Copyright © 1966 by Philip Cleife

First printed 1966

This edition published 2023 by Steemrok Publishing and made available by kind permission of Capt Cleife's son, Peter, who owns the copyright of this book and also manages the website

TO VIRGINIA with all my love, and deep gratitude

The reader’s attention is drawn to the announcement at the end of the book, concerning the foundation of The ‘Philip Cleife Burns Fund.



1. Andante
2. Accelerando
3. Fortissimo


1.“My next trick, Ladies and Gentlemen, is impossible”
2. In pursuance of Article 3A
3. Battle
4. Flight Safety and the Million-to-One Chance
5. Passengers, V.I.P. Passengers and—
6. —Friends
7. 1962—Here we come!


1. Design for success
2. “Let’s talk about the weather”
3. The Personal Touch
4. The Daily Mail Get-Ahead Contest, 1962
5. Television
6. Saturday, 11th August, 1962
7. Results at last


1. We expand
2. The Master Plan
3. Nothing can stop us now
4. Saturday, 20th July, 1963
5. Tuesday, 30th July, 1963
6. Our finest hour
7. Plastic Surgery
8. The mystery solved
9. The Reckoning


1. The author (1)
2. The airfield at St. Mary’s (2)
3. Lima Mike’s proving flight
4. Lima Mike’s new livery
5. Captain Loat, Virginia, the author and Uniform Lima
6. The finalists in the Daily Mail “Get-Ahead” Contest (3)
7. The opening shot of the programme (4)
8. The author before the panel (4)
9. The author demonstrates his route (4)
10. The Isles of Scilly from the air (2)
11. The last of Lima Mike (4)

Key to Acknowledgments

1 Daily Mail
2 Dermot P. Fitzgerald
3 Daily Mail: by permission of the finalists
4 B.B.C.

Author’s Note

None of the characters in this story is fictitious, and the only events which are described are those which actually happened. Because of this it is inevitable that I must drag from anonymity the names of my friends and the many others who were so kind to me. For this intrusion into their privacy I ask to be forgiven on the grounds that it is needed to lend verisimilitude to the narrative. The great help they have given to me in the past leads me to believe that  they will not begrudge me the liberty I have taken. This plea is also addressed to the following, for whose co-operation and sympathy I am much indebted: 

- The Air Transport Licensing Board
- The British Broadcasting Corporation
- British European Airways
- The Council of the Isles of Scilly
- The Editor of the Daily Mail and his staff
- The Director of Aviation Safety and his Inspectorate
- Plymouth City Council       


A FOREWORD is by its very nature introductory, and therefore more often than not is concerned with the beginning of things.

This one is different in that it begins with the end. This is because I believe that appreciation of the book may be heightened if, at the very outset, the reader is made aware of the question which will confront him at the end—a question which surely must be inescapable.

Was it worth it?

This is the story of an adventure. Like many others it tells of the fortunes of a central character who pits his wits against formidable odds. But unlike many others, the venue is different. If there be any purpose in what I have written, it is to show, if further proof were needed, that within the limits of human endeavour, if a man has sublime faith in the rightness of his cause and the knowledge, strength and determination to pursue it, he can do anything. Especially if he has the good fortuneor is it misfortune?—to be an individualist.

But within the telling of the story there arises another problem additional to the question. A realistic portrayal of the events as they happened may bring with it the suggestion of a lack of personal modesty. If, in order to counterbalance this, the narrative is deliberately played down, it might well assume the ponderous character of a report. I have faced this dilemma  and after some thought I have decided that I prefer to be thought immodest than dull. Therefore I have described both the events themselves and my reactions to them as faithfully and as vividly as I can, and if censure should follow, then I must  accept it.      

But the question remains. Was it worth it?

This I must leave to the reader to decide for himself, and I hope that in the course of doing so, he will be stimulated—perhaps even mildly amused—by the realisation that even today there is still a little room left for the individualist.

March 1965         K.P.H.C.




IT all started with Hotel Whisky. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it was because of my long liaison with Hotel Whisky that the idea ever came to me at all.

The statement, put baldly just like that, implies that herein will be found the revealing confessions of an alcoholic—spiced  possibly with even other degeneracy. Therefore it behoves me at once to say that Hotel Whisky never came out of any bottle, and that the only vices which are featured in this story are those of arrogance and pride.

Hotel Whisky is in fact an aeroplane. Her proper registration is G-AKHW or, to use the ridiculous nomenclature of the current phonetic alphabet—Golf Alpha Kilo Hotel Whiskythe last two only being used for repeats. She is—somehow I hope I do not need to say ‘was’—a small twin-engined four-seater Miles Gemini of barely post-war vintage, originally designed as a long-distance private tourer for those sufficiently affluent to travel that way. Some of her shortcomings, alas, were such as to render her hardly suitable for use as an all-weather aircraft for commercial charter, and the reasons why I came to be flying her in just that role amount to a long and perhaps tedious narrative around which I shall skip with the most determined brevity. Indeed, I would prefer to omit it altogether were it not for the fact that what follows might be difficult to comprehend if I failed to mention the chain of events which ultimately led me to undertake the apparently impossible task which I set  myself.

Early in 1950, shortly after I had retired from the Royal Air Force, I was mentally at the crossroads and ill equipped for the transition to civilian life by my previous three-year tour of duty on the directing staff of the Empire Flying School at Hullavington.

The term ‘flying school’ normally implies a training unit where the young gentlemen are taught initially how to fly an aeroplane. Anything less like a training unit in this sense would be difficult to imagine. Originally the brainchild of Air Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane, its charter was . . . ‘To study the art of  flying . . . to examine the methods of teaching that art . . . to find a means of pooling experience so that instruction is co-ordinated throughout all the nations of the British Commonwealth.’ And within those terms of reference was created one of the most extraordinary flying units the world has ever seen. It ran three courses each year and its students, who were recruited from all flying Commands in the Commonwealth, were selected on strong recommendations only, and had to qualify with a minimum flying experience of a thousand hours and a rank not lower than Flight Lieutenant.

The inducements of the course itself were legion and the aircraft alone made it a pilot’s paradise—experimental flying in over twenty different types—four-engined bombers, fast twins, trainers, fighters, and even jets before they ever came into general service. The opportunity of flying different types of aircraft from those we were used to, to undertake flying research, to exchange ideas with other Commands, to help to mould future flying policy were irresistible attractions and it was said that the eminence of the outside lecturers who came from their exalted civilian and Service levels to talk to us alone made the course worthwhile.

The place was both an excitement and a challenge and seemed to possess all the elements of an air force squadron, a research unit, a university, an aeronautical House of Commons with the crackpot atmosphere of a film studio thrown in for good measure. In the officers’ mess was every conceivable colour and pattern of uniform that was fighting on our side, and the guttural Afrikaans of the Transvaal mingled with the nasal cockney of Australia to add to the general hubbub created by Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand, the United States, and our own Bomber, Fighter, Transport, Coastal and Flying Training Commands and, of course, the Royal Navy. Some of them had flown halfway across the earth to this pleasant station in Wiltshire to take what at the time was the most advanced pilot’s course in the world.

As each course ended, the work achieved took the form of recommendations for the improvement of flying which were submitted to Air Ministry and after that a few of the brightest  boys from the outgoing course were retained as members of the directing staff. Among the things which influenced my subsequent career in civil aviation was the evolution of flying techniques which would make possible an all-weather Air Force. Three whole courses—a year’s work—were devoted to this task in which a number of gallant oflicers lost their lives. The result was the introduction into this country of the Instrument Rating System for pilots and the requirement that only those so qualified could fly below certain limits of bad weather. Because of this I possessed my Instrument Rating and was using it to fly in every sort of weather long before the impact of even the idea ever reached the tortuous channels of civil aviation. I was later to have cause to remember this.

lt was hardly surprising that after my years of conditioning in this dedicated madhouse, my outlook when I left it was one of mild arrogance towards civil aviation. I felt I was departing from the realm of higher thought and although I have always loved flying, the conception of becoming what I felt was nothing more than a flying ‘bus driver’ was mundane and unattractive. Also another influence was at work. After so many years’ acceptance of the nomadic instability of Service life, I was disinclined towards a further flying career which might take me all over the world again. I wanted more than anything to settle down, to take roots, to enjoy my children and other simple pleasures that I had missed. I wanted to be static—to plant seeds in my garden and still be around when they grew up into plants.

At least I thought I did.

After discovering that farming was beyond my limited means l turned my attention to finding some country pub. One with residential accommodation for holiday visitors seemed to offer the best prospects for a pleasant life and although I would have preferred to farm, it did at the time seem more prudent to gamble my meagre capital on the Englishman’s belly rather than on the weather. Eventually I bought a country inn with ten bedrooms on Dartmoor. It needed extensive renovation and at the time I had great ideas on interior design. I became so engrossed in my building alterations and all the planning for the future that I committed the unpardonable error of allowing my Commercial Pilot’s Licence to lapse. I had taken this out while I was still in the R.A.F. as a precautionary measure in case I should need it for a civil flying job—it only needed a little flying and a medical examination every six months to keep it valid, but like an idiot I let it go.

When the alterations were at last completed it was spring and I settled down to my new life of inn-keeping. Then the barman left, the holiday season started at the same time, and I descended from what I had hoped might be the lofty eminence of a country hotel-keeper to serving seven days a week behind a bar counter. It didn’t take me very long to realise what an appalling mistake I had made. I had voluntarily renounced a world that I understood, loved and belonged to, in exchange for something that was as near to purgatory as I shall ever know. It was a world in which to me only a few people seemed charming and courteous and the remainder were dreadful boors whose company I found unbearable. I was even rude to many of them but, oddly enough, this improved the trade rather than otherwise and I became known as a gimmicky eccentric—a  sort of west-country John Fothergill. Gradually I became intolerant, impossible to live with, and obsessed with the beastliness of everything. With a flying career now closed to me and all my capital invested in a property which I found I couldn’t resell, I felt trapped and cheated. Everything wasn’t entirely black and during the summer when the pub was shut, I used to enjoy the late parties with the resident drunkards on holiday, which went on until the early hours of the morning. But working nearly eighteen hours a day, this was burning the candle at both ends and my health deteriorated with the strain.

During those dreadful years the one thing that saved my sanity was flying. I took out a Private Pilot’s Licence and joined the Plymouth Aero Club where I flew for fun. One day in 1952, Jack Pearse the airport manager who knew my background rang up to say that a contract had been completed with the Admiralty for the initial flying training of cadets of Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Experienced flying instructors were needed—would I care to help? Two years before, from my erstwhile mightiness at Hullavington, I would have scorned the suggestion, but times had changed, and now the prospect of even an occasional relief from my lot was a tonic and I jumped at it. From then onwards at the week-ends in the summer, I became airborne in Tiger Moths to give instruction to the young gentlemen whose cheery “Aye, aye Sir” on the intercom was such a pleasant contrast to the drooling of the bar flies. During those brief interludes I was happyI was back  where I belonged.

In spite of me rather than because of me the business at the inn had been increasing every year and in 1955 it took over £9,000 which seemed good to me. But nevertheless I found great difficulty in getting anyone to buy the place because it was on Dartmoor and when I put it up for auction in Torquay there wasn’t a single bid. Later when the situation became hopeless from every point of view I sold it to an agent at a loss of nearly £4,000 and invested what was left in stocks and shares. So ended my first unfortunate attempt to come to terms with civil life.

Before I left the inn I heard from Jack Pearse that he was leaving Plymouth to take over Exeter Airport and that there was a vacancy at Plymouth for an air traffic controller. He was amazed when I said I would take the jobto many people the ownership of a country inn is a reasonable approximation to an earthly paradise and it would take more words than will appear in this book to explain why it isn’t.

When I finally left the inn I had no ideas, plans or ambitions. All I wanted to do was to creep quietly away into some corner, lick my wounds and try to forget. The deep feeling of relief at having at last freed myself from the pub was the first restorative and the fact of finding myself once again surrounded by people who talked the same language helped me on the road to recovery.

My duties were not arduous—I had to control aircraft while  they were in the aerodrome traflic zone and during landing and take-off, and in addition had to keep air publications up-to-date. Because of this I was able to put in a fair number of hours in the air with the naval cadets and the aero club pupils. The contrast between this modest and primitive form of aviation and my Service past was ludicrous but the intervening years had had their chastening effect and I had no inclination to ponder upon how the mighty had fallen.

Taking the controller’s job was in fact the finest thing I could possibly have done because it provided me with the opportunity of studying during the quiet period of the following winter, to recover my Commercial Pilot’s Licence. The Ministry of Aviation had ruled that for this they would, in view of my experience, exempt me from any flying tests but as far as technical examinations were concerned, they wanted the lot. This meant going right back to school to start all over again at the very beginning. Not being very well paid I couldn’t afford to go away to London for a course of study so I sat it out with myself during the cold weather months swallowing the contents of innumerable air publications.

Six months later I got my Licence back and immediately gave up the job of Air Traffic Controller to become Chief  Flying Instructor. Since the same firm operated both the aerodrome and the aero club this was purely a matter of changing  hats.

The major part of my new job was of course teaching people to fly—both naval cadets and aero club members—but in addition I had to undertake most of the charter flights that came our way. I was very glad to do this because I was finding that the constant repetition of circuits and hair-raising landings of the pupils during which one was never more than a mile away from the centre of the aerodrome, was becoming a little tedious. To fly passengers over different routes all over the country without having to teach them how to fly would make a pleasant change. This would be operations as distinct from training and the aircraft I would be using mostly for the job was Hotel Whisky who, whatever her shortcomings, was at least a little more interesting than the Tiger Moths and Austers.

A pilot’s relationship with his aeroplane is a very odd thingwe treat her somehow like a person in that when we get to know her we love her for her weaknesses just as much as for her strength.

Hotel Whisky was a very pleasant little aeroplane to fly but she certainly had her shortcomings. Twin-engined she might be, but a false twin, in the sense that if one engine failed with any reasonable load, she came down like a brick. She possessed one potty little VHF radio for communications without any standby equipment. If her one and only generator failed, which it regularly did, her battery was just about man enough to keep the radio going for about fifteen minutes. She had only one suction pump for the flight instruments which could lead to some dangerous embarrassment if it failed in cloud. She possessed no radio-navigational equipment of any kind, and her engines, although they never actually failed on me, were not of the type about which I could feel enthusiastic. Although she was capable of very short landings, her take-off performance at full weight in light winds was horrible and I’ve seen even the passengers biting their finger-nails as she went trundling over the grass fields at Plymouth without any apparent intention of  becoming airborne.

One of the basic design philosophies built into modern passenger aircraft is ‘Fail Safe’, that is, if something goes wrong, something else is there to take its place. With Hotel Whisky there was nothing at all to replace a failed component so it was just “Fail and the best of luck”. Yet, in spite of all this, I spent many hundreds of hours in that little aeroplane and, with certain very few exceptions, enjoyed them all.

It was in Hotel Whisky that I began to learn a great deal about  passengers. Her cabin provided a remarkably good all-round view which would be out of the question in a large airliner from which the external view is in most cases negligible. Except for dead astern Hotel Whisky’s passengers could see out on the  beam and directly ahead and of course the pilot in his turn can observe passenger reactions. And marvel. Passengers in small aircraft are really quite extraordinary—they can exhibit the most unexpected variety of reactions to the flight—excitement, boredom, goggle-eyed wonder at the magic of it all, and the occasional you can’t fool me I’ve done it all before outlook. But the one emotion they never seem to display at all is fear and they retain at all times the most embarrassing confidence in the Captain. This may be due to their close proximity to him and  the ability to talk to him during the flight which gives them a slight feeling of being crew members. But my theory is that it is because in a small aircraft like Hotel Whisky, they can see where they’re going. Whatever the reason, it is probably one of the greatest blessings to small aircraft operators that the average passenger on a charter flight seems somehow to feel completely safe as long as he can see everything thats going on, and is perfectly happy to fly with death at his elbow providing he doesn’t  know it.

Altogether I flew Hotel Whisky on and off for about three years with all sorts of passengers to all sorts of places in all sorts of weather, and there seemed to be few aerodromes in the United Kingdom where I didn’t land at some time or other. But there was one which I had been given to understand was a regular trip in Hotel Whisky but which during the first few months of my new job seemed to elude me, as for some reason there was an unusual lull in bookings for it. This was St. Mary’s  aerodrome in the Isles of Scilly—the smallest aerodrome on the British register.

The aerodromes both at St. Mary’s and Land’s End were operated by the Ministry of Aviation primarily for the benefit of British European Airways who since the war ran the only scheduled air service to the Isles, but it was also used by a surprisingly large number of private pilots—a number of whom turned the controller’s hair grey in their efforts to land on the tiny field. The only aircraft to use the aerodrome for charter flights in my day was Hotel Whisky and I was very impatient to find out how she performed there, especially in view of that long take-off run, and it was particularly irritating that as soon as I took over the charter work, there should be no bookings to go there.

But I needn’t have worried—somewhere or other it was written that I was to go.



IT was not until one day in July, 1957, that my curiosity was at last satisfied. I was briefed to take Hotel Whisky over to Exeter, pick up three passengers and fly them direct from there to St. Mary’s. The weather at Plymouth was already putrid and becoming worse every minute. Exeter was slightly better but would deteriorate as well.

On arrival at Exeter the met oflice told me that St. Mary’s aerodrome was in fog but that a cold front was expected through there in half an hour after which Scillies weather would clear with small amounts of cloud and good visibility. Unfortunately it would be mid-afternoon before the whole of the route cleared, so if I wanted to take off at the scheduled time of 09.30 hours it meant that I would have to fly in cloud for most of the way.

It’s always difficult on occasions like this to satisfy both the requirements of the passengers and the need for flight safety. So I decided to compromise and wait until I knew for certain that the Scillies weather had cleared and then take off and fly in cloud not lower than 6,000 feet which would give me a little margin in case of emergencies. If an engine should fail at that height, at least I ought to have sufficient range to make a safe landing somewhere before I ran out of height.

I contacted the passengers in the concourse hall and found that they were three engineers who had to go over to St. Mary’s in connection with some constructional work. I told them I must delay the flight for half an hour until I had received word that Scillies weather was clearing but once this was confirmed we would take off immediately. The news didn’t seem to worry them and since there was nothing else to do I stayed with them  in the passenger hall for a chat.

I’m always interested in what other people do so I button-holed the man who seemed to be in charge of the party and asked him:

“Look, forgive the question but chartering me to fly you to Scillies is a fairly expensive way to travel—how do you make the job pay?”

He looked at me somewhat quizzically and answered with another question:

“How long is our flight from here to St. Mary’s?”

I said: “One hour, fifteen minutes.”

“So that in two and a half hours’ flying, you can get us there and back.”

“Give or take five minutes, yes.”

“Well, we happen to have done this trip before. And we’ve  done it the hard way. We have to catch a train at half-past  three in the morning . . .”

“It’s me ears. I thought you said half-past three in the morning.”

“. . . I did say half-past three in the morning. The blasted train stops everywhere and after being cooped up in it for nearly five hours we arrive in Penzance at a quarter-past eight and hang about until nine-thirty when the boat sails. After a rough passage in which I get as sick as a dog, we finally get in to St. Mary’s at about twelve-thirty feeling like the wrath of  God, and then we have to start a day’s work. If we want to get back here the same day, we have to sail on the boat at half-past four, arrive Penzance about half-past seven and fill in the time until the nine o’clock train leaves to get us back to Exeter at the ungodly hour of one-forty-five in the morning. So we take nearly twenty-four hours, including some of the worst travelling I know, to do a couple of hours’ work there. If you allow for the cost of our time, you’ll find flying there and back in two and a  half hours is cheap, not expensive.”

“But surely, B.E.A. run a service with Rapides from Land’s End to Scillies. Why don’t you go that way?”

“We still have that dreadful train journey. Besides, unless you book up months ahead, it’s damned difficult to get on B.E.A.—they’re nearly always full.”

It is said that coming events cast their shadows before them. Half an hour later we took off in horrible weather and climbed away into the mundungus. At 6,000 feet we were in cloud and after settling down to cruising trim, I had time to relax and to think. My mind involuntarily returned to what they had told me :

“. . . twenty-four hours of travelling to do a couple of hours’ work . . . difficult to get on B.E.A. unless you book months  ahead . . .”

Interesting. Extremely interesting.

Nineteen minutes out of Exeter we were still in thick cloud so I called Plymouth on the radio:

“Plymouth, Golf Alpha Kilo Hotel Whisky.”

Hotel Whisky, go ahead.”

“Plymouth we are at this time—flight level six zero, IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), estimating overhead you at two zero (in this case ten-twenty hours. In air reporting, time is expressed in minutes past the hour). Tug, stick your head out of the window will you and see if you can hear my engines?”

Hotel Whisky, wilco. Standby.”

In the London Traffic Control Zone, this would have been enough to make any self-respecting controller suck his teeth, but in the West of England the great metropolis is a distant land, we are much nearer to nature and we have little ways of our own.

LaterHotel Whisky, I think I can hear your engines now that this blasted telephone has stopped ringing. You’re a bit faint at that height but I’ve got no other known traffic so I expect it’s you all right.”

This, as a method of fixing position, will never be found in any manual of air navigation but when you’re riding out on a limb in things like Hotel Whisky, you pull any trick out of the bag if it’s likely to help.

Thirty-five minutes later we flew into heavy turbulence and I noticed some breaking up in the cloud. Good. We were entering the cold front and once through it, the weather ahead of us would clear. I reduced power and began the very slow let-down which I always used to stop the passengers’ ears popping which occurs if the air pressure increases too quickly with rapid loss of  height.

We had the usual rough passage through the frontal zone and then behind it the cloud began to break up and through some holes in it I could see the outline of Land’s End as we passed overhead—the sunlit rocks vividly three-dimensional in this extraordinary clear air.

Now in silky smooth air we passed down through the 4,000-feet level while to each side of us the huge fleecy cumulus, floodlit a dazzling white by the sunshine, were now broken and scattered into individual masses of splendour—breathtakingly beautiful. Like a celestial enlargement of an avenue of noble timbers, the great clouds with their towering tops billowing out like Ostrich plumes high above us, and their flat bases, 1,500 feet  below us, slipped easily by us with unhurried grace while beneath us the blue sea shimmered. At such moments the air is the playground of the gods, and the airman alone among mortals is permitted to enter and marvel at it.

I forcibly tore my attention away, changed radio frequency and called St. Marys aerodrome and listened carefully for landing instructions. I had never been here before but was well aware of the awe-inspiring reputation of that aerodrome and was taking nothing for granted. The controller’s voice came  back very loud and clear:

Good morning, Hotel Whisky. Understand you are estimating us at one five. Our weather is—three octas cumulus at 2,500 feet; visibility—20 nautical miles; surface wind—two seven zero, ten to twelve knots. QFE (barometric pressure reduced to aerodrome level. With this setting the  altimeter will read zero feet when at the same level as the aerodrome)—one zero one six  millibars. Do you wish to make a straight-in approach on 28?”

Not bloody likely—not until I’ve got to know your aerodrome, chum. Besides I want to see the islands—let’s do a crafty bit of face-saving and blame it on the passengers.

Negative, Scillies—my passengers would like to see the Isles first. Request left-hand circuit for 28.”

Roger, Hotel Whisky. Left-hand circuit is approved. We have no known conflicting trafficcall Eastern Isles and downwind  for 28.”

I completed all my approach checks early so that I would be free to enjoy my first view of Scilly and waited. Very gradually as the towering masses of cumulus drifted by in their leisurely dignity, we lost height and finally came out below them to be favoured with direct sunshine and unrestricted visibility. Suddenly I caught sight of the Isles straight ahead and gasped.

I dont know why, but when flying over the sea I always experience a tingling thrill at the first sight of a sunlit island ahead. Guernsey, Jersey, Malta, Cyprus, Majorca, Ibiza—all  of them are an excitement when they come into view. But the Scillies that morning were something unique the like of which I had never seen before—something incredibly beautiful. They were tiny—much more so than I had expected them to be—and the islands themselves were grouped very close together in a small, tightly knit archipelago. The sea was vividly bluemuch more so than near the mainland—and as I flew closer to the Isles they glistened. It is no optical illusion—I who have since seen them in every sort of weather know that in that sort of light and those conditions, they glisten. That day, seeing  them for the first time, it was like the iridescence from a cluster of precious gems set in azure.

Perhaps it will convey a little something of their beauty from the air if I say that since that day I have seen them hundreds of times in similar conditions and not by the tiniest fraction does familiarity ever dull their beauty. The sight of them has always been and always will be just as exciting as it was then.

Now at 1,000 feet we slid smoothly overhead the Eastern Isles and then I looked down at the reaches of water between St. Martin’s and Tresco and gasped again. This was incredible—the shallows were shining upwards in a huge splash of brilliant colour, a vivid yet exquisitely pale duck-egg blue through which the subterranean rocks and the wide sandy bottom showed crystal clear—surely this must be the Mediterranean! Ahead of us lay Tresco whose line of beaches of silvery sand blazed incandescent as I banked gently to port towards St. Mary’s Harbour with the little town nestling round the water’s edge dominated by Telegraph Hill a proud sentinel lying over on the left, and the quay on the right jutting out into the sea to receive the Scillonian which would tie up against it in an hour’s time.

Overhead St. Mary’s I studied the picture with the receptive intensity of a painter and then once again firmly removed my gaze—I had an aeroplane to land. I completed all my landing checks very early so that I would have more time to study the aerodrome. As we slipped downwind it came into view and I took a long look at it and sized it up critically. All the lurid  stories I had heard from the private pilots who had frightened themselves to death when landing there came home to me. It was tinyquite the smallest aerodrome I had ever seen. In addition to this it was humped up in the middle and sloped away downhill in all directions, and bordered by a small road to the north and west and nothing but the sea to the south and east. It would be like landing on an upturned saucer—if you don’t manage to stop by the time you are half-way along the runway you stand a splendid chance of careering downhill for the remainder of the run and putting your aircraft either over the road and into the ditch, or else over the rocks and straight into the sea, according to which direction you are landing.

The field was all grass with dotted white centrelines to mark the runways but an extension to Runway 28 had been built up artificially and looked like a short piece of tarmac road, elevated like an embankment in an attempt to reduce the worst effects of the gradient, and with the ground on each side of it descending steeply in an escarpment to the rocks and the sea below. This was the one on which I was going to land.

I turned on to the final approach, lowered full flap and came in very low with lots of power at the slowest airspeed that I dared. Straight ahead, the almost frightening uphill slope of the tarmac runway loomed menacingly high above me and the small fringe of rocks at its seaward end grinned evilly up at me like gargoyles as I roared over them with engines at nearly full power. As soon as I was safely over the runway threshold, I cut the motors, set Hotel Whisky gently down on the runway and thought ‘Now for it!’ as I grasped both throttles in instant readiness to open up and take off again if there was to be the slightest danger that we would run out of airfield.

But the day was full of surprises. I’d never landed before on something which looked like the roof of a house and so hadn’t made any allowance for the retarding effect of the steep uphill gradient. By the time we had rolled upwards on to the flat centre portion of the airfield Hotel Whisky’s speed had fallen off to near walking pace and I needed only a further touch of the brakes to stop her.

I taxied in to the grass parking space adjoining the signals area, disembarked my passengers, and then took a look round to get my first impressions. Once the anxieties of landing had been disposed of, the little aerodrome was an endearing sight. It was quaint and almost toylike. The buildings had that clean fresh look that one associates with the Scottish Highlands and other natural regions remote from the soot and dust of civilisation. The small control tower gleamed with white paint and at its side the tiny passenger hall with two little luggage trolleys at its door was attractively arranged inside with a reception  desk and the usual small counter for cigarettes and picture postcards. Around the field neatness pervaded everywhere, the grass was short mown, hedges were trimmed, signposts well maintained, and even the little road to the town seemed clean. It was like a very large-scale model of an aerodrome supplied by a very expensive toyshop.

My passengers weren’t returning until late afternoon so until then I had the rest of the day to myself. After a chat with the controller I stayed on for a time to watch the Captains  bringing in their Rapides with that superb artistry that makes it all look so easy. Their heavier aircraft need a much longer landing run than the little Gemini but they wheeled them in as nonchalantly as nursemaids with perambulators.

I decided as it was such a lovely day to take a walk into the  town—St. Mary’s is only just over two miles across at its widest,  so no walk is a long walk and I was very keen to absorb something of this intriguing spot. Strolling down the little road from the aerodrome, I turned left as I had been directed and made for Old Town Bay. Walking through the little lane the hedgerows were picked out with colour and alive with extraordinary little fiowers and shrubs the like of which I’d never seen on the mainland and which lent a sub-tropical air to everything.

The shadow of coming events was upon me. I felt it and  trembled like a spaniel. Yes, here in this erstwhile haunt of wreckers, smugglers and pirates, was going to be adventure.

I continued down the little road to the Bay and stopped to enjoy its lovely little beach. Two bathers were swimming but no one else was about. This was July—a beautiful sunny day—and two people only in this little paradise! Climbing up the lane from the Bay I looked over the isthmus to the north-west  and suddenly saw St. Mary’s Harbour and the white hull and yellow funnel of the Scillonian as she steamed slowly in to her berth. I stopped on the hill and looked around me in all  directions. The Isles seemed startlingly near to each other. Across St. Mary’s Roads was nothing of a task for even a moderate swimmer—hardly a mile to Tresco with Bryher within easy reach. St. Martin’s to the north-east lay only a little farther while to the south-west the disused lighthouse on St. Agnes seemed not considerably more than a very long stone’s throw. Small motor-boats in gay colours were chugging between the Isles threading their way past the dozens of tiny islets which stood guard like little people, in the air was a warmth and freshness that you could taste, and around it all was that blue, blue sea. Here in this western extremity of the fabled Lyonesse was more than adventure, here was magic!

And that was when the fates nodded for the first time.



DURING the ensuing years I flew Hotel Whisky into St. Mary’s aerodrome dozens and dozens of times—I don’t know how many. I got to know Scillonia in fair weather and foul—I spent happy hours scrambling over the rocks, throwing stones into the sea, admiring the magnificent aerobatics of the seagulls, and ambling gently alone with my thoughts along those delightful little lanes. In the early spring I would go into the fields and pick daffodilshuge armfuls so that Hotel Whiskys nose compartment was bursting with them and in the height of the summer when the Cornish air was befouled with the exhausts  of a hundred thousand motor-cars and the coasts were black with people, I would swim from Old Town Bay and have the beach to myself. I got to know the Scillonians, the airport staff, and some of the passengers who flew there until, very gradually, I began to feel I belonged.

I had vague and remote ideas at the time of how nice it would  be to start a special air service to Scilly on my own but they never properly left the realm of dreams—my meagre finances were still depleted by my losses on the inn and I was committed in other ways.

I suppose that the story might have jogged quietly along just like that, and, had I been someone different from what I am, perhaps that is all that would have happened. But, knowing myself, I also knew that this monotonous interval of escapism must soon come to an end. But the fates weren’t quite ready and had other plans for my immediate affairs.

I had fallen in love. Quite the most charming creature. I had the opportunity of taking a most attractive small country cottage eleven miles out of Plymouth at Ivybridge and as soon as it was all ready for us we got married; I then felt that at long last I had found peace and happiness, that ambition was a treacherous jade, and that the price of material success was a crop of stomach ulcers. I would embrace dullness, espouse monotony. I would trot in every day like an obedient commuter to do my job at the aero club and when I returned home I would plant seeds in my garden, enjoy my armchair and carpet slippers, and slowly and very comfortably, become a cabbage.

And so it was for a time. But things had changed. My marriage had stirred up something which had lain dormant for  years—the desire for self-assertion, for creative achievement. Domestically I was delightfully happy, still am, and please God, will remain so. But the prospect before me of the remainder of my working life dwindling away in impoverished mediocrity was no longer acceptable. I had been glad enough to take my job in the first place as a convenient escape, but I now realised I was wasting precious years in an employment which was poorly paid and which provided no prospects for improving myself or even of using my own initiative.

It was towards the end of 1960 that I found that my investments had appreciated enough for me to take some risks and finally decided that I would give up working for somebody else and start on my own. I would create my own aviation company!

My first thought was to the Isles of Scilly—how wonderful it would be to run a long-distance service! But I quickly dismissed this as a lunatic pipedream and a quite impossible undertaking for one man with strictly limited capital. Much more practical it would be to buy something like Hotel Whisky but better and with full radio equipment, and go out for executive charter work. With the stirring of public interest in the Plymouth City Council’s plan for a new airport, air travel was topical.

Unfortunately the British aircraft industry at that time was shamefully neglecting the small aircraft market and the importations coming in from the U.S.A. were very pricy and I found  that anything really suitable would cost over £18,000. I possessed only a fraction of this, so hire purchase would be essential. The idea of being so heavily committed before I even started was alarming. I worked out my costs and found that unless I could utilise the aircraft at a minimum rate of four hundred hours annually, I would be bankrupt in no time.

The obvious answer was to sell flying. I worked out what I thought should be an attractive proposition and then trepidly penetrated the jungle of commerce to see whether I could put it over to the businessmen of Plymouth. I went to all the large companies who were at all likely to profit from the speed and convenience of air travel for their top-level executives and saIesmen—Tecalemit Ltd., Farleys Infant Food Ltd., Bush Radio Ltd., Brown & Sharpe Ltd. and goodness knows how many more. My scheme was for about five or six of them to share the aircraft on a joint user basis. I would fly it and generally act as liaison officer, circulating weekly booking lists and negotiating priorities between them so that the more urgent journeys could be done on the days required for them. I carefully stressed that none of them would be asked to accept any financial risk or to make any capital contribution to the scheme. l would be entirely responsible for the purchase, flying and maintenance of the aircraft and all I asked in return was a  guaranteed annual utilisation at contract charter rates.

The response to my campaign was interesting. They thought the idea was magnificent and just the thing to bring about a badly needed improvement in communications from Plymouth. They couldn’t imagine why no one had thought of it before. As regards the annual utilisation they would be prepared to guarantee, the answer to this was too easynothing! No one, but no one would undertake to use the aircraft for even one hour.

To have purchased such an expensive bit of hardware without first getting at least a portion of the annual utilisation guaranteed might have ruined me so I abandoned the scheme feeling somewhat bitter. Looking back, I think part of the trouble might have been insufficiently powerful salesmanship on my part. I’m not a salesman and in fact don’t like high pressure salesmen very much. But more likely was the obvious fact that the industrialists of Plymouth just were not ready for executive air transport—the day would come I was sure, but my scheme was a little before its time.

