" To leave the earth
with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;"
These are just some of the tales and incidents that I have noted.
DAEDALUS and ICARUS
Legend has it that Daedalus built two sets of wings; one for
himself, and one for his son Icarus who was killed when he flew too near the
sun, which melted the wax used to hold the wings together. Since this story
dates to around 4000 years ago it has been taken as pure myth. However, at that
time, the Kieftu [Minoans] on Crete were very skilled craftsmen and ingenious
with it. Several legends hint at technical principles, which had been thought
of, but weren't necessarily achievable at that time.
- Golden Fleece — a method by which alluvial gold is
filtered and held as it is washed down stream.
- Golden Honeycomb — the
lost-wax method of casting where a wax object in a mould is replaced by
- Talos, the bronze man who died when the plug came out of his ankle
and he lost his ichor —
a hydraulic device that failed under
- Ariadne giving Theseus a gold thread to find his way out of the
labyrinth again — trail blazing.
- A dummy cow, in which Queen Pasiphae is
said to have hidden to conceive the Minotaur —
may well have been a
device used to obtain semen for artificial insemination.
Now the Greeks tended to personify objects and ideas, so
Daidalos and Ikaros were not likely to have been two specific
individuals, but representations of a number of Design Engineers and
Technicians. It is quite feasible that they tried to make a set of wings
for gliding, and that the unfortunate first pilot met with disaster. Personally,
I think it probable that this myth was based on fact, and records the first
actual flying accident.
It was as long ago as 1783 when brothers Joseph and Stephen Montgolfier made
successful balloon flights to an altitude of 1000 feet. The balloon was of
paper, and the hot air was produced by burning wool and straw. A sheep, a
cockerel, and a duck were the first living passengers on an 8 minute flight.
Unfortunately the cockerel was injured when the sheep kicked it. King Louis XVI
offered two condemned prisoners as first human passengers, but the Marquis
d'Alandis and Pilatre de Rozier volunteered to do the first free flight, and
demonstrated changing height with skilful burning of straw.
Rubberised gas-filled balloons superseded the fragile paper hot-air type.
During the siege of Paris in 1870, they made 66 flights carrying 102 passengers,
9 tons of mail, 6 dogs, and 409 carrier pigeons. Hydrogen gas is dangerously
flammable, but the safer helium gas is only a quarter as buoyant.
It was only late in the 20th century that the hot-air type were
reintroduced, with polyurethane coated Terylene envelope, and propane-fuelled
burner. As you will have seen, many are made in the shape of objects such as
cans of beer, fruit, and even a French chalet for advertising purposes.
PERCY SINCLAIR PILCHER (1867-1899)
Six miles NE of Rugby (Warwickshire) is Stanford Hall. Just over 100
years ago, Percy Pilcher went there to conduct flight trials in the grounds,
taking advantage of the flat countryside. He was a Scottish engineer, who had a
been naval officer, and a lecturer at Glasgow University. Then he became a
partner in Wilson-Pilcher, a company formed to manufacture internal
combustion engines, which had only recently been developed.
He was interested in manned flight, and exchanged information with other
gliding enthusiasts, including Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896) in Germany. From
bamboo and canvas he constructed successful lightweight soaring machines, The
Bat in 1895, and The Hawk in 1896. These were first flown at
Eynsford in Kent.
Lilienthal had launched by running downhill, but Pilcher had pioneered the
use of a towline, with boys or a horse for power, but then added pulleys for
greater power or speed.
On Saturday the 30th September 1899, a number of visitors, including
Baden-Powell, gathered in the grounds of Stanford Hall to watch an
aeronautical demonstration. Now a lady, who was also present on that occasion,
passed a verbal description of events down to her son. According to this, there
was the Hawk glider, and a new triplane fitted with an engine. It was raining
and both machines were covered by tarpaulins.
It would appear that the idea was to demonstrate the tried and tested Hawk,
and then show off the new triplane. Around teatime Percy Pilcher took off in the
Hawk, got up to 30 feet, whereupon the tail collapsed and he fell to his death.
