Air Tales





Aviation Tales Retold

" To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;"

Gary Claud Stokor

These are just some of the tales and incidents that I have noted.

(Daidalos and Ikaros)

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 metal.
  • 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 pressure ?
  • 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Rubberised gas-filled balloons superseded the fragile paper hot-air type.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.


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 disaster.

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 USA.

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 the rain.

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.
North 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 take off.

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.


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 Sydney record.

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.


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 off course.

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 Japanese.

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.
In 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.
The bomb 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."
The rear 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".


Missing Believed Killed by Roy Nesbit — 2002.
It covers 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.


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 ships.

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 task.


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 floor.

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:-
Due to its colour and letter it became known as "Blue Peter".

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.


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?"
"Thank 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.


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 were jammed.
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 missile.
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.


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 under age.

He re-joined the RAF in 1943, and was injured in a crash when taking off for a mission.

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 traffic controller.



















































































































































































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