In mortification I returned to my dreams of an airline to the Scillies. Had I been a little too hasty in dismissing them as lunatic? Would it not be worthwhile to collect some comprehensive and relevant data on the whole subject and take a long hard look at the idea before rejecting it entirely? If, oh if, by any extraordinary chance I should ever be able to pull it off,  what an achievement!

I took my long hard look.

If I had been a large organisation it would have been called market research and would have cost a lot of money. But as an impecunious but persistent individualist, it cost me little in money, but much in effort. I found out all about population figures, existing and future accommodation, holiday traffic figures, average length of stay in the Isles, travelling by air, travelling by sea, train times, boat times, distances, fares. There didn’t seem to be anything I hadn’t unearthed that was relevant. I took my information and checked it, sorted it, tabulated it, and then correlated it to present as accurate a picture as I  could. I have taken many chances in my life, but when I am to gamble I like to be able to form my own judgment, a blind bet is not for me. The result of my researches could have been expressed in one short word of three letters—yes.

If I had not been able to unburden myself on someone else I would have burst. In this case the ‘someone else’ was my wife, Virginia, who sat and listened patiently and even seemed impressed as she listened to the outpourings:

“Darling, I tell you it’s a completely special situation—I  honestly don’t know of any other route in the United Kingdom which even can be remotely compared with it. Imaginein this day and age when you can fly from London to Majorca in two and a half hours, people are compelled to waste one or even two days of their precious fortnight in the Scillies just trying to get there.”

“. . . All the discomfort and expense of a sleeper from London to board the Scillonian at nine-thirty and, if you’ve got that sort of stomach, spend the next three hours bringing up your breakfast . . .”

“. . . The worst part of the journey is between Exeter and Penzance—if you go by car you can get caught in some of the worst traffic jams in the country with a ten-mile queue over Haldon, or else you can sit in the train and grow corns on your bottom while you’re waiting to get there.”

“. . . Look at these times I’ve worked out. Catch the Cornish Riviera leaving Paddington at ten-thirty, get off at Exeter, board my aircraft and you’re having afternoon tea in your hotel in the Scillies at three-thirty. It’s an absolute winner. The brightest salesmen I’ve ever met always seem to associate  themselves with something that sells itselfthe public can’t fail to fall for this one . . .”

“. . . With any other route I would be swallowed up by competition from the big operators, but none of them have got any aircraft which can get into St. Mary’s. No question of itthis is a small man’s route and so far I’m the only chap in the country that realises it. If don’t jump in soon, someone else will, and then it will be too late—it’s the opportunity of a lifetime . . .”

“. . . Just think—the only aircraft which is cleared for public transport operation into St. Mary’s is the old Rapide which I can buy, completely overhaul for a year’s work, install decent radio aids, and still get some change out of £3,000. I tell you, it adds up, it makes sense . . .” 

Something special in the way of courage is needed to crystalise one’s resolution to the point where the idealistic dream hardens into executive action. I don’t know how long it might have been before my sense of purpose would have overcome my caution, but one day something happened which tipped the scale. It was irrelevant, immaterial, and as an argument it had no substance. If this were a work of fiction I would have carefully contrived some logical and entirely adequate reason for  the final decision. But this is not a work of fiction and human motivations are unaccountable things and rarely the faculty of logical thought, which surely must explain that grandfather of all clichés—‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

The finger of destiny was in this case no more than a small news item in The Western Morning News. It ran:


British European Airways flights to and from the Isles of Scilly were resumed yesterday afternoon—the first for four days. Since Monday, low-lying coastal fog had completely blanketed the Islands, but yesterday afternoon a warm sun dispersed the mist.

St. Mary’s airport was inundated with telephone calls from holiday-makers whose return flights to the mainland had become disorganised.

I threw down my newspaper and jumped to my feet in a state of uncontainable excitement.

“That settles it, that absolutely and quite definitely settles  it.”

I took hold of Virginia, lifted her from the floor and swung her round in a mad pirouette.

“Darling, it is your destiny to be the wife of a future airline chief.” 



“My next trick, Ladies and Gentlemen, is impossible”

No matter how hazardous the future may be, once a positive and firm decision has been made, there follows a tremendous feeling of relief. When we have made up our minds as to exactly what we intend to do, the problem of how to set about doing it seems a minor affair and we proceed to force on with unshakeable confidence and resolve.

At first.

It may be quite a little time later before the momentum of enthusiasm is brought to a shuddering halt as the obstacles to be overcome are surveyed in the cold light of reality.

The New Year festivities in 1961 were hardly over before I began to sketch the outlines of my project and plan its evolution like a painter addressing himself to a blank canvas when his masterpiece is nothing more than an inspired gleam in the mind’s eye.

First and foremost—finance. I hadn’t done too badly with my stocks and shares but the prices of some of my industrial holdings werent at their best and I was hoping they might improve later on so I asked my bank manager to accept them as a short-term security and give me an overdraft for starting my airline. He said, yes, this could be done, but had I realised what I was up against financially?

Yes, I had.

He leaned back in his chair. “It’s going to take you three years at least to get it on to its feet and in the meantime you’ll have to live on your fat. If you’re still solvent by the end of the third year you ought to be home and dry, but until then you’re going to find it pretty thin going.”

All right, if that’s the worst of it, I shan’t grumble. Be fun anyway—wasn’t it Robert Louis Stevenson who said it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive?

Next—timing. When to start? I decided that the most advantageous date would be the beginning of June. This would give me five months to get everything ready and I would then catch the holiday traffic right at the beginning of its peak period. Another advantage would be that I could remain in my job until then and although the pay wasn’t handsome, at least it would keep me out of the red until such time as I was ready to begin.

Next—services. What type of flights was I aiming to operate? A tricky one this. It needs the financial resources of a large organisation to run regular scheduled services to a timetable during the early days of the development of a route when sometimes the aircraft may have to fly empty or with only a couple of passengers. Answer—for this year advertise charter flights only which would give me more profitable loads and so reduce my losses which would be severe enough anyway during the first season.

Well, that seemed to be the general pattern for starting. Survival was going to be critical and I would have to tighten my belt until it hurt. A knife-edged budget—not a single sixpence to be spent if it could be avoided. But no cheeseparing on the real essentials—I would buy the best aircraft I could find—it  was the vital tool for the job and here economy would be madness.

It was going to mean slogging like hell in the evenings after finishing my day’s flying with the aero club—rough on the body but it couldn’t be helped. There was going to be no other time to get through the preparations. I would start straightaway on the advertisements for aircraft for sale—take a little time this one. Next, get a Rapide rating on my Pilot’s Licence. This would mean a course of familiarisation flying by day and by night, some competency tests and also I must sit for the performance and type technical examinations—need a bit of study for these. Still, I’d got five months, and once I’d got the administrative side set up, there really wouldn’t be much else to do. So I thought.

And so during the January and February of 1961 I wallowed contentedly in the happiness of dreams. I speculated on the choice of names for my company and finally decided on Mayflower Air Services. With this final problem solved my troubles were now just about over. Troubles were over!

It was in March that there arrived the first premonition of stormy weather ahead. It came as an article in The Aeroplane which commented upon the future workings of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, I960, and described the formation and background of the members of the Air Transport Licensing Board. The Act had come into force three months before—on 1st December, 1960—and gave the Minister of Aviation full powers to establish the Board, which in future was to preside over the licensing of all air services apart from a few exemptions.

I wasted a precious week while I sent away to H.M. Stationery Ofiice for copies of the Act and the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Regulations which were to implement it. When they arrived I anxiously scanned the dozens of closely printed pages to see whether they concerned me or not. They concerned me all right, and application for licences must be made six months before the service was required to begin.

Six months! And I want to start on 1st June, only three months ahead—phew, we’ll have to get weaving to sort this one out! Write a letter to explain the situation and ask for a Licence straight away—ask for an application form as well—there’s sure to be one—there always is.

The reply came a week later. By parcel post.

It took me hours to wade through the impressive weight of paper and to begin even to think of how I was to compile the forms.

The centrepiece seemed to be ATLB Form 2 which spread its questions over five pages. The application was required to be an original plus five copies so that the completed job would total up to thirty pieces of foolscap-length forms. The questions were more than searching in their demands. They wanted to know all the places of departure and destination, details of the aerodrome, town and country in each case, the mileage between each point, details of the proposed connections between the air services applied for and other transport  services, the types, numbers, seating capacity and freight capacity of the aircraft to be used, the tariffs to be charged for fares, excess luggage and cargo, and of course a full description to be set out at vast length of the existing or potential need for the proposed air services.

As if the horror were not sufficient, it stipulated at the conclusion of the form that the fee for each and every application—not for the grant or annual renewal, mark you, but only for the application itself—was £25.

I am able to think in tune with bureaucracy and after hours of thoughtful compilation I felt I had produced a decent result, when I discovered to my disgust that the job was only half done. In addition to ATLB Form 2, there was also ATLB Form 5 which like its bedfellow spread itself over five pages of foolscap.

ATLB Form 5 was a beauty. Compared with its penetrating questions, the militant curiosity of a pugnacious charwoman was as the diffident shyness of a blushing maid. It blatantly demanded details of the ownership and control of the business, citizenship and nationality of the partners or directors concerned, complicated details of all operations carried out during the previous five years, full financial and statistical information of the applicant’s financial resources, the make and types of aircraft proposed, the staffing and organisation of aircrew, office and other ground staff. It challenged the applicant to reveal whether he was a member of the International Air Transport Association and to say what was his provision against liability by insurance or other means and added a request for the forwarding of the insurance policy. It concluded with a chatty little query as to whether employment conditions for the  applicant’s employees had been furnished to the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport.

As far as I remember I made another five copies of each of the pages to make, with the other form, a magnificent pile of sixty pieces of foolscap. Having fixed bureaucracy as best I could, I then reverted to sanity and covered the lot with a letter to the Board to explain that I was requesting a ‘B’ Licence for charter services only which I hoped would make things  easier, and would they grant my application without a public hearing in view of the shortness of time? I made out my cheque  for £25, kissed it for luck, and then posted my weighty package.

During the compiling of ATLB Form 2, one of the shorter  questions had given me a vague sense of unease—“Does the applicant hold an Air Operator’s Certificate valid for the proposed service?” I was dimly conscious of having run across this somewhere in the new Air Navigation Order but as far as I could remember it applied only to the larger type of aircraft. Perhaps it might be wise though, if, to keep on the safe side of  authority, I wrote in about this. Accordingly I sent a letter to the Ministry of Aviation to say that after several years of experience in flying to the Isles of Scilly, I was starting a charter  service with a Rapide, which aircraft was cleared for a maximum all-up weight of six thousand pounds. Was an Air Operator’s Certificate necessary in my particular case, and if so, please could I have one?

Just like that.

This time the reply took twelve days and although it did not arrive by parcel post, it was wrapped up in a vast envelope into which I took a timid peep and then hastily replaced the contents. I had a busy day’s flying ahead of me and that evening there was a pilots’ supper at the aero club where it was my wont to lead the members in making the night hideous with bawdy song. The following day was my day off—better take it with me and read through it quietly at home.

The next day, in the peaceful atmosphere of my little cottage,  I sat down to read what the Ministry had said to me.

First there was a letter to inform me that on and after 30th March, 1961, operators of all public transport aircraft exceeding five thousand pounds all-up weight must have an Air Operator’s Certificate issued to them by the Director of  Aviation Safety, as provided by Article 3A of the Air Navigation Order, 1960. It enclosed a copy of Civil Aviation Form 1238—a very large publication resplendent with the Royal Coat of Arms and entitled, Notes for the Guidance and Information of Applicants for an Air Operator’s Certificate—and a set of application forms which required to be completed in the extravagant wealth of detail to which I was now becoming accustomed. It went on to say that before a Certificate could be granted, they would require a copy of my Operations Manual together with all amendments and that later a Flight Operations Inspector would visit me at a convenient date.

Then, quietly I began reading Civil Aviation Form 1238. I absorbed without too much difficulty the provisions of ‘Part I’ which dealt with the enormous number and variety of inspections to which I must be subjected. It was when I came to ‘Part 2’ that distress set in. This was the section that described and itemised the contents of the Operations Manual. It started off with the briefing of passengers on safety equipment and emergency drills and then stipulated the nomination of the persons responsible for re-fuelling, loading, and special duties such as car marshallers and animal handlers.

Warming up to its work it went on to describe the unending provisions that were required to establish the legal limitations for flight crew duty hours and rest periods. Then, having wallowed in the technical details of the Flight Manual, it suddenly went mad and spread itself over pages and pages on the fundamentals of pre-flight checks, fuel supplies, critical speeds, fuel jettisoning, wet runways, runways covered with ice, runways covered with snow or slush, cross-wind limits, maximum  permissible wind velocities, flight planning tables, de-icing systems, diversions to alternate aerodromes, minimum fuel reserves, minimum safe altitudes, oxygen, and about fifteen hundred other items.

Of course it had a simply gorgeous time with Emergencies such as ‘Fire’, ‘Engine Failure on Take-Off’, ‘Propeller Malfunctioning’, ‘Fuel Filter Icing’, ‘The Relighting of Turbine Engines’, ‘Load Shedding following Electrical Failure’, and ‘The Fitting of Lifejackets to Small Children’.

And then there was something which was so quite, quite lovely that I must quote it verbatim. It said: ‘It is not essential that a Manual shall be confined to one volume and there are advantages in separating the subject matter into as many volumes as may be necessary or convenient in the particular circumstances.’ Obviously an Operations Manual, which in size and weight of content matched up with the London Telephone Directory, would be received with favour.

‘Round 3’—I could no longer think of it as ‘Part 3’—‘Round 3’ dealt with aircraft loading. It seemed to break into a merry rhythm as it nominated some of the items of laden weight to be accounted for on the load sheets—water methanol . . . hydraulic  fluid . . . drinking water . . . de-icing fluid . . . toilet water . . . children’s cots . . . floor coverings . . . galley equipment . . . food and beverages . . . bar stocks . . . hand baggage . . . old Uncle Tom Cobley an’ all . . . oh—what the hell’s the use?—this  aircraft’s going to be so heavy with the weight of paper it’s got to carry, it’ll never take off at all!

During ‘Round 4’ I was too dizzy properly to absorb the mass of indigestible detail about the nature and procedures to be used in the twice-yearly Pilot Competency Checks which were necessary to determine whether the Captain could still fly his aeroplane—I mean after all what does it matter—what  does anything matter?

‘Round 5’ was purely concerned with company organisation, the listing of key personnel for managerial and executive staff, the allocation of their responsibilities, the apportionment of . . . but by this time I was lying horizontal on the canvas with eyes glazed as the referee remorselessly counted me out.

When I feel the need for air I like to take a walk down the pleasant country lanes which lead away from my cottage. I never know on these occasions where I am going, but there is sanity among the hedgerows and I can think.

Of course it was impossible. Absolutely impossible. It set up statutory requirements for an organisation which needed to be fifty times bigger, more complicated and more expensive than anything I could ever hope to create in my wildest dreams. The very idea of trying to cope with even the beginnings of it was lunatic.

The worst part to me was that I couldn’t even try to fight it. I have always championed the cause of the individual who tilts his lance to lay the dragon of the EstablishmentI once took  on a district council single-handed over the emptying of dustbins and won my case hands down. But you can’t battle against something which is so obviously right.

And right it was. For many years the reputation of civil aviationparticularly the independent operators—had been tarnished by a number of tragic accidents that never ought to have happened. Some individuals narrowly escaped prison sentences because of them. The Minister of Aviation had sought  powers to exercise an iron control over the operation of all public transport aircraft except the little ones, and now, by gad, he’d got them. This was not the dead hand of officialdom—this  was reform, a significant step forward in the cause of safer flying, which my own experience told me should be supported,  not resisted.

No, the fault was in my own timing. I bitterly reflected that I was two years too late. I had waited until Parliament had given the Establishment this complete stranglehold over air operators. So that the idea that one man, single-handed and with limited resources, could set up in the midst of this jungle of legislation a brand new airline, was unthinkable. It wasn’t just that the venture was unlikely to survive—survival never came into the  picture—it wouldn’t even get started!

I wandered aimlessly through the secluded country lanes sick with disappointment, tortured by the constant repetition ‘if only’, and too distressed even to begin to think of any alternative plans for my future.

And then without consciously trying to find my way, I discovered myself back at my cottage and went in. I sat down, put a piece of paper in my typewriter like a compulsive sleepwalker, and wrote a letter to the aircraft brokers to say that I wanted to buy the best Rapide that was available. Then, slowly and painstakingly, I began to fill in the six pages of my form of application for the grant of an Air Operator’s Certificate.


In pursuance of Article 3A

“. . . Now look, Captain Higgs, let’s try to get the picture quite clear. In every possible sense of the word, I am the operator. Not only shall I be the sole owner of the aircraft and responsible for its business management, but I am literally the only chap who will have any control over where it will fly and why and how it will be flown. But, and this is what I want you to understand, not only am I the operator, not only have I nominated myself as Chief Pilot, but for this season anyway, I am going to be the only pilot. Putting it simply in four words—I do the  lot! That being so, why do I have to sit up here in this little office burning the midnight oil with wet towels round my head, writing heaven knows how many thousands of words into an Operations Manual, the sole purpose of which is to convey to myself the instructions which have been evolved by myself to tell myself how I’m supposed to be flying the aircraft? In future years when I’ve taken on more Captains it will be different of course, but why now?”

It was a very tolerant and good-natured smile that he gave me.

“I can quite understand your difficulty and, putting it just like that, it may appear superfluous. But you seem to have overlooked the fact that it is clearly laid down in the Air Navigation Order that before the Director may issue you with an Air Operator’s Certificate, we not only must insist that there  is an Operations Manual but we actually retain a copy of it as long as the Certificate is in force. Furthermore it will be your  responsibility to supply us with all issued amendments so that our copy is kept constantly up-to-date.”

“So that if I don’t fly in accordance with the instructions laid down in the Ops Manual, it could in fact be used in evidence against me?”

He neatly side-tracked the issue of direct frontal attack.

“What actually happens is that from time to time I shall make periodic inspections of your organisation and also fly on the routes with you. If I’m not satisfied on any point, you will be informed in writing of where the deficiency lies. Later I shall make further visits until I can clear the faults as having been dealt with. But if there is any evidence of constant infringement of your operating conditions as laid down in your Manual or that your standards have deteriorated in any way, it will be my job to inform the Director who will then decide what action he  intends to take about it.”

It was a frank talk and a friendly one, but it left me in no doubt as to where I stood.

“All right then, it looks like the midnight oil for me. Now what about those other items you’ve listed, especially the  bumph—the APS loadsheets, the trimsheets and technical logs, certificates of maintenance and all the stuff that’s wanted for daily use—where do I get them?”

“You are the operatorit’s up to you where you get them  printed.”

“Get them printed? Steady on there. Some of them are hellishly complicated lay-outs—do you mean to say that I can’t write away somewhere to get supplies of them?”

His smile remained the soul of patience—after all, it wasn’t his fault that some stupid pipe-dreamer wanted to start up his own airline with sixpence and a piece of string.

“All the operators that I know have all their documents printed in their own style—all that I’m concerned with is that  the format of each will provide the essential information which is laid down by the Air Navigation Order."

I groaned. “I thought I was starting an airline but by the look of it I’m going into the publishing business first. Now is there anything else that you haven’t told me about?”

“Well of course I shall have to come down and look over your aircraft when you get it. It will have to be inspected and cleared before the Director will issue you your Certificate. Now, what are you going to do about maintenance?”

I replied: “I’m contracting it out to Plymouth and Exeter Airports. I know all the engineers personally, Russ Hocking, Trevor Mayes and their staff, and they’re first class, no problem  there.”

He pursed his lips. “H’m—all the same we shall have to arrange a full inspection of their facilities by the Air Registration Board.”

“Surely that can’t possibly be necessary—they’re both already listed as approved contractors by the Board.”

“So they may be for general work but there will have to be a separate inspection to ensure that they are qualified to undertake the cycle of routine maintenance checks under the particular provisions of your Air Operator’s Certificate and I can assure you that the Director will not in fact issue you with the Certificate until the Board’s approval of your facilities has been received by us. There’s quite a lot to it, you know—they’ll want a base inspection at both aerodromes, full details of the manpower and equipment available, the number of licensed engineers, lay-out of storage bins for spare parts and so on.”

It was some hours later before we finally finished. Then we shook hands and he became very human.

“Well, goodbye, Squadron Leader Cleife, and the best of luck to your venture—you’re certainly taking on something. If there’s anything I can do to help, be sure to let me know.”

And so ended my first inspection. Not really an inspection at all of course—as yet there was nothing to inspect. The purpose of the visit was to let me know what was wanted. I had already discovered one helpful fact—all the Flight Operations Inspectors of the Ministry of Aviation had been recruited recently and previously they were all airline Captains. I was not dealing with some stuffy bureaucrats but with pilots who talked the same language. They had their job to do but it helps a bit  when you both belong to the same union.

Immediately following his visit I entered into what proved to be the most intensive period of preparation and planning that I’ve ever known or even heard about—and practically all of it had to be done in the evenings after I’d finished my normal day’s flying for the aero club. There seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of letters to write—letters to the Ministry, the Air Transport Licensing Board, the aircraft brokers, the insurance  brokers, the travel trade, the press—there didn’t seem to be anyone remotely connected with civil aviation to whom I didn’t have to write. And as soon as the letters had been signed and put in their envelopes I then had to pound on until the late hours writing up my Operations Manual.

I make no pretensions to courage when I say that I would not need to have been faint-hearted in order to throw away the whole idea and try to think of something else. During this time I was hardly ever at home except to sleep but never once did Virginia complain—she seemed to have the most extraordinary confidence both in me and in the rightness of what I was doing, and it was this that inspired me and kept me at it.

Weeks passed and then a bit of heartening news for a change. Marshalls of Cambridge were giving up their fleet of Rapides and one was undergoing annual overhaul and would be ready with renewed Certificate of Airworthiness very shortly. I wasn’t enthusiastic about buying an aircraft I’d never seen but I was up to my ears in paper work. Marshalls were a very reputable concern whose standard of maintenance would be first-classsurely I could take a chance and dispense with the long journey to inspect and buy it on their reputation alone?

I sent the brokers a deposit cheque and since the aircraft had only the ordinary communications radio, I asked them to supply and arrange for Marshalls to fit the full Automatic Direction Finder equipment into it. This would cost a horrible lot of money but I’d had quite enough of creeping about underneath the weather in Hotel Whisky and was determined that I would operate to proper airline standards or at least as near as I could get to them in the West of England.

April and May went by quickly, so intense was my concentration of effort to secure all the approvals from the Establishment to allow me to start by 1st June, but it was now obvious that my target date was going to be unattainable and I would  be lucky if I could make it by 1st July. However, Captain Higgs who was looking after my affairs at the Ministry was extremely helpful and although every week produced its own crop of frustrations, we were now making real progress.

4th June, 1961—a red letter day in the history of the venture. My aeroplane was readyI could go and collect it! Arming myself with a small night-case containing the two essentialstoothbrush and cheque book—I rushed round and found an aero club member who needed some cross-country navigation practice and who could fly me to Cambridge in order to get it.

Having seen to the arrival courtesies with Marshalls, I jumped on one of their transports and as we drove round the perimeter track to the hangar where my aircraft was waiting, I was assailed by nagging doubts. Hadn’t I been an idiot to buy such an expensive item as an aeroplane without seeing it first? Would I not be kicking myself in a few minutes for my own folly?

In such unhappy state of mind I arrived at the hangar and there, with but a fraction of the formality which I thought the occasion demanded, I was introduced to my lady. Her registration was Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mike and I needn’t have  worried—she was a beauty!

There is that about an aircraft which makes itself known to a  pilot straightaway—somehow I sensed as well as saw the evidence of special care and first-class maintenance. I thought of the late C. G. Grey’s famous utterance about an aeroplane—“If it looks good, it is good”—as my eye lovingly surveyed her exterior. Everything about the airframe gave me confidencesurfaces were excellent, fuselage, wings and tail section were unscratched and undented, engine cowlings were neat and well fitting. I entered the cabin and saw that the upholstery of the seats was good, the whole interior scrupulously clean and the floor nicely carpeted in navy blue, the stowage of the Automatic Direction Finder was neat and unobtrusive, and on the forward bulkhead a neat illustration demonstrated the use of life jackets to the passengers while on the flight deck the cockpit lay-out and instruments told their own story.

I spent the next few days in flying my pants off in Lima Mike both by night and by day until I was ready for the competency tests. When these were done I posted off my Pilot’s Licence—I  had already passed the technical examinations in London during the previous month—I was now officially qualified as a Rapide pilot and the Ministry would enter the type rating on my Licence as soon as they received it.

When all the paper work was cleared I bade goodbye to everyone and set course with Lima Mike for the journey to her new home in the west.

Strange creatures are airmen! The flight was uneventful, yet it will remain forever in my memory as one of the highlights of my career. After nearly six months of drudgery in which my mind had been completely engulfed by the priorities of urgent letters and my own unloved but necessary brand of officialese, I had temporarily escaped from the tyranny of the typewriter and was now viewing the world from 3,000 feet—monarch of all I surveyed. In my hands was not the impedimenta of the written word but the control column of an aeroplane—my  aeroplane! I tried out everything, continually checked my instruments and fiddled continuously with the tuning of the Automatic Direction Finder with all the zest of a youngster playing with his new train on Christmas morning.

Back at Plymouth I returned to the typewriter re-vitalised by the mere fact of possession—my enterprise had passed the stage where an aircraft is just a word on a piece of paper—Lima Mike was in the hangar ready for the off. I reached new peaks of intensity in my appeals to the Air Transport Licensing Board and the Ministry for my Licence and Certificate as an operator.

While I was waiting I decided I would stage my Proving Flight. In the strange world of civil air transport the original justification of the proving flight as a means of familiarising crews with new routes and new aircraft has been somewhat superseded by its prestige value in keeping up with the aeronautical Jones. My own requirement as laid down by the Ministry was simply to fly Lima Mike down to St. Mary’s aerodrome and carry out a series of landings in order to qualify myself for the special exemption from performance requirements, without which nobody can operate public air transport there because of the very short runways. But, I argued, since I had got to pay for the cost of flying down there anyway, why not recoup a little of it and achieve at no cost at all the status symbol of a Proving Flight? As distinct from a proving flight.

In great glee I became my own P.R.O. and sent off invitations for the flight which I fixed for 13th June. There was of course no legal reason to prevent me flying passengers to Scillies every day if I wanted to—provided I didn’t charge  them anything. If you fly with a pilot at his invitation on a  private flight, there is nothing to stop him killing you whenever he wants to, but once you have bought a ticket for a public  service you will have behind you all the vast protection of the  Establishment. And rightly so.

The morning of Tuesday, 13th June, dawned brightly—the weather was sunny with the lightest of winds. For practice purposes I went through all the preliminaries of a public transport flight and weighed the passengers, taking a frighteningly  long time over all the unfamiliar documentation. I took off at  full capacity—eight passengers—reporters from the daily and Sunday papers, a B.B.C. camera man, representatives of the travel agents, the airport, and my one and only air stewardess—Virginia.

It couldn’t possibly have been a better day and in that gorgeous weather I flew them down the Cornish coast and over Land’s End. When I approached Scillies they seemed to glisten even more brightly than on the day when I first sighted themit was their own special welcome to the new service. There were dozens of photographs; an official reception, and a luncheon at the Atlantic Hotel lent a kind of holiday atmosphere to the proceedings. After completing my series of landings at the aerodrome and getting them certified by the Controller, we returned to Plymouth, happy and exalted. I had no Licence and no Air Operator’s Certificate but I was beginning to feel that the whole venture was becoming real at last.

The results were impressive. The Western Morning News came  out with two columns headed:


Flights expected to start soon

while the Independent gave me banner headlines right across their  centre page:


Our reporter goes on proving flight

B.B.C. Television were very generous with their precious two and a half minutes of viewing time of a sequence which showed excellent shots of the route and, of course, the Isles.

This publicity gave me my first inkling of the tremendouspower of the press and television. For days and days afterwards the telephone hardly ever stopped ringing. We all became hoarse with the ceaseless repetition:

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t as yet give the actual date when our new services will begin—we are still waiting for our final authority from the Ministry of Aviation but we shall publish notifications in the press during the course of the next few days and if we can have your name and address we will register your enquiry.”

While I was waiting for everything to come through, I took advantage of the lull to undertake the first of the Captain’s bi-annual route competency checks required by the new Air Navigation Order. Although I was now fully qualified as a Rapide Captain, the terms of the Air Operator’s Certificate demand that every Captain must have periodical checks over the routes that he is going to fly. The fact that I had been flying over the route regularly for four years was of course nothing to  do with it. I still must be checked twice a year.

The arrangements for these checks was a bit of a poser for me as apart from the B.E.A. Captains at Land’s End, there was nobody in the whole of the country apart from myself with the necessary experience to do it. And of course I wasn’t allowed to check myself. Therefore a few weeks before I took my courage in both hands and wrote to B.E.A. to ask whether they would be willing for this to be done at Land’s End and after some correspondence, this was agreed.

Captain Hearn who commanded the B.E.A. flight at  Land’s End was an almost legendary figure in the West of England and a rugged survival from the early days of flying when every airman was an individualist. A superb exponent of what the Canadians call ‘bush flying’, he knew every stone and every stick on the land surrounding Land’s End and St. Mary’s aerodromes and during the last twenty-five years he had battled between these two against each and every outrageous challenge the weather could fling at him and he imparted his wisdom to the pilots under his command until their skill almost matched his own. In the false and over-accentuated world of today in which there always noisily seem to predominate the ‘men who  talk’, he belonged to that select and so much more distinguished minority, the ‘men who do’. Unquestionably the magnificent  record of the B.E.A. Rapide flight between Land’s End and Scillies—a fascinating story of its own—owes a tremendous debt to the skill and experience of ‘Skipper’ Hearn.

I put him in the forward starboard passenger seat of Lima Mike so that he could see what I was doing—the Rapide has no dual controls as there is only room for the Captain on the flight deck. I completed all my checks including simulated emergencies with one engine failed, and I was glad to be able to pick up from him a few useful tips about the approaches to Land’s End Aerodrome.

When it was all over and he had finished signing my documents, I asked him: “Skipper, tell me this. Under the new Air Navigation Order, every Captain has to be checked every six months. Do they include you as well?”

“Oh, yes, of course.”

“But you’ve been flying this route for over twenty years, you’re probably the most experienced Rapide Captain in the United Kingdom today. Where in the world can they find any check Captain with sufficient experience to come down here and check you out?”

The smile that he gave me was gentle and one of placid resignation.

“It’s not really difficult y’know. They come down here and first of all we put them in the aircraft and show them how to fly it. Then, when they’re good enough, we check them out. Then, they turn round and check us out. It’s as simple as that.”

I dwelt on his answer—it is something which I shall prize as long as I live. In those few simple words is contained the most touching and beautiful revelation on the inscrutable workings of the Establishment that I’ve ever been privileged to hear.

When I returned to Plymouth I felt very pleased with life—it had been a long haul but at last everything was done. Captain Higgs at the Ministry was away on an overseas visit but before leaving he had telephoned to say that as far as he knew matters were more or less finalised and it seemed likely that the Director might be signing my Air Operator’s Certificate within a few days. I sat down and enjoyed the luxury of composing my first  advertisements to announce the start of my services to the Isles of Scilly. Then, after all those gruelling months there was literally nothing to do. Except wait for my Certificate to arrive.

I suffered agonies of waiting for three days. It didn’t arrive.

Then, the next day there was a telephone call from the Ministry of Aviation. The Senior Inspector plus another Inspector would be flying down to Plymouth that evening in a Ministry Dove. They would like to see me.




“. . . And now, suddenly, and without any previous warning, you arrive here this afternoon to tell me that the Director is not happy because my Pilot’s Licence does not include an Instrument Rating?”

The Senior Inspector stirred his tea and then looked at me.

“The Director feels, and indeed we all feel, that the interests of flight safety would be better satisfied if you did hold an Instrument Rating.”

“I’m sorry—but the short answer to that is a rude word of five letters.

“Not for one single second,” I said, “will the life of one single passenger be the tiniest fraction more secure because of an extra signature added to my Pilot’s Licence. Look—between here and the Isles of Scilly is mostly rocks and ocean—we just haven’t got any airways, we haven’t got any other controlled airspace, we havent got any Instrument Landing aids, for all intents and purposes we don’t possess any of the usual facilities for the use of which an Instrument Rating is required. The B.E.A. Captains down at Land’s End find their Instrument Rating  renewal flying tests quite a problem simply because they have no chance to remain in practice with instrument procedures.”

“The Directors done a bit of sailing round the Scillies you know. Hes got a pretty good idea of the sort of weather conditions you get down here.”

I replied hotly: “With due respect to the Director, I reckon I know probably just a little bit more about our weather conditions than he does. Besides there’s no legal requirement at all for me to have an Instrument Rating as yet. It’s mandatory for scheduled services and also to fly in controlled airspace but I’m doing neither of those two—this season I shall be flying charter flights only and, of course, right outside controlled airspace. So I shan’t need it.”

I could see that the only thing which prevented him from sucking his teeth was good manners. He countered heavily: “It is true that as far as the Air Navigation Order is concerned, there’s no legal requirement—but, under the provisions for the grant of an Air Operator’s Certificate, the Director has very wide powers, you know—and he’ll not hesitate to use them.”

The implication was obvious. I jumped to my feet and marched up and down the aero club lounge feeling angrily desperate. During the next fifteen minutes I tried everything. I even thumped the table.

The Inspector was quietly reasonable.

“But, Squadron Leader Cleife, you’re bound to have to need to fly into controlled airspace sometime or other for charter flights other than Scillies. Surely with your experience you must agree that an Instrument Rating is a very desirable thing to have for any pilot?”

“Good heavens, man, you’re preaching to the converted. Of course an Instrument Rating is essential—dammit, I was one of those who were responsible for introducing the rating system into this country and I qualified for my service Instrument Rating nearly fifteen years ago—ages before the civil air works had even heard of its existence. But you know as well as I do that getting the rating itself isn’t something you can do off the cuff unless you’re flying airways every day of your life. One needs to work up to a certain pitch to become accurate with  procedures which I’ve no opportunity of practising used in conjunction with facilities we don’t possess down here, in order to fly to within very fine limits an aircraft with which I am totally unfamiliar. All this is going to take time—time which I can’t afford now if I’m to get my airline going at all this season. And that’s all I want to do now—in the winter I shall put the aircraft in for its annual overhaul and then have ample time to get down to secure my Instrument Rating during the winter. All this makes sense to me, why doesn’t it to you?”