It is assumed that heavy rain had over-tightened the hemp ropes, causing the
Obviously the triplane was not flown, and it was eventually dismantled to be
returned to his family as part of his possessions. It is said that one crated
wing panel is still in existence, but no one knows what became of the fuselage,
or rumoured engine. It is also stated that all his drawings were sent to the
Credence is lent to the possibility of an engine, by the formation of the
Company, and the fact that the other partner in the engine company profited from
his Wilson Gearbox, fitted to Rolls-Royce cars.
A hundred years after the event, there is no hard proof as to whether
powered manned flight might have been achieved that day, if it hadn't been for
Replicas of The Hawk glider and triplane are on display at Stanford Hall.
There is a pillar monument erected to Percy where he died. A Latin inscription
says "ICARO ALTERI" which means "the other Icarus", although
Icaros was nominally Greek.
On the night of 8th September 1915, several Zeppelin airships cruised over
London dropping bombs at leisure. It had been assumed that raids would be in
daylight, when fighter planes could deal with them. Anti-aircraft guns lacked
the required range. From that date on, efforts were made to train pilots to
attack by night.
A year later on the 2nd September 1916, thirteen airships crossed the east
coast heading for the Midlands. New blackout regulations were most effective,
and many bombs fell in the fields of East Anglia. Three airships turned for
London, but two were driven off by gunfire. The third cruised on. William
Robinson in his BE2 biplane climbed to 10,000 feet, and dived. The airship fired
machine guns, and released a smoke screen, trying to get away. They both
climbed, and Robinson found it conveniently in his sights. He fired some new
Pomeroy incendiary bullets, and slowly a red glow emerged as the hydrogen
filling began to burn. Robinson got the VC, and prizes of £2000 + £1000
+ £500 which had been offered by individuals for the first destruction of
an enemy over Britain.
In April 1917 he was shot down and taken prisoner in Germany. Released, he
sadly died in December 1918 during the Great Influenza Epidemic.
In September 1934 Alan Cobham and Sqn.Ldr. Helmore took off from Portsmouth
(Hants. UK) to fly non-stop to Karachi, using flight refuelling. The method
involved lowering a rope with weighted balloon, and hooking up the supply pipe
trailed by a Handley-Page bomber converted into a tanker. Over the English
Channel 90 gallons were transferred in 8 minutes.
The tanker then returned to Portsmouth, before continuing home to Coventry.
of London another pilot, flying south, saw the tanker suddenly turn over and
break up. There were no survivors.
Meanwhile Cobham had linked with the second tanker off Malta. Suddenly his
plane dived to the left pulling the tanker. Helmore was quick to operate the
cutter device which thankfully worked. However the throttle control didn't, and
as the engine lost revs. Cobham managed to just clear the cliffs and make
Malta's aerodrome, with a splintered propeller. Investigation showed that a
split pin was missing from a throttle link spindle which had slipped out. Grease
and dirt in the hole indicated that the pin had never been fitted. The Karachi
flight was abandoned.
It was in the 1930's that M.Mignet, a cycle repairer, built the minimum
single-seater aeroplane. It was a biplane, but had no tail plane, the lower
wings being moved rearward to serve two functions. There were no roll controls,
it being assumed that the fuselage would continue to dangle from the main upper
wing. This wing was tilted by the joystick for up/down flight, and there was a
rudder which made the thing skid round in a turn. it was powered by a motorcycle
engine. Mignet called it the Pou de Ciel or in English Flying Flea.
Not a few pilots and non-pilots lost their lives flying a Flea, the
centre-of-gravity being too far back. It couldn't achieve very great height, and
if long grass wore away the tips of the wooden propeller too much it, couldn't
At a Southend (Essex) meeting for the type, one enterprising owner charged
five shillings for a ten minute "go" in his machine, but he had sawn
off the tips of the propeller to prevent take-off. Unfortunately a 15 year-old
boy was light enough to be lifted when the machine hit a bump, and it and he
ended 15 feet up in an oak tree. His was one of the few actual flights that took
place that day.
