Last month, buying a Bugatti. This time, buying an aeroplane — a less common experience than adventures in finding a vintage car suited to one’s requirements. In my case, it was someone else’s aeroplane. While I was doing war service at the RAE at Farnborough writing loose-leaf Air Publications about how to service RAF machines and load gliders (which might well have inadvertently slowed-down the war effort, except that the fighting Squadrons relied on maker’s handbooks for such information), a girl joined us who had a pilot’s A-licence.
Now pilots of any calibre are high on my list of Very Special People, so this lady had to be met: soon she was going out in my Lancia Lambda, until the “basic petrol ration ended, in return for which she fed me bacon-and-eggs in the RAE Women’s Quarters — an adventure in itself, with notices proclaiming dire penalties for any male person who entered there. A risk I had to take, starved as I was by food coupons which somehow never seemed to turn into sustenance at my hastily-found lodgings. . . The girl in question wrote about instruments, so was allowed to fly in the aeroplanes in which these were installed, unlike we inferior folk who merely produced the aircraft APs and were told we were far too valuable to the war effort to risk our lives aloft… A colleague who was determined to join Bomber Command had practically to commit harikari to be released; he was reported missing a few weeks later. There was one amusing moment: the girlfriend had to wear a parachute for flying but had no suitable trousers, so she called at my “digs” to borrow a pair. The staid country landlady never quite recovered from seeing her arrive in a skirt and then appear in a pair of my flannels…
I digress. The aeroplane. It was a rather sad Aeronca monoplane with flat-twin engine of dubiously minimal power, which the girl had decided to buy for the Community Flying Club she had started soon after the war had ended, to enable people to aviate at low cost. They required an aeroplane, hence the Aeronca.
I was asked if I would take the girl and a fellow-pilot to Redhill, then a small aerodrome where this light aeroplane was based, and from which they hoped to get it back to Woodley, the Miles aerodrome south-east of Reading. As I set off in the Austin I asked the other chap if he had ever flown an Aeronca. “No”, he said, “but I have been swatting-up the Pilot’s Notes on it, in the RAE Library”. Arriving at Redhill, the girl announced that she was buying an aeroplane. ‘Over there”, they pointed. In a hangar we found a group of men playing cards. “Have you got the money?” Notes changed hands and were counted. The forlorn little aeroplane was seen to be listing to one side, a tyre flat. It was pumped up with the car’s pump. Eventually the engine started, and after the girl had been told she had her feet on the rudder-bar (she had been used to DH Moths which you flew on your own from the back cockpit) they were off. . . Seeing the “hump” of Box Hill between Redhill and Woodley I felt some alarm as I returned to Fleet for lunch. I then drove to Woodley to retrieve the pair who had shared the Aeronca’s side-by-side-seater cabin, still feeling rather fearful. But there on the tarmac was parked — one aged Aeronca. Alas, apparently its C of A soon expired, and nothing the enthusiastic girl and her club could do ever got it another. . W B