The Senior Inspector laid down his teacup and returned to the fight: “And you’re saying this at a time when every youngster who is being recruited by the operators hasn’t a chance of even getting put on the permanent staff list until he’s got his Instrument Rating.”

This I couldn’t bear and retorted rudely: “You can’t possibly be going to suggest that in the sort of weather we fly in down here, the passengers’ lives will be safer under the command of a beardless boy with three hundred hours’ experience just because he’s got a piece of paper in his hand? Bless me soul, I was flying aeroplanes when most of ’em were nothing but a gleam in their father’s eye.”

And so it went on.

Until that evening, no one had given me the slightest hint of this catastrophe—and now suddenly the blow had been struck. The situation which confronted me was formidable—to obtain my Instrument Rating I would need to take not the annual renewal test done by operator’s examiners which was reasonable if one is in practice with airways flying, but the initial test on a Ministry Dove carried out by Ministry examiners to incredibly precise standards. And I’d heard something of its reputation. A world famous test pilot had suddenly wanted to take up civil flying and had had to have three attempts before he passed it. A very senior intercontinental airline Captain—and they are nearer to God than any ordinary mortals—had found himself on leave when his Instrument Rating fell due for its annual renewal and rather than bother to go back to London Airport  to take the test, he rashly went to the Ministry examiners and asked them to do it. They promptly failed him and the resultant commotion between the Ministry and the Corporation was reputed to resemble the nearest thing to a minor earthquake that had been known for some time.

Three days later I received a telephone message to say that I would be required to take a test in a Dove aircraft at the Ministry’s civil examining unit at Stansted in Essex. This implied that a portion of the Instrument Rating test would have to be done under standard test conditions and supervised by a Ministry examiner—but I would still be without the ordinary  privileges of an Instrument Rating.

It was then that I felt that the whole edifice which I had been constructing with such care during the previous six months was  crashing down around me in ruins. To rush up to Stansted without any adequate preparation and in a state of nervous hypertension and subject myself to the critical survey of the dreaded examiners in an unfamiliar aircraft could have but one  result.

At this point, when I was sunk in black despair, a very good  friend, Archie White, came to my rescue. He possesses explosive energy, and when he gets the bit between his teeth in a matter of public interest, you can’t stop him. He blew into my little office like a friendly gale and ideas went shooting about everywhere until the windows rattled :

“My dear boy, this is absolute nonsense—you can’t let them go pushing you around like this. The City of Plymouth badly needs more air services. Here are you, with your own capital and all the experience in the world, sticking your neck out and showing twenty times more initiative than anyone else in the West, trying to offer the public something which it badly needs, and all you get is a lot of frustration from civil servants who’ve nothing better to do but kick you in the teeth before knocking back their cups of tea. We must act, dear boy—appeal to the Member—that’s the obvious answer.”

Faintly I raised my hand and tried to indicate that this was a technical matter and much too complicated for political handling. But I was swept aside by the torrent of ideas which came rushing forth like the River Dart in spate.

“Simple enough, dear boyyou just sit down there and dictate to me a brief clear outline of the situation so that it can be understood without much difficulty. Don’t bother to write  it—I’ll go back to my office straightaway and get my secretary to type out a couple of copies for you. I’ll be back in an hour, you can sign them, and we’ll get them off straightaway to the House of Commons by tonight’s post.”

He was back in an hour as he said he would be. Still dizzy, I signed the letters and by the following morning the matter of Mayflower Air Services was in the hands of Miss Joan Vickers, M.P., and Mr. Ian Fraser, M.P.

I shall always be grateful for the efforts which Miss Vickers and Mr. Fraser made on my behalf—they were deeply interested and quite splendid about it all. Nevertheless I was sorry that I did it and remain so to this day. A queer attitude maybe in view of the results, but the fact is that I suffer from an overwhelming handicap which is more than sufficient to stop me ever becoming materially successful—I have the capacity to think impartially and therefore I can see the other man’s  point of view. The Director’s primary concern and vital duty was to improve standards of safety in flying—the fundamental principle of what was being done was unquestionably right and it was I that was wrong in soliciting the time of busy Members of Parliament to intervene. Besides I dislike any suggestion of pressure groups anyway.

Several days later things started to happen. I received a telephone call from the Senior Inspector. The tone of his voice was immaculately correct.

He regretted that I had seen fit to refer what was a matter of aviation safety to Members of Parliament, who were not necessarily in a position to have the best technical information immediately available. It was even more regrettable in view of the fact that the Director had been reviewing the entire case and because of the special circumstances had decided that he would authorise my proposed operations on the understanding which I had given that I would obtain my Instrument Rating during the winter months. This decision by the Director was  entirely his own and I could be quite sure that he had not been  influenced and would not be influenced, by any external  pressure from any source whatever. (There is not the slightest  doubt in my mind that this was correct.)

He was sure I would be pleased to hear that my Air  Operator’s Certificate was being prepared and would be put before the Director for his signature in a day or so, and once it had been photographed, I would receive it straightaway:

“. . . I thought you would appreciate being advised immediately so that you can proceed with your arrangements to begin your services and in fact there is no reason why you shouldn’t start any time you want to . . . BUT . . .”

What now?

“. . . During the re-appraisal of the legal aspects of the situation which had followed the Members’ enquiry, there has emerged some clarification as to the interpretation of the Air Navigation Order which had not been entirely obvious in the first place, and this has put the legality of your proposed  operations in a different light . . . (pause) . . .” 

Come on, man, out with it!

“. . . It would appear that you are not correct in supposing that the only legal requirement for an Instrument Rating outside controlled airspace is to enable the pilot to fly scheduled services. In fact the Order says nothing about scheduled services. If you will refer to the Ninth Schedule you will find the reference is to a scheduled journey. Again if you will refer to  Article 79 you will find the following interpretation‘Scheduled journey means one of a series of journeys between the same two places and which together amount to a systematic service’.”

He expounded with chilling rectitude that according to the interpretation of the Order by the Ministry’s legal brains, any regular flights, whether on a charter basis or not, would constitute a scheduled journey, and offered the gratuitous suggestion that perhaps I would like to take legal advice upon the whole  matter. One could imagine his expansive smile as he concluded with the pious hope that I would take extreme care to operate my services in such a way that I would not unwittingly find that I was breaking the law.

After months of recurring crises I was incapable of any emotional response other than to feel slightly numb. I might have known that the Establishment always has the last word.

The same day I had a telephone call from Mr. West of the Air Transport Licensing Board—a member of the secretariat who I had discovered to be exceedingly helpful and co-operative. He said that in view of the urgency the Board had decided to grant my application for a ‘B’ Charter Licence without a public hearing but that it would be valid only until the 30th  September—not more than three months! Other restrictions  werenot more than one journey per day and such passengers as may be carried were for day return excursions only.

I sat down heavily and thought the whole thing over—a decision had to be made. I made my mind up and then grasped the telephone and ordered the immediate release of the advertisements in the local press which I had prepared to announce the departure of the new Mayflower services to the Isles of Scilly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Then I went to my solicitor and threw the Air Navigation Order, 1960, on to his desk, unfolded the problem and said: “What do we do?” He is a very able solicitor with a quick brain but it took him two days to ponder over it before he wrote me his answer:

“. . . You can only escape this difficulty by providing something other than a systematic service—the use of the words ‘by arrangement’ would in my opinion, prevent such service being so called. On this basis I think you could fly every day if you wanted to, providing that each time, express arrangements were made for each and every flight with the passengers concerned. But you must not advertise any fixed days, fixed times, or fixed places of departure . . .”

And so I had to publish a second series of advertisements which announced Day Return Flights only—to depart any day by arrangement, but that a systematic service was not provided. Efforts would be made to suit all passengers’ convenience and all previous advertisements were cancelled.

I never was able to discover exactly what the public thought of an airline that published such a grotesque announcement, that didn’t know what days it operated, what times it departed, or where it departed from. My operations were half-strangled by every kind of restriction imaginable, it was an apology for an airline and I ought to have been covered in shame and confusion for the image that had been created.

I was not covered in shame and confusion. I was wildly happy. I had bridged the vast unfathomable chasm between ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’—after over six months of excruciating labour, the child was born!

And so at 09.30 hours on the morning of Saturday, 8th July, 1961 Lima Mike, with seven fare-paying passengers aboard, climbed smoothly out into the Plymouth skies, bent upon her lawful occasions.

The new Mayflower services to the Isles of Scilly had begun.


Flight Safety and the Million-to-One Chance

WHEN I began my air services to Scilly in July, 1961, I had already evaluated the potential and was completely confident of success subject to one terribly vital provision.

I must never, never under any circumstances have an accident!

Within the grant of my Air Operator’s Certificate was a flight envelope which covered all the provisions that could be imposed by external authority to ensure that my passengers would be safe. But these provisions were nothing more than quantitive measures—a form of empirical safety. Much more was needed to safeguard my passengers’ lives—the imponderable elements of safety which cannot be defined quantitively—that nose for danger acquired from a lifetime’s experience, that extra bit of expertise and resource to handle a difficult situation, that maturity which rejects the opportunity of doing anything silly because of an apparent advantage.

All these were safeguards which my passengers could rightfully demand and which I in turn could ensure that they would receive. But there was one imponderable over which I had no control, which I could not say was mine to offer.


In modern flying, the effects of luck are brought to an almost  irreducible minimum by the built-in safety requirements which are an essential part of the make-up of the modern aeroplane. The passenger who reclines in his comfortable seat and opens his morning paper as the aircraft swings round and lines up on the runway never thinks that take-off is an emergency. Why should he when thousands of aircraft are taking off every hour?  But we airmen must budget for an engine failing during the  take-off run. It hardly ever does, but we have to be ready in case. So, performance requirements insist that if the engine fails below a certain speed, the aircraft can be stopped on the ground without hitting anything. If it fails at a higher speed, the Captain is committed to a take-off, in which case the aircraft must be capable of climbing to a safe height from which it can turn and come back to land.

But there is no such thing as absolute safety in flying, or for that matter in living. One of the most dangerous places to be where the greatest number of accidents happen every year is your own home. During the investigation of aircraft accidents there is sometimes discovered a sequence of happenings, all present at the same time, which add up in their total effect to a disaster which might have been minimised, or even avoided altogether, if any one of them had not occurred at that particular moment.

I’d like to give one example of this from my own experience. It happened in 1959 after I had taken two passengers to the Scillies in Hotel Whisky. They weren’t coming back so I had to miss my usual pleasant afternoon in the Isles. I taxied out to take off on Runway 28—the one that had been built up like an embankment. With memories of an unfortunate accident in a Tiger Moth two years before and my awareness of Hotel Whisky's mediocre take-off performance, I wanted the longest run I could get for take-off, so I decided I would use some of the narrow tarmac runway extension, although I wouldn’t risk  taxying right down to the bottom of the steep slope.

When manoeuvring the old-fashioned tail-wheel type of aircraft like Hotel Whisky, steering in a very confined space has to be done with the brakes which operate differentially through the rudder pedals. I taxied gingerly down the tarmac runway extension at about half walking speed and having covered the portion where the downhill slope was still relatively gentle, I eased on a little extra brake to enable me to swing her right round to the opposite direction and line up for take-off. At that precise moment, the brake control suddenly came right back in my  hand and I heard a faint twang from the innards of the fuselage.

The main brake cable had snapped. I had no brakes of any kind and was heading downhill towards the steep cul-de-sac of  Runway 28 with sheer banks down on either side and a fifteen-knot wind behind me!

A quick look round showed me there was no hope whatever of using differential engine power to turn her—the turning circle would have been much too wide for the 30-foot width on which I was standing, and long before I could have turned her round we would have gone over the bank and down the escarpment to the ditch below.

The only hope was to try to stop without the brakes. I reckoned I could do this by switching off both engines and if she didn’t stop moving of her own accord, she would slow up to give me time to jump out and swing her right round by pulling hard on one wing-tip. It was a split-second decision and it took me no time at all to flick off the switches of both engines and then call on the radio to Control . . .

Hotel Whisky—complete brake failure, am trying to stop.”

And then the unbelievable happened. The port engine dutifully stopped but the starboard one wouldn’t and continued to turn over even though switched off. I flicked the switches madly up and down several times to try to establish their contact, but it was hopeless. The engine wouldn’t stop and this meant I  could not stop the aircraft moving.

I looked ahead and took stock of the situation. Slowly but inexorably we were beginning to increase speed as the downhill gradient of the runway began to steepen. In desperation I thought of retracting the undercarriage and so lowering the aircraft on to its belly but that was no good. Although the resultant damage might have been held justifiable, the Gemini’s  electric undercarriage actuators were very slow in operation and I would never have got the gear retracted in time. The  thrust of the starboard engine was now having the effect of turning us slowly to the left towards the edge of the runway.

A few moments before, the situation would have appeared absurd, but the unforeseeable had occurred and here was I, watching an accident about to happen, and there was nothing I could do to stop it!

Obviously there was nothing else I could do but to save my own life and abandon ship, so I threw the cockpit hatch open and took a flying leap over the port side on to the runway. But I wasn’t quite quick enough! Almost immediately Hotel Whisky’s port fin and rudder which protruded over the tip of her tailplane hit me in the small of my back and, having  knocked me face downwards flat on the runway, passed over the top of me.       

So I never actually saw the crash, but when I looked up, Hotel Whisky had plunged nose downwards down the escarpment on to the rocks below and was now lying, upside down among the boulders and brambles.

My aircraft was wrecked, and I had suffered the indignity of  becoming one of the very few pilots in the United Kingdom to be knocked down and run over by his own aircraft. I had survived with very minor injuries, but the million-to-one chance had come off a second timethe chances against both the brakes and the switches failing at the same time were enormous in themselves, but that they should both fail in that precise spot was a frightening thought. At almost any other aerodrome  in the country there would have been no accident—even less than 50 yards away at St. Mary’s I would have had room to stop harmlessly, but no, it all had to happen just there.

In places my story, as it is told, will point to the fact that I took risks. I did. Enormous risks. I have always taken big chances—but not with other people’s lives. I knew that to make my project a success, I would have to be adventurous, but at the same time my own experiences made me quite determined to reduce to an almost infinitesimal value the chance that my passengers, having embarked on my aircraft, would not be able to walk safely out of it—even if they found themselves somewhere where they didn’t want to be. Which was all that any man could do.


Passengers, V.I.P. Passengers and

WHEN I began my services in early July, 1961, the contrast between the agony of labour and the weaning of the infant child was delightful. No longer were passengers just a reference in an Operations Manual or traffic a contrived computation on a specimen loadsheet. Real people were flying in a real aeroplane and playing their vital part in making my dream come true. Never have I enjoyed myself more.

But I had no illusions. Grudgingly I had been given the merest flicker of a green light to go ahead but at the slightest faltering on my part—even at the most minor piece of mishandling, it could turn to red. Although now as busy as a bee with my project, the strain of the previous six months was eased and for the first time since I started I had the opportunity to relax mentally and to see everything in its true perspective.

I saw clearly and for the first time that civil aviation is a complex and highly regulated industry and not just an adventurous game that can be played off the cuff by an isolated enthusiast who is too small and too weak to be able to comply with statutory requirements which are essential to protect the public. I saw also that my mental approach must be changed—it was wrong to think of this just as an individualist’s piece of private  enterprise—this was a public service and all I had was a precious few months in which to come to terms with my responsibilities and establish myself as an airline operator.

There were two vital tasks ahead which must be achieved. First I must consolidate my position with the Establishment and win its confidence so that I would be fully cleared to start scheduled services the next year. Second, I must blaze the trail to the Isles of Scilly and learn by my own mistakes how to run an airline.

I learnt a lot. I learnt, much to my surprise, that the necessity of operating flights ‘by arrangement’ was at this stage proving to be a blessing rather than a handicap. Instead of making scheduled departures to a timetable with possibly only a couple of passengers, I could arrange bookings with the various people who were pestering me for seats and group them into parties so that the aircraft would carry full loads. On this  basis I managed to complete four flights per week to begin with and later during the peak month of August six per weekall with very high load factors.

I learnt that the demand for quick transport to Scilly was even greater than I had expected. In spiteof being restricted to the operation of Day Return Flights only, so keen were some people to get over to begin their holidays that they were willing to pay me the Full-Day Excursion fare of £6. 17s. 0d. even though they had no intention of coming back that day and would have to find their own way back later when the holiday was over.

But perhaps the most important thing which I learnt at that stage was the tremendous difference which exists between the close and intimate atmosphere of Rapide operation and the grand but much less personal environment within a big airliner.

On arrival at the airport in the morning I was in uniform of course and to begin with I was the Captain. In this role I phoned for the meteorological forecast, did my flight planning, inspected the aircraft, and checked over everything with the engineers. Doffing my Captain’s hat I then became desk receptionist although at that time there was no desk. In this capacity I hunted around for the passengers, took the coupons out of  their tickets and then weighed them on the scales—in aircraft seating less than twelve passengers, all passenger weights must be entered individually. When that was done I weighed the  luggage and then made up the aircraft loadsheet which I then signed as checker and again signed as Captain. I then suffered a sharp descent in the social scale and became luggage porter and carried out the suitcases and baggage to Lima Mike and stowed them in her luggage compartment. Returning I then donned my air stewardesss cap and headed the trail of passengers out to Lima Mike, put them in their seats, fastened their safety belts which for some inscrutable reason always seemed to be beyond them, and answered all their little questions. I think I did this just as well as any trained air stewardess, but most regrettably, not with the same glamour. I then crawled forward on to the flight deck where once again I became the Captain. In this role I had, as laid down in my Operations  Manual, which I had written myself, to brief the passengers. This briefing produced a most curious result.

Since Lima Mike’s modest equipment did not run to a cabin  loud-speaker, I had to do the briefing before starting engines, and for this I had to turn round in my seat with the forward bulkhead door open and looking back at the passengers, hold forth. Every air traveller is familiar with the elaborate and expensively printed Flight Information Folder which, among more glamorous content, contains all the safety information. Unfortunately I had no such facility and since it was laid down that they must be briefed, I had no option but to do it verbally.

Scanning the six, seven or eight anxious faces, I would begin my set piece. First of all I would welcome them aboard the flight and tell them about the weather en route and the estimated time of arrival. Then I would draw their attention to the life-jackets which were stowed underneath each seat and the illustration on the forward bulkhead which showed how to fasten them. Following this I would point out the Emergency Exits in the roof of the cabin and their method of operation. By this time I could notice their lower jaws beginning to sag as the  harbinger of doom continued his spine-chilling references to the  position of the first-aid kit on the rear bulkhead and the fact that if they set fire to themselves, a fire extinguisher was provided at the rear but that its fumes were toxic. As I concluded with the warning that smoking was not permitted on this aircraft I could see the agony of indecision as they debated in their minds whether to fling off their safety belts and leap out of the aircraft in one last wild attempt to escape the destruction that was imminent.

However much it may have delighted the heart of the Director of Aviation Safety, all this briefing was hardly the best means of projecting the image of my airline that I was anxious to create, and I made a mental note that something better would have to be devised for next year. I was learning!

To offset the disturbance of the briefing, however, came the realisation that there were distinct advantages in the intimacy of the small aircraft. I discovered that, emergencies apart, the passengers like to be spoken to by the Captain and that the small personal touches and mild fussing over them which seemed to me to be only natural and hospitable, were in fact an important element of goodwill that would pay dividends later on.

In addition to my Scillies flights, I began to get charter bookings for flights elsewhere. The first came from a travel agent in Wales.

“Is that the Mayflower, then?”

I said yes, it was the Mayflower.

“Well it’s a client of ours, Mr. Jawnce. He has to get to Elstree near London and then from there he has to get to Oxfordthat’s his farm—can you take him?”

“When does he want to go?"

“Oh, straightaway, man.”

Then after measuring it out on the charts I broke the news:

Im very sorry but it’s a big aircraft for only one passenger and  including positioning . . . to Swansea it would cost £90.”

I waited for the thud as he fell off his chair in a dead faint.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about the money, m’n, but he’s got to leave Swansea by ten-thirty d’ye see. Can you do it?"

I looked at the clock which said nine-thirty. Lima Mike was locked up in the hangar over the road and Swansea was ninety miles away, but a £90 job was manna from heaven in my impoverished state, and in the maddest scramble I had undertaken since the war, I got airborne and touched down at Swansea precisely on the dot of ten-thirty.

Shortly afterwards I was chartered for a Channel search to try to locate a stolen yacht which belonged to a Mr. Dobson who is a prominent resident in South Devon. I quite enjoyed the job which reminded me of flying I’d done in Coastal Command during the war. We spent two hours on square searches but unfortunately never found the yacht which was discovered the next day tied up in Millbay Docks at Plymouth—very frustrating for the owner but a useful profit to me.

Later in August my flights to the Scillies stepped up in frequency with the big increase in the holiday traffic and became almost daily. Then I received a very interesting enquiry from a producer in one of the independent television companies. He was going to put on a programme in which there was to be staged a political argument about something or other. The protagonist for the Labour party was Mr. Harold Wilson who at the time was on holiday at his bungalow in the Isles of Scilly. He went on in a great state of urgency:

“Mr. Wilson is unwilling to give up more than a day of his holiday and he will only agree to take part in the programme if I can guarantee to pick him up at Scillies, take him to Southampton to the studio, finish the programme, and then get him back to Scillies, all in the same day. I’ve been told that you run a service to the lsles—can you do it?”

I suggested that, subject to the ministrations of a divine providence, I would do it.

There followed phone calls almost daily—television producers obviously are not seriously concerned with their telephone bills:

“This is a very important programmethere wouldn’t be any difficulty over the flight would there, no hitch?”

I indicated that as far as I knew, no difficulty would arise.

“What about the weather?"

I replied: “Well, like the poor, it’s always with us but I don’t see why we should have trouble—it’s August you know, not the middle of the winter.”

Oddly enough I was quite sincere in what I said—I meant it.

The next time he phoned he said: “Two friends of mine are going to Scillieswill it be all right if they board the plane for your outbound flight from Plymouth to Scillies?”

“Sure it will be all right—you are chartering the aircraft—you  can put anyone you like aboard—it makes no difference to me.”

The date for his programme was 25th August and I had arranged to pick up Mr. Wilson at about half-past nine, so I told him to have his friends check in at Plymouth Airport at about eight. I breathed a fervent prayer that everything would go all right—it was my first V.I.P. commitment and if everything went off smoothly it might help a lot.

Came the morning of the 25th and it was terrible! Even the cars were crawling in to Plymouth with their headlights on, and having taken twice my normal time to get in to the airport I called the met office to be informed that the whole of the west of England was fogbound and there was no prospect of much improvement before the afternoon at earliest.

The two friends of the producer were standing by hopefully waiting to embark when I told them there might be indefinite delay on the flight. My experiences in Hotel Whisky had shown me that no passenger is ever able to understand why an aeroplane cannot take off in any situation less than an earthquake. These two were no exception and were at a loss to know what was wrong with the weather when they could plainly see the other side of the road. Then something happened to give my self-esteem a horrible knock. An intrepid skipper who was a friend of mine was in a desperate hurry to get to Gatwick, and decided to have a go and took off in his Dove.

That did it. Useless to tell them although a blind take-off is quite within the capacity of any good pilot, he never does it with passengers; that he was flying in diametrically the opposite direction to London where the weather was good; that the pilot was legally correct because the weather at Exeter was fit for a diversion so that in the event of trouble he was within the specified distance of 40 miles that the regulations require. Useless to tell them anything. All that mattered was that another aircraft had taken off and we hadn’t.

Then the producer phoned up in a state of screaming panic and the fun started. I didn’t mind the accusation that I was a craven-hearted ineffective who wouldn’t take off when another pilot did, or the unstated but broad implication that I was the direct descendant of a long line of bachelors, but he went on:

“. . . I tell you the weather’s all right here—I can’t understand why you don’t at least have a go . . .”

I interrupted because this was my province:

“I’m sorry but final decisions about weather limitations are my concern—not yoursand besides it’s the Scillies where I have to pick up Mr. Wilson, not Southampton. I can assure you that at this moment the weather at St. Mary’s aerodrome is just about impossible—B.E.A. have at present suspended all their services. If I do have a go as you put it, and fail to get in, which is likely, the nearest place at which I can land is Exeter. That means a total wasted journey of nearly 250 miles and no Mr. Wilson. Who is going to pay for that?”

He hadn’t thought of that one, so I went on: “I’m just as disappointed as you are about all this but if the worst comes to the worst, can’t you find a substitute for Mr. Wilson in your programme?”

I thought the telephone was going to jump out of my hand: “Absolutely impossible. Don’t you realise this is a political programme—my job is to ensure impartiality by getting the opponents as evenly matched as possible—in this particular subject there just isn’t anyone else of Mr. Wilson’s stature that I can find.”

That was one I hadn’t thought of—I could see his problem:  “I understand your difficulty. Look, I’ll do my damnedest to get Mr. Wilson to you as soon as I can but it won’t be yet a  bityou’ll have to hold up your programme.”

The fog remained as thick as pea-soup until about 10.45 hours when a very slight thinning occurred, so I leapt into the air and hoped for it. It was a very dirty trip but I got into St. Mary’s at 11.45 hours and picked up Mr. Wilson and his son Giles who was obviously very keen on aeroplanes. Mr. Wilson seemed much more understanding about the situation than did the producer, so I thought—Well at least I’ve got him—and  pressed on.

To avoid conflict with other aircraft in the Southampton Control Zone, I let down out over the coast and skated round the Zone over the sea in rather marginal conditions so that we did not get into Southampton Airport until well after two-thirty.

The television programme was completed later in the afternoon but my troubles weren’t over. The weather had cleared and a stiff westerly wind had sprung up so that I couldn’t get straight to St. Mary’s, where there is no fuel, without refuelling at Plymouth en route. By the time we were there it was reported that Scillies weather was deteriorating again and anyway the aerodrome would be closing, so I had to break the news to Mr. Wilson that I couldn’t get him back home that night. I did tell him the weather would be good in the morning and if he would stay the night in Plymouth, I would guarantee getting him back to Scilly first thing in the morning. But no, he said he would continue by rail to Penzance and take the boat over in the morning—I expect he’d had enough of aeroplanes for the time being. The following morning I passed the Scillonian pounding away in a choppy sea while I slid overhead in perfect visibility.

C’est la guerre. But I felt the fates had been a little unkind just when I had hoped to put over a slick performance. I’d failed to cover myself with glory but knew I had been unquestionably right—to have taken chances with a future Prime Minister would have been very unfortunate.

Ten days after my flight with Mr. Wilson I had another V.I.P. booking but this time the fates were a little kinder. It arrived as a panic call from Cambrian Airways, the Welsh National Airline. Apparently their chairman, Mr. John Morgan, his wife and two friends had been booked to go to Scillies where Mr. Morgan was well known. An executive aircraft had been booked from somewhere else but had to cancel—could I help and come straightaway?

I knew the weather situation was due to improve soon so I said I would be off within thirty minutes. I hadn’t expected to fly that day and after the business about Mr. Wilson’s flight, I kept my uniform at home, so I felt that wherever I kept the damned thing, I couldn’t win. Still, I imagined that Mr. Morgan would prefer a tweed jacket and dog robbers to not getting to the Scillies.

The weather at Cardiff was horrible but they got me down on a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach—the ‘talk you down’ radar system) and it was then I had my first delicious taste of V.I.P. operation as it is carried out by the major airlines.

As soon as I got anywhere near the aircraft parking area the marshallers waved me on to Cambrian’s stand, and immediately I cut the engines, two uniformed handlers rushed up with some magnificent steps and opened Lima Mike’s cabin door while two more approached with a huge power truck carrying what looked like a mountain of luggage. There was nothing for me to do but stand in the centre gangway of the cabin and gaily wave my hands to indicate to them where and how I would like the luggage to be stowed. It was most enjoyableafter my own strenuous efforts at luggage handling myself, this was sheer luxury. In about five minutes the apparently impossible had been achieved and the whole of the luggage was stowed and neatly strapped down and a schedule of weights handed to me to sign. My sense of elation was somewhat shattered when I realised that I might have to unload this enormous lot myself, so I raised the matter with them. It was brushed aside as a mere frivolity, as I was informed that signal action had already been taken and all arrangements confirmed for B.E.A. to do the handling on my arrival at St. Mary’s.

After completing my loadsheet and discovering to my surprise that we were seventy-five kilos less than our maximum weight, I filed my flight plan with Control and told the handlers I was ready—the passengers could embark. But oh, no—you  don’t do it like that—not with V.I.P. movements you don’t! I was next escorted to the aero club and formally presented to Mr. Morgan, his party, and a large assortment of friends, and was asked to have a drink. I politely but firmly refused—I am far from being a teetotaller, but drink and flying are two things which I never mix. The farewells were then said and the party embarked surrounded by all the handlers who fluttered round like attendant angels, fastening the seat-belts and passing in refreshment hampers for the journey. We took off in the dreadful weather and after a turbulent climb settled down to a smooth cruising level.

Five minutes before arrival at Scillies, Control advised on the radio that B.E.A. were handling this movement and after landing would I please position on their parking area? This was fabulous! My normal parking area was just below the signals area on the grass. Never, never would I have the audacity to park my aircraft on either of the two white crosses  which marked the B.E.A. positions on the asphalt hard standing area in front of the passenger hall. To me, this was nothing less than holy ground upon the threshold of which one must bow three times and take off one’s shoes.

I swung Lima Mike round in a carefree turn which positioned us right in front of the passenger hall, and switched off the  engines with a flourish as though I’d just bought the place. I smiled sweetly at Henry Casley, the B.E.A. station manager, as he and his handlers stood waiting outside on the tarmac, waiting to greet the arrivals and I thought—Perhaps when I’m chairman of the Board, I’ll get this sort of treatment too.

A peculiar side effect of this flight was that I began to feel important myself. It’s my idea that this is probably the real explanation of the extraordinary aura of occupational vanity which surrounds some of our very, very senior airline Captains—V.I.P. makes for V.I.P. if you see what I mean.


— Friends

HAVING said that during the first year I ran my airline entirely single-handed, it dawns upon me that this statement, left just like that, does considerably less than justice to the many good friends who were associated in one way and another with my operations and who seemed to bend over backwards to come to my assistance. Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the Mayflower story is the warm friendliness with which almost everyone I knew and worked with went out of their way to help and encourage me. Most of these people must remain anonymous, but in two cases some mention must be made because they are an integral part of the story which would be incomplete without them.

One of these was ‘Tug’ Wilson the Air Traffic Controller at Plymouth. The airport being what it is, he had to wear many hats, and he was an excellent controller. A pilot himself, he was able to look out of the window and give just that more mature assessment of the weather situation than can be gained from the hourly statement from the meteorological ofiice. He would scan the skies and surrounding hills and his interpretation of the signs and portents ran to a length and a wealth of detail that wouldn’t have disgraced a television commentator.

In addition to controlling he also operated the aerodrome Direction Finder, and in very bad weather when bearings were required he would call on the radio: “Standby, half a minute, and I’ll nip over to the homer”, and then rush down the stairs and jump into his car and roar madly over the grass to the D/ F hut on the edge of the airfield. Once installed he would swing his loop gear listening for the aural null while the aircraft above maintained a prolonged transmission. The old ‘steam-driven’ type of equipment is quite obsolete these days but it was all we had then and ‘Tug’ was a master of it.

It was because of this combination of virtues that he was priceless in bad weather. When the cloudbase was near the surface I felt confident when he was on duty. And the occasions when he was absent were quite rare—he would come rushing back from his home at any odd hour outside his normal duty  period to see me in.

Unquestionably a first-class chap at his job—but—there was a price to pay for all this! ‘Tug’ was possessed of a particularly sardonic sense of humour and his special joy was ‘taking the  mickey’. And of all people, he liked taking the mickey out of me. Perhaps the fact that I was at one time his flight commander in the R.A.F. may not have been without its effect. Be that as it may, there were moments, yes we have to say definitely there were moments, when radio communication between ‘Tug’ and myself, although of the highest operational value and quite correct in all essentials, was not always confined to the exact form of speech laid down in the Ministry of Aviation textbook on Radiotelephony Procedure.

Almost any situation could at times produce a mordant wisecrack to enliven the tedium of officialese, but it was particularly during and after my landings that ‘Tug’ rose to great heights. Now en passant it has to be revealed that the old Rapide can on occasions exhibit a certain temperament in the matter of landing. The modern torpedo-like creation with its critically high wing loading, barn-door flaps, and the glide performance of a brick, will come roaring in to the end of the runway and when positioned for landing and the power is cut off, it will imme-  diately sit down firmly on the tarmac, and that is the end of that. Not so the Rapide who is a lightsome, billowy and delicate lady who required understanding and delicacy of touch. She has to be landed in what is known as a ‘tail-down wheeler’ which produces excellent results when you touch down upon a  nice even tarmac runway or else a really smooth bit of grass field. But, be there the slightest of undulations in the ground to induce even the most gentle upward movement and my lady will repay the insult with interest and float away back off the ground to remain a few inches above it until in her own good time she will sink gently back for a touchdown which this time will remain.

Another famous aeroplane which enjoyed this playful habit was the Spitfire in its earlier marks. In the Rapide the effect is soft, gentle, and so imperceptible that the passengers never notice a thing, but there can be a modicum of damage done to the dignity of the Captain who hopes that his friends weren’t looking.

Such hopes were doomed from the outset when ‘Tug’ was on watch. With devilish intent, he would cling on to the railings outside the tower, and strain his eyes to their utmost limits in order to detect the faintest indication that Lima Mike’s wheels, having kissed the grass, would lose contact with it again, for even the smallest fraction of a second. If he could detect the almost invisible manifestation of a gentle balloon, if it were possible to trace the tiniest crack of daylight between the tyres and the grass, I would say that if they left the ground by as much as the thickness of a visiting card, he would return in high glee to his transmitter and call:

“Not to worry about the landing fees, Lima Mike—I’ll only charge you for the last one!”

On the occasions when the landings were disappointingly faultless, and I think I can say they were the rule rather than the exception, it was easy to recognise his tones of disgust as he called:

“Becoming very friendly towards the passengers these days, aren’t we?”

