One summer Saturday in 1956,
I was at Croydon making myself generally useful
and trying to scrounge the odd flight. I was
hanging about at the hangars when a chap I
had seen around a bit asked if I could help
him push a Percival Proctor out. (This is
precisely why I would hang around the hangars.
In fact that's why they're called hangars.
Then I could say: "Are you going flying?
Got a spare seat? OK if I come along?"
The desired answers are yes, yes and yes,
in that order. I got them.) The next question,
of course, is "Where are you going?"
When he answered, it was one
of those delightful surprises life seems to
store up and dish out at random intervals.
"What, now?" I said.
It was about 6:30 pm, but, being August, was
still broad daylight.
"Yes. Soon, in fact."
Good job I always had my passport with me,
just in case. I called home and told 'em what
I was up to.
This Proctor, G-ANYV, had no
radio or navigation aids. Nada. Fortunately,
the weather was good, but shortly after crossing
the French coast it got dark. I was ensconced
in the back seat, which was quite a long way
from the two at the front. I had no controls
and no intercom, so communication was by shouting.
All I could do was watch and look at the map
with a flashlight.
Paris was not difficult to
find. It ain't called the City of Light for
nuthin'. We flew right over it. There was
the Eiffel Tower. Yes, definitely Paris. Now
to find our destination: Toussus le Noble,
a small field for private planes about ten
miles west of Orly, the major international
airport south of Paris. Orly was easy to see.
There were all these lights and Stratocruisers,
Super Connies and DC 7s coming and going.
But off in the dark bit, to the west, we could
not find Toussus. If our pilot had done a
bit more careful checking, he would have discovered
that Toussus was, in fact, closed at night.
We surely did not want to go into Orly without
radio, especially at night. So what to do?