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Authors: Gill Griffin

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Proficiency
 
as Pilot
Average
On Type.
 
To be assessed:
Exceptional,
Above the average,
Average,
 
Below average

Any special faults which must be watched:   Nil

SIGNED:-
T.A.BIRT

G/Cpt. O/C

No. 9 SFTS RAF Hullavington

Date: 16/4/1941

GRAND
TOTAL TO DATE    120 hours 0 minutes

I certify that LAC Thorne has had 10.40 hours instruction and has completed the General Instrument Flying Course on the Link Trainer with the exception of Exercises

A.C. Wilson F/Lt    Date: 16/4/41

Following the presentation of my wings another welcome event took place: I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, a welcome step forward. During the initial training period at Babbacombe RW (Receiving Wing) and at Torquay ITW (Initial Training Wing), we cadets had the rank of AC2 (Aircraftsman Second Class), popularly known as the lowest form of animal life in the RAF. The pay was two shillings (10p) per day. We were permitted to make an allotment of not more than 50% to a dependent relative, which was matched by the Air Ministry. Mother, a widow, therefore received two shillings a day, most of which she saved to help me in my moments of need.

On commencement of flying training we were promoted to the rank of LAC (Leading Aircraftsman) with a pay increase to three shillings and nine pence per day. Promotion to the rank of Sergeant brought a much greater increase to twelve shillings and sixpence per day, about £4/7/6d per week. On top of this our uniforms, flying clothing, food and accommodation were provided by the service. Suddenly we were rich!

Gaining our wings marked the end of our SFTS training at Hullavington. We were granted a seven-day leave to go home in order to show off our stripes and wings; in my case I went first to visit Mother and sister Gwen at Poletrees Farm with trips into Aylesbury and my home village of Waddesdon. Two days later I travelled on to Redditch to see fiancée Estelle and visit members of her family. Of course, with my bright new wings in evidence everyone treated me as if I was already an Ace, all of which was wonderful.

The seven days passed quickly and my orders came through to report to No. 57 OTU (Operational Training Unit), at Hawarden near Chester. At this time Hawarden was an all-grass airfield with, on the south side, a Vickers Armstrong factory where first Wellington and later Stirling bombers were assembled. Conditions were not ideal for Spitfires so, after one or two flights in Miles Masters, most of our training was done at nearby aerodromes.

26 April
: After two refresher flights in a Miles Master we were considered to be sufficiently experienced to be let loose in a Spitfire, a day that will stay in my memory for as long as I live, the culmination of all those months of training. There were no two-seaters in those days; an experienced instructor saw us seated comfortably in the cockpit, first to ensure that our parachute was properly fitted and the straps good and tight, safety straps done up and tightened, secondly to check that radio and oxygen were plugged in, and we were all set to go. The instructor stood on the wing and explained the controls, the take-off and landing speeds, then off you went.

As our airfield at Hawarden was out of action due to a heavy smoke pall and poor visibility following the heavy bombing raids on the Mersey towns of Birkenhead and Liverpool, we travelled by coach through the Mersey tunnel to Speke, then a small grass airfield on the north bank of the river some four or five miles east of Liverpool.

The take-off run was slightly downhill towards the river. When safely airborne it was necessary to retract the undercarriage by placing the selection lever in the up position. There were no hydraulics in the early (Mk 1) Spitfires so the pilot had to use a hand pump, a long cranked lever on the right side of the cockpit. To do this he had to change hands, operating the control column with the left hand, having tightened the throttle friction nut. Meanwhile he worked the pump with his right hand. This resulted in a take-off rather like a kangaroo; incredibly, we all made it safely. A steady circuit of the airfield, then back for my first Spitfire landing, a curved, semi-glide, final approach to keep the landing path in sight past that long nose. Level out, ease throttle closed and the touchdown proved easy. Prior to the actual landing we put into use those letters so carefully learned: U – undercarriage down and locked, M – mixture full rich, P – pitch fully fine, F – fuel on, F – flaps down (a Spitfire used full flap for landing), and F – friction nut loosened for easy throttle control movements. The Spitfire flew like a dream and despite the narrow undercarriage, landed without any problems. A few more sessions of landing practice in a Master (circuits and bumps), then it was Spitfire all the way. At long last I really felt like a fighter pilot.