The other good friend who played such a vital role in the Mayflower story was Frank Cannon. Frank runs a very attractive small hotel in St. Mary’s, or rather his wife does, because Frank very nearly lives in his small twelve-seater minibus in which he carries passengers all over the Island. In the Scillies he is, of course, a personality. I say ‘of course’ because Frank is Irish. I’m very fond of the Irish. You never need to explain them—just say ‘he’s Irish’ and no further explanation is necessary.

When I first arrived at St. Mary’s aerodrome with fare-paying passengers in Lima Mike, Frank was there and eyed me from his minibus. Then he got out to have a chat because why not have a chat anyway?

How was I going to get me passengers into the town, now?

The author

The airfield at St Marys. The steep gradients appear flat as seen from the air 

I’d spent nearly seven months trying to organise my airline, and unbelievable as it may sound, I had completely overlooked this vital point. But there it was—you can’t leave the passengers to fend for themselves at a strange airport—somehow they must be got into the town or near to their hotel. I had vaguely thought that they might use ‘Vic’s’ bus, but that splendid conveyance, the like of which I have never seen anywhere, was committed to meeting all the B.E.A. flights which operated at different times from those I was intending. Besides, if both B.E.A. aircraft were full, there might not be room for my passengers as well.

“Now look. As long as I know what time ye’re comin’ I’ll meet ye. I’ve the boat to meet at twelve-thirty and I’ve got me regular runs round the Island but I reckon I can fit it in—and they’ll be taken right all the way to where they're stayin’, mind ye.”

The fact that this might involve him in uneconomic loads never seemed to bother him—he had decided to adopt Mayflower and that was the end of it.

And so began an association that was to last until the end. Between us, Frank and I evolved a routine in passenger handling that was an education to watch—a slick and highly efficient piece of organisation which produced results at a cost which would have been impossible in any large organisation.

Immediately I cut the engine, Frank would have the steps alongside, fasten the cabin door open, and then pop his head inside with a cheerful, “Welcome to Scillies, all of ye.” He would bustle the passengers down the steps with a breezy intimacy that implied that the fairy king was now in possession and would employ his magic to take charge of everything.

While they were sorting themselves out on the grass, I would hand down to him the suitcases, knapsacks, fishing rods, small dogs and all the other items to be unloaded. With armfuls of this he would then escort the passengers to the minibus and in magnificent voice call out to restrain those of them who were bent upon committing suicide by walking back on to the grass runway in order to get greater distance from which to take  photographs of Lima Mike.

On his return trip from the minibus he would bring the departing passengers’ luggage and load it so that it never became confused with that which had just arrived. At a later date he even borrowed a trolley from a local flower-grower for this job. I would then leave to go upstairs to Control to get the latest weather forecast, complete my loadsheets and technical log and leave the copies there in my clip.

Meantime Frank would be shepherding the arriving passengers into his minibus and initiating the ceremony of the Little Book. In this he wrote their names, the address where they would be staying and their date of intended departure. When I came down from the Tower there would be the inevitable little  chat—enquiries for seats for next week—what the opposition were doing—the gossip of Scilly. He’d then give me the passengers’ ticket counterfoils, load them aboard and return to the minibus. He would then depart to drop the passengers right at the front doors of their hotels and guest houses and at the last moment introduce a little commercialism into  matters with:

“Tis a divil now, but I’ll have to ask ye to cross me palm with silver.”

The result of the efforts of this highly personalised two-man team was that I could programme Lima Mike’s turn-round comfortably for thirty minutes from the time of touchdown to the moment of leaving the ground, and I could rest assured that if delays due to bad weather occurred, my passengers on the Isles would be taken care of and be notified of any alteration in departure times for the mainland instead of having to wander about like lost souls, and discover events for themselves.

But the greatest help I got from Frank wasn’t just operational—it was the wholehearted way in which he identified himself with my airline and the faith which he showed in its future. When you’re facing great odds, it’s a tremendous help if someone believes in you.


1962 — Here we come!

“. . . Now I’m tellin’ ye, eighty per cent of the accommodation for the summer months is booked solid by the end of January.”

“End of January, Frank, that’s hellishly early?”

“. . . And there’s another thing—some av ’em won’t book up at their hotels until they know for sure they’ve got their air tickets. Don’t take any notice of what goes on elsewherethis is Scilly.”

This is what Frank Cannon had to tell me during the first week when I started my services in early July. I already knew something of the clumsy efforts of some of my larger contemporaries who never published their timetables until the season was well advanced and even then messed about with their schedules until nobody knew what went where.

This wouldn’t do for Mayflower! I decided there and then that the flight schedules for all the season’s services must be worked out and the timetables printed and ready for distribution by not later than 31st December of each preceding year.

And so on 26th July, 1961—only eighteen days after my first passenger flight—I once again plunged into the intricacies of ATLB Form 2 and sent the thirty copies off to the Air Transport Licensing Board with my letter to apply for a Class ‘A’ Licence to operate scheduled services to the Scillies and a Class ‘E’ Licence for charter services on unspecified routes. In addition, I wrote to the Director of Aviation Safety to submit my programme for clearing all outstanding matters so as to ensure the renewal of my Air Operator’s Certificate. I had no intention of being caught napping for the second time!

Meantime my services were coming along nicely and I was quietly blazing the trail to the Isles. Most of my flights in the early days arrived there in the morning and departed late afternoon so I took advantage of the time I had to spare to do a little lobbying in St. Mary’s in order to solicit some support for my Licence applications. I went to the Town Clerk, the Duchy of Cornwall and to the principal hotel-keepers, and the results seemed to be promising.

I carried out some more charter flights to London, Jersey, Denham and elsewhere in addition to my Scillies runs, and was kept busy with all the traffic statistics which I was now collating for use in support of my application for the Scheduled Services Licence.

On 12th October I completed my last flight of the season to Scillies and during the closing months of 1961 all other efforts were overshadowed by my impending visit to London at the end of the year to appear before the Air Transport Licensing Board at the public hearing of my Licence applications. Although the Board had been very indulgent in granting the short-term Charter Licence without even seeing me, the grant of a Scheduled Services Licence would be a very different kettle of fish. The ponderous machinery of the Establishment was now turning its wheels in the course of processing my applications—if anything serious in the way of opposition arose I would be torn to pieces in the ensuing dog-fight.

My chief anxiety was B.E.A. It was true that their services from Land’s End to Scillies were so heavily booked that passengers had to be turned away because there were no more seats, but that wouldn’t save me if they decided to go to war.

Why wait? They were bound to find out sooner or later what I was after—why not write and tell them at once and if they had objections maybe we could overcome them ‘out of court’. It was the obvious answer, but who to write to? Again the obvious  answer—in for a penny, in for a pound—to hell with it, we’ll go right to the very top—toujours l'audace!

And so I sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. Anthony H. Milward, Chief Executive of British European Airways, to say that I was going to apply for a Scheduled Services Licence to fly over the top of his aircraft on my way to the Isles of Scilly.

My letter explained my proposals, stressed the need for the services which could be supplementary rather than competitive, and then asked point-blank and without any sort of finesse, Would B.E.A. want to make any objection? For general information I sent copies of the letter to Mr. R. Phillips, Clerk of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, and to Major MacLaran, Land Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall at Scilly.

Then, having posted my letters, I sat down and began to bite my fingernails.

During the course of my lobbying I had recently turned on the heat and as a result now was getting letters of supportfrom the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, from the Town Clerk’s Office at Exeter, from the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the  Duchy of Cornwall, the Plymouth and the Exeter Chambers of Commerce, from Mr. Peter Bessell then prospective Liberal Candidate for the Bodmin Division of Cornwall, and from six of the leading Plymouth industrialists.

Then one day a letter arrived with the familiar red square overprinted with the white letters of B.E.A. With bated breath I opened it and was quick to notice the V.I.P. addition in the top left-hand corner of the notepaper—‘From the Chief  Executive’. Mr. Anthony Milward had replied personally to tell me that B.E.A. would not be making any objections to my  applications!

Here was ammunition of unbelievable power! I whooped for joy and dashed off into Plymouth to have the letter photocopied. Then, remembering the courtesies, sent a grateful acknowledgment to Mr. Milward. And so began another strange and unpredictable association of the lion and the mouse who this time were to fly together side by side into that little aerodrome at St. Mary’s.

Altogether I received only two objections—from the Devon General and Western National Omnibus Companies. They objected to my proposed single fare for journeys between Plymouth and Exeter only. I felt I might just be able to take care of this one.

In November I received a notification from the Board that the date fixed for the public hearing of my application was 5th December and they requested that I nominate the persons who would represent me. Frequently the larger operators would brief counsel to represent them at these hearings but I couldn’t afford such luxuries, besides which there was no intricate point of law to be argued. I felt that being a fair public speaker and having a presentable appearance and a reasonable command of the Queen’s English, I could do just as well as the learned gentlemen and save some money into the bargain. So on 28th November, I informed the Board that I would be representing myself, would present further written evidence, and would be calling two witnesses.

The stage was set.

Therese House, 29-30 Glasshouse Yard, adjoins Aldersgate Street in a somewhat unsalubrious neighbourhood of the City of London. It is a modern rectangular office building with all the exquisite plumbing, strip lighting and centrally heated and air-conditioned facilities which are necessary to ensure that civilised man will be able to spend his working life comfortably in the environmental equivalent of a rabbit warren.

Not materially different from many similar office buildings except that it boasts an unusually spacious boardroom.

About a half of the carpeted floor space of this board-room is fitted out, like a cinema, with upholstered chairs which look across the breadth of the room to face an enormous dais which runs along its entire length and carries a line of tables behind which stand eight empty chairs. In the considerable space between the seats of the audience and the platform, and again facing the dais, runs a series of tables. Each of these carries a small and carefully printed notice to indicate the name of the Applicant, who sits at the left-hand table, and in turn the names of each of the various Objectors and, where applicable, those who are summoned to make Representations.

To the left of the Applicant’s table and standing well clear and ahead of it is another large polished table and chair, which take the place of a witness-box. Two aisles for the admission of the public and the participants, a press table on the far left, and another for the stenographer on the right completes the lay-out of the battlefield where those who are to contend for the rights of possession of Britain’s airlines will fight to the death.

At 10.45 hours on 5th December, I entered the board-room and timidly sat down in one of the chairs of the audience feeling a little overwhelmed. There were already a number of people present together with the atmosphere of hushed expectancy which invariably pervades the arena where combat is soon to begin.

I was then approached by an exceedingly affable gentleman who cheerfully introduced himself as the Opposition. He was Mr. H. G. Palk of the Devon General Omnibus Company and was delighted to see me. It became quickly obvious that the  line to take with the Opposition was to be sweetly reasonable.

Very suddenly a word was spoken—and then everyone stood  up and waited. I was terrified. A door on the extreme left-hand side of the room opened and the mighty made their entrance. It was not the less effective because it was without ceremony. Here, without its trappings, seemed to be all the basic essentials of a Court of Law.

The mighty took their seats. In the chair was Mr. A. H. Wilson, C.B., C.B.E., the Deputy Chairman who had a very extensive experience of aviation matters, and on his left were Sir Friston How, C.B., Mr. J. E. Barnes, secretary to the Board, Mr. C. P. Harvey, Q.C., Mr. W. P. James, O.B.E., and to his right were Mr. E. Baldry, O.B.E., Mr. F. C. Bagnall, C.B.E., and Professor R. G. D. Allen, C.B.E.

We all sat down and this time I took my place at the Applicant’s table.

There were a few moments of silence as the Chairman quickly  scanned the papers in front of him, and then he announced  with incredibly slow diction:

“Application . . . number . . . A . . . two . . . one . . . one. . . three . . . (pause) . . . Mayflower . . . Air . . . Services . . . for . . . a . . . Class . . . ‘A’ . . . Licence . . . to . . . operate . . . services . . . in . . . Rapide . . . aircraft . . . between . . . Exeter . . . (pause) . . . Plymouth . . . (pause) . . . and . . . the . . . Isles . . . of. . . Scilly . . . (pause) . . .”

I leaned back in my seat—obviously the next thirty minutes would be taken up with utterings from the chair.

“. . . Squadron . . . Leader . . . Cleife . . . would . . . you . . . now . . . make . . . your . . . . statement . . . in . . . support . . .  of . . . this . . . Application?”

Oh my lord! But I’m not ready now—thought you were going on for half an hour at least!

I took out my handkerchief and blew my nosea clumsy device, but anything for a second or two in which to collect my scattered wits.

“May it please the Court . . . ”—steady you fool, it’s a Licence hearing not a court martial!

My God, this won’t do—you’re beaten before you start, man—go to it, for heaven’s sake! I took another breath, stuck my chin out, and opened up with what I hoped would be an  effective shot across the bows:

“. . . I would like to submit a quotation from a travel article which appeared in The Tatler of 20th September, last. In that article the author states . . .”—and quite ostentatiously I held up the magazine to read with all eyes upon me—“. . . ‘Ironically enough, the Scilly Isles, only thirty miles off the coast of Cornwall, now take longer to reach—if London is one’s base—than Beirut.’ Mr. Chairman, gentlemen, I think that statement aptly summarises the exceptional difficulty of travel to the Isles which my proposed services are intended to reduce.”

Then warming up in a flush of aggression, I rammed home fact upon fact, each one having been previously checked and double-checked for unassailable accuracy. Rapid growth of the tourist industry in Scilly . . . building of the new Island Hotel at Tresco . . . difficulties of travel . . . twenty-six hours by rail/sea or eight hours by rail/air . . . congestion on B.E.A. services . . . too many people for too few seats . . . problem not solvable by larger aircraft because of the small size of the aerodrome . . .

“. . . And of course these facts are completely vindicated by my own experiences of services completed between the 8th July and the 12th October of this year. As a hitherto unknown operator, with but one aircraft, with but scanty advertising, and operating under a Licence which, with respect to you gentlemen, imposed unusually severe restrictions, I nevertheless was able to complete forty-eight stage flights and carry 258 passengers. This I think unquestionably proves the need which exists for such services and you will shortly be hearing  witnesses who will testify that . . .”

At this point the Chairman leaned forward and courteously but very firmly interrupted the torrent:

“Squadron Leader Cleife, I think I must remind you that a record of these proceedings is being taken down by a shorthand-writer for the purposes of making a transcript. I think it would assist the accuracy of her work if you were to speak a little more slowly.”

I continued at a more dignified pace to give details of the number and frequency of the services I was applying for, and then with growing eloquence I emphasised the considerable weight of the Representations which had been made on my behalf by the Lord Mayor of Plymouth who was only prevented from being present by a civic engagement, the Scillies Council, and all the others. Finally with a glorious fanfare of trumpets I concluded:

“. . . And Mr. Chairman, gentlemen, if there should remain the slightest doubt in your minds, I would refer you to the copy letter which had already been submitted to you, from Mr. Anthony Milward, in which he confirms that British European Airways will not oppose this application. I am quite sure that the significance of this statement will not be lost upon you when you consider your decision.”

Then I called my friend Luke, who is manager of Plymouth Airport, to speak on behalf of Plymouth’s need for more air services, and Jack Bean who represented Lieutenant Commander T. M. Dorrien Smith whose family has owned Tresco for over a century. And while I was regaining my breath they said their pieces very nobly.

The Objectors were then called to speak. Mr. Palk made it clear that the bus companies were concerned only with the protection of their traffic rights between Plymouth and Exeter and nothing else.

The Chairman considered this and asked me: “Do you wish on this sector of the route to carry passengers between Plymouth and Exeter only?”

I replied: “No, sir, I can’t see that the public would accept the expense of air travel between the two cities when they can go by bus for a fraction of the cost. The fare on this sector is applied for purely in order to make connections at Exeter  Airport with other operators—particularly Jersey Airlines to the Channel Islands and Mercury Airlines to Manchester.”

The Chairman conferred with his colleagues and then said: “Would it be acceptable for your purposes if your Application were to be amended so that the fare between Plymouth and Exeter was applicable only as part of a longer journey by air?”

I confirmed my agreement to this, whereupon Mr. Palk withdrew his objection, which left my application unopposed.

This concluded the public hearing and we all stood dutifully to attention while the members of the Board filed out. I had fifty minutes to have lunch and then return and once again appear before the Board, but this time for the private hearing.

A private hearing is convened when the Board think it is necessary to examine the applicant’s financial status and his capacity to undertake the responsibilities of the public services he has applied for.

I was extremely worried about this and desperately afraid that they would demand much more in the way of resources than I possessed. Recently one of the large Independents carrying a heavy volume of holiday traffic was suddenly compelled to go into liquidation owing the petrol companies, amongst others, a huge sum of money. Passengers on packaged holiday tours were left stranded all over the Continent and special rescue flights had to be run by B.E.A. and others. The thing  had hit the headlines to become a national scandal and the news was still hot. I felt the Board would need a lot of convincing.

For the purposes of the private hearing, the Board’s accountant, Mr. Turner, had visited Plymouth the previous month to talk to my own accountants and his statement of my financial position was now before them.

I did what I could. I made it clear to the Board that additional capital would be subscribed at a later date when I formed Mayflower into a limited company. My most potent argument was that I had purchased Lima Mike outright and therefore had no hire purchase liability and that I already had sufficient capital reserves to cover the loss which I knew I must make during the first year of operations. Other than this I had investments deposited with the bank and had asked my bank manager to forward them full information about my additional resources. They asked a lot of very awkward questions which gave me some trouble because I am not an accountant and can’t even speak the language. But that was the best job I could make of it.

It was a very subdued character that left Therese House that  afternoonsurely outside state nationalisation, aviation must be the most closely controlled industry of the lot!

The remainder of December was a busy time. I worked late at nights to evolve a timetable which gave me the maximum carrying capacity during aerodrome working hours and at the same time offered passengers the best connections with the mainline routes of British Railways to the West. The timetable provided for thirty-minute turn-rounds which gave me no time at all for lunch. Be blowed to lunch—what’s the matter with a packet of sandwiches on the flight deck—we can’t be bothered with trivialities like eating?

When they were finished, I rushed them down to the printers and asked them to run off some proofs but not to begin printing until I had heard from the Board. They told me not to worry myself at all—as soon as I gave them the word, they would have enough timetables for my immediate needs finished within forty-eight hours. I was quite impressed. The quite extraordinary thing about my little enterprise was the way it got hold of people. Everybody who ever had anything to do with it seemed to become infected not just with a feeling of personal interest but almost a sense of partisanship. To begin with I was to the brothers Coe, the printers, just a chap who wanted something done. But now the pixies’ spell was beginning to work on them and they identified themselves almost as part of it.

I was helped in other ways. A very friendly operator allowed me to put in some flying in the right-hand seat of their Dove which was engaged on scheduled services. I did the flights mostly at night and finished up in Liverpool and Newcastle. It was extremely useful training experience which gave me the chance to know where I was inside the cockpit of a Dove. Because of it I was able to get ready for my Instrument Rating test which I took and passed on a Ministry Dove at Stansted on 22nd  December. Lovely sensation to be able to assure the Director of Aviation Safety that I was no longer living in sin!

And then, the most wonderful Christmas present! A notification from the Air Transport Licensing Board. My applications had been granted.

The importance which we humans lend to our affairs is ludicrous. Here was the smallest of happenings—something which, within the history of a nation, is of no more account than the burrowing of a mole. Yet, at that moment, I was to myself a man of destiny.

But, in a strange way, I was more frightened than elated as I lifted the telephone to ask Roydon Coe to roll off immediately the first thousand copies of the Mayflower timetable.

Lima Mike's proving flight

Lima Mike in her new livery

Captain Loat, Virginia, and the author, with Uniform Lima



Design for success

WITH the dawn of the New Year, there began one of the most thrilling, most absorbing and most intensely satisfying years of my life. I had put behind me most of the early birth-struggles of my airline. I would have many problems to face in the future, but there would be nothing to compare with the grief, anxiety and despair which had accompanied the launching of my project. The impossible had been achieved, my passport to success had been issued, and now I could indulge in the tremendously satisfying task of using my knowledge, experience, and most of all my wits, to make it all work.

Rather like the famous ruling about justice, I decided that it was not sufficient for me to be an airline, I must be seen to be an airline and seen to function as an airline. During the few quiet weeks I had at my disposal I must fashion, contrive and evolve all those things which collectively would create the public image which I decided I needed. First and foremostappearances !

I started with Lima Mike, and had her repainted in an entirely new livery, with a red-white-red rudder as her airline insignia. I was quite confident that we would never be confused with B.E.A. but I wasn’t smart enough at the time even to begin to guess the far-reaching eflects that my red-white-red rudder would have.

My next contribution to the shape of things to come must be—personnel. With the amount of traffie I hoped to carry it would be absurd to expect that I could cope single-handed as I had been doing—especially with the heavy volume of bookings and the ‘handling’. The Plymouth City Council were building a small passenger concourse on the aerodrome and in the hall were three offices each with passenger reception desks. I had booked one of these for Mayflower and the other two had gone to Dan-Air Services and Jersey Airlines. I estimated I would have more bookings from Plymouth than the two of them put together so I must have traffic personnel who could cope, and who, in order to keep up with the Jones next door, would be as smart if not smarter than theirs. I had had to solve many problems in the past but few were as easy as this one. The answer was to be found at home:


From the very earliest moments when the dream had first come to me, I had held forth, wondered, discussed, planned, shaped, and fashioned almost every phase of the airline’s evolution with her. There was nothing about what I’d thought and done that she didn’t know. Not only was she the obvious choice, but, fortunately for me, she was quite keen to try, although she knew nothing about airline operation. I had only one doubt. Sometimes when husband and wife work together in the same business, the association can produce irritations and a lack of harmony which, if continued, can take the edge off married  happiness. But I was lucky again—there was never a moment of conflict or anything like it.

It was arranged that she would give up the part-time job which she had been doing and become Mayflower’s traffic manager at the princely salary of three pounds per week. It was about a third of what she was worth even as a learner but at that time I couldn’t run to any more.

Shortly before leaving her job we were discussing things and I started to explain the intricacies of passenger reservations and how the daily bookings chart worked, but I quickly recognised my shortcomings as a personnel manager in adopting such an essentially male approach to the subject. With the intuitive speed of the feminine mind she swept these frivolities aside to put first things first.

“Of course you realise I haven’t got a thing to wear?”

“Nothing to wear?”

“. . . Now I wonder what colour uniform would suit me best? Can’t have blue—it isn’t my colour at all.”

Marvellous, absolutely marvellous. Then—an idea!

“What about my grey costume upstairs—I don’t use it much and it’s a Hardy Amies model you know.”

There followed a quick flurry of footsteps upstairs, a banging of the wardrobe door, more and slower footsteps followed by a silence during which I could feel although I couldn’t see the long and critical gaze into the full-length mirror in the bedroom. Then more footsteps downstairs to me.

“Well, what do you think?”

I screwed up my eyes and tried to visualise it as it would be. By golly, she’d got something! It was an extremely well-cut,  trim and slim-waisted creation which, with a small amount of conversion, would make a very smart uniform.

“Darling, it’s marvellous. We’ll have to get you an air stewardess’s cap to match.”

“Yes—and uniform buttons for the jacket. But where on earth do you get those?”

“From the outfitters in London, but don’t worry, I’ll see to all that.”

I sent away for civil aviation buttons and the cap to match the uniform. We designed the Mayflower badge—scarlet centre upon which was embossed a capital ‘M’ in gold lace. Then we ordered it as a half-wing for Virginia’s cap and a full-wing for me to replace the original R.A.F. pilot’s brevet which I had been wearing. A Captain’s cap badge was also ordered to replace the original home-made one she had made me for last year’s effort. I had for economy’s sake to continue with the  tropical R.A.F. uniform which I had been wearing, but the cap badge and wings together with the navy blue epaulettes carrying four gold stripes produced a smart effect although my uniform would look a little silly in cold weather. But I thought, before next winter, we shall either be bust or else able to afford  a new uniform.

The next design problem was terrifying! We'd got Virginia a splendid uniform but it would quickly have to be replaced by a strait-jacket if I didn’t do something about the huge pile of bookings and enquiries that were already pouring in with every morning’s post. To attempt to deal with it by ordinary correspondence would be hopeless.

So I had to sit down and invent an answer. I decided that it ought to look like a letter and so I used, as a basis, the new style of notepaper which I’d recently produced and which carried the Company’s motif, unofficially known as the ‘flying duck’, in red; I’d drawn this myself and with the name heading in neat black capitals, the notepaper looked dignified and in good taste. On the paper I laid out a series of multiple-choice type questions with little square boxes at the side of each. (See reproduction below.)

Now it is not unheard of for airlines to put passengers on the wrong flight or else discover when they check in that there are no seats for them. I didn’t want Virginia to be faced with this sort of crisis so I got the brothers Coe to print for me a super large-sized loose-leaf diary with two pages for each day from March to October. The left-hand pages were for Outbound flights and the right-hand for Return flights. The pages had  columns for everything—passengers’ names and addresses, payments, ticket numbers, flight numbers, special notes. It was bulky but invaluable. When the telephone rang, Virginia only had to turn up the right page and there in front of her was the whole story for the day and she could enter bookings straightaway. It was childishly simple as a system, and because of this, it was efficient.

By the end of January I had finished most of my designing and was ready to go to Portsmouth to collect Lima Mike after she had undergone her annual overhaul. When I saw her standing outside the hangar resplendent in the new Mayflower livery, I got my first thrill of the year. It was a complete metamorphosis. She looked a completely different aeroplane and quite the smartest Rapide I had ever set eyes on.

1962 had started in a tremendously satisfying way. We had a reservations system which instilled confidence in everyone and worked with surprising speed, we had a traffic manager who was charming and very tactful with the passengers and who could also be desk receptionist and, when the occasion demanded, air stewardess, we had a first-class aircraft, and lastly we had an experienced Captain who knew the routes backwards. And all of them dressed to kill!

There wasn’t going to be anything very much wrong with the Mayflower public image.



“Let’s talk about the weather”

          How beautifully blue the sky
          The glass is rising very high,
          Continue fine I hope it may,
          And yet it rained but yesterday.

THAT chirruping chorus of Major-General Stanley’s bevy of beautiful daughters from the Pirates of Penzance, those picture post-card palms waving to an impossibly blue sea, the magic of the words ‘Cornish Riviera Express’—so exciting when they light up the smoky gloom of Paddington Station—had always projected within me an image of the West Country as a sub-tropical paradise.

Until I went to live there. Now I know it better for what it is—a promontory which juts out into the Atlantic. Because the nearest land to the west is America, it is completely exposed on the coasts which are without shelter. When those dank, moist, horrible air masses wend their inexorable way across the sea eastwards towards us, it is the first coastline that they strike. So we get the lot.

True, we don’t suffer much from radiation fogthe stuff which, when mixed in London with sufficient nuclei of soot particles, will produce the dreaded ‘smog’. Nor in fact do we have many earthquakes. But we do have just about everything else. In particular we have a specially vile manifestation of what the Meteorological Office is pleased to call ‘warm sector conditions’—“. . . Very moist south-westerly winds with extremely low cloudbase, sometimes on or near the surface, poor visibility, hill fog patches, extensive coastal fog, drizzle at times, . . .”—in fact all the familiar misery.

Now quite contrary to what the Great British Public desire and expect, an airline Captain cannot land his aeroplane in fog. In his Operations Manual will be found certain weather minima for specific aerodromes which he uses regularly. These minima will be expressed in terms of cloudbase in hundreds of feet above the surface of the aerodrome to enable him to get safely clear of cloud before he lands, and of visibility—probably eight hundred yards or more to enable him to see at least a fair section of the runway on which he is going to land. The only known method of landing in fog is by using automatic landing  apparatus, and this, thank heavens, is not yet with us as an everyday thing.

The problem therefore of airline flying in bad weather would seem to be absolutely simple. If the weather conditions at our destination aerodrome are above our minima, we go. If they’re not, we don’t go.

But, alas, life is not that easy and the simple dichotomy of ‘go/don’t go’ cannot be so readily applied to warm sector conditions. Only one word can sum up those conditions. Treacherous !

Yes, treacherous, because no one, not even the most expert of  weather forecasters, can predict the exact height of the cloudbase at any aerodrome at any particular moment. He can say with absolute certainty that the cloud will be very low as long as we remain in the warm sector, but exactly how low is impossible to define because there will always be small variations. The result is that one moment the cloudbase will rise slightly to uncover the aerodrome and create a workable clearance underneath of perhaps 200 or even 300 feet. An aeroplane can land. Then suddenly the cloud will lower again slightly and the aerodrome is once again blanketed in fog.

Because we in the West country are among the first to be struck by the moist Atlantic air masses when they arrive, our conditions are wetter, nastier, and have worse visibility than the remainder of the country will experience as the air mass dries out a little on its journey towards eastern England. Never in my whole flying experience have I ever been anywhere where aerodromes will suddenly go into fog while you are looking at them as quickly and as fearfully as they do in Devon and Cornwall.

And it was in this meteorological environment that I was planning to operate a scheduled air service, seven days a week, to a timetable tolerance of plus or minus five minutes. Here was my greatest operating problem. How in the world was I going to be able to maintain a respectable reputation for proper airline regularity in this westerly expanse of rocks and ocean? To be sure, the weather was beautiful some of the time, but I wasn’t concerned with some of the time, I was concerned with seven days in every week.

There is one golden rule about problems. Don’t try to solve the whole thing in one go—much better to split it into parts and tackle each bit separately. I decided to look upon my route from Exeter to the Isles of Scilly as an airway and survey each section on its own. First of all:

Exeter: Only 112 feet above sea level, a cathode ray Direction Finder, and, because of the sheltering effect of Dartmoor, the best weather factor of any aerodrome in the West. For good measure—a radio beacon at Berry Head some 20 miles away. This beacon plus the aerodrome Direction Finder gives me two aids instead of one, and after letting down from it over the sea, I can creep up the Exe estuary at low level with nothing underneath me except salt water. Conclusion: Except for a certain few occasions, I can, if the worst comes to the worst, always get into Exeter—even if it’s not where the passengers want to go. Next:

Plymouth: 488 feet above sea level, a hand-operated Direction Finder plus ‘Tug’ Wilson. High ground on Dartmoor only a few miles to the north with the B.B.C. television mast at North Hessary Tor sticking up 2,400 feet above sea level! Weather factor—bad because of its high situation. Conclusion: The most diflicult aerodrome of the lot for warm sector. Next:

St. Mawgan: R.A.F. Master Aerodrome and about as big as London Airport. All the facilities you’ve ever heard of—G.C.A., V.O.R., I.L.S., radio beacon—the lot! Not listed as one of my stopping places. Conclusion: Invaluable for radio-navigation checks. Also, the ideal funk hole—if you’re in real trouble, me lad, that’s where you’ll go. Next:

Land’s End: Over 400 feet above sea level, no Direction Finder and the worst weather in the West of England bar none. Used principally by B.E.A. for their Scillies services. Big Brother, it’s all yours. Next:

St. Mary’s: 116 feet above sea level, a Marconi Automatic Direction Finder plus a radio beacon on Round Island. Weather factor considerably better than Land’s End because of the small land mass and low elevation, but prone to sea fog in patches and therefore changeable. Conclusion: Its saving grace is its very low height above sea level plus the complete absence of any obstructions. It’s going to require either a patch of sea fog or else very low cloud indeed to stop me from getting in.

I looked at my airway as a whole. Yes, undoubtedly the weakest link in the chain was Plymouth. To have real confidence when flying in bad weather it is necessary to be a pessimist. A pessimist is he who wears a belt and braces at the same time—two aids instead of one. And Plymouth had only one! This fact had been forcibly brought home to me one Saturday evening during the preceding September. I was returning from Scillies but was unable to land at Plymouth because the weather at the time I was overhead was bad —warm  sector conditions again. I continued to Exeter where I dropped my passengers and then took off again to try to get back to Plymouth on my own—I could fly down to what limits I liked since as there were no passengers on board, it was not a public  transport flight.

“Plymouth. Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mike.”

Lima Mike, go ahead.”

“Plymouth, we are inbound to you from Exeter, flight level four zero*, IMC**, estimating you at three fivewhat’s your weather now?”

*four thousand feet on the standard altimeter setting
**Instrument Meteorological Conditions, i.e. non-visual

“Roger, Lima Mike. Our present weather—surface wind—two four zero, ten knots; eight octas stratus at 300 feet; visibility—2 nautical miles.”

“Well, well, you are coming up in the world aren’t you? Well, jump into that wreck of a car of yours, ‘Tug’, I’ll be calling for a QDM* in a couple of minutes.”

*The course to steer by magnetic compass to reach the homer in conditions of zero wind. The pilot makes his own allowance for wind conditions

“H’m—you’ll be lucky!”

“What do you mean, ‘I’ll be lucky’?”

“The homer’s gone unserviceable, Lima Mike—sorry, no QDMs.”

I didn’t care much for this one. It meant letting down through thick cloud from an estimated position arrived at by dead reckoning. Many years before, during the war, when I thought I knew everything there was to be known about flying, I’d flown into the side of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands trying to do this. Besides, it was Saturday evening—there would probably be other aircraft trying to get in.

“Plymouth, have you any other traflic?”

“Ay-firmative, Lima MikeVictor Foxtrot will be coming in any time now.”

Victor Foxtrot was a Dove inbound to Plymouth for a night stop.

Just at the very moment when I began to wonder where he might be, I heard him call Plymouth on his radio:

“Plymouth, Victor Foxtrot is now leaving flight level six zeroestimating you at three five.”

I heard ‘Tug’ reply: “Isn’t that just splendid, Victor Foxtrot! Hey, did you copy my last call to Lima Mike to advise that our homer is unserviceable?”

“Affirmative, Plymouth—have also copied your weather.”

I thought to myselfthis is the sort of situation which could turn distinctly unhealthy if someone did something which might afterwards prove to be the wrong thing. And there’s not very much that ‘Tug’ can do about it at this stage—we’ll have to sort it out for ourselves. Better give the other aircraft a call:

Victor Foxtrot, this is Lima Mike. Seems us doan’t know whar w’em tu, m’deurr.”

“ ’Arr, ’tiz roight confusin’, bain’t ’m?”

“Oi’ll tell ’ee, ’tiz proper b’ggurr, now ’tiz. Have you got  any passengers?”


“Right, Victor Foxtrot, I’m estimating Totnes about now and will head off to south and let down over the sea. Would you like to hold to the west of your inbound track—this should give us clear separation?”

“Wilco, Lima Mike.”

Later in the evening, we talked it over in the aero club bar. It was fortunate that the weather had lifted. All the same—two  aircraft both in cloud and converging on to each other—both due in to Plymouth at the same time—too close to be healthy.