DE HAVILLAND COMET DH88 RACER
Remember the De Havilland Comet? No, not the jet liner of the 1950's, but
the twin-engined race plane of the 1930's, registration number G-ACSS. The
Comet pub at Hatfield was named after it. The plane had several names
according to the financial sponsor:- The Burberry (gents outfitters),
Grosvenor House (hotel), Australian Anniversary.
It won the race to Johannesburg with Scott & Guthrie, and the race to
Australia with Scott & Black (1934). Then it was bought by the Air Ministry
for research, until it crashed in 1937. Flg.Off. Clouston got a friend called
Tasker to buy it from the scrap merchant, and enthusiastic engineer Jack Cross
agreed to rebuild it at low cost.
In the 1937 race Paris to Damascus and back, Clouston & Nelson
came 4th, the first three places being taken by the Italian team which had state
backing. None of the other starters finished the course. At one stop the
Italians had sportingly patched the fabric on the Comet.
Later in 1937, flying from Croydon, Clouston & Betty Kirby-Green broke
the time record for England to Cape Town and back.
In 1938 Clouston & Ricketts tried for the record to Australia. Over
Turkey they ran low on fuel, and were forced to land at Adana, on a freshly
levelled but muddy aerodrome. Their strip maps did not agree with the circuitous
route specified by the Turks, and this caused trouble with the police. Two
tractors from a showroom failed to pull the aircraft out of the mud. The locals
had gathered to watch, and when a camel train appeared they rushed across, and
negotiated the use of 30 camels which pulled the plane onto the drier road . It
was washed down and refuelled, but the police objected to their leaving, so they
paid the hotel in advance for the next few days, and did an early morning flit.
The available road length was limited to 400 yards by two bridges, and on
take-off a wheel hit a bridge as they didn't quite clear it. Thus in Cyprus the
undercarriage collapsed, causing a belly landing. Jack Cross flew out and
effected a temporary repair to get the machine back to Croydon. Investigation of
the reason for fuel short age revealed that no allowance had been made for the
freezing conditions on the chosen route. A month later they set off again, but
with a longer warmer route over the Mediterranean instead of over mountains.
Crossing the Arabian desert they ran into a snowstorm, which caused icing, but
fortunately the engines kept going. Then they observed the cause, 5000 feet
mountains which were not shown on the map.
This time they reached Australia, but failed to break the England-Darwin
record. Then they found that they had incidentally broken the England to
In Sydney they delivered press photos which included Hitler's troops
marching into Austria. A quick flight for an overnight visit to see Clouston's
family in New Zealand demonstrated the possibility of an air link between NZ and
Australia. They returned safely to Croydon, having established about a dozen
other records for various legs of the journey.
In 1939 General Martini, the Luftwaffe Director General of Signals, arranged
to fly an airship along the east coast of the UK to listen for radar
transmissions. Originally the request was for a blimp airship to be used so that
the girders of a rigid type wouldn't interfere with the radio waves. This was
turned down with the offer that Graf Zeppelin LZ130 could easily be made
available. On 3rd August 1939 it flew high and 8 miles offshore, back and forth
between the Thames and Scotland, where the Chain Home radar tracked it, one
station at first reporting it as "50 to 100 aircraft".
Now CH radar was primitive; instead of transmitting in a narrow beam it
floodlit over a wide angle of 100 degrees, and instead of a near optimum 1000
pulses/second it transmitted only 25 per sec. synchronised to the 50 Hz mains
supply. The result was that the observers in the airship deduced that the rough
signals they picked up must be due to arcing in poorly installed equipment of
the electricity distribution system. This lucky chance resulted in the belief
that there was initially no UK radar defence, and this was maintained until
General Martini was enlightened after the end of the war.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ... ?
AMELIA EARHART (1898-1937)
Amelia Earhart from Kansas, was born in 1898.
She was the first woman to
fly the Atlantic as a passenger in 1928.
Then in 1932 she was the first
woman to pilot it alone, taking 15 hrs. 18 mins.
