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The editor’s first flight


There is not a lot that I can remember about being 16 all those years ago, mainly spots, push bikes and unobtainable girls. Today’s youngsters seem vastly better prepared for life. But I do remember meeting up with a fellow cadet in London, in uniform with (honest) kit bags for the tube out to Hornchurch on the Upminster District Line. I well remember the massive NAAFI brown enamel tea pot and the single tea spoon on a chain, but the story really starts the next morning when a bunch of raw cadets assembled in the 614 Gliding School hangar.

The airfeld was Hornchurch, long since a housing estate. So the first thing we did was to wonder what the tubes were on the front of a T21 and of course blew down them, amazed that the little red and green balls went up and down. Then we were screamed at as an essential part of the course introduction.

I should explain that the course was a week long, with twenty something dual flights in the T21 and T31, to be followed, if successful, with 3 solo fights in the T31 and then a BGA ‘B’ certificate. The instructors were a mixed bunch with beribboned ex-wartime pilots including the station commander, national service pilots and a couple of civilians. Their patience was pretty inexhaustible.

The gliders were comparatively new, but the winch had seen better days as a twin drum barrage balloon launcher with a manual gear shift (See above). 1100 feet was about the maximum height for a T21 winch launch, with the T31 making about 900 feet. You can imagine that lessons were quite rushed and spins were never more than a 270 deg turn. However, with spare bodies on the ground to retrieve gliders, turnround was fast and we probably made 80+ launches every day.

The T31 was regarded as a retrograde step. Down-wind the wisdom was “Now stick your hand out at 45 degrees lad, and make sure that it’s pointing inside the airfield. And if it isn’t then fly straight to the airfield and land”. We all completed our 3 solos with flying to spare, so it was dealer’s choice. One cadet opted for an endurance fight and his instructor kept the T21 airborne over the Hornchurch sewage works by sniffing out the thermal. My answer was “aerobatics please Sir”, so that meant the CO, one Flt Lt Bill Verling. We did 2 loops in a T21 starting at 1000 feet and ending pretty low.

That was the day when my blue touch paper was lit, and it’s never really gone out. This was for sure the start of a long road as an RAF pilot. And yes, I’d do it all again, apart from the ground jobs.


Wiki-note: Three Silver C’s were gained by 614 VGS instructors and many Silver C legs. The outstanding Gold C by Flt Lt W (Bill) Verling in an open cockpit Slingsby Prefect was not only unique in the ATC gliding movement but indeed in Britsh gliding generally. He died last year, and I wish I’d known in time to go to his funeral.