part-time pilots who can fill in if necessary. "Simon is as passionate about flying as I am," says Ellie. "Hes a great instructor, is calm and patient, and wants his students to enjoy the thrill of flying as much as he does. We both enjoy being in the skies above Cornwall, I sometimes have to beg him to let me have my plane for an hour or two so I can go flying!"

Although the biggest problem is the weather it can be sunny in one part of Cornwall and foggy in another Ellie admits that the joy of being up in the air makes the waiting worthwhile. "We fly over a huge range of scenery," she explains. "In the west, we can pick out the Minack Theatre, St Ives, St Michaels Mount and the mining area around Pendeen, and further east theres Newquay, Rock, Padstow, St Mawes and Falmouth. Students sometimes have trouble concentrating on flying the plane as the scenery below is so glorious. Cornwall is quite stunning from the air."

With Simon teaching, Ellie runs the administration side of the business. It may sound as if she has drawn the short straw but Ellie doesnt view it as such. "Everyone is so helpful in aviation," she says. "If they cant personally help when you have a problem or a question, they usually know someone else who can. They all remember their first time flying solo, and theres a great camaraderie. I take my plane to be serviced at Bodmin Airfield. The Chief Engineer at Bodmin owned my plane some years ago and he always cheekily asks if I am looking after it properly!"

Not all of Ellies customers are learning to fly. "When students have their licence, we can help them get further qualifications, such as night flying," says Ellie. "We are happy to hire the plane out if a qualified pilot wants to borrow it, or were willing to take a passenger anywhere in an emergency."

Ellie admits that shes evangelical on the subject of flying and is always trying to persuade other people to have a go. "Ive found myself in a supermarket queue chatting to someone I dont know while we wait," she says. "They may be on holiday, might be bored, and Ill say something like have you ever thought about going flying? and see their face light up. I want everyone to have the same pleasure I get from flying in Cornwall. Its wonderful living here, and seeing the beauty of our county from the air, is the best feeling in the world." 

For further information: Fly Cornwall 07946 733000,

"Students sometimes have trouble concentrating on flying the plane as the scenery below is so glorious. Cornwall is quite stunning from the air".

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