YEAR
1940
AIRCRAFT
Pilot or 1st Pilot
2nd Pilot, Pupil or Pass.
DUTY (Including Results and Remarks)
Flying Time
Passenger
MONTH
DATE
Type
No.
Dual
Solo
May
1st
Spitfire
AO
Self
 
Navigation
 
1–10
 
 
3rd
Spitfire
AB
Self
 
Height test to 25,000ft
 
1–10
 
 
 
Spitfire
AO
Self
 
Ranging
 
1–30
 
 
9th
Spitfire
AB
Self
 
Formation
 
1–30
 
 
10th
Spitfire
AI
Self
 
Formation
 
1–10
 
 
11th
Spitfire
AA
Self
 
Ranging
 
1–00
 
 
12th
Spitfire
CB
Self
 
Circuits and landings
 
1–10
 
 
 
Spitfire
CB
Self
 
Formation
 
1–25
 
 
13th
Spitfire
CV
Self
 
Formation
 
1–25
 
 
 
Miles Master
T8044
Self
Sgt Ingle
Instrument flying
 
−50
 
 
 
Miles Master
T8044
Self
Sgt Ingle
Safety pilot, instrument flying
 
−50
 
 
16th
Spitfire
CY
Self
 
Formation
 
1–30
 
 
 
Spitfire
CA
Self
 
Formation
 
1–30
 
 
17th
Spitfire
CA
Self
 
Formation
 
1–35
 
20th
Miles Master
J
Self
F/Lt Baldie
Ferrying
 
−20
 
 
 
Spitfire
CJ
Self
 
Formation
 
1–30
 
 
21st
Spitfire
CG
Self
 
Aerobatics and low flying
 
1–25
 
 
 
Spitfire
B(CJ)
Self
 
Formation and ranging
 
1–20
 
 
22nd
Spitfire
CH
Self
 
Formation
 
1–20
 
 
 
Miles Master
B
Self
Sgt Garden
Map reading
 
1–20
 
 
24th
Spitfire
CJ
Self
 
Formation and target for camera gun practice
 
1–20
 
 
 
Spitfire
CG
Self
 
Formation, cross country and camera gun practice
 
1–25
 
 
25th
Spitfire
CD
Self
 
Formation and aerobatics
 
1–20
 
 
 
Spitfire
CD
Self
 
Formation and camera gun practice and evasive action
 
1–30
 
 
26th
Spitfire
CA
Self
 
Formation and aerobatics
 
1–30
 
 
 
Spitfire
CC
Self
 
Formation
 
−25
 
 
27th
Spitfire
CD
Self
 
Ranging practice
 
1–10
 
 
29th
Spitfire
CJ
Self
 
Formation and aerobatics
 
1–25
 

3 May
: This was my first experience of climbing to a height above 4 or 5,000 feet and my first use of oxygen.

13 May
: When we were ‘comfortable’ in a Spitfire the training was increasingly aimed at operational needs, hence lots of formation flying (sadly still the obsolete VIC formation, battle climbs, air drill, etc.) We all agreed that the ‘Spit’ was a delight to fly, a lady with no vices. Care was needed when taxiing on the ground, due to the narrow undercarriage and poor visibility past the long nose. With the small radiator, overheating was always a problem. It was vital not to hang about once the engine was running but to get airborne as soon as possible. The joy of flying, particularly in a Spitfire, is well described in the poem ‘High Flight’ by John Gillespie Magee Jnr: ‘Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth/And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings’.

21 May
: Although my logbook entries show very few aerobatic sessions, it is misleading. On most flights, in the spirit of joie de vivre, we threw our willing steeds through the air. I well remember flying along the North Wales coast, doing continuous slow rolls, left and right alternately.

26 May
: Following the first of the two flights on the 26th I made a mistake and collected the following endorsement:

BLUE ENDORSEMENT Landed down wind.

Signed by J.R. Dunsworth S/Ldr

CFI. 57 O.T.U.    dated 31/5/41.

At this time we were using the small airfield at Sealand, normally an EFTS operating Tiger Moths. On a windless day I had taken off from West to East. Returning after some exhilarating aerobatics, I failed to note that the ‘Landing Tee’ had been changed through 180 degrees and landed the same way I had taken off. I finished my landing run among the Tigers! Fortunately I missed them all and no damage was done, except to my reputation and ego.

YEAR
1940
AIRCRAFT
Pilot or 1st Pilot
2nd Pilot, Pupil or Pass.
DUTY (Including Results and Remarks)
Flying Time
Passenger
MONTH
DATE
Type
No.
Dual
Solo
June
1st
Spitfire
CJ
Self
 
Formation and battle climb
 
1–10
 
 
2nd
Spitfire
CM
Self
 
Formation
 
−35
 
 
3rd
Spitfire
CL
Self
 
Formation and air drill
 
1–45
 
 
 
Spitfire
CD
Self
 
Formation
 
1–30
 
 
 
Spitfire
CN
Self
 
Formation
 
−40
 
 
4th
Spitfire
CD
Self
 
Formation, battle climb and air drill
 
1–40
 
 
5th
Spitfire
CJ
Self
 
Formation, Sealand to Hawarden
 
−10
 
 
7th
Spitfire
CC
Self
 
Formation attack and evasive action
 
1–20
 
 
 
Spitfire
CK
Self
 
Formation and dog fighting
 
1–30
 
 
 
Spitfire
FI
Self
 
Air firing, air to ground
 
−25
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
3–30
1–40
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
55–25
110–25
4–40

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