This little experience had given me powerful food for thought. Of course it was very unusual for the Plymouth Direction Finder to go wrong but nevertheless it had happened and my philosophy of electronic pessimism was completely justified. But what was the good of establishing the need for two radio navigational aids when wed only got the one?

Of course there was always the coward’s way outgive up Plymouth as a base altogether and make Exeter the easterly terminal; with its much better weather it would be a much easier number. But Plymouth was much the bigger as an industrial centre and one day it would have a better airport. Besides it needed more air services—what was the point of my trying to cater for this need and then running away from it?

I do not easily accept defeat because I believe there is always an answer to every problem—if one can only find it.

I found the answer to this one in that highly desirable residential area—Seymour Road, Plymouth. Among the more dignified edifices of that affluent avenue is Broadcasting House which houses the B.B.C.’s Plymouth studios. It was in early March, 1962, when I called there to see John Tanton about some bookings he wanted for his camera team to go to Scillies for the impending royal visit in April. As I was leaving, I stopped in the front grounds of the house to look at a large aerial which l’d never noticed before. H’m—nothing in that really—after all the B.B.C. have a thing about aerials. All the same, it made me think.

When I got back to the airport, I took out an inch ordnance survey map and on it I pin-pointed Broadcasting House and immediately saw it was just under 2.5 miles from the aerodrome boundary and topographically in just about a perfect position for an instrument let-down.

But it was doubtful whether it was worth following up. The whole country is pock-marked with B.B.C. transmitters but aircraft do not normally use them as radio-navigational aids because they transmit on common frequencies and there can be interaction between them. Besides there is no signal to identify any particular one of them—the Light Programme is all the same wherever you are.

Just the same I went back to Broadcasting House to talk to the B.B.C.’s Chief Engineer the next day. He was very co-operative—they always are. He gave me all their frequencies and told me that in the West of England there were only two stations transmitting on common frequencies. They were 52 miles apart—the one at Seymour Road and the other at Lanner Hill near Redruth in Cornwall, and this by some extraordinary chance happened to be almost right on my track from Plymouth to Scillies. This was getting very interesting.

The next day I had flights to Scillies and the weather was beautifully clear so that I could fix the aircraft’s position accurately to within a few yards, so for the fun of it I tuned in Lima Mike’s Automatic Direction Finder to the B.B.C. frequency to see what happened. It was most exciting! Along the middle portion of the route between Plymouth and Redruth the relative field strengths of the two transmitters were significantly large in relation to each other and they had a merry tug of war and pulled the ADF needle all over the place. But as soon as I got within I5 miles of either station, the needle settled down and began to give bearings of reasonable approximation. At I0 miles the accuracy became much greater, but the quite splendid thing was that at 5 miles range the needle locked on to the transmitter and was as accurate as any radio-navigational beacon!

Muttering an Archimedean “Eureka” under my breath I returned to Plymouth and sat down with my ordnance map to work out my own private instrument let-down procedure for the airport. During the next few weeks I diverted every one of my flights in clear weather so that I could try it out in varying wind conditions.

It was terrific! On the final run-in over Plymouth Sound it gave an absolutely accurate position as I passed right overhead the B.B.C. 2.5 miles from the aerodrome boundary—just over a minute and a half from landing. And there were no obstructions anywhere—the highest point to be found was the  runway itself.

As soon as I was satisfied that it was not only practicable but good, I went into a close huddle with ‘Tug’ Wilson and between us we evolved the full procedure so that he would pass me my QDMs from the homer whilst simultaneously I was also getting them from my own Direction Finder homing on to the B.B.C. Thus, to be certain of accuracy, I could monitor one facility against the other—I could wear my belt and braces at the same time.

And so, with the weak link now strengthened, I surveyed my route again with its new coverage of radio check points and landing aids— Exeter— Berry HeadPlymouth— abeam St. Mawgan Redruth— St. Mary’s. With unsophisticated equipment and a bit of resource, I had produced my own private instant do-it-yourself airway—an airway to the isles.

Let the weather do its worst!       


The Personal Touch

IN March, 1962, my accountant produced my first balance sheet. The result of my efforts during the previous twelve months was a loss of £2,210!

The news came like a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. I had expected a sizeable loss and was quite prepared to regard it as a sort of investment which must be made in order to get my airline on to its feet.

But not that much !

It was very depressing—immediately I succeeded in disposing of one threat of complete annihilation I found myself to be facing another. I had come a long way in finding the answer to my licensing and operation problems only to discover that I was now confronted with the grim spectre of insolvency.

During the years preceding my own venture, the progress of civil air transport had been littered with the corpses of defunct airlines who had gone to the wall because they could not make scheduled services pay. The economics involved are easy to understand but the profits difficult to realise. If the aircraft utilisation is two hundred hours a year and the passenger load factor is a hundred per cent, the airline will lose money because, although every seat is sold, the running costs per hour of the  aeroplane will be prohibitive. If the aircraft utilisation is a thousand hours a year and the passenger load factor is forty-five  per cent, again the airline will lose money because there are too many empty seats. Only if the right ratio between the two is achieved, will it be possible to show a profit.

To make a financial success of my services to the Isles of Scilly I knew I must run flights nearly every day of the week and at the same time realise a passenger load factor of nearly seventy per cent. The figure sounds easy but in practice the aircraft must be full most of the time to achieve it. There might be little or no difficulty in filling all the seats on Saturdays during the summer but the same did not apply to weekdays  from Monday to Friday when the demand was much less. And it only needed the odd flight now and again with one or two passengers aboard to pull the vital load factor down into the red.

And so, having heard everything my accountants had had to say, I now knew I must be much quicker off the mark than I had supposed would be necessary to make my services attractive to the public. And this thought brought home to me with a horrible crunch that I was in direct competition with nothing less than British European Airways. True, they were operating Rapide aircraft the same as I was, but there was a vast difference between the virtually unlimited resources of the mighty State Corporation and the absurd little one-man-band that I called Mayflower. They had the organisation, the  know-how, and the personnel with which to provide the travelling public with a first-class service and in fact had been doing just that for over twenty years.

Problem: How does the little man tackle a situation like that? He can never hope to present an image that will compare with Big Brother. So what does he do?

Answer: If he’s got a grain of sense he won’t even try to look big. Much better to capitalise the natural advantages of being small. To concentrate on the little personal things that people take notice of.

The personal touch! Of course—it’s the only answer to be found anywhere by the struggling individualist who hopes to survive against the Juggernaut of vested interest. And it’s why Mrs. Jones continues to shop with the village grocer in spite of the cut prices and strip lighting of the supermarket down the  road.

This I decided was to be the Mayflower philosophy which would win us recognition. The first step needed was to get the airline better known to the public, but I had very little money to spend on advertising although I knew how the personal touch could help.

I had printed in gorgeous blue fifteen thousand slips to advertise Mayflower Air Services. The lower part of the slip was perforated as a tear-off coupon with spaces for people to fill in the flights they required, their dates of travel, and the number of passengers. Then I took all the slips over to Scillies and first of all left ten thousand of them with Mr. Phillips, the Clerk of the Council, who very kindly gave instructions to have one slip enclosed with each copy of the Council’s oflicial brochure which was sent out to enquirers. I was told the Council sent out about sixteen thousand of these every year so I arranged for more slips to be printed.

I continued the good work by making personal contact with the principal hotel and guest house proprietors in the Isles and here I received some powerful assistance from the indefatigable Frank Cannon who took me round in his minibus and introduced me to many of them that I didn’t yet know. We gave each a supply of the slips and asked for their co-operation in enclosing one in each of their replies to enquiries for accommodation or bookings. I was very careful to stress that the slips were in specially lightweight paper and would involve no extra cost in postage. Most of the hotel-keepers were extremely friendly and promised to do this, but I knew that with the caution of all islanders, they would reserve their recommendations about the service until they knew a little more about Mayflower’s reliability. I left the Isles feeling that excellent work had been done and vastly heartened by the way in which Frank had joined forces with me. We had already come a long  way since the beginning of our association and so far as he was concerned, in the Isles he was Mayflower.

Within a couple of weeks, the first of the tear-off coupons began to trickle back to Plymouth with their enquiries for seats, and the game started.

By mid-March came a great event which increased Mayflower’s personnel by a hundred per cent. Virginia joined me to take over her new job as traffic manager.

There had never existed in my mind the slightest doubt as to the immeasurable superiority of the male in his own element and, in common with most men, I held the rooted conviction that in the female one can have either charm and attractiveness on the one hand or else functional efficiency on the other, but not both. Therefore I expected Virginia just to help me out without making too much of a mess of things. So with a highly satisfying feeling of male grandeur, I talked down to the Little Woman to instruct her just how things were to be done.

She didn’t say a thing.

It was during the second week after she’d started that the male ego received its first puncture. I was checking over the bookings chart and I pointed out what seemed to be a mistake:

“Think you’ve boobed here, darling, we can’t take these two—the flight’s full already.”

Two lovely green eyes and a little knowing smile.

“Take another look—it’s the morning flight I’ve booked them on.”

I looked again at the entry. “Dammit, so it is. But they live in London and judging from the notepaper and the address they don’t seem the sort of people who’ll relish the midnight train from Paddington and then hang about Plymouth at crack of dawn waiting to catch our 101 which leaves at nine-fifteen.”

“They’re not coming down on the midnight train. They’re  travelling on Friday afternoon and stopping the night in Plymouth so that they will quite comfortably catch the morning flight.”

I was nonplussed: “But they’re going to find that pretty expensive.”

“They don’t seem to mind. Look, darling, I’m finding that it’s quite easy to sell seats on the afternoon flights from both Plymouth and Exeter—it’s the nine-fifteen from Plymouth that’s the unpopular one for the long-distance passengers. Now, if we had some arrangement with nearby hotels so that I could book them in for the night before the flight leaves, I think a lot of them would go for it. And that would make our load factors better.”

That was enough for me. We jumped in the car and drove round to see the local hotel proprietors—one right on the aerodrome boundary. Not unnaturally they were keen to have the extra business, so we made our arrangements with them and later with the local garage. And with that Virginia introduced her New Look in the technique of flight reservations. During the ensuing few weeks when I was not flying, I listened to the  incessant telephoning to discover that not only had I got a wife as a traffic manager—I’d got a genius.

“. . . No, I’m very sorry but both flights 103 and 105 are full—I’ll put you on the wait-list in case anybody should cancel, but that doesn’t often happen . . . Of course a lot of people these days are travelling down the night before because they prefer to take flight 101 which leaves Plymouth at nine-fifteen in the morning. It does save such a lot of rushing about—you can travel comfortably and of course this way you’ll be in the Scillies by ten-fifteen and so gain almost an extra day to your holidays . . . accommodation? —oh that’s quite easy, we have an allocation of rooms at the hotel adjoining the airport—I can  book you a double room straightaway if you want it . . . garage for your car? Yes, we arrange that for you as well. When you leave the hotel, go straight to the garage just up the road and pick up their driver. Bring him with you to the airport and as soon as your luggage is unloaded, he’ll drive the car away and put it in the lock-up—I’ll book this for you as well if you want  it . . . When you return from your holiday we shall have your car waiting for you to meet the flight. You get straight out of the aircraft into your car—it’s as easy as that . . . Very well then, I’ll reserve your seats and the hotel room and send you our timetable by tonight’s post. Your seats will be held for you for seven days but please send me the booking form on the timetable and your cheque by return if possible. Thank you very much. Goodbye.”

And it worked. Worked like a charm. Virginia had discovered one of the basic essential truths of the travel business. When going away on holiday, people just love having things made easy for them. From this beginning she developed the theme to its logical conclusion—on all occasions when a flight became full she would go flat out to sell seats on one of the other flights, even if it were on a different day. Whatever happened, no one, positively no one, was ever told there were no seats—they were always offered some alternative.

And that was how we achieved passenger load factors so high that they were almost unbelievable, in spite of the fact that it was only our first year of scheduled services. The personal touch was paying off.

My first service to the Scillies had started as early as 26th February and bookings started to step up as early as 1st March when I had a full load booked by Westward Television whose camera team were doing a feature on the Isles and who made Lima Mike’s cabin look like a television studio with their lamps, cameras, batteries and gear. It was very enjoyable and made a good start to the season.

April, 1962, included the Easter holiday and traflic was now building up very nicely thanks to Virginia’s efforts. Then on Easter Monday, 23rd April, something happened which boosted  my morale to unprecedented heights.

Big Brother was in trouble and asked me to help! By this time I had managed to establish very friendly relations with all the B.E.A. staff. ‘Skipper’ Hearn had retired and his command had been taken over by ‘Bomber’ Wells who had been very pleasant to me and who agreed to undertake my half-yearly competency checks. On the morning flight over he was flying just ahead of me and called me on the radio:

Lima Mike, will you be returning to Plymouth after landing?”

I replied: “Negative Sierra Hotel, we have no services back to Plymouth until late afternoon so shall be remaining at St. Mary’s all day.”

“Roger, come and see me after landing, will you—I might have a job for you.”

Burning with curiosity I went round to see him straightaway. He was looking very cross. One of his Captains had had a very slight mishap—it was almost nothing—a tiny matter of a hedge post causing some very slight superficial damage to Charley Lima’s port aileron. But it did mean that the aircraft was off service for the rest of the day. I said I would be delighted to help, and feeling insufferably pleased, I taxied Lima Mike round on to the holy ground and parked her on one of the two white crosses. Altogether I completed six stage flights that day for  B.E.A. Once again I sampled the luxury of large-scale operation. Both at St. Mary’s and Land’s End, all I had to do was to check and sign the loadsheets and fly the aeroplane—I never even touched a handbag, all the luggage being loaded in a few minutes by their experienced team of handlers.

The day’s work had its effect in consolidating the already friendly feeling which had sprung up between us. But the mere fact of flying to all intents and purposes as a B.E.A. aircraft with B.E.A. passengers brought home to me with stark realism the absurd comparison which must exist in the passengers’ eyes between the smooth, slick organisation of the State Corporation and our own little struggling efforts. All the same, I felt that the indignity of my having to help load and unload our luggage would not necessarily demean us in the view of the passengers, providing we could make our handling as slick as  B.E.A.’s.

What was necessary was some way of eliminating one of the worst bugbears of air travel—the interminable delays and hanging about which always seem inseparable from the business of joining or leaving a flight at any airport. At St. Mary’s there was no problem—Frank Cannon whisked them off in his minibus and deposited them at the front entrance of their hotel in no time at all. But at Plymouth and Exeter the situation was different because there was little in the way of public buses to either and taxis took a long time to arrive.

So we got to work on a tie-up with the largest taxi proprietors in each city to secure a guaranteed service to and from the airports. Then, on the return flights from St. Mary’s, I would ask the passengers which of them had their own cars waiting and which needed taxis, and on being told, I mentally made up the taxi-load. On the flight back I would call ‘Tug’ Wilson at St. Austell Bay and over the radio pass details of what the taxi requirement was and the number of passengers who needed  one, and he in turn would relay this to Virginia who would then phone for the taxis.

When the passengers stepped out of the aircraft, there within 20 yards of it stood their taxi the driver of which was promptly recruited to carry their luggage. The same procedure was adopted at Exeter. The outcome was to produce some of the slickest departures I have ever witnessed at any airport. If the passengers were pushed for time, they could actually be moving off within one minute of disembarking. And they loved it!

One thing however which they emphatically did not love was the verbal briefing I had to give them each time before I started the engines, about flight safety and emergency equipment. The anxious faces and the fidgeting in their seats were alarmingly eloquent and I was becoming increasingly worried about it all. Unquestionably the safety information had to be imparted to them but I felt I must find some better way of doing it. I was discovering something that all the big operators had known about for years—in terms of passenger handling, safety is a dirty word.

But of course they have everything on their side—the spacious cabin environment of 130-seater airliners, the illusion of security imparted by sheer size, and the not to be overlooked attractions of glamorous cabin staff, whose voice is just as interesting as her figure.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Bloodworthy and his crew  would like to welcome you aboard this British What-Not Airlines flight number five ex four to Palma, Majorca. We shall be taking off in a few minutes so will you please keep your seat belts fastened. We shall be flying at 20,000 feet and our flight  time to Palma will be two hours and fifteen minutes. In the seat pocket in front of you, you will find a folder entitled ‘Our Flight’this will contain all relevant information about the flight, including safety information which you are asked to read. Coffee will be served shortly after take-off. Smoking . . .”

The folder looks like the young brother of one of our glossiest magazines and contains beautifully coloured illustrations of the sleekest and latest in modern airliners, of the airline’s network of routes, intriguing vistas of sub-tropical splendour, and some equally beautifully coloured advertisements for expensive cigarettes. Sandwiched somewhere in the middle of all this lushness is the information on flight safety. It’s all properly laid out for you—if you want to read it.

Yes, unquestionably the big airlines know how these things should be done. The unpalatable pill of flight safety is tastily sugared, gorgeously wrapped, and sold to the passenger with a finesse worthy of the corps diplomatique.

But I haven’t got any Comets, Vanguards or Tridents. I haven’t even got any cigarettes to advertise. And if I present the safety information without any wrapping, the starkriess of the printed word on its own might prove to be just as bad as the spine-chilling harangue I am trying to replace. So what can I doI’ve got nothing else to put with it?—Nothing?

Except the most beautiful expanse of coastal scenery in the British Isles. Except the Cornish Riviera. Is that nothing?

I fly over it at relatively low altitudes. I myself know that I never get tired of the view. No doubt the passengers enjoy it as well. And if they do, wouldn’t they like to know exactly where they are as they continue the sight-seeing tour I am providing them with along the route?

Well, well now—that is something. I shall have to think about this. Think seriously. We had some lovely sunny days in April and as I sat in Lima Mike’s cockpit, relaxed and mentally receptive, I indulged myself by taking a passengers’-eye-view of my route as I flew along it.

Shortly after climbing out from Plymouth, there, spread out in front of us, is the most impressive concentration of maritime activity in the west—the huge naval base of Devonport with its array of enormous aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and submarines and miles of docks. Just below us to the right is the new Tamar Bridge to link Devon with Cornwall and spanning the Hamoaze, across which tug boats are fussing their way between the warships. To the south is Plymouth Sound overlooked by the watchful Staddon Heights with the breakwater in the distance. Soon now we cross the shelf-like ledge of the Cornish coast with its perpendicular cliffs, then the enclosed  harbour at Looe where, later in the season, I would intercept twenty or so shark-fishing boats as they put to sea for their day’s sport, looking from 3,000 feet above for all the world like a disturbed nest of sea beetles. Followed quickly the picture post card village of Polperro nestling right down to the water’s edge between the high cliffs, then the charm of Fowey off which sailing dinghies would rub shoulders with the big lumbering china clay freighters. Next, the wide expanse of St. Austell Bay where the milky effluent from the china clay works contrived strange patterns in duck-egg blue upon the darker tints of the  sea.

Crossing the Bay to leave the fishing village of Mevagissey on our port side we are soon over the Roseland Peninsula with St. Mawes lying to the south and looking gay from any aspect. Inland and almost theatrically lit by the sun are the towering spires of Truro Cathedral and right away down on the coast the spread of Falmouth docks. Here is the heart of Cornwall—the land of sheltered waterways and piratical creeks whose romantic history has now become a negotiable asset to trade for the hard currency of the holiday visitor.

Excitement mounts as we now clearly see not one coast but two, as the north and the south converge towards each other to leave as a narrow promontory with its western tip already in sight ahead, all that is left of the mainland.

Mount’s Bay with St. Michael’s Mount, that strange brooding sentinel whose impressiveness has made it the most famous landmark of the West presents the attractive picture of Penzance with the Newlyn pilchard fleet tied up and waiting for the night. And then Land's End itself with those jutting sombre rocks around which the sea never ceases to boil. A short interval to digest the richness of all this beauty and, in the mornings, a friendly wave to the Scillonian as she steams away to the south of Longships on her daily trip. And then at last, coming almost as an emotional climax to this hour of wonder, the first sight of the Isles themselves, glistening . . .

Idiot! Why couldn’t I have thought of this before? I don’t have to envy the big airlines their glossy magazines because I am going to have something infinitely better. They have to put their passengers in jet-propelled metal tubes and take them up to 30,000 feet where they can’t see a damned thing. But I am providing my passengers with a scenic treat which by itself is almost worth the fare. Put it in my Flight Information Folder with the safety information and my passengers will lap it up like Devonshire cream. In time this could become one of the biggest advertisements my airline will ever have. Weather? No, of course they can’t see the view in bad weather, but they’re going to be dead unlucky if they have bad weather both when they go out and when they return. It’s a racing certainty that they’ll keep the folder as a souvenir anyhow.

Once I got the outline of the idea, I became as excited as a terrier who smells a bitch in season somewhere down a street full of lamp-posts. The Royal Automobile Club let me have a block of their excellent road-map of Devon and Cornwall. I rushed round to the brothers Coe who by this time were quite accustomed to the sudden mad onslaughts, and got them to reduce the scale of the map and overprint it with a trackline showing our route in red and also headline it in red with ‘The Mayflower Route to the Isles of Scilly’. They produced a three-colour folder which on the front invited the passengers to retain it as a souvenir of their flight and drew attention to the safety information printed on the back. Inside was the map itself with a list of prominent features to be seen along the airway, the time when they were due at each, and some chatty brief comments about what they might see. The personal touch was going into print.

Came the great day when we got our first supply of the new folders. Virginia took them into Lima Mike’s cabin with her, and after fastening the passengers’ seat belts, she handed out a copy to each one of them. For a time, I used to fly with the forward cabin door open so that I could look backwards over my shoulder and see what was happening. Instant success! They all clutched their folders in their hands and map-read their way right down the route, excitedly pointing out to each other features of interest which they thought might be overlooked. I was careful to notice that on arrival at St. Mary’s, they all put their folders carefully away in their bags, and I had the feeling that probably a good number of them would be produced again round the family fireside at Christmastime to relive their flight to the Isles.

April was an exciting month. Her Majesty the Queen Mother was to open the new Tamar Bridge on the 26th and on the 27th she was to visit the Isles of Scilly. John Tanton had booked the whole of Lima Mike’s capacity for his camera team and their equipment to cover the event for B.B.C. Television. I had arranged to standby at St. Mary’s and rush them back to Plymouth in a specially early afternoon flight so that the programme could be televised on the evening of the 27th. We all  prayed for good weather.

Came Friday the 27th and for once the weather was wonderful and I got airborne on the dot of schedule with Donald Kerr the producer and his team. I don’t remember ever seeing the Isles look so gay as they did that morning, as if specially in honour of the royal visitor. The sky was lightly scattered with little tufts of fair weather cumulus and sunshine was continuous.

I did several circuits over the Isles so that the cameraman could take shots of the royal yacht, a pretty sight riding at anchor in St. Mary's Roads. The town was decked with bunting and appeared in a very gay mood, and as I approached to land, the aerodrome showed an unusual splash of colour from the bright red of the two helicopters of the Queen’s Flight.  These were positioned there to take the royal visitor over to Tresco where she was due to lunch at the Abbey with Lieutenant Commander Dorrien Smith.

After Donald Kerr and his boys had left to set up their  cameras, I stayed on at the aerodrome in case they should need Lima Mike for some more air shots. I had arranged with them that I would drive in to the town later on, having been invited to attend a cocktail party aboard the Scillonian. For the time being I was very content to stay on at the aerodrome and climbed aboard one of the helicopters and had a very interesting chat with the skipper.

Her Majesty was due to arrive shortly for her flight to Tresco so both the choppers started engines and positioned on Runway 28. I was invited to come over and join the gathering who had assembled outside the passenger hall where the Ministry of Aviation Representative and the B.E.A. Traffic Superintendent were heading a large reception party. I refused this invitation, courteously I hope, and decided to remain where I was down the road on the grass of my normal parking area, alone with Lima Mike.

The royal party was due to arrive at any moment, so I pulled Lima Mike’s tail round so that she faced exactly square with and head on towards the road. Then I checked my uniform for proper order, saw that my leather gloves were done up, and paced up and down between wing-tip and the aerodrome signals area. While I was waiting I recalled past days in the R.A.F. and the ceremonial parades for Royal visits. I could almost hear the clear-cut voice of command: Officers will take  past in Review Order.

When I saw the royal car approaching I made a brisk right turn and marched forward to align myself exactly abeam to Lima Mike’s leading edge and there came stiffly to attention. As the Duchy Land Rover drove by I came up smartly to the salute for the first time in thirteen years.

It passed, and Lima Mike and I were favoured with a smile and a handwave—just for the two of us.

In a queer sort of way I suppose, you might call it the personal touch all over again.

But in a different sort of way.       


The Daily Mail Get-Ahead Contest, 1962

IT was way back in December, 1961, just before Christmas, that I had first read in my Daily Mail about the1962 Get-Ahead Contest. The details were most intriguing and announced a challenge:




They went on to say that the winner of the Contest would receive the staggering prize of £10,000. In addition there were three more prizes for the runners-up together with an award of £2 for every point awarded by the judges to contestants appearing in each television heat. The semi-finals would be judged on B.B.C. Television on 10th and 17th May and the final would be televised on 24th May, 1962.

For several years past I had been an ardent fan of these ‘On the Spot’ programmes, and I never missed one of the series if I could help it.

I am the sort of personality to whom this sort of thing makes an instant appeal. In my view, this real life drama—authentic blood and guts stuff which provides a black-and-white photographic presentation of the actual forces that make people tick—is stimulating entertainment.

And now during the early part of 1962, the Daily Mail who had inherited the series earlier from the News Chronicle, had doubled the prize money and were throwing open the door to prosperity to any British resident who was running his own  business.

I looked again at the challenge . . .

Wasn’t it just the teeniest bit vulgar? I mean the sort of thing one put in the same category as a beauty contest, with triteness and tycoonery to replace the bosoms and backsides . . .?

On the other hand, £10,000 without risking a sixpence in stake money is an awful lot of cash.

Well, I suppose I could send for the entry form—can’t be any harm in that—can there? Just take a look over it and then chuck it in the fire.

I didn’t chuck it in the fire.

I looked at it and at the banality of the opening questionsdetails of present occupation, qualifications, business experience, and one’s proposals for using the £10,000, if one won  it. Followed the remaining page and a half of lined space for the details.

How the hell can I possibly condense the Mayflower story into a miserable page and a half? Bit of a challenge though. Have to make every word count. Now let me see, suppose I were to make a tabloid version of the story so far—purely for the fun of the thing of course—how would it go?

Before I had covered even the highlights of the story, I ran out of space on the entry form and had to use a sheet of plain notepaper to finish it.

Then, as I sat back and read the whole thing through, my teeth came on edge. Dreadful. Quite, quite dreadful. A brash, trumpeting, potted epic of self-aggrandizement in the worst possible taste. Earthy and so theatrical that I might just as well have finished up with ‘God save the Queen’.

But I’ll bet all the tea in China they don’t get an entry from anyone else who is running an airline. It might be a lot of  things, but it’s certainly unique.

Well, why not have a go? Might as well put it in an envelope and post it as throw it in the fire.

I posted it just after Christmas. The Daily Mail graciously acknowledged my entry with a  printed post card.

Came the end of January and nothing happened. By mid-February I was fairly well satisfied that my entry had gone down the drain—obviously an airline was just a bit too dicey for this Contest. But I felt slightly peeved that I’d had no word at all—surely a short note to express polite regrets would have been no trouble? By the end of February I had forgotten all about it—my scheduled services had started on the 26th. By early March of course things had started to hot up, Virginia had joined me, and between us we had our hands full—far too full to devote even the remotest thought to the frivolities of newspaper contests.

Then on 12th March the bolt came out of the blueliterally blue, for even the typing was blue. The letter was from a Mr. Cottis. Of the Daily Mail. It had been decided that my entry was one which merited further consideration. A meeting had been arranged for the morning of Tuesday, 27th March, at the Clarendon Court Hotel, Maida Vale, London, W.9. Would I please attend and bring with me all evidence and papers relating to my business?


I decided to stay the night in London Monday the 26th so that I would be rested, fresh, and ready for the ordeal. For I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. From the cinema and television dramas about the press I had gained a startlingly clear picture of the kind of men who run our great national dailies. Gaunt, haggard, tight-lipped, monosyllabic cynics, clad in shirtsleeves, loosened ties and eyeshades, who spent  twenty hours in every day spitting their stories into the mouthpieces of red hot telephones and living on a perpetual diet of cigarettes and aspirins, to die of ulcers before they reached the age of forty.

So I fortified myself with a good night’s sleep and an execellent breakfast. Tuesday morning, the 27th, was crisp, bright and sunny, and as I swung into the warm comfortable foyer of the Clarendon Court Hotel, I felt as nearly in my right mind as possible, and fit and ready to be torn to pieces by the jackals of  Fleet Street.

Before I had had time to enquire at the reception desk, the first of the jackals approached me to enquire my name, On being told, he introduced himself as Cyril Higgs, of the Daily Mail. I felt that something must be wrong somewhere. He was a tubby and extremely aflable character with an unexpectedly charming manner. His welcome was so warm and friendly as to impart the feeling that I was not here as a contestant at all, but as a guest for whom nothing is too much trouble. To begin with I thought that I was being given a slight overdose of West End suavity—but I was quite wrong. The reason why Mr. Higgs appeared to be such an awfully nice chap was simply that he  was—an awfully nice chap.

He then led me into the small lounge and there introduced me to Mr. Cottis who was organising the Contest. Once again I was shaken. Mr. Cottis was small and possessed that social knack of immediate friendliness so that it was impossible not to take to him straightaway. He conveyed the reassuring feeling that we were all in this together, that the whole thing was a bit of a party with a large slice of excitement thrown in to make it go, but that the main idea was for everyone to enjoy himself.

I am not known to Fleet Street and haven’t the slightest idea whether all newspaper people are like this, but the staff members of the Daily Mail who had anything to do with this Contest, organisers, reporters and photographers, were without exception some of the most friendly and delightful people that I’ve ever met.

He then introduced me to some eleven or twelve of my fellow contestants and then, to break the ice, went on to explain to us the form the Contest would take.

Throughout the day we would all of us be interviewed separately by a panel of the preliminary judges. Two of these judges were the chairmen of the Boards of famous banking houses, a third was a well-known patent expert—presumably to judge the commercial merits of any invention. They were all men of considerable eminence in the City of London and they would judge the viability of each and every Contestant’s business exactly in the same light as they would if they themselves had received an application for a loan of £10,000 for development financing. The Daily Mail, as far as I know, has never published their names from which I conclude there may be some reasons for anonymity, so I feel I must preserve this.

The judges’ first task, said Mr. Cottis, was to interview each  one of the forty-seven contestants whose entry had been thought worthy of further consideration. This job was being spread over a period of four successive weeks and we were the third batch to be interviewed.

After this had been done, the judges would select a short list of sixteen who would once again return to them for a second and more searching interview, immediately after which a further eight would be eliminated and that would complete the preliminary judging. The final lucky eight would go forward before a new panel of judges to the semi-finals which would appear on B.B.C. Television and from these the four finalists would appear before even yet another panel of judges on television, who would select the winner.

Having told us what we were in for, Mr. Cottis then called for coffee and tactfully put us at our ease by telling us something of the enormous task he had had in sorting the thousands of entries that had been received so that the judges could make their initial selection for interviews.

Some extraordinary people had sent in some astonishing ideas—one ambitious gentleman had the splendid idea of levelling off some of the tops of the Scottish Highlands and emptying the debris into the North Channel to build a causeway to link Scotland with Northern Ireland. He wanted to win the £10,000 to pay for the cost of the initial plans. A more fundamental concept was an electrically heated lavatory seat.

We spent the whole of the day in the small lounge, each waiting our turn to be interviewed by the judges behind the closed doors of the large anteroom adjoining. But it was anything but dull—gossip quickly broke out among us and the hours passed quickly with the exchange of ideas.

The Daily Mail did us extremely well—Mr. Higgs was the perfect host and before lunch shepherded us into the small bar for drinks. Followed an excellent lunch in which we were joined by the judges. I was beginning to like this—it was taking on all the appearances of what might become a very good party.

Mine was the next but last interview of the day and it proved to be quite painless. I sat before the big table to face the judges and the large anteroom was otherwise empty except for Mr. Cottis in the far corner who was making notes. The interrogation was easy, quiet and relaxed—a striking contrast to the penetrating questions of the Air Transport Licensing Board. Also, and very important for my morale, they invited me to expound in my own words upon anything I wished to add to my entry particulars, or anything else I thought might be useful.

I expounded.

I found it impossible to gain the slightest idea of what sort of impression I had made. The day ended with a farewell from Mr. Higgs who proceeded to reimburse me for my travelling expenses in crisp treasury notes.

I left the hotel after tea, feeling that I had had a very pleasant day in a comfortable hotel, met a lot of interesting people, and all at the expense of the Daily Mail. If I never got any farther, it would have been worth it anyway. But I had a very special reason why I wanted to get farther. Badly.


I had already discovered the tremendous limelight power of television. Even a two-minute feature on the Plymouth news screen had kept my telephone ringing for days. But that was purely a local programme and couldn’t reach the sales medium that so far I had failed to tap—the travel agents. Quite alarming numbers of passengers enquiring for seats had told Virginia that their local travel agents had not only not heard of Mayflower Services but even refused to believe that such a thing existed. If only I could get into the semi-final of the Contest the  nation-wide impact of my airline would make its mark upon seven million viewers. And then by gum the travel agents would have to sit up and take notice. I’d discussed this with my bank manager, and his agitation made me squirm:

“My dear chap, if only you can get yourself into a television heat, you’re made. It wouldnt matter if you never won sixpence—the value in publicity to your business is incalculable!”

There was nothing to do but wait, and the waiting seemed an eternity.

Then on 4th April came the telegram:


The following morning the Daily Mail came out with bold  headlines:       

SIXTEEN REACH THE LAST LINE-UP and gave a short descriptive  paragraph about the projects of each one of us who had made the grade.

On 10th April, the sixteen of us assembled once again in the small lounge of the Clarendon Court Hotel. The party was festive but one now could detect the atmosphere of tension—so much at stake. But, strangely enough, there never seemed to arise any sense of conflict or demonstrations of temperament among any of us. We all felt like school children facing the teacher, rookies facing the drill sergeant, instinctively drawn together on one side of the etemal dichotomy of ‘we’ and ‘they’.

