Prestwick, October 1940
“Just before two I put on my flying gear and parachute. While Allan was signing the Flight Record book in the hut, I walked out to the aircraft to climb into the rear cockpit and spend a few minutes looking round and getting used to the confines of the cockpit, as the Sergeant had suggested. I looked down at the floor and gently tapped it with the sole of my flying boot. God! It seemed paper-thin. Would I fall through? Would I be sick? I glanced along the wings: ribs, struts, wires, the gravity-feed petrol tank above and central on the upper wing. Up front, the nose and the large wooden propeller, leather edging round the top edge of the cockpit, small windscreen, smell of petrol and oil.
I suddenly felt uncomfortable, nervous and overheated: the fur-lined Irvin flying jacket was rather stifling, but I knew that once I was airborne the clothes would be essential. Even my hands felt clammy inside the gloves. I sighed, then looked down to the control stick between my legs. I held it gently and moved it to gauge its mobility. I noted with some satisfaction that the ailerons and the elevators moved up and down. I then tested the rudder bar: OK, too.”
“Then came the starting-up procedure dealing with tail-trimming, ignition switches, throttle, fuel and so on. The mechanic responded to the ‘contact’ routine and the propeller was swung. It fired after the second swing. I experienced immediately and for the first time the cool slipstream from the prop and instinctively brought the goggles down to protect my eyes. The engine was making a regular pulsating noise while it was warming up, and I liked the rhythm of it….
“The aircraft slowly surged forward as the throttle was opened. At first the stick was held back, but as the speed increased the stick was moved forward to bring the tail up. I could now see ahead beyond the front cockpit and at about 60 mph we were riding on the surface of the grass with hardly a bump. I suddenly realised that my nervousness had evaporated. I was simply thrilled at this new experience and felt on top of the world even though we were still on the ground. I looked to one side and saw the parked aircraft, buildings, petrol bowsers flashing by. And then, as if by magic, we were airborne. Speed … around the 70 mark. The climb straight ahead was gentle while airspeed was gained. At a height of 1,000 feet we levelled off and into a straight and even flight path. Speed … around 100 mph. Allan asked me if I was enjoying it, and I said I was. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t feeling squeamish in any way.”
Flt Lt Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, (2014) Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot. United Kingdom, Fonthill Media.
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