High-flier Ben's big prom arrival

Most parents know the feeling of apprehension they get when they are asked by their children to borrow the car for the evening.So imagine the feeling of dread John Sandle feels when his 18-year-old son Ben asks to take his £750,000 helicopter for a quick spin.

Most parents know the feeling of apprehension they get when they are asked by their children to borrow the car for the evening.

So imagine the feeling of dread John Sandle feels when his 18-year-old son Ben asks to take his £750,000 helicopter for a quick spin.

For Ben has become one of the youngest people in the country to achieve his helicopter pilot's licence and is now able to make solo flights in his dad's Bell Jet Ranger, which can fly at speeds of up to 140mph.

And one of the first of his trips he will be making with his advanced pilot licence was flying himself and best friend Matthew Hinkley, 17, to their sixth form prom at Downham Market High School last night.

Ben of Runcton Holme, began learning to fly helicopters at the age of 16, before he was even old enough to start learning to drive a car.

He first passed his helicopter test in December 2006, but to fly his dad's helicopter, he needed to take a further advanced test and he only found out this week he had been given the all clear by the Civil Aviation Authority.

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He took his first solo flight in his dad's helicopter on Thursday morning, when he flew from their home to the family-run business Sandles Car Supermarket in Pott Row.

He said: “My flight on Thursday morning was probably the most nerve wracking thing I have ever done, the adrenalin was really pumping. It is only you in control and there is no-one else there to help you, but it was amazing.”

Ben said his father had been flying helicopters for as long as he could remember and so he had grown up always using a helicopter, so it was only natural he would follow in his footsteps and train for his license at the earliest opportunity.

He said his friend Matthew was extremely surprised when he discovered Ben would be flying them to the school prom in the helicopter.

He said: “He was pretty shocked. He thought my dad would be taking us, he didn't realise I would be flying us, on our own.”

Mr Sandle, 51, said: “I have flown with Ben and he is quite safe and if I thought he wasn't, he would not be using it.

“It is very hard to pass the test and the exams are quite difficult and he worked really, really hard to pass them.”

But he added: “It's stupid really because I can insure Ben to fly the helicopter, but I cannot get insurance for him to drive my car!”

A spokesman for the CAA said: “It does mean you have to start quite young to pass at that age, but it is not unique.”

Ben left Downham Market High School at 16, and now works for his dad's company; he will be able to use the helicopter for work to fly to different locations across the country to clinch deals for new cars.

However if he asks to borrow the chopper or nip to the shops, he won't be surprised if he gets told no, as it costs on average £400 for every flight, so he will have to take his Seat Leon car instead.