This time, all the contestants who could had brought with them actual samples of their products or, where this was impracticable, models or drawings. As I couldn’t very well bring Lima Mike with me, I had to content myself with timetables, maps and traffic figures, but I was profoundly interested to see such a trades exhibition as they laid on.

A Mr. Clayton had illustrations of wall-heating panels; a Mrs. Norris produced a very absorbing scheme for cottage weaving development in Kent. A do-it-yourself refrigerator project with sectional models was shown by a Mr. Parkinson, and a Miss Helps had a bravely original idea for a West-End showroom which could be rented weekly by out-of-town manufacturers. A Mr. Bray showed an ingenious electric cattle gate for farmers which looked like a couple of fishing rods having a fencing match, a Mrs. Quinnell had some lovely wrought-iron and ceramics work; a Mr. Stribling had invented a new furnace to burn explosive dust; a Mr. Dennis had perpetual price tickets which you could change instantly; and a Mr. Lawrence a scheme for adventure holidays by canoe and camping.

I was specially impressed by a Mr. Goldthorpe who manufactured surgical appliances for X-ray work and for spastic children. His products were beautifully finished and obviously made with loving care, and when I talked to him I discovered that he had been in the R.A.F. and was another enthusiast. I said to Virginia who was with me this time: “If I were judging this Contest, there is the man to whom I would award the first prize.”

Our interviews with the judges were much more searching than they had given us before. After they were all over we all waited anxiously for what seemed to be hours on end while the seemingly endless consultation among them was going on in the large anteroom behind closed doors.

Finally the swing doors of the large anteroom opened and there emerged Mr. Higgs. I think it was the only occasion I ever saw him when he looked other than cheerful.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very difficult announcement which I have to make, and having got to know you all so well during the Contest I wish to goodness there was someone else who could do it for me. But it’s my job to tell you that the judges have now made their decisions and that the eight of you who are successful will go forward to the television heats, while the remaining eight are out of the Contest. It’s very hard for me to break the news to these—I only wish you could all go through, but there it is; some must win and inevitably the others must lose. Now here are the names of the eight contestants who the  judges have decided will go through to the semi-finals on television. Miss Helps; . . . Mrs. Quinnell; . . . Mr. Parkinson;  . . . he’s got on to the P’s so I’ve had it . . . Mr. Lawrence; . . .  Mr. Dennis; . . . never thought I ’d make it . . . Mr. Goldthorpe; . . .  it’s all over now . . . Mr. Cleife; . . .”

By the Lord Harry, we’re there!

The relief was fantastic—Virginia hugged me and then we went the round of mutual congratulations and commiserations for the losers. Some of them looked very pathetic, as though they could hardly believe it, and I felt as though we ought to take them with us.

The following morning we hit the headlines again:

NOW EIGHT ARE ON WAY TO £10,000.       

The four finalists in the Daily Mail Get Ahead” Contest

The opening shot of the programme

The author before the panel

The author demonstrates his route



THE second half of April and the whole of May, 1962, was one of the most hectic periods I have ever spent in my life. The only reason I can think as to why it didn’t kill me is that I am the sort of person who thrives upon the excitements of achievement.

I had to organise my airline operations, I had to fly full-time as its only pilot, I had to think out schemes for developing the personal touch, and now I had a television Contest on my hands. Between us Virginia and I contrived gaps in the schedules so that aircraft maintenance checks would coincide with the television appearances so that we could safely get away to London for the show. But in each case we had services running at nine-fifteen the following morning—a tight squeeze!

Preparations for the Contest started to hot up. Mr. Cottis wrote for timetables, leaflets, brochures, and statistical information to be made up into six duplicate sets, one for each of the two panels of new judges for their scrutiny. In addition he asked for a script for a two-minute film which would be required to illustrate the nature of my business. I went to town on this and drafted it out in conventional script form in successive sequences—video on the left-hand side of the sheet giving details of the shots, and audio on the right to give the commentary.

About a week afterwards, Innes Lloyd, B.B.C. Television Outside Broadcasts producer, came through on the phone to make arrangements for Mary Evans and her team to come down to Plymouth to make it.

The filming was tremendous fun. We opened with a panning shot of the airport and from there to a close-up of myself complete with billiard cue, holding forth, and pointing the cue at a large outline map of my route showing Exeter, Plymouth, and the Isles with a heavily dotted track line running between them. Shots were then taken of Virginia in uniform leading out at the head of a procession of passengers who then embarked. Followed another shot of myself signing the loadsheet and handing it to Virginia prior to climbing aboard. Mary Evans and her team of four were very keen to fly and when I offered  them a trip in Lima Mike to get some airborne shots, they jumped at it. Later came repeated and exhausting rehearsals for my commentary which was at last finally recorded at nearly five o’clock in the afternoon—a whole day’s work to produce a two-minute film. I don’t think I want to be a film star!

Mr. Cottis had again written to tell me that I was to appear in the first of the two television semi-finals along with Miss Helps, Mr. Parkinson, and Mr. Carter. The programme would be recorded at the Carlton Rooms, Maida Vale on Tuesday, 8th May, and would appear on B.B.C. Television on Thursday, 10th May.

Virginia and I spent the night of 7th May at the Clarendon Court Hotel in preparation for the great day. I was a bit puzzled as to why the programme should be recorded on the Tuesday as I had always understood that the B.B.C. featured ‘On the Spot’ as live television. When we assembled once again in the small lounge, Mr. Cottis explained the mystery. Apparently this time, a live programme was impossible because it had been scheduled for Thursday and every Thursday it seemed the Carlton Rooms had been booked for Bingo. So Tuesday it was.

During the whole of the morning Mr. Cottis clucked around us like a hen with its chicks, and never let us out of his sight for a moment. Nothing was to be allowed to hold up the programme now! We were entertained, photographed, interviewed by the reporters, fussed over, and generally treated like film stars. Then we were taken to Regent’s Park to be photographed in the sunshine under the blossom of the trees and then on to the Spaniards for a noggin. Whether all this was a limbering up for the evening’s ordeal or just a means of preventing us from becoming bored I shall never know, but personally I found it quite easy to bear.

Then after tea in the hotel, we were all escorted down to the Carlton Rooms for a rehearsal of the show. Outside the building were three enormous dark green B.B.C. vans with huge cables twining from their innards to disappear within the building itself.

Once inside we went upstairs to be regaled with more tea, and we looked down from the balcony at the complex activity going on below that seemed to be necessary to prepare the tournament arena where each one of us was to joust. Dominating the scene, and brilliantly floodlit by the array of high-powered lamps set up in the auditorium, was the familiar stage-set which we had all seen on television so many times  before.

There on the right of it were the four recesses in which each one of the contestants had to stand for the opening shot, and at the side of each, the small square window behind which the counters would click up the number of points scored as they were awarded. From the central entrance upstage were the steps down which the unfortunate contestants would have to tread as they made their entries, to the left the judges’ table, and then—oh horror—right in the middle of the stage, nakedly  isolated, was the hot seat itself! Just as I looked at it, a workman began to focus a spotlight to flood it with horrid illumination. For the first time I felt the onslaught of the dreaded stagefright.

We were joined at tea by the judges to whom we were introduced and then to Peter West who, as before, was to compere the show. Of course I was very interested to meet the celebrities for the first time. Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith, who seemed extremely self-assured, was very pleasant to me. Mr. William Hardcastle, Editor of the Daily Mail, was very affable but somehow conveyed a shrewdness against which the lineshoot and the display of unlicensed optimism would count for nothing. Mr. George Woodcock had quite a lot to say to Virginia and seemed, in her words, ‘quite sweet’. He had the same measured calm manner which one sees in his countless television interviews as General Secretary of the T.U.C. and I was convinced that here was the very epitome of impartiality. I also felt a faint regret that he wasn’t Welshsomehow or other ‘Woodcock the Eyebrows’ would be a cachet in character.

After tea, each one of us had to appear before them for the preliminary interview which lasted about twenty minutes. They asked questions obviously selected after reading our dossiers but we were warned that these were not the questions which would in fact be asked during the televising.

Later, Peter West put us through a dress rehearsal. This did not involve any speech at all but to convey a little realism he staged a dummy run with Mr. Higgs in the hot seat playing the part of an impossibly cheerful contestant. Then without speech, we made sure we knew the cues for our entrances and exits.

Now, the right entrance, I decided, was something very important. I’d given a lot of thought to it—particularly as I was programmed to be the first contestant to be put on the spot. I made up my mind to adopt the same deportment as one did when paying one’s respects to a very senior officerthe entrance through the door, the almost imperceptible pause during which the arms came in tightly to one’s side and the heels together in a split-second attitude of attention, then the resumption of  the walk in. Splendid—it would convey just the right amount of respect without any semblance of ostentation.

We returned upstairs to wait for the fateful hour to approach and I refused the drinks which our Daily Mail hosts so pressingly offered—I was afraid that in common with flying, televising and drinking didn’t mix.

As if by magic, the set came to a state of readiness, and all was quiet as the audience began to file in and take their seats. A few moments of greetings to friends in the audience, mutual bon vqyages between the four of us, and then a discreet plucking at our elbows by Mr. Cottis as a signal for us to be lined up in readiness for battle. This was it.

We slowly filed downstairs, through the tightly packed ranks of the audience, and then on to the stage where we took up our allotted positions in each one of the four recesses—Miss Helps and Mr. Parkinson in the middle two, with Mr. Carter downstage nearest the audience, and myself upstage.

I was feeling very tensed up by what was for me the almost frightening importance of what was to follow. The moment had at last arrived when, after four and a half months of giddy hope, my airline would be projected throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles to seven million viewers.

We waited in silence. Suddenly it was broken by a voice articulating in sepulchral tones. Somebody was actually calling a count-down!

“...six...five...four...three...two. . .one. ..ZERO.”

Then to complete my moral disintegration, my ears were smitten by the slow opening bars of the introductory music. Even when listening to it from my comfortable armchair at home during the years before, it had always conveyed a sense of doom. But now, with the hot seat staring malevolently at me, its macabre notes were like deadly hammer blows upon a gong reverberating to sound the Last Judgment. I was terrified.

Perhaps that accounted for the near-disaster which followed. Or it may have been just the fact that although television may be a piece of cake when you’re used to it, it's a deadly man-trap if you’re not. One of the things which undoubtedly confused me was the fact that the continuous transmissions from the battery of television cameras focused on the stage are displayed on monitor screens which are draped all over the place. One of them was quite near me and I could see myself in it.

It had not sunk home that, at any given moment, the producer is selecting only one of the various transmissions to feed into the programme and if it happened to be a different camera from the one focused on you, it wouldn’t matter if you stood on your headonly the studio audience could see what you were doing. Failure to realise this vital fact was my undoing.

As the last strains of the Funeral March of the Gladiators died away, the show began with a preamble by Peter West in which he introduced us one by one and gave a brief description of our activities. Then he turned and introduced the judges.

Now at this precise moment there was a cue line for the four of us to turn round and disappear behind stage to proceed round backstage to the platform from which we were to make our entrances and where, heaven help me, I was going to be the first to appear. Unnoticed by me, the other three contestants disappeared at the right moment, but muggins stayed where he was.

How I came to miss the cue line I shall never know—possibly I was hypnotised by the diabolical monitor screen in which I could see myself still apparently on television and therefore inhibited from moving. But in what seemed like no time at all, my blood turned to ice as I heard Peter West say:

“. . . and now we are going to open the Contest with the first of our contestants—Squadron Leader Cleife . . .”

I can remember few moments in my life when I have been so utterly possessed by complete, blind panic. I turned on my heel like a mad thing, tore round the back of the set only to crash flat on my face tripping over a large bunch of electric cables which lay across my path. Picking myself up I used my hand to brush the dust off my suit as I ran, leapt on to the platform where they were frantically beckoning to me, and with a sudden lightning pause, caught my breath and then stepped down the stairs in what was to have been a magnificent entrance.

It would not be true to say that I enjoyed my first television appearance.

It wouldn’t even be true to say that I remembered it.

I remember I tried my best to assume a composed reasoned exterior, but what replies I gave to the judges had gone from my mind before I made my exit.

The judges’ scores were ticked up in the dramatic finale, and Margaret Helps romped home to first place while George Parkinson just pipped me for second, so they both went on to the finals. Gilbert Carter who was fourth and myself were therefore both knocked out and for us the Contest was over.

After the show finished, we all adjourned to the bar upstairs for drinks and final congratulations and condolences, and then Virginia and I left on the midnight train as we had flights scheduled for the following morning.

On Thursday evening I had the shattering experience of seeing myself on the television programme. Apart from the fact that the bright lighting of the set had given me the appearance of a man of eighty, there was, strangely enough, little outward sign of the palpitating anxiety brought about by the missed cue and Innes Lloyd had cleverly cut the delay in my entrance so that it was hardly noticeable. On the whole I wasn’t so displeased as I had imagined I would be.

And then the avalanche descended upon us.

Fan mail!

From all parts of the country it started to roll in. I began to have some dim inkling of what it must be like to be a celebrity. People who agreed with the judges, people who disagreed with the judges, kind hearts who were disappointed that I hadn’t won, friends who I hadn’t heard of for twenty years, chaps who wanted jobs, people who had money and wanted to invest it in my airline, romantics whose imagination had been ‘fired by my sense of adventure’, and lonely souls who, for reasons that they didnt understand themselves, just wanted to write to me. Such is the price of fame!

It was all a little unsettling and I was having unexpected difficulty in getting back to normal routine. However, things began to tick over again and flights continued in very good weather. I had almost caught up with the fan mail, when one afternoon when I landed after finishing a sea search for a missing yacht, I found a message waiting for me. A Mr. Cottis of the Daily Mail had phoned. He would try again at my home number that evening.

Odd. What can he possibly want?

That evening he phoned again. Supposingand it was purely  supposing—that by some extraordinary chance—and this wasn’t at all likely to happen—I might be wanted on Tuesday next—the date for the final, could I be available?

I told him that in a spirit of unmerited optimism I had taken care to keep all the television dates free of flight bookings, so I could be there if I was needed. He said if anything should develop he would ring me not later than Monday.

Curiouser and curiouser!

On Monday he rang again to say that George Parkinson wasn’t well and had dropped out of the Contest. I was the next contestant in order of points scored. Could I come up to London to take his place in the television finals tomorrow?

I indicated that if I were sick of the palsy, if I had to arrive on crutches, yes even if I had to be accompanied by a priest to perform the last rites, I would positively be there.

What an incredible piece of jam!

Tuesday morning’s Daily Mail gave me headlines all to myself:


Rarely have I experienced such a complete emotional contrast as occurred between the first and the final television appearances.

When Virginia and I arrived once again at the Carlton Rooms, the world was my oyster. I couldn’t possibly win the Contest. I couldn’t even see how, in view of the unusual circumstances, I could reasonably be placed anywhere but fourth. But that didn’t matterI had come all the way through this exciting contest, and now, by a pure fluke, I was in at the death. What does a man do in these circumstances? There is only one thing to do—to enjoy myself. And that was what I did.

We went through all the familiar preliminaries and the sense of occasion imparted a delicious taste to everything. When our very likeable Mr. Higgs approached me to wish me the best of luck and to suggest with his persuasive charm that I should have a drink, I knocked back a stiff whisky and soda with relish and told him that if he came to Plymouth I would give him the flight of his life.

When the four of us finalists took our places in the recesses on the set, I felt on the top of my form, the introductory music was a love call, and I was quite ready to make a firm cash offer for the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Daily Mail put  together. And even after I made my entrance—this time perfectly well controlled—the hot seat felt quite comfortable and the thrust and parry of the questioning was stimulating rather than nerve-racking.

Mrs. Profumo, not unexpectedly looking very glamorous, opened up the attack by wanting to know what was the over-the-sea distance between the mainland and the Scillies and what safety precautions existed for emergencies like engine failure. That one was easy. She followed with an observation that air travel was sometimes subject to serious delays on account of weather—as if I didn't know it—what was my record of punctuality? I don’t think anyone there believed me when I truthfully answered that I had achieved a flight regularity of ninety-six per cent.

Next Mr. Hardcastle wanted to know how could I hope to succeed when so many had failed in civil aviation, so I quickly outlined the amazing demand for flights to Scilly and the relative cheapness of the old Rapide. So far so good. Then he asked what plans I had for future expansion, so I stressed the urgent need for air services from Plymouth with specimen times for sea travel to the Continent. He next asked how would I spend the prize money if I got it, so I quickly rapped out my estimated allocations of the different sums to be spent on aircraft, equipment, and advertising, out of the £10,000 which I knew I couldn’t win.

But with the greatest respect to both Mrs. Profumo and Mr. Hardcastle, I knew perfectly well that as far as my particular entry was concerned, the highlight of the show was going to be my interrogation by Sir Miles Thomas. The audience was waiting, I was waiting, and, I beg their pardons, seven million viewers were waiting—and probably wriggling in their seats with pleasurable anticipation—to discover what an ex-chairman of B.O.A.C. was going to have to say about a one-man airline.

Sir Miles opened up with his heavy artillery straightaway:

“It won’t surprise you to know that I possess a cynical and hard-boiled outlook towards civil aviation . . .”

As he finished his opening, there was laughter—the audience  was lapping it up.

He then came in with some questions which, of course, showed his well-informed aviation background. What was my break-even load factor? What route licences had I got for services to the Continent? How was I proposing to deal with the threat of competition? Then for a moment he dropped his guard with:

“But don’t B.E.A. run a service from Land’s End to the Scillies ?”

I was in like a flash with an answer that stopped the show:

“Yes, B.E.A. operate an excellent service to the Scillies. But if you want to get on it you’ll find the traffic is so heavy that if you haven’t booked up six months ahead, you won’t get a seat.”

There was a roar of laughter. In his summary, Sir Miles said he thought I was a brave man but very optimistic.

The result of the Contest is history—Desmond Goldthorpe won the £10,000, and Mrs. Quinnell and Margaret Helps were second and third, and I, as I’d expected, was placed fourth. Naturally I was rather sorry for the girls but felt just the same that the judges were absolutely right—Mr. Goldthorpe was the natural winner.

We adjourned upstairs where a whale of a party was breaking out—everybody was there and it seemed no more than half an hour before Virginia nudged me to point out that if Mayflower Services were going to take off at nine-fifteen in the morning, we had just ten minutes to catch the midnight train. There was a moment of desperate panic when we couldn’t find a taxi and the Daily Mail came again to the rescue when Mr. Hardcastle kindly rushed us down to Paddington station in his car.

We jumped into the train in the nick of time, tired but very happy. I had secured a double dose of publicity for my airline, won a prize of £250, and had tasted the delights of fame for a period which was short enough to ensure that I came to no  harm.

I have recently discovered that I was in at the death in more senses than one, because that night was the last time that this captivating programme has ever appeared on B.B.C. Television.

There have been no more since.       


Saturday, 11th August, 1962

A LARGE section of the British public takes its annual holidays sometime between the first week in June and the middle of September. During that period there are precisely sixteen Saturdays. These Saturdays have a special significance for those concerned with the holiday industry because the majority of hotels and guest houses—and certainly those in the Isles of Scillybook their rooms from Saturday to Saturday.

Thus on every Saturday during the summer season, the available space in our railways, aircraft, ships, and most unfortunately on the roads is packed to suffocation.

It was perfectly obvious to me from the start of my airline, that the margin between profit and loss might well depend upon the success or failure which would attend my efforts to maintain a high degree of flight regularity on those sixteen vital Saturdays.

In planning my schedules, I had geared the whole of Lima Mike’s capacity to provide transportation on those Saturdays to the maximum number of passengers that it was humanly possible to carry. Flying was carefully phased so that aircraft maintenance checks would fall due and be completed not later than the Thursday in any week. No charter bookings were ever accepted for a Saturday. The flight frequency was stepped up to provide for three departures from Plymouth and one from Exeter on each Saturday. The first flight left Plymouth at nine-fifteen in the morning and the last one arrived back at eight-fifteen in the evening. The schedules were critically tight—they had to be! But I had managed to insert a cushion period of one hour into the programme so that in the event of any small delays, I could catch up.

It meant a long, long day’s flying for me and my personal fuel could only be a packet of sandwiches that Virginia would make up for me, plus the odd cup of tea or coffee snatched during the quick turn-rounds.

I had budgeted for practically every contingency except the two over which I had no control. The first was that Lima Mike would go unserviceable, and the second was the weather.

And the prospect of bad weather on this route to the Isles was our nightmare for the whole of the holiday season. If we failed to get our unfortunate passengers over to the Isles on any of the Saturdays, we were likely to have them on our hands until the following Monday morning when of course there were more flights booked, and by which time the most frightening backlog would have built up. There would be no chance of clearing much of it on the Sundays because St. Mary’s aerodrome only stayed open until midday on Sundays—time enough for one flight which was always heavily booked anyhow. There was no chance even of putting any of them aboard the Scillonian because she doesn’t sail on Sundays at all.

This was the situation which faced us at the beginning of June—just a week after we had returned from the television Contest. But right up to the third week in July we had little of the fog trouble which we had experienced previously during April and particularly over the week-end of the 4th to 7th May when most of the south of England was fogbound for three days continuously. It was during this that there had occurred a disastrous crash of a D.C.3. in the Isle of Wight. She’d hit the high ground in the fog and everyone aboard was killed.

June itself was lovely—long sunny days with the crystal clear visibility which is a feature of the West at this time of the year. Flight regularity was a hundred per cent—we ran like a watch.

But after the third week in July, the weather began to turn sour and when it did, of course, it would have to be on Saturdays. It was during the inevitable delays that the personal touch took on its most demanding form. To the country’s major airlines, passengers may be just statistics, but to Virginia and me they were people—unfortunates with but a precious fortnight for their annual holiday and desperately hoping to get there. When the weather delayed themtheir misery was our misery. Virginia made brave efforts on these occasions to keep them happy—giving them magazines to read, organising morning coffee, and wherever possible, throwing a little optimism on the outlook. But we both agree that looking after the passengers during the frustrations of bad weather was unquestionably the most heartbreaking aspect of small airline operation.

Yet in spite of it all we kept going and no flight was cancelled. As I flew, it gradually became apparent to me that whatever my difficulties with weather might be, they were far, far worse for B.E.A. who had Land’s End aerodrome to contend with. It was as the weather got worse that I began to discover that very often although Land’s End aerodrome might be in fog, the corresponding weather at St. Mary’s, giving low cloudbase and poor visibility, was still just workable. The result was that I was getting in with my passengers when B.E.A. couldn’t.

As the rather startling colours of Lima Mike’s red, white and red rudder were seen over St. Mary’s when B.E.A. had cancelled, they became a visual success symbol as my flight regularity slowly but surely began to overhaul that of Big Brother’s and the Mayflower reputation built up. It continued to build up until, at the topmost peak of the holiday season when every bed in every house in Scilly was occupied and even the camping sites were full, Saturday, 11th August, brought a climax and Scillonia at last accepted us as an airline.

After my last flight on Friday afternoon, 10th August, I rang the Meteorological Oflice as usual to ask for the outlook for the morrow. My heart sank as I listened to the worst tale of gloom and despondency that I had heard for some time. A warm front would come through during the night and behind it the dreaded warm sector stretched hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic. Humidity was particularly high and ships in mid-ocean were reporting fog right down to the surface of the sea. The cloudbase would be on or near the surface for the whole of the day!

At a quarter to six the following morning, I leapt out of bed and drew the curtains to look out of the window . . . faugh! There it was, so thick I could barely see the farmhouse on the other side of our lane.

At breakfast we had the transistor radio on the table. The B.B.C. seven o’clock weather forecast gave no comfort at all—the meteorological situation was too definite for there to be any doubt about it.

We left the cottage at seven-thirty for the half-hour’s drive to the airport and on the way it seemed to be improving slightly, and although we knew better, hope still sprang within us. Before we got to the airport it came down much worse again and I couldn’t even see as far as the middle of the airfield.

The show must go on, so I dutifully rang up the meteorological forecaster only to be told what I knew I was to be told. I would not enjoy being a forecaster—we invariably blame them if they’re wrong but neglect to pay tribute to their accuracy on the majority of occasions when they prove to be right. This particular morning he must have been having a very bad time:

“I’ve told you—it’s warm sector all day. You know just as well as I do what that means. Personally I don’t think you got an earthly chance of getting into Scillies—not with this humidity. Of course it might lift for five minutes or so during the middle of the day—how can I tell? But not at any time during today will you be able to take off with any real expectation of getting there. So it’s no good to keep ringing us up here—that’s all I can tell you!”

We got Lima Mike out of the hangar just the same, carried out all the checks, ran up the engines. Then just as if the heavens were a beautiful blue, Virginia checked in the passengers, weighed them and their bags. Then I stowed all the luggage into Lima Mike’s locker so as to have everything all ready if we did go, and then looked round again. While I had been busy, the cloudbase had lifted slightly off the surface to give us a partial clearance and then descended again to put us back into fog. Twice.

The minutes ticked by while the passengers sat in the restaurant having coffee and waiting hopefully to see some sign of Virginia’s assurances that we would do our very best to get them over. I waited on—fearfully glancing at the clock from time to time and telephoning St. Mary’s aerodrome repeatedly to see if they had any different story from the heart-chilling accounts of fog that I’d been receiving. Then Virginia approached me, part worn from her efforts with the passengers:

“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to get them into Plymouth for an hour or so? At least it would give them something to do to look around the shops, and we could tell them to get back here in a couple of hours, say, in case it got any better.”

I looked at my watch. An hour behind schedule already. Any further delay meant that our prospects of clearing the heavy day's traffic would be hopeless. I weighed up the situation and then said:

“No. Get ’em aboard. When the next little bit of lifting occurs, I’m going to have a bash at it. I’ve no idea what the chances of getting back here might be so you may not see me again today, but let’s have a go.”

The passengers looked delighted as they climbed aboard and my conscience tweaked me. They wouldn’t be so pleased if the fog forbade a landing on the Scillies and I was forced to return them to Exeter— forty miles farther away from their destination than they were now !

I lined Lima Mike up for take-off after meticulously double-checking everything—you don’t want other troubles as well in weather like this. Then I took a look ahead . . . ugh! I hesitated with my hand on the throttle levers. Quite easy to taxi back and say I’ve changed my mind. Better than doing something I might be sorry for afterwards.

Negative. You’ve made your decision. Let’s get going.

I pushed the throttle levers open and Lima Mike started to  roll forward.

We were in cloud shortly after the wheels left the ground, and in the clammy greyness of it all I settled down to a steady climb. I made my time entries on my flight plan and wondered what the prospects were for getting out on top of the clouds so that I could fly visually. Lima Mike did not boast of luxuries like automatic pilots and a whole day of instrument flying in dense cloud could be pretty tiring.

2,000 feet, and we were still solidly in it. 2,500 feet, and it remained as thick as pea-soup. But after passing through 3,000 feet I looked up and saw above me the tell-tale brightness of the cloud. At 3,200 feet it became very bright indeed and then suddenly patches of clear blue sky as we steadily climbed out of the tops of the strato-cumulus into the blazing sunshine of that  other world.

A strange and unreal sort of world, this playground of gods and airmen. Although wind at that level might be very strong, the complete absence of turbulence provides no clue to this. Flight conditions were absolutely smooth as Lima Mike slid along with her engines murmuring, never a movement anywhere beyond the slow impassive drifting by of the layer of cloud beneath us which, drenched by the sun, was now a dazzling white, like a vast celestial snowfield.

We climbed higher and I finally levelled off well above the  cloud tops at approximately 4,000 feet and trimmed Lima Mike to fly hands off.

“Plymouth, Lima Mike is now on course at flight level four zero, VMC* on top. QSY London.”

*Visual Meteorological Conditions

“Roger, Lima Mike—you are cleared this frequency. Over to London.”

“London Information. Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mike. A Rapide out of Plymouth for Scillies. At this time flight level four zero. VMC on top. If you’ve no conflicting traffic, would like to QSY St. Mawgan.”

Lima Mike, we have no known conflicting traflic in your area. You are cleared this frequency. Good-day.”

That’s that one out of the way!

“St. Mawgan, Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mike, estimating abeam and twelve nautical miles south of you at three six, flight level four zero, VMC on top. Have you any conflicting traffic, what is your present weather, and are you available for diversion if required?”

Lima Mike, we have one aircraft inbound and 20 miles to the north-east, at this time leaving flight level six zero. Otherwise no traffic. Our present weather—eight octas stratus on the surface, intermittently lifting to 200 feet with visibility increasing to 600 yards, surface wind—two three zero at twelve knots.  Have you ILS*?”

*Instrument Landing System—a guidance system for approaching aerodromes in very poor weather


“Sorry. We are unable to accept you for diversion, Lima Mike. Our GCA* is on maintenance check this morning.”

*Ground Controlled Approacha guidance system provided by Air Traffic Control for approaching aerodromes in very poor weather

H’m. Not much use trying to get in there if we’re in trouble. Gosh it’s nearly time to start taking bearings on them! What about tuning in the Direction Finder to their beacon? That should be it—wait :

Dit-dit-dit . . . da-a-a-h -dit

That’s it—the needle has settled down nicely.

“St. Mawgan. Lima Mike. Would like to QSY Scillies for two minutes.”

“Roger, Lima Mike. Advise when returned to this frequency.”

“Scillies, Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mike, good morning. Abeam St. Mawgan at this time. Request QDMone . . . two  . . . three . . . four . . . five—Lima Mike."

Scillies powerful transmitter came through strongly even at this distance of seventy miles away:

Lima Mike. Your QDM—two five niner—class bravo.”

H’m. Two five nine, and we’re just coming up now to a ninety degree cut on St. Mawgan beacon. Good, that makes us bang on track with a—let me see—yes, ground speed of seventy-four knots. That’s a bit faster than computed on the forecast. Right, I’ll amend our ETAs for Land’s End and Scillies to zero one, and two two. Complete waste of time to ask Scillies about  their weather—it could be up and down six times before we get there. Back to St. Mawgan!

“St. Mawgan, Lima Mike. We’re estimating abeam Culdrose at five zero. Could you pass our details over the landline and advise back if they have any conflicting traflic?”

Culdrose is the Royal Naval Air Station near Helston. Their august Lordships do not normally maintain watch on frequencies used by the common herd, but if they’re doing any flying in this sort of weather, they’ll raise watch quickly enough.

Later: “Lima Mike, we have now contacted Culdrose for you and they advise they have no traffic."

In other words, if anybody is going to be such a damned fool as to fly in this weather, it isn’t going to be them!

“St. Mawgan—thank you for your assistance. Will call again on this frequency on my return flight from Scillies.” If I ever get there!

I looked at the Direction Finder needle. Then at my flight plan. We’re just about abeam Truro. Well now, with the Sierra November beacon well behind us, it’s about time I tuned in the ADF to the B.B.C. transmitter at Redruth. I changed the frequency band on the Direction Finder control panel.

‘Mrs. Dale’s Diary.’

Now what could possibly be nicer than that? All the same I’ll tune out the volume now that we’re on to compass.

We passed the transmitter on our right and I could tell from the rate at which the needle swung round that we were maintaining our track very nicely.

I took a few moments off for a breather and looked around at the cloud horizon, stretching away beyond the limits of human vision to infinity, and then up at the deep blue dome above us. Fantastic the difference between the two worlds! The one up here so incredibly smooth and still that motion is incongruous with the cotton-wool of the cloud-tops blazing white in the brilliant sun. Lima Mike’s wing-tips never moved a fraction; inside her cabin the traditional penny could be balanced on end, and only the subdued rhythm of the engines showed that she was even alive.

Yet in the other world, 4,000 feet below us, the earth was being choked by horrible moist clinging fog that blanketed out everything, and created for an airman intent on landing, the need for knife-edged vigilance without which the outcome could be disappointment and failure. Or even sudden death.

Perhaps, instead of this melancholy preoccupation with the hereafter, it might be a good idea if you paid a little attention to thejob in hand!

Fair enough—back to work. Now what’s the time? Five-four. Let’s take a look at the chart. Yes, we’re just running up to Mount’s Baytime to begin calling.

The position was the one where I invariably made my first call on the Land’s End/Scillies common frequencyall of us, aerodromes and aircraft, could all hear each other while we were working it. And apart from the occasional en-route call to Scillies, my first call was always a position report to Land’s End. In the summer it came several times a day so they were very familiar with it.

I hesitated as I tuned in the radio. Like any ordinary telephone, it was capable of disclosing the slightest shade of emotion in the human voice. Have to take great care not to sound too depressed about the weather. Confident, that’s the form. Just as though we really think we’re going somewhere. Jaunty, that’s the line to take!

“Land’s End, Golf Alpha Hotel Lima Mikeand a very good  morning to you!”

“Good morning, Lima Mike . . . go ahead.”

There was a subdued voice if you like. Not difficult to guess what sort of morning he’s been having.

“Land’s End, at this time we’re estimating Mount’s Bay, flight level four zero, VMC on top. With eight. Estimating overhead of you at zero one, Scillies at two two.”

“Roger, Lima Mike—call when estimating overhead.”

Might as well find out what’s happening below.

“Land’s End, what is your present weather?”

I could almost detect a sigh in the answer.

Lima Mike . . . our visibility is . . . 50 yards.”

50 yards! This one is a horror. This is the dreaded end of them all. What an idiot I was to take off from Plymouth! Well, now we’ve got this far, there’s nothing to do but press on.

A few minutes later he came in again.

“Lima Mike. Met Office have requested some cloud observations at your level. Can you help us please?”

“Roger, Land’s End. We’re still VMC overhead a complete cover as far as I can see with strato-cu tops pretty uniform everywhere at about 3,500 feet except for some cumulus development far away to the north-west. I can’t see any medium cloud. Upper cloud—small amounts of cirrus, well scattered.”

“Roger, Lima Mike. Also we have here a private pilot who is hoping to get to Plymouth today if our weather should improve. Can you give us something on Plymouth weather when you left?”

“Affirmative, Land’s End. Plymouth weather has been up and down all the morning like the proverbial prostitute’s drawers. Tell your private pilot to stay where he is.”

“Willdo, Lima Mike. Thank you for the information.”

As we passed overhead Land’s End in the bright sunshine, I could almost hear ‘Bomber’ Wells grinding his teeth.

Shortly after came the boom of Scillies’ transmitter:

“Good morning, Lima Mike. We’ve copied your details from your transmission to Land’s End. Understand you are estimating us at two two.”

What, no weather? Must be bad if he’s saying nothing!

I held on for a little until I estimated that I had cleared Longships Lighthouse, and then I could stand the suspense no longer.

“Scillies, what’s your weather?”