In July 1937 she was making
a long flight across the Pacific Ocean in a Lockheed Electra and left Lae in
Papua New Guines, making for Howland Island, 2,500 miles to the
east. Five hours into the flight, a storm forced her
to climb over the mountains of Bouganville Island, which used a
massive amount of reserve fuel. The Headwind above her planned
cruise altitude was 25 mph, much greater than the 12 mph for which
she had allowed.
Amelia's navigated was Fred Noonan, a Pan American
navigator noted for his drinking. The US Coast Guard Cutter
Itasca was on station to provide radio guidance, but lost R/T contact
20 hours into the flight. Neither Amelia nor Fred were
familiar with D/F techniques or knew morse code. She
had been rather slipshod, assuming that luck would always be with
her, and to save weight, left behind her parachute, life raft, and
the trailing aerial and morse key for the HF communication radio,
not to mentiuon her "lucky charm." Unfortunately,
the ship's D/F also failed at the critical stage, but the radio
operator recorded signal strengths of signals heard, but could not
make return contact.
Recently, radio amateurs and local navigators,
using the ship's radio operator's log book and local knowledge of
conditions, have simulated the flight. With cloud restricting
the view, it is thought that she mis-identified a ship below, and
flew too far north of Howland, simply running out of fuel while
In earlier years she had been photographed in a Japanese
kimono, and this gave rise to a false story that she had been imprisoned by the
AMY JOHNSON (1904-1941)
Amy Johnson was born at Hull (UK) in 1904, so she would have been 26 when
she made her solo flight from Croydon to Australia, in 1930, taking 20 days.
1932 she broke the flying record to The Cape of Good Hope.
In 1933, with her
husband Jim Mollison, she flew the Atlantic.
Then she did the there-and-back
trip to The Cape in 1936.
In 1939 she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, which had many women among
its pilots, who delivered aircraft from factory airfield to operational station.
Amy died while flying an Airspeed Oxford trainer from Squires Gate near
Blackpool (Lancs) to Kidlington near Oxford (Oxon). However, the crew of a navy
ship saw the plane spiralling down out of freezing thick cloud over the Thames
estuary, near Herne Bay. A parachutist was also seen falling helplessly with it.
Many books since, have revealed that at that time there was a great worry
about the entrance to the The Port of London being mined, and all unidentified
aircraft were shot at, as a matter of routine. In 1999 it was reported that an
ex-AA gunner, Tom Mitchell, said she gave the wrong code word over the radio and
his group of four guns, on Chetney Marshes, fired at her plane. Afterwards the
gunners were apparently told not to say anything, and he was only speaking out
then to ease his mind and clarify historical facts.
Personally, I don't believe that pilots had to give codes to AA Command
which should have been notified and aware of friendly air movements. However, an
ATA pilot has since mentioned on TV that they were not strictly controlled, and
were fairly free to fly where they chose. The report does seem to suggest that
Amy Johnson was possibly shot down by AA guns, through unwarily flying into a
heavily defended area, during thick cloudy weather.
GLENN MILLER (1904-1944)
Glenn Miller organised and ran the professional US Army Air Force band, and
in 1944 he was arranging a Christmas concert for the troops in France. Colonel
Baessell offered him a lift in a single engine C-64 Noorduyn Norseman aircraft
from Twinwood Farm airfield (near Bedford) to Villacoublay (near Paris). They
left on 15th December 1944 when weather conditions were atrocious. The pilot was
Flying Officer John Morgan, next to him was Colonel Baessell, and Glenn Miller
was in a sideways seat behind. The pilot failed to file a flight plan,
but circumstantial evidence seems to indicate that he correctly followed a
narrow corridor used for communication shuttle flights. This ran south, to the
west of London, and then veered slightly eastwards to avoid the coastal AA
gun boxes which were areas where V1 flying bombs would be shot at. Over the
English Channel it passed close to the Southern Jettison Zone where
bombers would dump their unused bombs. This was nominally at 50°15'
latitude, and 0°15' longitude, with a radius of 5 miles.
