Archive for October, 2007

Vignettes of an Instructor’s life

All instructors had to maintain a high standard of blind-flying ability. We flew in pairs for this exercise – one as ‘look-out’ and the other under the hood. I often used this exercise to visit my brother at White Waltham where he was stationed flying for the ATA. My flight commander at one time was F/Lt Davies who possessed a bristling moustache. He and I decided to see what the food was like at Henlow which was the RAF medical centre and training hospital. The officers’ Mess was the lovely Rothschild house near the aerodrome. We walked into a large room packed with high-ranking officers – Squadron Leaders and above and not one of them with RAF wings. Davies looked them over rather pointedly – his moustache bristled and having got their attention said “bloody penguins” in a loud voice. They didn’t seem to mind and we had a good lunch.

At one time pressure was put on all instructors to sample life at the sharp end where many of our pupils would be going. We were given the option of a trip in a bomber or a Sunderland Seaplane. I chose the latter and was posted to Mount Batten, near Plymouth, for a week. My crew were enthusiastic Australians and I enjoyed their company. When we couldn’t find a U-Boat we would drop a smoke bomb and try to sink it before it expired naturally. A story going about at that time concerned a Wing Commander instructor who requested the Captain of his Sunderland, who was only a flight lieutenant, that he be allowed to take the controls. The humble F/Lt let him do so but became worried when the Sunderland headed inland and started to loose height, and alarmed when he commenced a circuit of Hendon airfield, the W/.Cs own airfield. He spoke very abruptly to the W/C and they headed back to Mount Batten where they landed. The F/Lt was worried that his abrupt words to a superior officer might do him no good. He apologised and the W/C accepted this and added “Yes, it was rather foolish of you to think I could mix up a landplane with a seaplane.” He then opened the door and stepped straight into the water!.

We lost a respected instructor when Sergeant Needham did not return from a bomber raid. Instructors also cost a lot to train. Altogether not a well thought out scheme I fear.

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Tiger Moth solo

One should never fly a Tiger Moth solo from the front seat. I have only once seen this done and that was when my flight commander Davey flew in to see us after he was consigned to another job. He was also smoking his pipe! “It is so much less draughty in the front seat” was his explanation. While he was with us at B flight he never shirked any of the routing jobs; taking night-flying in the foulest weather and often taking the place of any new instructor who he considered should be broken in gently. He delighted in meeting half-a-dozen of us above cloud and re-enacting formation flying as they did it in the last war with hand signals. We were not allowed to practise formation flying and I well remember the day when he got us to do a formation landing. “I shall be on the mat for this” he said. But I think it was his age and the fact that he often wheezed that made our CFI Hicks post him to a less demanding job. His new posting was surveying airfields all over the country for possible enlargements. Ann and I made contact with him after the war and we often met. He was wonderful company and some of the trips he did on his surveying business were hair-raising.

On one of these trips Davey was told to survey an airfield on the coast of Wales near Snowden. He started off with his carefully studied map of the area and his stop watch. As the ground rose as he neared the mountains he decided to follow a valley which did not place too much strain on the climbing ability of the Moth. But mist and clouds were descending and forcing him lower and lower until he was flying at treetop height. The valley at this point was too narrow to permit a turn and retreat. This left the option of climbing through the clouds. He knew exactly where he was and he also saw that in another mile he would have to make a 900 turn to avoid rising ground that was well above the Moth’s climbing ability. Out came his stopwatch and mental calculations told him when to turn. He was only a few seconds out and his right wingtip missed the ground by inches. But he was now free to climb until he was higher than any peak ahead. He then headed West until he was clear of land before descending to sea level. He then returned to the coast, located his position, found the airfield and landed there. He found no-one about and those in the control tower told him “We have been closed all day so you can’t have flown in”. “Well, I just have” Davey replied and had to show them his Moth before they would be satisfied!