A little delay in the reply. Maybe he’s looking out of the window to gauge just how bad it is. Then:

“Much the same as your description of Plymouth, Lima Mike. Ten minutes ago we were in fog. At the moment we’re getting a little lifting but cloudbase is difficult to estimate because of the poor visibility. But I can’t see the tops of the Decca masts. Difficult to say but I wouldn’t give it much more than 50 feet. Visibility about 800 yards, surface wind—two four zero, twelve  knots. QFE*—one zero zero six millibars.”

*Aerodrome altimeter setting

50 feet and 800 yards! And by the time we get there it can be anything or nothing. Press on.

“Roger, Scillies. Will continue and see what it's like when we reach you. We’re now leaving four zero for 1,000 feet.”

Now to work in grim earnest! First of all—re-set altimeters to one zero zero six. Failure in the interpretation of terrain clearance has been responsible for far too many flying accidents—It is thought that the pilot may have misread his altimeter when the aircraft struck the high ground. Next—complete all landing checks—fuel, r.p.m., magnetos, oil pressures, temperatures, generators, instrument suction, brakes and flap settings, unlatch clear-vision panels ready for immediate opening, synchronise gyros, safety-belts switch at the ‘on’.

Landing checks completed. Now, handling the throttle levers as though they were Dresden china, a manipulative easing back to reduce power. Mustn’t let the engines become de-synchronised—the harmonic beat disturbs the passengers. Next a microscopic adjustment to the trim. The whole change of power and attitude so imperceptible that the most alert of the passengers would never realise that we had started to descend.

High above the cloud-tops there can be an illusion that the aircraft is stationary and that motion is confined to the white cloudscape which slides slowly underneath us like a vast conveyor belt. But as we go down lower, this reverses as we see our own shadow scudding fast over the heaped tops of the strato-cumulus.

Now we are skimming right down upon the top surface of the cloud—scattered wisps streak by at what now appears terrific speed after the lazy motion seen from the heights above. For a few joyous moments Lima Mike is a speedboat. Then suddenly we are in it, the sun is snuffed out like a candle as we begin our descent through the transition layer to the other world beneath.

The bright strata of the top cloud layer remains for a few moments and then, as always, very quickly gives way to a Stygian gloom. After fifty minutes of sunshine and glare, vision is still unadapted to the changed conditions and the result is a sombre, clammy dusk, chilling and very grey.

A moist film of dampness was,now beginning to mist over the inside of the windscreen. I forced my gaze away from the flight instruments for a moment to look out through the window to starboard. Water droplets were clinging to the struts and I can barely see my wing-tips. My God, it’s humid—the forecaster was right, this is the grandfather of all warm sectors.

2,000 feet, and nine minutes to go.

1,500 feet . . . 1,000 feet. Level off.

Six minutes to go.

Let’s have a double check on the altimeterscan’t be too careful!

“Scillies, Lima Mike. Can I have another check on the QFE please?” 

Lima Mike, QFE—one zero zero five decimal five, and the QDM on your last transmission was two five six.”

Well, we’re holding track nicely and there’s only the sea underneath us. Let’s go down and have a look—might find a clearer patch.

800 feet . . . 500 feet . . . 400 feet . . . nothing yet—didn’t  expect anything . . . 300 feet . . . check my watch to make sure there’s no chance of error. O.K. . . . 200 feet . . . nothing . . .100  feet . . . still nothing . . . FIFTY FEET . . . not a thing. Not a damned thing! Still this thick, vile, swirling dampness—not the faintest break anywhere. This must be the stuff that was giving them fog ten minutes ago.

Back to 400 feet and hold it.

One minute to go.

“Scillies, request QDM. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . .  five . . . Lima Mike.”

“Lima Mike, your QDM— two five six. Call Eastern Isles."

Two five six. That means we’re still holding track accurately. Once the bearing begins to change rapidly, we’ll be almost on top of the aerodrome.

“Scillies, two five six. What makes you think I’ll be able to sight Eastern Isles?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Lima Mike—we haven’t seen beyond the edge of the airfield all morning.”

Half a minute to go. Come on then, it’s now or never.

Throttle back and down a bit. This is the worst part. You may have spent a lifetime doing it but you still tense up, nerves on edge with the sheer, deadly concentration of it. Neither instrument nor visual flying but a hellishly critical mixture of the two. Cross-scanning the instruments with that intense absorption. Follows a split-second glance up and ahead to see whether human eyes can penetrate that blank wall of greyness. Then, back to the clocks again to correct any errors of height or heading that may have crept in. Then another fleeting glance up and ahead—still that vile, clammy curtain of fog . . .

Exactly on ETA!

We ought to be there. I tell you, we must be there!

Do my eyes lie to me or could that be a darker shadow in the wall of fog ahead? Difficult to say. In these conditions, variations in fog density can be very deceptive. Hullo—what’s that? A dark grey patch below, nearly black, rushes towards us and in an instant disappears underneath our nose. Then another. And another. Looking straight down through their thin transparency, I just had time to pick out the foam-flecked waves on a sea that was as black as ink.

Visual! Only in patches maybe, but visual all the same. Down to it man! 150 feet . . . nothing . . . 100 feet . . . hold  it . . .

It’s beginning to break. There’s a chance—I tell you there’s  a chance!

Down, just a few feet more—just a few feet.

A little more broken here. Is that . . . ? No it isn’t!

Suddenly, like peering through a small hole in a hedge, I can see something. Is it . . . ?

By God . . . it is! In an instant magical clearance, I could see right in front of me, so near that it seemed to be almost under my very nose, the dotted white centre-line on the familiar uphill tarmac of Runway 28. Quick man or you’ll miss it!

Throttle back. Full flap. Check airspeed.

“Scillies, Lima Mike—I have you contact.”

Lima Mike, you are cleared to land. Surface windtwo  four . . . ”

But I never heard the rest of it. Long before the controller had finished speaking, Lima Mike had touched down on 28 as delicately as any butterfly and was rolling smoothly up the runway slope and on to the grass field beyond, as though wondering what all the fuss was about.

Lima Mike, you are cleared to park on B.E.A.’s stand if you wish to.”

The holy ground! They must think it’s pretty bad if they’re so sure that B.E.A. won’t be operating.

I raised my flaps and turned round to taxi in.

I am telepathic! Although there were only two figures standing outside on the apron, I could feel hundreds of eyes literally boring into me. They were all inside the concourse, but they were there all right—passengers, bus drivers, airport staff, B.E.A. handlers . . . everyone.

And had been all the morning. Nothing is quite comparable with the absolute desolation of a weatherbound airport. Hundreds of passengers are beginning to lose hope. Beginning to feel that they are marooned beyond any chance of rescue. Newspapers and magazines are read and re-read to pass the time. Sandwiches intended for the journey are opened and consumed. Every five minutes, some optimists who ought to know better walk over to the windows to peer misguidedly out into  the grey drizzle. Outside there is no movement anywhere—not even the seagulls will fly in weather like this. The only sound to break the oppressive stillness is the drip, drip of an overflowing gutter and the inevitable “If you’ve time to spare, go by air.”

Then suddenly, out of the drizzle, there arrives an aeroplane.

Everybody—every man, woman and child—jumps to his feet, and the younger and more energetic of them rush to the windows. The excitement is pathetic. “Which one is it?” . . . “Is it ours?” . . . “Are we going to get away after all?”

As I switched off the engines I could still feel those eyes boring into me.

At the rear there was much bustle, through which penetrated Frank Cannon’s cheerful tones to welcome the passengers:

“. . . And lucky it is that ye decided to travel by Mayflower. Tiz the only aircraft that’s goin’ to land here today, I’m thinkin’.”

As the passengers trailed into the concourse, Frank and I set about our two-man luggage act but this time, more than ever before, the handling of the soft bags and suitcases was punctuated by the explosive bursts of narrative he was delivering about the havoc being wrought by the weather.

“. . . I tell ye, it’s bloody murder down in the town. If B.E.A. don’t manage to get going soon, we’ll never get them off the Island this day. For certain we’ll not get them all aboard the Scillonian—her limit is six hundred passengers and it’s taken up already. Man—there isn’t a spare bed in Scilly . . . oh—an’ there’s another thing. I’ve got a Mrs. Jones. It’s an emergency d’ye see. Father’s died suddenly and she lives near Coventry.  She’d booked B.E.A., but with this weather, she hasn’t got a  hope in hell. Exeter would suit her fine. Can ye do it?”

“Sorry, Frank, I’m afraid I can’t . . . we would be over weight.”

“That’s all right now—I’ve got that one sorted out . . ."

Help! When Frank says he’s got something sorted out, you haven’t got an earthly.

“. . . I’ve told all the other passengers about it an they’re very sorry for her an’ would like to be helpin’ her out now. So they’re willin’ for me to put the best part of their luggage on the boat so that she can get on instead.”

“What does she weigh, Frank?”

“Och. There’s nothin’ of her. Wouldn’t make a hundred an’ turty pounds, even with her handbag.”

“Fair enough, Frank. She’s on the flight. Make her out a ticket.”

“Not to worry—I’ve done that already . . . wait—there’s somethin’ else. When you take off, don’t climb straight up into the cloud—hold her down over the town so they can see ye.”

“Frank, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. So ought I, because I’m going to do it! Now listen carefully. With this weather situation, I haven’t the faintest idea whether I shall be able to get back here again today— it’s that marginal. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. But if I can get back into Plymouth on this next trip, while I’m there I’ll fit number 8 seat. Meantime, you here, get all the luggage  you can aboard the Scillonian. In this way we’ll get everybody we can off the Isles before the late evening flight. Once the temperature drops at the end of the afternoon, there won’t be any hope of a sign of lifting in the fog. That’s all for now, let’s hope I’ll be lucky enough to see you again this afternoon.”

Ten minutes later, the red, white and red of Lima Mike’s rudder flashed like a beacon over the roof-tops of St. Mary’s. Later I was told that pandemonium broke loose and it was an hour before the ringing of the telephones began to die down. Writing from hindsight, it is all too easy now for me to be contrite and to say that I am very, very sorry for what I did. But we’re only human and at the time the temptation to show the flag in a moment of triumph was impossible to resist.

The next problem was to find out whether there was any hope of landing at Plymouth. I left it until my usual calling point:

“Plymouth, Lima Mike. St. Austell Bay at flight level five zero, IMC—intermittently VMC on top. Estimating you at four five.”

“Huh. You wouldn’t be wanting to come in here would you, Lima Mike?”

“That was the general idea. What’s your weather?”

“You might well ask! Surface wind—two three zero, twelve to fifteen knots—visibility . . . not easy to report it’s so variable  . . . for the last half-hour we’ve been in fog, but just now we’ve a little lifting and some drizzle. I can just about see across the field to the George. Honestly, I’m afraid it’s too bad—even for you.”

“ ’Arr . . . what’s your cloudbase, ‘Tug’?”

“Difficult to say in this visibility. But if you’ll standby a moment, I’ll go and borrow a 50-foot ladder, climb up it and find out.”

Mr. Wilson, I shall do you!

He waited a couple of minutes and then came in again:

Lima Mike, advise your intentions.”

“Plymouth. Long-term intentions are to buy a motor-bus and stick to the roads. Immediate intentionswe’ll let down over the sea and come and have a look at you. Usual procedure with the B.B.C. beacon. Request QDM when you’re ready.”

“Roger, Lima Mike—standby for a minute and I’ll call you from the homer. QFE—nine nine three. Call inbound overhead the B.B.C. . . . (pause) . . . and the best of British luck!”

Once again we began our descent into the moist clamminess but this time I had the added benefit of Lima Mike’s Direction Finder whose needle was locked on to the B.B.C. transmitter. Half a minute before the time when I had estimated we would be overhead of it, I caught sight of a small hole in the cloud just over the port wing-tip. It was only a glimpse for a fraction of a second, but through it I could see the rectangular outline of Dingles Stores. I knew exactly where I was—to within a few yards. Nothing is more reassuring during an instrument approach than to have a sudden and unexpected quick visual fix of your position.

Overhead the B.B.C. the needle swung right round as we passed over the top of the transmitter and I called my position to ‘Tug’. But I could see nothing and we were now in driving rain. The main windscreen of the Rapide is hopelessly obscured under these conditions—the only reasonable view ahead being through the small triangular clear-vision window through which the rain comes pelting. It was extremely fraught and uncomfortable and ‘Tug’ was right about the cloudbase—even from the air it was difficult to tell exactly that you had emerged from the cloud, so bad was the visibility underneath it. I never saw the aerodrome boundary until I was almost on top of it, but we managed to scrape in and Lima Mike made another copy-book landing.

‘Tug’ registered his disappointment with:

“Real buddies with the passengers this morning, aren’t we? It’s lucky the weather didn’t turn bad.”

You know, you can go off people, can’t you?

The Plymouth passengers disembarked, I fitted the extra seat into Lima Mike’s cabin, and we quickly took off for Exeter—the only aerodrome on the route where the weather was reasonable. From there we made a rapid turn-round and once again set course for St. Mary’s.

And so it went on all day. The fates seemed determined that we should win. Each time I approached to land, the weather lifted just sufficiently to allow me to get in—incredible luck!

But as I had expected, when the temperature dropped during late afternoon, Plymouth had gone so firmly into fog that  no further lifting was likely until the following morning, so I couldn’t land to pick up the six passengers who were waiting to get to Scillies.

I stopped the night at Exeter from where I telephoned Virginia to ask her to get the six of them accommodated in the neighbouring hotel and arranged to lay on for them a special early morning flight to get them to the Isles, before the ordinary Sunday schedules began.

They were in St. Mary’s early the following morning and after landing I made an immediate turn-round back to Plymouth to embark Sunday’s full load of passengers. It was after I landed the second time at St. Mary’s that there was time for Frank Cannon to tell me all about what had been happening.

It had been the biggest transport crisis that anyone in Scilly could remember. Some hundred and forty odd souls had been unable to board the Scillonian when she set sail, packed to capacity, at four-thirty on the Saturday afternoon, and they were left literally marooned on the Isles. Because of the huge influx of new visitors who had arrived by sea during the morning, there was no room for them at any of the hotels. An emergency meeting was called to see what could be done, and  meantime the Town Hall was opened to provide shelter from the appalling weather. Ultimately their predicament was solved by a special sailing of the Scillonian which put to sea from Penzance late that evening and arrived at St. Mary’s about midnight, when the benighted passengers found warmth and comfort in her cabins and a good rest before sailing to arrive in Penzance for the morning train out to London.

And during all the uproar and the chaos, every one of the Mayflower passengers, with the exception of the six left behind at Plymouth in the evening, arrived and departed, for the most part, on schedule.

Our reputation climbed sky-high.

The Isles from the air: Tresco, Bryher and St. Martins


Results at last

WHAT is human happiness?

It may be that neither the quality nor the degree of happiness are things which can be contained within the limits of arbitrary definition and that they apply differently to each and every one of us. To me the very pinnacle of happiness is a state of exaltation which, when it takes possession of the soul, can make a man greater than himself.

During the golden year of 1962 I think I possessed nearly all of the essential ingredients to be found in the recipe for happiness. I had a charming and attractive wife whom I adored, and who for some strange reason adored me. More, we were working together in complete harmony, and between us we made a first-class team. We had many friends and during the expansion of our work we were making more. We had enjoyed a little of the taste of fame and the excitements of celebrity. And finally I had the tremendously deep and enduring satisfaction which comes to the impatient individualist when at long last he succeeds in transforming his pipe-dream into reality.

As the months rolled by, I would sit back in Lima Mike’s cockpit, munch my sandwiches, and on nice days as I absorbed the blue tints of the water in St. Austell Bay or caught the changing moods of the Isles, I reflected upon the beneficence of the fates in bestowing upon me that which is imparted to but a tiny minority of men—the realisation that there was nothing, nothing in the world I would rather do, than the job I was now doing. I was happy.

By far the greatest proportion of my flying time was now occupied with the scheduled services, and I found myself shuttling backwards and forwards with a flight regularity which was far beyond anything I had dared to hope for, and which was proving to be significantly better than that of B.E.A. I can take no credit for this since it was certainly not the result of any unusual capability on my part. The topographical situation of Land’s End aerodrome had presented me with a tremendous advantage which was beginning to tell.

No one, most emphatically no one, has a greater respect than I have for the magnificent service provided year in and year out by those wonderful B.E.A. Rapide Flights under the command of ‘Skipper’ Hearn, and after he retired early in 1962, by ‘Bomber’ Wells. Sometimes I doubt very much whether the Islanders realise the extent of their debt towards those two very fine Captains and to the other pilots under their command, who kept going winter and summer in sometimes the most appalling weather to maintain the vital air link between the mainland and the Isles. It is one of the lesser-known but most stirring stories of the air. Yet, occasionally I would hear grumbles from those who ought to have known very well what the difficulties were—“If Mayflower can get in, why can’t B.E.A.?” Assuredly, Big Brother had his cross to bear.

But not all of my flights were scheduled services to the Scillies. I was getting an increasing number of charter bookings as well. I became very keen about these, firstly because they were profitable, secondly because they put me a little on the way towards my other main objective which was to provide better air communications for the City of Plymouth, and thirdly because, much as I loved the Isles, it is nice to have a change of route sometimes.

One of the earliest bookings of the year came from the National Broadcasting Corporation of America who had some engineers doing some work in connection with the new radio-telescope at Goonhilly Down near Culdrose which was going to be used on the Telstar satellite project. I had to get them over quickly to Lannion in Brittany where the French had a similar installation. This proved to be a difficult flight because of the Customs clearances, and after embarking at Plymouth I had to take the party to Exeter to clear Customs there, then over to Dinard where once again we had to cope with the Customs entry formalities, and finally to St. Brieuc.

Later I received more of these bookings from the same source but as soon as I had contrived a nice little arrangement with the dauanier at St. Brieuc and got my friend Luke to use his blandishments with the Customs House at Plymouth for similar accommodation at the airport, the bookings stopped. Which was a pity because a direct flight between the two places would have been very fast travel relative to any existing means of surface transport.

Other charter flights took me to Coventry, Peterborough and elsewhere, and then on 1st June came another of my sea searches. This time it was for the Sunday Express who wanted moody pictures of Francis Chichester in Gipsy Moth III, silhouetted against the evening sunset somewhere in the English Channel, as he sailed out on his second solo voyage to America.

Francis had been a contemporary of mine at the Empire Flying School, and the last time we’d met was when I found myself sitting next to him at the Annual Banquet of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators in the February of 1960. I had intended to contact him at Plymouth on the evening before he set sail, but something stopped me from getting in, so we never met. Which is a pity as I might have got some idea from him as to what courses he would probably be steering, although I had not the slightest idea until the late afternoon of the day when he sailed that I would be wanted.

The alarm was sounded just when I was getting ready to sit down at home to a comfortable tea—the first time for months that I’d been able to get away so early. But press work is always like that—there’s never any warning. I jumped in the car and streaked back the eleven miles to the airport where the photographers were all waiting. Nobody could give me the slightest idea of where Francis was likely to be—no one had seen him since he left Plymouth at eleven o’clock that morning.

I got out my charts and plotted a square search area which would enable me to sight any small craft even if sailing well inshore, and decided to fly at 3,000 feet to provide us with a good range of sight. I issued binoculars to the cameramen and took two aero club members with me as well to assist the search—knowing from my own experiences during the war what a long and tiring business it can be. Scanning both to port and starboard, we would be able to sweep an area up to 20 miles wide. Climbing up on the way out of Plymouth Sound, I called St. Mawgan to enquire whether any of their Shackletons had reported a sighting but the answer was negative. Then after about twenty-five minutes out, I sighted a small yacht with a black hull and what appeared to be a triangular self-steering sail astern. Obviously this couldn’t be anyone else but Francis, so down we went in a steep dive for the kill.

Outside territorial waters, there are no regulations about low flying and the only curb to joie de vivre is the need to avoid shipping any sea water. I thought it would be rather splendid to cheer Francis on his way, so I did some very low orbits watching my wing-tips so that they didn’t hit the sea during the steeply banked turns. Meantime the cameras were clicking merrily and the photographers asked for a straight run in. This time I was able to direct my vision on to the solitary yachtsman at the helm and noticed for the first time that he was a hefty bearded sea monster who was scowling so villainously up at us that I felt sure he would have opened fire with his stern chaser if he’d had one.

I waved aside the photographers’ protests as we climbed up again to our search altitude—sea monster Francis might have become these days, but bearded, no. Really, this was most irritating—about the right distance out of Plymouth, a solitary yachtsman, a black hull with triangular sail astern, but it wasn’t Francis. Later my annoyance turned to remorse—there was blackbeard, minding his own business, not saying anything to anybody, sailing his yacht and at peace with the world, when suddenly for no apparent reason at all, out of the blue, an aeroplane dives down to beat him up unmercifully. Should he ever read this and remember the occasion, I hope he will accept it as an apology.

We continued our search for an hour and a half and even got as far abeam the Scillies but couldn’t find Francis, although I knew even if he should have been running before the wind at a dizzy eight knots, he still could not have made that distance in the time. On the way back to base, just as we were abeam Falmouth and were coming up towards Dodman Point, there was Francis surprisingly well inshore. But the delay incurred in missing him before on the outward run had its compensations, as by this time the sun was setting low over the sea and producing some attractive sparkling lights on the water which must have resulted in some very interesting photographs. After we’d got our shots and waved Francis godspeed, I remember being struck by the absurd thought that it was a pity that Francis couldn’t have been aboard Lima Mike as well—this was the  sort of thing he would have enjoyed.

In July came manna from heaven when I accepted some charter commitments to undertake another operator’s scheduled services. Dan-Air Services, with whom I was very friendly, were operating summer services twice a week between Plymouth and Gatwick. They were having some technical trouble with one of their Doves and asked me to stand in for them. It was all very satisfactory because I was being paid for Lima Mike at contract charter rates and therefore had no passenger load factors to worry about, and in an indirect way it put me a little farther forward towards my long-term objective of finding out how to provide the air services which Plymouth really needed.

The first four stage flights I carried out for them went without a hitch, but on 20th July the weather turned very bad with violent storms all the way down the Channel area. Reports had come through that two Viscounts having landed at Hurn had had to call for ambulances to attend to a few passengers who had omitted to fasten their seat belts and had consequently hit the roof during the bad turbulence and sustained minor injuries.

I picked my way gingerly all the way down to Gatwick from Plymouth to avoid the worst of the storms and got my passengers there none the worse for their flight. I was due to return to Plymouth at five-thirty but news came through that the weather there had closed in completely and not even Exeter was workable. There was nothing for it but to spend the night at Gatwick and take off at crack of dawn the following morning to be sure of starting the schedules on time—it was Saturday, 21st July, one of the vital sixteen Saturdays. But the airman’s lot is not a peaceful one!

Just as I was going to settle down for the night, came a panic call. Four passengers had just missed their Air France flight to Deauville. One of them was an M.P. and it was essential that they get there. No one else seemed to be available at Gatwickcould I do it? I rang the met office and discovered the weather situation was decidedly unencouraging— right down the English Channel stretched a villainously active cold front and to get to Deauville I would have to fly right through it. Naturally no one at Gatwick could see the slightest reason why I shouldn’t go— why should they since it was I that had to do it? However I felt that I could probably dodge the worst of the storms on the way over and still get back to clear Customs into Gatwick in time for a reasonable night’s rest before the heavy Saturday that was to follow. So off I took with my Member of Parliament and his party of three from whom I formed the impression that his business at Deauville was not necessarily of a political nature.

Gatwick Control instructed me to clear their zone via Mayfield where there is a radio-navigational beacon. The rain was pelting down with a fierce intensity and the gyrations on my Direction Finder Needle, caused by the lightning discharges, were sufficient to make it useless. So I estimated Mayfield rather than located it and shortly after cleared the zone.

As we passed over the coast the weather became distinctly worse, and approaching mid-channel my lack of enthusiasm for this flight changed into a positive dislike. Right ahead of me was a seemingly continuous line of the most evil-looking cumulo-nimbus clouds I had seen for a very long time. Cu Nimbs, at their very worst, can be killers. Just after the war, Transport Command had suffered losses through them in the  Indian Ocean. At Empire Flying School we’d staged an attempt to find out what went on inside them but it was hamstrung through lack of suitable aircraft which were strong enough. The Americans, better off with a squadron of Black Widows and an apparently ample supply of dollars, mounted a series of operational sorties in which experimental penetrations were made by five aircraft at a time at 5,000-foot intervals. We called our effort the ‘Cumulo-Nimbus Investigation’ while they used the more dramatic title of ‘Thunderstorm Prahject’—an interesting comparison between the English and the hard currency  version.

These vast boilers looked a grim and forbidding sightblack as ink and probably full of hailstones. It looked as though I'd found myself a ‘Thunderstorm Prahject’ all of my very own.

Hurriedly I called, “Tighten Safety-belts”, into the cabin, slammed the door shut, and went into battle. I chose what appeared to be the least active section of the front and went in with my fingers crossed. Dazzled by the almost continuous discharges of lightning and with Lima Mike doing everything short of turning over on to her back, anything remotely resembling accurate flying was impossible, and my control handling was aimed more to reduce the stresses on the airframe than seriously to continue the normal functions of a flight. Navigation went by the board—it didn’t matter for the time being where we were as long as we got out to the other side of the storms in one piece. It had been a very long time since I had experienced such a rough ride and even when we at last emerged from the worst of the front I had to work hard to dodge the isolated clouds, and when we came in sight of Deauville I found one of the huge black horrors sitting on the very edge of the airfield.

We got in at last and after switching off engines I wondered whether I ought to call Control on the radio for stretchers for the bodies in the cabin, but thought it might be more prudent to ascertain first whether or not life was extinct. It was a very startled Captain that opened the door to discover the four of them calmly picking up their hand luggage which had been thrown all over the cabin, and bubbling away in their gay anticipation of the delights of Deauville. I just do not understand passengers.

Much to my annoyance, Control at Deauville refused to allow me to take off again to return to Gatwick. Of course they were responsible for the alerting of the air-sea rescue organisation on their side of the Channel and obviously felt that if the mad Englishman had got this far, it was time to call it a day.

I had no French money or documents and as it was already nine o’clock and getting dark I decided I would sleep in Lima Mike’s cabin and do what I could to get away early the next morning. Faint hope! I needed fuel, and nobody was there to give it me before eight-thirty. In addition I was up against a stiff headwind which slowed me up. On the way over the Channel I became frantic about the time and knew that I  would be at least an hour late at Plymouth for the first of Saturday’s schedules to Scilly. I requested on the radio that I might have special Customs clearance to allow me to fly direct to Plymouth, but apparently this was not allowed and I had to land at Exeter first.

The Customs Officer at Exeter made it clear that I was unexpected, had arrived without notification, and I gather he did not love me. Although I was desperately wanting to be off to Plymouth, he bellyached about everything.

Because of the dalliance at Deauville and delay with the Customs, my first schedule from Plymouth took off nearly two hours late. But the day was sunny and the passengers’ tempers had been mollified by Virginia’s charm and by the end of that very long day I had just about caught up with my timetable.

I did more charter flights to Gatwick but the impressive feature of the latter half of 1962 was the way in which the bookings for the scheduled services grew and grew. The year in retrospect did not show what a hard-headed businessman would have thought to be dazzling results but the traffic figures were well in excess of my estimates. On the Scillies services alone I had carried between 1st March and 14th October, a total of 1,678 passengers, and in spite of a difficult season for weather, had maintained a flight regularity of ninety-six per cent. And I had succeeded in converting the previous year’s loss of £2,210  into a genuine profit, however small. The actual figures are an interesting revelation of airline economics—the total of all fares received during the year was £6,754 and the net profit was £272. This was all I had earned for my efforts as General Manager and Chief Pilot—nothing had been charged for salaries except the pittance that I was paying Virginia.

But the figures signify nothing in themselves. The tremendously important fact was that we had survived and that success was beckoning—I would earn an adequate salary later when I was Chairman of the Board.

At the end of October I put Lima Mike in the hangar. Had she been an animal instead of a piece of machinery I would have thought up some special treat to show how pleased I was with her for the wonderful service she had given me. But as it was I just patted her wing-tip.

It was only a short time later that once again I became restless. I was being bitten, and bitten hard by the germ of an  idea—a bold plan for the expansion of Mayflower. After two years of struggle and by now a professional and first-hand knowledge of all the essential aspects of airline operation, I knew just how it was going to be done.



We expand

MY target for 1963 was four thousand passengers.

When, in an ill-advised moment, I allowed myself to be quoted on this figure in the local press, there were some who thought I was boasting. But I wasn’t. Although the estimate was for more than twice the number of passengers I had been able to carry in 1962, I knew just how it was going to be done and where the extra traflic was going to come from. To hit my target I would have to satisfy three requirements:

First, I would need two aircraft instead of one.

Second, I would need to stimulate the demand for seats on the routes which I had pioneered from the beginning.

Third, I must discover a new source of traflic.

They were three separate problems, but I solved the last one first.

St. Mawgan.

Ever since I started my airline, I had cast covetous eyes upon this huge Master Aerodrome of Coastal Command. And I had cast them not just because it was open for twenty-four hours in every day, or because it possessed every aviation facility that any Captain could wish for. The reason for my wistful desires was that it was situated only a few miles out of the large and prosperous Cornish holiday resort of Newquay.

I knew for certain that Newquay was the one centre where I would find a ready-made and already considerable demand for Day Return excursions to the Isles of Scilly. It was obvious that the provision of regular thirty-five minute flights to the Isles at competitive fares would prove so popular that it soon would become accepted as a normal feature of Newquay’s attractions among the affluent thousands who crowded the large and very lush hotels there. There was no way of measuring the potential but it might well be enormous.

From the beginning I had badgered Air Ministry for permission to operate scheduled services there. But my applications had been firmly refused, probably because it was primarily a military aerodrome where civil traffic might one day prove a nuisance in obstructing squadron operations. It was towards the end of 1962 when I tried again. There must have occurred some change of heart on the part of their Airships, because this time they relented. I whooped for joy and began to make plans and to contact the Newquay travel agents.

The answer to my second requirement was so easy that it was almost done for me. During my winter’s sales tour of the Scillies hotels and guest houses, I sensed a significant change of attitude. As compared with the previous year, they were very positively with us and some without any prompting from me went even to the trouble of printing particulars of the Mayflower Services on their brochures. The year’s work had had its results. I had always known that to be successful with my services I must have the support of the Scillonians, and here was  proof enough.

I had some frustration about my first essential need. The aircraft I wanted belonged to Morton Air Services, now a subsidiary of British United Airways. It was a very good one, and I, mostly stupidly, omitted to pay a deposit on it before I left for my holiday in the Canaries. When I called Gatwick just before Christmas, however, I was furious to be told that it had been sold to the French who have a liking for Rapides which they use in Africa. Confound the French and their African routes—how dare they come over here and buy my aeroplane! This put me to a lot of trouble in hunting down various aircraft only to discover that they were not good enough for Mayflower.

Eventually I found one at Carlisle which to me seemed only slightly less remote than the North Pole because of the infernally long railway Journey. But it was worth it as Golf Alpha India Uniform Lima seemed in good shape, so I paid a deposit on her, submitted an exact diagram of the Mayflower livery, and arranged to collect her at the end of March. Another job  done.

But an aeroplane does not fly itself and this brought me face to face with what I had known all along would prove to be my most crucial problem—who, ah who, was going to be my other Captain? This was my headache. It became my nightmare. The difficulty was if anything worse than I had imagined it would be. I found I could get very keen, probably very competent but inexperienced youngsters. But I must not, dare not offer them the job. One of the basic, unchangeable rules of the air is that there is no substitute for experience. I couldn’t stomach the thought of placing my passengers’ lives in the hands of some very junior sprog with three or four hundred hours, or some disillusioned second-rater from the co-pilot’s seat of a D.C.3. who’d forgotten the task of command.

I advertised several times in the aviation press and they came down to Plymouth for interviews. I didn’t spare them because it was essential to me that my new Captain should realise from the beginning what he was up against.

“Look out of that window. That’s a Rapide. It looks a simple aeroplane and it is a simple aeroplane. But the job is anything but simple. You’ve got to make safe landings twice, sometimes three times, a day on the shortest airstrips in the United Kingdom with gradients that will seem to you like the roof of a house. Compared with any aerodrome you’ve ever known, it’ll be like landing on a cricket pitch. When you’re flying, you’ll be surrounded by rocks and ocean and have only one radio and an ADF to help you. You’ve got to fly it in weather that will scare the pants off you until you get used to it. You’ve got to fly it knowing full well that if you lose an engine, its performance is marginal and everything will depend upon your ability to sort things out. And you’ve got to fly it with the full realisation that if you get into a tight spot, there is nobody else aboard to help you make the right decision—you’re on your own! For the rest of it—you’ve got to maintain a tight schedule so that the public will have confidence in our timetable, you’ll have to do all your own documentation both at Scillies and at Exeter, you’ll have to help with the luggage handling, you’ll have to go down well with the passengers because this is a very personal kind of service which we run. And finally you’ll have to fit in with us as a member of a small but very enthusiastic team. That’s the job.”

Some of them wilted visibly on the spot and I wrote them off immediately. If a man lets himself be talked out of a job as easily as that, he’s not likely to be much good at it anyhow. It was one of the toughest problems I’d had to face so far—with such a small aircraft as the Rapide I couldn’t possibly afford to pay a high enough salary, yet I needed all the experience in the world.

About this time at St. Mary’s aerodrome I was having a chat with one of the B.E.A. Captains who I knew very well and to whom I was expounding on the serious difficulties of my pilot problem. I shall call him Mickey Fynn because that was not his name.

He thought he had the answer to my difficulties:

The man you want now is Pete Loat.”

“Pete Loat?”

“Sure, he used to be down here with us when ‘Skipper’ Hearn ran the flight so he knows this aerodrome as well as you or I. He left to go on to Vanguards but he’s just retired from the Corporation to take a farm near Helston. Pete’s your man all righthed suit you down to the ground.”

With Skipper’ Hearn? Farm near Helston? I could feel my ears pricking up like a terrier’s. Then he asked: “Would you like me to speak to him?”

I intimated that if he failed to speak on my behalf, the next time we met in the air I would shoot his aeroplane out of the sky.

A few days later I when was flying from Land’s End to Scilly, I heard some of Mickeys insufferable wisecracks on the radioradio silence was something he’d never heard about. I called to pass my ETA to Scillies and of course he heard me. Followed a very cryptic message from him. No one else could have possibly understood it, but it meant in plain language that there had been speech and that it would be in order if I were to telephone.

