SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2, 1955.
1700 HOURS, BST.
Croydon Airport, runway 24.
"Would you like to try
one on your own now?" he said.
"Yes, please." I
"Alright, take it around
nice and easy and bring her back in one piece.
Just do one circuit." Rex Nicholls, my
flying instructor, disconnected the intercom,
clambered out of the front seat of the Maggie
and secured the harness so it wouldn't snag
the controls. I sat in the rear, brakes on,
stick back, my heart thumping with anticipation
at this, my first solo flight. Rex jumped
off the wing and gave me a thumbs up. "Alright?"
he shouted. "Right!" I yelled back.
He walked away and, after making sure he was
safely clear, I carried out the pre-take-off
checklist. TTMFFGHH. I still use the mnemonic,
some 4,000 flying hours and forty-odd years
later. Throttle tension nut tight, trim set,
mixture rich, fuel on and sufficient, flaps
up, gyros and instruments checked, harness
tight, hatches closed. I had no radio.
Any other aircraft coming in
or taking off? Nothing in sight. The tower
gave me a steady green light. Cleared take
off! Brakes released, I opened the throttle
enough to get her moving and taxied out to
the centre of the runway. All runways at Croydon
were grass, but this one had a tarmac apron
at the beginning. I lined up on the tall chimney
away on the horizon and set the directional
gyro to 240. Then I gradually opened the throttle,
holding the stick back for the first few seconds.
I eased forward on the left rudder to counteract
the tendency to turn right caused by the prop
torque and brought the stick forward. The
tail rose as we accelerated. Airspeed at about
50 knots, the Maggie leapt into the air. With
only one on board, the aircraft performed
as I'd never seen before. I climbed out at
65 knots. Solo at last!