By Chris Elliott………
Considering that I can’t climb a ladder without feeling uneasy why should I even think about flying?
Ok let’s go back in time to when as a very small child I was taken by my parents on a bus I think to Heathrow Airport to see my cousin Don Morris junior, almost the same age as me, and my auntie and my uncle who was serving in the USAAF, they left the UK in the late 40s. I can still remember standing on the terminal building roof watching planes taking off.
As the years rolled on I had a fascination with the Americans and WW2 and read lots of articles and books about that piece of history that predated my birth in 1944.
This interest continued and broadened and when I moved with my young family into Essex near to the famous North Weald airfield, I guess I would dig even further into history and anything to do with flying.
We lived in nearby Ongar and after North Weald was bombed in WW2 the surviving personnel of regional air operations control were moved to nearby Blake Hall House, part of which was converted to create a replacement control centre and then eventually into a deep purpose built bunker, in nearby Kelvedon Hatch that survived as a Nuclear Bunker during the cold war period.
Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk had many airfields in WW2 and at weekends I would take the family out for a drive and try to find some of these fascinating places.
Another airfield close to where I lived was Stansted Airport or Stansted Mountfitchet which was built and officially opened on 7th August 1943 when the 30th Air Depot Group took up residence. The airfield was officially transferred to the Ninth US Air Force on 16th October. The 344th Bombardment Group arrived at Stansted on 8th February 1944 with twin-engine B-26 Marauder bombers.
So Stansted airport links to my time line as I was born in 1944 and as a child I can remember my father driving us to Stansted airport and from the perimeter road network watching the big Comet jets flying in and out, I think on test flights.
Many years later when I lived in Ongar, if I was passing nearby, I would drive up the road between all the old Nissan huts at Stansted Airport and park outside the old terminal building and go inside to sit and have a roll and coffee in the cafe before driving away in my car…Where can you do that now with ease???
So back again into my past life and part of my job with one company was to organise and attend exhibitions abroad and the first ever flight I made was to Paris in 1975 and can you imagine the panic when I was frisked at Heathrow Airport because I had a large bunch of keys in my pocket.
Security was on full alert then as someone had fired a bazooka at an Israeli jet on the runway in Paris but missed and hit a parked Yugoslav jet instead and Paris was where I was heading.
My return journey to the UK was a nightmare as it was a dark and stormy night with the plane shaking and bumping and banking and banking again before landing with what seemed a big bump with my heart in my mouth.
After that I travelled abroad a good many times as a passenger and later in years on my birthday my family took me to nearby Stapleford Aerodrome in Essex to push me into a small aircraft alongside the pilot. This aircraft I was told was used as the Eye in the Sky for London traffic news broadcasts. So on with the flight with me not daring to move a muscle as the co-pilots yoke moved around between my legs.
Very soon we were banking hard and looking down on the Queen Elizabeth bridge over the River Thames and then we proceeded to fly east to west across south London and can you imagine what I said when the Pilot asked me if I wanted to take over the control. Nooooooooo thank you! On with the trip and we travelled northwards across London seeing Buckingham Palace and the many reservoirs in North London in an area I was very familiar with and then very soon we gently landed on the grass again, a fascinating experience but a little unnerving.
Five years on and another birthday surprise was in store when the family took me to the Duxford Airport in Cambridgeshire where a very large part of the Imperial War Museum is housed and as we were walking round my eldest son said to me “hey dad let’s go in here and see the Spitfires” as we went in I am starting to feel uneasy because I knew he had some sort of contact through a business with a Spitfire owner and I am thinking Nooooo only a few 2 seater Spitfires were built so just take it easy.
As we came out of the Spitfire hanger the family were all standing there smiling and pointed me to an area where they were giving pleasure flights in ancient Tiger Moths and I was dressed in Biggles type clothing and led out to an aircraft which I got into and was strapped in and then the pilot said sorry we have a small problem with the magneto so you will have to go up in the other plane.
OK now I get into the next Tiger Moth and they strap me in and I realise just how small the cockpit is with a small windscreen just a short distance from my nose and then with a Hello and welcome from the pilot we are off into the wild blue yonder.
Soon he said to me ok sir I would like you to put your hand on the joystick and pull it back and then we started to climb and then he talked to me again through the crackling headphones and soon we banked left and right and diving, with me in what seemed like full control.
The pilot took control again and we went on a pleasure cruise and he pointed out many interesting landmarks before saying to me. “Ok sir I would like you to take control again and I will speak with you again soon and then the earphones seemed to go dead.
Now I am up against it, I am in the front seat of a Tiger Moth way up in the sky moving the joystick this way and that way gently and sweating profusely before he took control with the comment “thank you sir you did very well.
I cannot remember with all the emotions flying around in my head whether I was still in control but I remember with the wind roaring around my head seeing an aircraft flying towards me at a lower level and it got bigger and bigger and then, hells bells a Spitfire roared underneath me, and after that it was so nice to be back on the ground again.
Again a trip back in time when I was taking the family for a weekend away and were driving up the A1 motorway when I saw an aircraft museum sign so I quickly turned off and soon we arrived at the Newark Aircraft Museum and very soon we were attracted to a group of men working around an Avro Vulcan B2 jet bomber and one of them said if you want to take your boys up that ladder you can see the inside.
Very soon I am sitting in the cramped and claustrophobic pilot’s seat with my eldest son next to me in the co-pilots seat and I am thinking how on earth could you fly an aircraft like this to the Ascension Island and then on to the Falklands to drop some bombs and then fly back again.
So these are some of the wonders of flying experiences and having a simple view of travel when I lived in the UK I would only fly on holiday from Stansted as it was the closest airport and now I am living here in North Cyprus the only way I can reach my homeland is by flying via Turkey because of a worldwide Embargo on direct flights to and from the UK.
Recently we came into contact with the University of Kyrenia here in Northern Cyprus and discovered they have an aviation training school with an Alsim ALX flight simulator which I was allowed to use.
After a few sessions I asked if I could fly direct from London Stansted to Ercan, North Cyprus, and the answer was yes and arrangements were made and we did it on their simulator so perhaps at the end of the day embargoes are in the mind and can be overcome if you try hard enough.
So what do I do next, learn to fly? and in thinking about it perhaps a flight to Mars may be on the agenda.