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Flying in this time machine was a breath of fresh air

THERE are a few disconcerting things about the latest addition to Aer Lingus's fleet.

A sign inside the cabin states that it does not have a certificate of airworthiness.

To escape in an accident you pull a handle, then burst through the fabric roof like a showgirl erupting from a giant cake.

When boarding you are warned not to put your foot on the wing -- you could put a hole in the aircraft.

There's no cabin crew, no trolley service, no toilets and there are only seven seats.

Did I say it's 75 years' old?

It's really a time machine, a carbon-copy sister ship of Aer Lingus's first aircraft and was wheeled out yesterday to celebrate the airline's 75th anniversary.

On May 27, 1936, a similar biplane, a De Havilland 84 Dragon, took off from Baldonnel for Bristol to inaugurate Aer Lingus's first flight.

'Iolar' (eagle) has a plywood fuselage and fabric-covered wings and is made from timber frames glued together.

The original 'Iolar' lies at the bottom of the English Channel after being shot down by a German bomber returning from a raid. By then it had been sold to a south of England airline.

The plane I was about to board was an identical sister ship, also built in 1936, and lovingly restored by Aer Lingus workers.

Even the two engines are original.

Flying in it reminded me of how much of an adventure flying was three quarters of a century ago.

'Iolar' was able to handle yesterday's breezy weather but Aer Lingus chief pilot Davina Pratt said the stronger wind conditions of the previous few days would have seen the aircraft grounded.

Even still we felt every gust and sidewind and pilot Paul Von Lonkhuyzen, lacking an autopilot or any modern cockpit aid, showed his flying skill, keeping the aircraft as level and as smooth as was possible.

Nonetheless there was the occasional stomach- churning episode as the aircraft suddenly fell a few feet when it hit what used to be called an "air pocket" in the turbulent sky. Such episodes would hardly be noticed in today's jets.

In any event, Captain Von Lonkhuyzen managed a textbook landing as he brought this amazing time machine back to Earth.

Irish Independent