I'm scared of heights, maybe not as bad as I use to be, but I still struggle with indoor rock climbing and planes, but I don't make a habit of letting my fears control me, even if my father is the one at the controls of the aircraft... for the first time ever.
Ardmore Aero Club is the place to go if you're interested in becoming a pilot and want to have a taste of the experience before you glide ever so gently into debt. For Christmas I gifted my Dad a flying experience where he got to be at the controls of a Cessna 4 seater aircraft for 20 minutes. There is a qualified flight instructor in the passenger seat during the flight who also has their own set of controls, so if you need to have a break due to a bit of air sickness or for whatever the reason may be they will take control of the plane. My Dad had control of the plane pretty much the whole time which was great and he didn't do a too bad job with take off either, I am still alive to tell the tale after all, The 20 minutes that you do up in the Cessna does also go towards your hours of flying time you need to do to be able to fly solo, and these times do not expire so if 30 years down the track you want to pursue becoming a pilot, you already have that 0.6 time to go towards it.
If being a passenger or pilot isn't quite your thing there is a cafe back at base, I haven't tried the food myself but I heard no complaints from Mum after our plane landed.
The Cessna is the smallest aircraft I have ever been in and I would be lying if I said my heart didn't jump into my mouth after take off from Ardmore, I wasn't quite prepared for the plane to lean as much as it did so quickly to either side, as being in a smaller aircraft all movements are a lot more noticeable compared to if you were sitting cattle class in an A380, I would consider myself a sardine in a tin in the case of being rear passenger in a Cessna.
For our flight Dad flew us out towards the back of Waiheke Island and over some beautiful farm land, I managed to get quite a few good pictures of the scenery even if it was through the windows of the plane. The flight was pretty smooth considering the size of the aircraft, Dad did a good job of being the pilot for 20 minutes; he successfully took off from the runway, flew us out towards some beautiful landscapes, and put the plane on some slight, but awesome angles, and flew us back towards Ardmore. If I can remember correctly I don't think he handed the control of the plane over to the instructor at all until it came to landing the plane. Turning a plane with the steering wheel is rather the different to driving a car; (without pointing out the obvious) my Dad was saying after the flight that a slight turn of the steering wheel caused the plane to take a large lean in comparison to the turn on the wheel. So if you ever get to experience this, don't turn the steering wheel so drastically as you might put the plane into a barrel roll and tragically crash into the picturesque hills of Ardmore, but then again you'll forever be remember as the idiot who treated the plane like a car.
Ardmore may not be a commercial airport but it is the busiest airport in New Zealand, with 7 major flight schools, including both planes and helicopters, and with charter operations Ardmore really does run like clock work. We waited for 6 other Cessnas' to land in a 5 minute time frame and for a DC3 to cross the runway before we had the chance to take off. Even before our plane hit the run way there were a couple of helicopters taking off and landing with people learning how to fly.
If you don't want to fly a plane but still want to check out the airport, Ardmore is a great place to go to just watch the planes and helicopters land; chuck together a picnic for a Sunday afternoon and sit on the grass near the end of the runway and watch all the different kind of planes circling the air space. Just as we were about to take off I spotted an older couple sitting in their picnic chairs next to their classic car watching the flights.
I bought the flight experience from Red Balloon which has a range of gift ideas and experiences perfect for everyone, it's easy enough as purchasing the experience and printing off the voucher at home. It's a New Zealand website with gift ideas ranging from affordable to wallet burning (in my case anyway).
All in all it was an awesome experience and I'm glad my Dad enjoyed the flight and my brother and I shared the experience in the air with him, after all it's not everyday you get to fly a plane!