Flying operations had been suspended due to thick fog over the UK, and
conditions had only slightly improved, when the urge to continue with the war
led to risk-taking. There was fog over England, but better visibility over the
Channel. 138 Lancasters managed to take off from Methwold (Norfolk) to bomb the
town of Siegan, but their fighter escort was still grounded by the fog, so the
raid was aborted. The bombers were south of Brussels when they turned back, and
flew west to dump their 4000 lb "Cookie" bombs in the jettison zone.
It seems that John Morgan, piloting the Norseman, was not really qualified
for instrument flying, and using only the magnetic compass for direction, could
have had a 15° error which took him into the edge of the jettison area. He
arrived just as the higher-flying Lancasters were dumping their bombs. Documents
appear to show a time discrepancy of 1 hour, but Britain had retained "Summer
Time" during the winter, which was used as "local time" on US
records, while the RAF used GMT.
Fred Shaw of 149 Squadron had trained as a navigator at Manitoba, so was
familiar with a number of Canadian aircraft types, including the Norseman. He
had gone to a blister window to watch the jettisoned bombs falling.
aimer is reported to have said "There's a kite down there", and Fred
Shaw says he then saw a small high-winged monoplane "stall, turn to port,
and go straight into the drink — with a white splash."
gunner observed "There's a kite gone in."
Quite why the incident
was not reported isn't clear, but the aircrew weren't altogether certain of what
they had seen, and many wartime events were "hushed up".
BOOKS & TV
Missing Believed Killed by Roy Nesbit — 2002.
several aviation puzzles including the three above.
An Amy Johnson biography by Midge Gillies — 2003.
In the UK a TV documentary was shown on Channel 4 in 2004.
An underwater search is being conducted in the Thames estuary
and in 2003 it was reported that her plane had been found. However,
there seems to be no subsequent confirmation.
NAVAL FIGHTER CONTROL
In the 1930's the Royal Navy was rather bound in tradition with dated
equipment. One asset they did have was a Signal School that also manufactured
their large transmitter valves in quartz glass envelopes, as their requirement
was considered too small to put out to industry. When the coastal radar for the
RAF was being developed the RN school staff were asked if they could produce
quantities of these high power valves. They obliged, and were soon let into the
radar secret, being invited to observe trials. However, there was no backing
from higher authority, and little progress overall in developing equipment for
Then came the periodic rotation of naval officers. Those who had simply
accepted the new stuff with little understanding or urgency moved off, and their
replacements tried to get to grips with what they had inherited. Seeing the
demonstrations of aircraft detection, they soon started pushing things along.
What they lacked was an integrated plan backed by a chap like Air Marshal
Dowding. By 1940 the aircraft carrier Ark Royal still didn't have radar, but it
was accompanied by HMS Sheffield and HMS Curlew which did. Lt.Cdr. Coke was in
charge of flying on the Ark, and he realised that the other ships could give him
early warning of approaching enemy aircraft.
Communication was primitive. The radar operators passed messages which were
sent to the carrier by hoisting flags. These were read, and passed to Lt.Cdr.
Coke in the bridge wireless office. Morse code was used to tell the flying
observers where the enemy was, and they spoke to their pilots through speaking
tubes. It all took 4 minutes. When the operators realised that they could also
see their own aircraft on the radar screen, they soon learned to give speed and
direction in order to intercept an attack, and single letter codes were adopted
to shorten the messages.
The captain wanted to be kept informed, so a blackboard on the bridge was
used to plot the latest positions. This was a primitive plotting table. Lt.Cdr.
Coke called his system "The Directive Method", and it was the start of
Fighter Control in the RN. By 1945 there were 800 officers specialising in this
Although, in 1940, airborne radar could put a fighter in the vicinity of an
enemy bomber, it was still necessary to visually align the gunsight in order to
fire. The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough therefore started
experimenting with flares for light at night.
A Hampden bomber towed a 1000 foot wire with a million-candle-power flare on
the end, over Salisbury Plain, but this wasn't very practical.
