Happy To Fly by Ann Welch

Happy To Fly by Ann Welch. 248 pp, 8 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in. (John Murray Ltd, 50 Albemarle Street, London, WIX 4BD. £10.50).

Ann Welch is well known for her glider exploits and her organisational work in this field. She is an accomplished pilot and writer and in this delightful book she explains how it all came about, her obsession with aviation from the time when she was s very young girl, her early introduction to the art and science of flying, and her later associations with engine-less flight, which took her to management of the British Gliding Team in World Championships all over the globe, and chairing their International Jury. That was after being in charge of the British Gliding Association Examining Panel for 20 years. She was awarded the MBE and OBE for her services to gliding. Her complete dedication to whatever task she is seriously engaged in is very apparent from this excellent book.

Ann Welch had her first flight in 1930 in the Airspeed Ferry of Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus from a small field near Wadebridge and other aerial baptisms in Air Taxi’s DH Puss Moths and other aeroplanes at Croydon, and also in the Avro Cadets of the Lancashire Aero Club, all before she was 17.

Even before that she had made model aeroplanes (the first was a Hawker Fury), and kept a diary of real aeroplanes which flew over her parents’ house at Bickley in Kent. She bought her first copy of Popular Flying at a station bookstall in 1932, much the same way as this reviewer discovered Motor Sport, then The Brooklands Gazette, at Baker Street station in 1924. She was taught to fly in a DH Moth of the Barnstaple Club in 1934, going solo there in G-AAIM, completing her training at Brooklands — which she found very sophisticated.

All this makes very entertaining reading — yet it is but a small part of this compelling book. Later chapters deal with flying in wartime with ATA. We have had a number of recent books about life in the ATA but none better than Ann Welch’s necessarily compressed description. That she so looked forward to flying her first Spitfire, and went on to deliver many complicated aeroplanes, is a reminder der of the skill and courage of the girl pilots of ATA. They make it sound. so easy! But with courage and tenacity like this, one now sees that it would have been impossible for us to have lost the Hitler War. . . .

Much of “Happy To Fly” is about gliding, with final chapters on motor-gliders, hang-gliding and microlights. It might be thought that Ann Welch’s descriptions of World Gliding Championships in various parts of the World, including Poland, might be boring for a lay reader. On the contrary, her vivid descriptions, her sense of humour, and above all her infectious enthusiasm, made it impossible for me to willingly put her book down. It is all there, the forced landings, the problems of organisation, at Lasham or on the other side of the World, the incredible aeroplane-towed glider retrievals, the occasional fatalities, the transport problems from the time when Ann bought a £5 motorcycle to get more quickly to Croydon and Biggin Hill, to the long hauls in sponsor’s Land-Rovers, Standard Vanguards or a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, etc, to those distant glider contests. In this context, there is a picture of Ann’s round-tank Royal Enfield motorcycle of 1933 and references to driving Henry Williamson’s Alvis Silver Eagle, someone’s MG Magnette, and so on, and the Bentley DC should not overlook page 97! After motorcycles she used her parents’ BSA saloon, wrongly said to have had automatic transmission, when no doubt a fluid flywheel is intended.

I have read most of the aviation books published since the war and before it but I have enjoyed few as much as I did “Happy To Fly”. It is great reading for aviation enthusiasts, is well illustrated, has a nice dust jacket, and the printing errors are minimal. In the hackneyed phrase, “highly recommended”. — WB