Flares were then fixed on bomb racks under the wings, and these were to be
tried out at RAF Silloth (Cumberland), as being an area free of enemy planes.
The Hampden followed a black-painted Whitley bomber, and the RAE operator
ignited a flare. Immediately the Hampden pilot was blinded by bright reflection
from the spinning propeller discs. Since the flare would last for 3½ min.
he had to tell the Whitley pilot to dive out of the way.
Just then Ground
Control warned that there was an unexpected enemy aircraft nearby. Before the
Hampden could clear the area, the foe had used the light to bomb the airfield,
so the Station Commander told them what to do with their experiments.
The third idea was to use photoflash flares fired from a tube gun, and this
was fitted in the back of an American DB7 bomber. They retreated to Aldergrove
in Northern Ireland, to avoid enemy involvement. The lighting-up seemed to work
well, until a flare jammed in the tube igniting several others. Fortunately the
choking operators, Miss Williams and Mr.Hall of RAE, quickly pulled the
smouldering flares out of the tube, and dropped them through the escape hatch in
The idea of using flares was dropped, and at Lord Beaverbrook's initiative,
training for airborne radar operators was revised, so that guns could be fired
in the dark with an improved chance of success.
Naval signal flags are shaped and patterned so that each can be recognised
through a telescope at a distance. They are also coloured for easier recognition
at close quarters. As well as representing a letter to form a word or code
group, each flag alone has been given a meaning. Thus a white rectangle with a
blue border (letter P) can also mean:-
CREW & PASSENGERS COME ABOARD, WE
ARE ABOUT TO SAIL.
Due to its colour and letter it became known as "Blue
The winner of the Derby in 1939 was called "Blue Peter" and this
was the name chosen for Spitfire AD540, paid for with the £5000 raised by
Newmarket Spitfire Fund, which was initiated by the stable boys. It was built at
Castle Bromwich in 1941, and arrived at RAF Turnhouse in Ayrshire in April 1942
to become a part of the newly formed No. 242 Squadron. The squadron code for the
aircraft was LE-R, being referred to as "Robert" by the members. It
was regularly flown by 19 year-old Pilot Officer David Hunter-Blair whose home
was a nearby Scottish castle.
On the 23rd May 1942 the weather was atrocious, with drifting rain and low
thick cloud, but the squadron was sent out to escort the RMS Queen Mary, with
her load of troops from the USA, into Liverpool. The exact reason isn't certain,
but possibly due to poor visibility, PO Hunter-Blair flew into high moorland at
Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, and was killed. It was only 15 miles from his
home where he was taken for burial.
In 1993, the TV children's programme Blue Peter researched the
history of their namesake, the plane was dug up, and a memorial plate was placed
on a stone erected at the site of the crash.
DROPS WITHOUT A PARACHUTE
First Lucky Escape
The Ventura aircraft, in which Sergeant William Stannard (32) was rear
gunner, was set on fire over the Dutch coast in 1943. The fuselage, containing
his parachute, became a tunnel of flame. He was trapped in the turret awaiting
the end. Suddenly something exploded, and the large twin tail with the turret
attached was blown away from the burning plane. It glided into a spiral, and he
thought how upset his mother would be over his death.
The tail unit crashed through a tree in the grounds of a Dutch country
mansion, and Stannard was knocked out. He awoke to find himself in the drawing
room with an old lady asking,
"Would you like a glass of wine?"
you very much!" he answered, swigging it down in one go.
Then he grew
embarrassed, at his lack of manners. Given time to revive, he found that he had
been retrieved by the head gardener and housekeeper. Two German officers were
also in the room, having come to round him up.
Second Lucky Escape
Early in 1944, Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade (21) was the rear gunner in a
Lancaster bomber, flying at 18,000 feet over Berlin. A burst from a
night-fighter set the bomber on fire. He fired back and hit the attacker.
Getting out of the turret, he found his parachute burning. With two
alternatives, he chose to get away from the heat by jumping to his death. The
night was very cold, and he blacked out as he fell.
Then he awoke with surprise, saw stars through the trees, and thought "Jesus
Christ! I'm alive." At perhaps 120 mph, he had crashed through young pine
trees, into deep snow.
Picked up by the Germans, he had to get them to look for his burnt parachute
in the crashed plane, to convince them that he wasn't a spy who had buried his
chute. When they took him into the POW camp, his experience was related to the
assembled parade, and he became a celebrity among friend and foe alike.
It was in May 1944 that WAAF Corporal Dorothy Bowles, stationed at RAF
Waterbeach (Cambs.) and her fiancé Leonard, stationed at RAF Hibaldstow
(Lincs.), had planned to wed. He couldn't get long leave because D-Day was
approaching, so they had arranged to marry one weekend by special licence in
Scunthorpe. On the Saturday, she arrived at Cambridge station in beautiful
sunshine, to find that the trains on her route were not running. There was only
one thing to do, and that was PANIC!
However, she had learned to report all technical problems to her Engineering
Officer immediately, so she phoned him. "Keep calm!" he advised, "Leave
it to me, and get back here by 1 pm."
Perhaps he could arrange a lift
in road transport she thought. But No! She was taken out to a Lancaster bomber
going on a test flight, and given a place on board. The personnel at Hibaldstow
were surprised to see a bomber land at their fighter 'drome, and her fiancé
was even more surprised to see his bride appear from within.
The marriage lasted, for in May 1994 I heard a record request played on the
radio from Dorothy to her husband Len.
HUMOUR UNDER FIRE
Reg Faber was an aircrew wireless operator/gunner with No.
271 Squadron. However, in an unarmed Dakota over Arnhem he had to work as jump
master, and also keep a watch for FW190's. As he strained looking for the
fighters, he felt a tug at his trouser leg; it was WO Mick McManus, the Welsh
navigator. He looked down, and Mick asked, "Reg, what are your thoughts on
post-war reconstruction?" When related back at the Squadron, everyone was
greatly cheered up.
It was the 4th of August 1944, when a jet-propelled Meteor aircraft was
first used to pursue a V1 flying bomb.
Flying Officer Dean knew that he
must not approach too close as the result of a hit might be an explosion. He
dived from the rear, pressed the gun button, and found that all four cannons
Since the flying bomb had no human pilot, Dean was able to fly
alongside, where he manoeuvred the wing tip of his Meteor underneath that of the
Over open countryside he suddenly banked to lift the wing of the
V1, and this action toppled the steering gyros, making the missile crash four
miles south of Tonbridge in Kent.
ACW Margaret Horton was stationed at Hibaldstow, Lincs. One windy day in
1945, she sat on the tail of a Spitfire as it taxied out for take-off. Now the
custom was for the ground crew member to slip off, and then wiggle the elevator
as a signal to the pilot. In this case, the pilot made an unexpected gesture
with his hand, and she thought he was telling her to stay on. The next thing she
knew, she was lying across the fuselage, hanging on to the tail, as the pilot
roared away. The pilot complained to the control tower about his aircraft being
heavy, so they told him to land again without explaining why. When the Spitfire
stopped on the runway, Margaret dropped off. Finding that the controls were now
lighter, the pilot took off again still ignorant of the cause of the problem.
The only damage was Margaret's strained arm, from hanging on for dear life,
literally. Later the pilot visited her with a bunch of flowers, pleased to find
that she was not badly hurt.
SCHOOLBOY BOMBER PILOT
In 1941 Thomas Dobney (1926-2001) was dared by a school friend to try to
join the RAF — he succeeded in doing so. Just after his 15th birthday he
was flying a Tiger Moth at No 2 Elementary Flying Training School. As a sergeant
pilot of a Whitley bomber he flew about 20 missions. Then his divorced father
saw a photo of his son chatting to the king, and Thomas was discharged as being
He re-joined the RAF in 1943, and was injured in a crash when taking off for
Later he took part in the Berlin Airlift, and served on the King's Flight.
After a spell in the police force, he finally re-joined the RAF as an air