That night I telephoned Captain Loat, and wondered what sweet blandishments I could whisper into his ears which would be good enough to lure him away from the cow’s teats and steaming dunghills.

Yes, he might be interested. We fixed a date for him to come to see me at Plymouth.

I took to Pete from the start. Everyone took to Pete. He’s the type of chap who doesn’t find it very easy to make enemies. He told me that he’d just finished a tour of duty on Vanguards but he had decided to get out and settle down although he was ten years short of the normal retiring age. He’d got to know Cornwall very well when he was on the Land’s End to Scillies flight, and now was settled in his farm at Helston.

We talked about flying in the old days—pioneering the routes as it used to be and the sad decline of aviation to the point when the most important thing inside an aircraft was the mass of documents that had to be carried, signed and countersigned.

Unquestionably Mickey was rightPete Loat was my man all right. I braced myself for the big snag:

“Captain Loat, you will know just as well as I do that the revenue earning capacity of an aircraft as small as a Rapide makes it impossible for me to offer you a salary which is more than a fraction of what a Captain of your experience and seniority ought to command. I know B.E.A. operate Rapides as well but that’s different. They are a State Corporation who are carrying out what they regard as a social service—the money doesn’t count. But I am in no position to be able to ignore the economics of the thing. So I can’t offer to pay a Captain more than the maximum salary at the top end of the National Joint  Council’s scale for the aircraft weight group. And you know what that is.”

His reply was typical.

“If you’d offered me any more, I'd have thought it impracticable. I think you’ve got both your feet on the ground and you know where you’re going. We’ve both been in aviation long enough to have seen plenty of the other sort. Yes, for the time being, that’ll suit me all right.”

I could hardly believe my luck! But there it was—we all get a break sometime. We arranged accommodation for him at a neighbouring farm and fixed up a scheme to provide some flexibility in days off so that he would have a little time to spare to keep an eye on things at his farm at home. The only snag that arose was a minor one. He was still on terminal leave from B.E.A. and would remain so until the end of April so we arranged for him to start flying for us on 1st May. In the meantime I would have to manage on my own.

I got considerable kicks out of writing a letter to advise the Ministry of Aviation that my new skipper was to be Captain Loat, late of British European Airways. The Establishment does not pass open comment on these matters, but in the acknowledgments I thought I detected an atmosphere of approval over this one. Mayflower was becoming respectable at last—even in the saintly precincts of Shell Mex House.

March, 1963, opened with a bang as I swung Lima Mike, fresh from her annual overhaul, into the old familiar routine. It was grand to be back into the saddle again after the winter’s lay-up, and although future planning and the preparation of the new schedules had kept both Virginia and me frantically busy, I had longed for the time to come round when I could  start flying again.

28th March was a great day when I took Uniform Lima off at Carlisle Airport and flew her down over the Welsh mountains to her warmer, and I hoped sunnier, home in the west.

The old tingling sensation returned when I saw them both side by side in the hangar. There may be only two of them but all the same we could now refer to ‘the fleet’ and however much it grew, Lima Mike would always be the flagship. I permitted myself a taste of the sweet nectar of confident anticipation. For confidence had been the one ingredient in my recipe for happiness that so far was missing. 1962 had been a wonderful year—a year of exploration, of experiment, of brave endeavour. But  throughout it all, one could never be sure—the final outcome was something for hope rather than for design.

But 1963 . . . now that was going to be something altogether different! Two good aircraft. Two experienced Captains. Virginia’s expertise. The Personal Touch. The weather problem grappled by the throat. And £5,000-worth of advance bookings already paid into the bank. Man . . . you can’t go wrong!

You can’t go wrong.


The Master Plan

THE story broke in the late spring of 1963. The national dailies shouted it. The travel trade magazines featured it. Even the glossies made room for it.

I had had my ears to the ground for some time and knew it was coming. So it wasn’t a shock, or even a surprise, to me: But, however prepared one may be, the black and white shriek of banner headlines is difficult to ignore, and the announcement halted me in my steps.


BRITISH EUROPEAN AIRWAYS is to buy two 25-seater Sikorsky S-61N helicopters. Total cost of the order, with spares, is £500,000.

They will be used on the Land’s End—Scilly Isles route next year and will also undertake charter operations and development flights.

Of course I knew precisely what it meant. It was the end of an epoch. After close on thirty years of wonderful service to aviation, the death knell of the De Havilland Rapide was to be tolled by the chop-chop-chop of the rotor blades of a sophisticated and expensive piece of machinery. Not immediately, of course, for these things take time. But quite definitely, beyond the faintest possibility of doubt, the old Rapide as a public transport aeroplane for operations in the United Kingdom was finished.

I was besieged by the press. How was this going to affect Mayflower? I thought carefully and then released my statement.

The news that B.E.A. intend to operate helicopters to the Scilly Isles  will make no difference whatever to Mayflower operations which have  always been complementary to, rather than in competition with those of B.E.A. Our policy has always been to offer the public the facility of fast, comfortable travel to avoid the delays and inconvenience of the long journey to Penzance by road or rail. These services have been tremendously popular with holiday-makers and the demand for seats has increased so much that we have just purchased another aircraft. There is every indication that the future expansion of our carrying capacity will be considerable and it is our intention to open up new routes as well.

As press releases go, it was all right I suppose—if a half-truth is ever all right. But it didn’t deceive the informed few who understood aviation. One of them was very quick to tackle me about it. Strictly speaking, it was none of his business but I felt like encouraging him in case the day might arrive when his interest in the future development of my airline might not remain altogether academic. In view of what he said, it might be best if he were to stay nameless.

He pointed to the newspaper column where my statement appeared, threw it on the table, and then sat down and looked at me: “H’m. You couldn’t very well have said anything else. But, between these four walls, how much longer do you think you’ll be allowed to operate Rapides?”

I considered my answer and then said, “The Rapide airframe has no fatigue life and is virtually indestructible. Given first-class maintenance and a plentiful supply of spares, there is no reason why the aircraft shouldn’t carry on indefinitely.”

“Tcha! That’s a political answer if I ever heard one! You know perfectly well that none of these old kites will comply with up-to-date performance requirements and the Ministry want them on the scrap-heap as soon as they can. Of course as long as B.E.A. are using them, you’re safe, but the moment they stop, they’ll start putting restrictions on. It was the same with the D.C.3. and that’s what it’ll be with the Rapide. Once those helicopters get going, the boys from Shell Mex House will be down to see you."

I said, “It won’t be necessary—I’ve already been up to see them.”

He looked very surprised, “Have you, by jove. Tell me, what did they say?”

“Well, they won’t commit themselves to a definite statement.

“There you are, what did I tell you?”

I said, “Now wait a minute—there’s more to it than that. Firstly there’s no question of whether the old Rapide has got to  go.Of course it’s got to go. We’re all agreed on that. But it’s a question of when. Now when I was up at the Ministry, my impression was that they are reasonable people. Their aim is not to put me out of business. They agree that the Rapide has a magnificent safety record and admit the difficulty of finding a replacement for it. As long as I am genuinely trying to find the best replacement I can, I don’t think they’ll jump on me all that quickly. They’ll give me a year they say at least, but my guess is that the Rapide is good for at least two years which covers me until the end of 1965.”

He began to look very impatient. “All right—give it two years for the sake of argument. But dammit, you can’t build up traffic the way you’re doing and then suddenly discover in two years’ time that you’ve got no aeroplanes. Surely you’ve got something in mind?”

“At the present time I’m carrying out an evaluation of the Prestwick Twin Pioneer.”

He thought hard for a minute and then grimaced, “I’m not enthusiastic.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, they’ll get in and out of St. Mary’s all right, I’ll grant  you that. But all these STOL* aircraft I’ve seen have got penalties—you can’t have your cake and eat it. The maintenance costs will make you feel a bit sick after those of the Rapide. You’ll have a hell of a job to maintain punctuality of your schedules on an aeroplane that’s so damned slow that if you have a forty-knot headwind, a good Jaguar might be  quicker. And worst of all, on the longer routes you’re aiming to cover you’ll have to carry such an enormous weight of fuel that your payload will be restricted and you’ll be flying with some empty seats. No, it’s no good—that type of aircraft may work out economically on ultra short haul distances, but not on the routes you are going to fly. You’ll have to get down to a bit of planning my boy.”

*STOL — Short Take-Off and Landing
I tried very hard not to look smug—he’d walked right into it with his eyes wide open. I enunciated my words very slowly:

“I’ve done more than that. I’ve produced . . .” and I paused for effect, “. . . a Master Plan. This Plan is going to be the means whereby I am hoping to create what I hope will be a reputable organisation of substance out of a tinpot little effort which is run on a shoestring. In its broad principles it will not only resolve the long-term problem of operations into St. Mary’s aerodrome, but it will in addition start me on the way to the achievement of something which I’ve been wanting to have a crack at for a long time—the provision of better air communications from Plymouth.”

It was a long time since I’d seen a man look so surprised, his lower jaw dropped. Then he recovered and said: “Well, come on—out with it. The suspense is killing me."

I walked over to the cupboard and got out a topographical aviation chart of the south of England, laid it on the table and smoothed it out. Then holding a pencil poised for a second, I swooped it down like a dive-bomber attack on to a little red circle on the chart.

He looked closely and then said, “All right, I can read. St.  Mawgan. Where do we go from there?”

I began my explanation slowly so that he would not misunderstand anything. “You yourself have put your finger on the heart of the problem when you said I can’t have my cake and eat it. You’re quite right. The type of aircraft that can get in and out of St. Mary’s and still comply with all the performance requirements isn’t going to work out very economical to operate on the longer stage lengths. So what do we do? Simple. All the passengers will travel on two separate stage flights. The long distance stages will take them as far as St. Mawgan. There they will disembark and make a quick transfer into the STOL aircraft which will take them on to the  Scillies.

“Now for the longer joumeys I’ve already applied for a Licence to Scillies from Bristol and Cardiff and later will probably extend to Birmingham. I have also applied for another Licence to operate between Plymouth and Gatwick, so that London passengers can connect with Scillies. For all these flights I aim to use the Heron. It’s a lovely aircraft, can be bought at a reasonable price, and it can have a capacity of fifteen seats which ties up very nicely with either two Rapides or one Twin Pioneer.

“But that’s not all of it. I am negotiating with Starways* who operate into St. Mawgan from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh for an allocation of seats on their flights. I shall be able to draw agency commission on the bookings so that we make some profit on their stage of the flights, but the main attraction is that I shall be able to advertise fast journeys from anywhere in the United Kingdom to the Isles of Scilly in less than five hours’ total travelling time.

“As regards the St. Mawgan to Scillies sector of the route, we shall continue to use Rapides for the next couple of years and then change later when the traffic has built up to whatever is found to be the most suitable STOL aircraft. And that, very briefly, is the Master Plan.”

There was a heavy silence. He sat back in his chair with his eyes so tightly shut that they looked like screwed up slits, and I could almost hear the brain ticking. After what seemed like a full minute, he opened his eyes and looked at me.

“It’s formidable all right. But I can see a lot of snags.”


“One. This is 1963. Passengers these days expect to get aboard the aircraft and arrive in one quick flight. The idea of having to change aircraft with possibly an hour’s wait at St. Mawgan isn’t likely to prove very popular.”

I replied, “If you had the slightest idea of how difficult it is to travel a long distance to the Scillies, you wouldn’t say that. At the present time we’re selling through-bookings on Mercury Airlines from Manchester like hot cakes. They change on to Mayflower at Exeter with very considerably more than an hour’s wait. I can assure you that the worthy ratepayer of Rotherham, who is trying to find out how to get the wife and kids over to St. Mary’s in less than two days, isn’t going to be the slightest bit worried about a quick change at St. Mawgan. Next?”

*Starways have since been taken over by British Eagle International Airlines.
“Two. This may sound trivial but it’s important. Bookings. Unless you’ve got a really foolproof system, I can see the thing becoming an absolute shambles. All those aircraft arriving from all over the place to disgorge goodness knows how many passengers. And you will have had to reserve seats for all of them on your little Rapides to get them over to Scillies. Could be a headache that one.”

I shook my head. “Simplest thing in the world. On the St. Mawgan to Scillies sector, there won’t be any seat reservations. At peak periods we shall run a ‘bus stop’ service. Two aircraft will take off from St. Mary’s and St. Mawgan simultaneously. With four Rapides we could provide for departures from each aerodrome at intervals of every thirty minutes throughout the day. With two larger aircraft it would be every hour. A well-trained traffic handler will simply pile them in and if there’s no seats on one flight, they won’t have to wait long for the next.”

“Where are you going to get your extra Rapides from; they’re not in very good supply?”

I smiled, “We’ll buy them from B.E.A. when they’ve finished with them.”

“Won’t they be a bit ‘anti’—after all you’re in competition?”

I came in with my next revelation, “No, I’m angling to take over Land’s End aerodrome to use as a maintenance base when they’ve finished with it. In this way we could be available, if required, to mount a standby service for them if any unexpected trouble should arise with the helicopters. I’ve written to Mr. Milward and he has arranged for me to have discussions with ‘Jock’ Campbell to see if we can arrive at some sort of working agreement.”

This was his second shock. He got up and walked up and down the room, and then turned on me, “Look, I hate to sound so depressing but I see one very very big snag. Operationally, it looks as though you can make it work, but financially . . . ” he cut through the air with the flat of his hand, “. . . . no good. You’re going to have a lot of aeroplanes and on every Saturday during the holiday season they’ll be flying like dingbats. But from Monday to Friday . . . half of them will be sitting on  the ground—and that will take you into the Bankruptcy Court quicker than anything I know.”

I was ready for this one. “You haven’t got the details yet. Now from Mondays to Fridays, the Heron will be used on the Plymouth to London service. It’s essentially a businessman’s route so services on Saturdays and Sundays won’t be needed. On its return during the morning from London it can carry passengers for Scillies as well as Plymouth. Ditto back to London during the afternoon and in the early evening we’ll have the last flight to bring the heavyweight executives and their bowler hats back to Plymouth. Now as regards the STOL aircraft, there’s an easy answer to that one—Newquay! I  estimate that there is enormous scope for Day Return excursions to Scilly which, of course, nobody wants on a Saturday. So you see the whole thing dovetails in quite well, we shall have different utilisations on Monday to Friday from the heavy Saturday traffic to Scilly.”

He pondered. Then, “If it’s not a rude question, what are you proposing to use for money?”

“At the present time I’m busy forming a limited company to take over Mayflower, and it will have issued to me sufficient founder’s shares to ensure that I don’t lose future control all that easily. For the time being I shall hold nearly all the ordinary shares with a few for Virginia, but as capital is needed, we simply issue more shares.”

“What about implementation?”

I laughed, “Don’t worry. I shan’t fall into that trap. Too many of the bright boys have come to grief through trying to expand too quickly. The Plan is not intended to be in full operation until we’ve had three years to develop it and iron out the snags. Very roughly—1963 will be occupied with the operation of our two Rapides on existing routes, licence  applications for the new routes, company formation, and more aircraft evaluations. 1964 will bring possibly two more Rapides and the introduction of the first Heron to fly the new routes together with field evaluation of the Prestwick Pioneer and other STOL aircraft. 1965 will be the transition year following the inauguration of the new routes and will see the changeover to the Rapide replacement. By the beginning of 1966 I ought to have established a respectable airline to serve the west which will have gained a vast amount of public goodwill, and it will have taken me altogether five years to do it from the word ‘go’. And furthermore, and this of course is pure speculation and probably quite unjustified, if B.E.A. should ever decide that their helicopters are too expensive to operate . . . well, we might even get the lot.”

I eyed him carefully, but he remained silent.

I continued, “Of course, what I’ve told you today is only the outline of the Plan. There will be hundreds of small problems to sort out, but basically I cant fault it. Can you?”

I could see him thinking furiously for quite a few moments. Then he chuckled, got out of his chair again and slapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m damned if you don’t seem to have thought of everything. Come on, let’s go and have a drink.”

At the time I was gratified. But he was wrong. Tragically wrong.

There was one thing I hadn’t thought of.       


Nothing can stop us now

APRIL, 1963, was a pig. I don’t remember any previous occasion when the weather had remained so consistently bad for a whole month. Day after day the cloudbase was low and visibility poor so that we went into cloud almost as soon as we became airborne and remained in it or above it, until a few minutes before landing at the other end. I don’t think a single passenger was able to follow the route visually during the whole of the month.

But for me, it was action stations the whole time because the bookings were terrific. Although to a small extent due to Easter falling in the middle of April, the principal reason was that the impressive build-up of goodwill generated during 1962 was now beginning to make its impact felt and producing a volume of passenger traffic that we had never contemplated even as a remote possibility so early in the spring.

Not a single charter booking could be accepted during the whole of the month—for although we now had two aircraft, there was only myself to fly them. I pressed on through the cloud, drizzle, and fog, to concentrate on maintaining our reputation for flight regularity on the scheduled services. By the end of the month I had logged just short of ninety hours for April—a record for Mayflower and most of it instrument flying.

But I found myself suffering from strain. Not just because of the amount of flying which in that weather was anything but easy, but also because of anxiety which was mounting on account of the vast pile of administrative work that was accumulating. Because of having to spend so many hours in the air, I was unable to deal with matters which were now clamouring for attention, and I was unhappy for I hate a muddle.

The Air Transport Licensing Board had things to say to me about my various licence applications which were listed for hearings at later dates, the Air Registration Board had complex items to discuss about aircraft maintenance cycles, the monthly accounts for March had to be checked and paid, the Insurance brokers would like to talk about renewal policies, the Operations Inspectorate at the Ministry wanted some revision of our weather minima, whilst another department at Shell Mex House was making mild complaining noises because they  hadn’t received from me that monthly nightmare—the Statistical Traffic Returns. These were my bêtes noires and when the time came round to complete them, I would retire growling into a corner and spend the day covering a dozen sheets of foolscap with thousands of calculations to convert our available capacity in kilograms for each stage flight, multiplied by sector distance travelled, into short ton-miles.

When Peter Loat arrived to join us on 1st May, it was a heavenly relief. And with him came the good weather. From the moment he started and the darling buds of May began to burst, there was sunshine and the birds sang.

I ought to have burst into song myself with a hymn of thanksgiving that my new Captain was having favourable conditions in which to familiarise himself with our route. Instead I remember giving way to a mild sense of irritation that after I’d battled my way through a month of the most appalling weather, the moment he arrived, everything changed to let him have it the easy way. I was a very tired man.

But the irritation quickly passed. Pete was wonderful. Easily the most superb performer on the old Rapide I have ever seen, never once when he was flying did I have the slightest moment of anxiety. More than that, he was a bubbling cheerful extrovert that everyone took to as soon as they met him. But because he’d been so recently in command of a Vanguard flight, I was a little apprehensive of that aura of occupational grandeur which so often envelops the personalities of our very senior airline Captains. For years he had been conditioned to the homage due to his seniority and I felt that when he came up against the physical necessity of actually handling luggage, he would certainly feel that he was slumming. But it wasn’t so at  all—he would heave the passengers’ suitcases aboard with the greatest aplomb and treat them like long lost brothers, and they loved it.

Of course he was well known in the Scillies, which helped things mightily, for the Scillonians like all islanders are a cautious people and very wary of strangers. I think it was partly because of this that Pete himself seemed to enjoy being with us. In addition, he obviously relished the freedom of action in making decisions that was such an essential feature of our operations.

Another factor which I think must have maintained the Mayflower prestige in his eyes was our passenger lists. At that time of the year they ran rather high in snob value and Pete had passed a remark about this to Alec O’Connor who was then aerodrome controller at St. Mary’s. Alec promptly replied that during the early part of the season it could be expected that the Mayflower loadsheets would read like pages out of Debrett. This of course was an absurd exaggeration, but to check up on things I took a quick look at our bookings chart to see who I had  been carrying in April. It seemed that apart from a fairly mixed bag of generals and naval captains, the only civil candidates for The Tatler were Sir George and Lady Montague Pollock and Mr. Sebag Montefiore. But now that we were into May, Pete was pulling in the titled with Air Vice-Marshal Sir Peter and Lady Dixon, Sir Guy Fison, General and Mrs. Beddington, Sir Richard and Lady Acland, and Lord and Lady Eldon. I got a particularly pleasant kick from reading the name of Mr. F. C. Bagnall, C.B.E., in the passenger lists. After my several powerful orations made before the Air Transport Licensing  Board since December, 1961, it was very gratifying to be carrying one of them.

The biggest boost to my morale which followed Pete’s arrival was the feeling of companionship which arose on days when both aircraft were flying in company with each other on the  way to the Isles. I am by nature a gregarious creature for whom the part of the lone wolf has no appeal. I had felt this keenly in 1961 when I was absolutely on my own and when Virginia joined me to take over the bookings in 1962, it did me the world of good to have someone with whom I could share the problems and plan the work. Now that Pete had joined in on the flying side, the picture was complete. The three of us together made a small but happy team, and if I may be permitted to say so, an extremely efficient one.

Even when airborne in our two aeroplanes, it was impossible to feel alone—it wasn’t Pete’s habit to be unduly chatty on the radio but the very nature of radio traffic inhibited any feeling of being on one’s own and the various messages passed in the air between us played their part in generating this feeling of ‘togetherness’ which is essential to the spirit of a team.

I began to notice that Pete was flying a track which was a mile or two south of mine and at first I wasn’t clear as to why he did it. The penny quickly dropped when he explained that his farm was just south of where I was flying and he liked to take a look down to see how things were going and wave to his wife. I was extremely bucked about this—a tiny but very human morale booster for someone who had been willing to leave the very thing in which he was most interested in order to come and help us out.

Now that Pete was flying with us, I could of course accept charter bookings again. This was most satisfactory as it was an important part of the Master Plan to do everything to develop air communications from Plymouth. Pete seemed to prefer to fly the scheduled services so I took on all the charter flights myself.

The first of these had been booked for 15th May for a visit by the Lord Mayor of Plymouth together with the Town Clerk, the City Engineer, the Chairman of the Special Purposes Committee and others to Coventry in order to talk about airports and better airports with the City Council there. Extraordinary how the fates seemed to be with me again because it so happened that a well-known aircraft engineering firm at Coventry Airport were advertising Heron aircraft both for sale and on contract hire. So while my party of passengers were away on their civic discussions, I stayed behind at the airport to collect a considerable quantity of both technical and financial information about the Heron and was able to run over an excellent specimen of the type that was undergoing its annual overhaul at the time.

The next charter flight was booked for 21st May and was one of the oddest and most difficult to plan that we’d had so far. An astonishingly cheerful character called Stirling Gordon with exuberant cheek whiskers was selling his pub in South Devon. It appeared that completion of the purchase must be deferred until the pub Licence had been transferred and this had been fixed for the morning of the 21st when he had to appear in Court before the local Licensing magistrates. Immediately following the transfer of the Licence, he would have nowhere to stay so he must then travel straightaway without a moment’s delay to his new home which was to be in Eire near Cork.

I found it difficult to comprehend why there should be any problem in all this and suggested to him, very gently, that the stage coach is now obsolete, and that people do in fact travel quickly between this country and Eire. But why the expense of chartering an aircraft when B.E.A. or Aer Lingus would be delighted to take him?

He said that it wasn’t quite so easy as that. Although his furniture had been transferred with the pub, he wanted to take with him on the journey the remainder of his worldly possessions. These were: his wife, seven large tea chests packed to the brim, a number of smaller boxes of this and that, four miniature French poodles in baskets, one miniature French poodle not in basket but under control, and two cats in cardboard boxes. For some strange reason the ordinary airlines were not enthusiastic about accepting his booking. Could I possibly, possibly do it?

Poor chap! I felt for him in his problem and knew I must do everything I could to help him although I was anything but keen on doing the job. Operationally it was highly unattractive, but not because I dislike French poodles or cats. Between the Devon coast and County Cork there is a large expanse of extraordinarily wet Irish sea with no Channel Islands en route for emergency landings. Ministry regulations imposed a limit on the distance a Rapide was permitted to travel over the sea. The only navigational aid at Cork Airport was a VOR beacon for which Lima Mike’s Direction Finder was useless. If bad weather prevented us getting in to Cork, the nearest diversion aerodrome was Dublin, some hundred and forty miles to the north. Allowing for the probability of westerly winds slowing us up, the journey itself plus the safe margins for diversions would require more fuel than our tanks were capable of holding. After some careful flight planning for a direct flight, I decided it was too risky—if things went wrong we might all finish up in the sea.

So I said I couldn’t do it.

Whiskers was desperate. How could he possibly travel by rail and ship with all that lot on his hands?

I tried again with other routings. If we could find a refuelling point somewhere in South Wales, we could make the short sea-crossing over St. George’s Channel and do it that way. I made enquiries and found that the Royal Naval Air Station at Brawdy had some 80-octane fuel and would be willing to oblige us, so I told Whiskers that the trip was on.

The scene at Plymouth Airport at 11.30 hours on the morning of the 21st was impressive. There began to arrive a procession of huge motor-cars which carried all the worldly possessions of Whiskers, together with his friends, demonstrative and lachrymose, who had come to say goodbye. It could easily have been the State departure of a Middle-East millionaire oil sheikh.

I had previously emptied Lima Mike’s cabin of all the passenger seats except two, and under the astonished eyes of Her Majesty’s Customs and with the help of a squad of volunteers, I supervised the loading of everything as it emerged from the Customs Bay. The work went well until one of the cats, which obviously held anti-Hibernian opinions, escaped from its cardboard box. We managed to recapture it and saved the situation by giving a free run to one of the poodles and incarcerating the protesting feline in the empty wicker basket from which it could not escape but from which it gave tongue to further opinions that were horrible to listen to.

Ultimately we stowed everything and everybody aboard, and although a Pickfords furniture remover might have approved of the arrangement of Lima Mike’s cabin, it didn’t resemble anything that I knew was like an aeroplane. Still I’d seen that all the freight and the animals were properly secured, so we took off for Brawdy.

The weather was nice and we had a good flight and landed at 13.30 hours. We parked in front of one of the hangars and I began to feel there was a good chance that I might get my passengers to their destination and be back in Plymouth in time for tea. Such robust optimism was rudely shattered when I was accosted by a naval rating who told me that the only 80-octane fuel they’d got was in one 50-gallon steel barrel, but first of all he would have to go to the main stores for a chitty.

Now it should have been apparent during the course of this narrative that I am not a person who accepts defeat without a struggle. But when a naval rating tells me that he is going to the stores for a chitty, I bow my head for I know I am a beaten man.

Nearly an hour later saw the same rating, sailing well before the wind and making a good three knots with chitty in hand. He said he would now have to go to the petroleum stores for the fuel. This information served only to depress even further the three miniature poodles in baskets, the two poodles not in baskets, and the two cats, all of whom were now expressing themselves vigorously in their own idioms.

I apologised for the delay to my passengers and we settled down to wait. During the next half-hour nothing happened whatsoever and the stillness of the Welsh air was disturbed only by the yelping of the poodles and the murderous profanity of the cats.

Feeling that I must do something, I walked down to the petroleum stores and was surprised to discover that they had actually got the steel barrel of 80-octane fuel but there was a slight technical hitch due to the fact that nobody could find the pump needed to transfer some of it into the jerry-cans which were to transport it to the aircraft.

However, like those of Divine Providence, the mills of the Royal Navy grind slow but they grind exceeding sure, and in the fullness of time we climbed out of Brawdy complete with our full load of fuel, the seven large teachests, the smaller cases of saucepans and kettles, the three miniature French poodles in baskets, the two miniature French poodles not in baskets, and the two cats who mercifully decided that they would not try to compete with the noise of Lima Mike’s engines.

Ultimately we arrived at Cork Airport, now in the pouring rain, where we were leapt upon by hordes of Aer Lingus porters who very soon made short work of the seven . . . but I don’t think I need to go through all that again.

Not being faced with the possibility of a 140-mile diversion or the need to observe public transport regulations, I refuelled Lima Mike and set course for Plymouth by the direct sea crossing. The flight time this time for the trip was exactly ninety minutes.

This provided food for some serious thought. I had rather enjoyed carrying Whiskers and his menagerie but the flight had been difiicult to arrange. But what was difficult for the old Rapide would be child’s-play for the four-engined Heron. After I returned I studied the chart and measured off distances. Yes, by gad, I was right! Except for Brawdy in the extreme tip of South Wales, the nearest worthwhile aerodrome to Cork anywhere on the British mainland was St. Mawgan! Here if you like was a promising new route for possible addition later to the network of the Master Plan. With connections from Bristol, others from London, yes, undoubtedly there could be traffic. Eire was more than a possibility as a holiday area, oh undoubtedly there could be traflic.

Steady there—let it rest. The Master Plan is only in the formative stage.

But I was going to keep this well in mind. Matters were proceeding apace. Pete’s arrival on 1st May to help us out had enabled me not only to catch up with the administrative work, but, just as important, to force on with all the preparatory work necessary for the implementation of the Master Plan.

Slowly and painstakingly—for I had three years in which to do it—I began to fit together the differently shaped pieces of my pattern until finally they would become interlocked with each other like the completed picture of a jigsaw puzzle, to realise the ultimate shape of the Master Plan.

I had begun some of my preparations earlier in the year when I instructed my accountants to go ahead with the formation of Mayflower Air Services as a limited company. This was one of the first items marked down for attention on my list, and with its implementation I received a nasty jolt.

The peculiar machinery of the Establishment can always be relied upon to produce unexpected and highly unpleasant shocks. I have never understood why it is that nothing is ever written into any Regulation, Order, Law or Statute which can possibly lead to anything which comes as a pleasant surprise. The invariable rule held good in this case when I was informed by the Air Transport Licensing Board that although Licences may be transferred with the greatest of ease from one ‘body corporate’ to another ‘body corporate’, there was no provision anywhere in the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Regulations, 1960, whereby any air service Licence could be transferred from an individual to a ‘body corporate’. Therefore, said my masters, Mayflower Air Services Limited could not lawfully operate the services which I had been doing while trading in the name of Mayflower Air Services.

The only solution to this one was for me to make application in the name of the new company for an entirely new set of Licences with all the long drawn-out procedure of a public hearing. In the new applications I took care to add Newquay (St. Mawgan) as a listed stopping place. By early April I received notification that the Licences were granted, as I expected they would be. I added another tick to my list—we were now both a company and licensed, two items out of the way.

Next on the list came another public hearing of our—I now have to use the collective pronoun—application for a Licence to operate from Bristol and Cardiff to the Scillies. An evaluation of our bookings analyses had shown that there was a large traffic potential from these areas and a future extension to Birmingham was part of the Plan. I used these facts as potent arguments at the hearing on 7th May. Well before the end of the month I was advised that the application had been granted. Another item ticked off the list.

While Pete was busily buzzing backwards and forwards to the Isles, I arranged for some non-flying days for myself so that I could deal with the mountain of correspondence which was now piling in our little ofiice and also fit in the various visits to London to jump on the licensing merry-go-round that was now demanding so much of my time. Others had cast envious eyes upon our success and had applied to operate services into Scillies as well so that in addition to our own application I had some objections to attend to.

The last of our applications was listed for public hearing on 12th June. This was for scheduled services between Plymouth and Gatwick. My friends at Dan-Air Services had quite rightly and properly objected to it as they themselves ran two services a week on the route from early June to mid-September. As we were planning to run all-the-year-round daily services however and the Plymouth City Council were supporting us, I felt sure we would get the Licence. In this event I was also sure that I would be able to reach a pool agreement with Dan-Air which would ultimately result in Plymouth getting some of the services it needed.

My optimism was later to prove quite justified when notification arrived in June that the Board had decided to grant the Licence in spite of the objection. One more item ticked off the list. It was very reassuringnot once, not on a single occasion during the two and a half years, had any licence application of mine been refused.

To a possible charge of boastfulness I would say that some things are best viewed in retrospect—the inner philosophy of the Master Plan is a little more distinct now than it was then. The explanation is that deep down in the very fibre of my being, there had existed from the earliest moment when I had dreamed up my project, a deep-rooted positive conviction that the fates were with me.

However naïve it may now appear, I was sure that all along I was being steered in my course. The West had great need of air communications and, because I was what I was, it had fallen to my lot to be the one to provide them. Within the broad spectrum of current affairs, the significance of what was happening was no more than parochial. Nevertheless, I was certain that within a tiny and perhaps relatively unimportant compass, once again the hour had produced the man, and that I was that man.

I felt justified at long last in saying—I hope without smugness“Nothing can stop us now.”


Saturday, 20th July, 1963

NEVER did June come a bustin’ out all over more than in 1963.
Frequently one of the best months for sunshine in the south-west, this time flaming June lived up to its reputation.

Having got well past the age when I want to battle with nature for kicks, I love flying in good weather. Thirty miles visibility makes me happy.

Flying backwards and forwards over the same route, day after day, never brought the slightest trace of boredom. I could enjoy those wonderful days of sunshine and blue water just as much after the hundredth flight as on the first. I had found my niche in the world. I was successful. I was happy. I had no use for excitements—I didn’t want thrills. Routine was my friend.

When at the conclusion of a hard day’s flying on Saturday, 1st June, we regaled ourselves with a well earned noggin at the aero club bar, I contentedly ticked off the first of our vital sixteen Saturdays.

Traffic had been heavy—more than double that of the previous year. Now, employing the advantages of two aircraft, I had planned our schedules so that the flights from Exeter and from Plymouth to the Isles, were kept completely separate on every Saturday throughout the summer. One aircraft would be allocated entirely to Exeter traffic and the other to Plymouth. In this way, the uneconomic sector between the two cities when only partial loads were carried was entirely eliminated.

It was because of this that our passenger load factors were fantastic—there was rarely an empty seat. Because the Exeter service took a longer flying time, Pete and I took turn abouthe would fly it one Saturday and I the other.

Uniform Lima was a good aeroplane with an excellent performance. But neither Pete nor myself ever entertained the slightest question as to where our preference lay—our first love was always Lima Mike.

Strange how it is that an assembled mass of machinery, a thing of metal and timber, can have a personality all of its own. But anyone who has driven fast motor-cars, sailed yachts or flown aeroplanes, knows that in some indefinable way they can be identified as honeys, as pigs, or as rogues. Lima Mike, quite simply, was a honey. Pete used to enthuse about her.

“Best Rapide I’ve ever flown, Phil. You want to see her on one zero—I give her a little bit of throttle to take her over the boundary wall, bring her up the gradient on the tremble, cut her where it levels out and, boy—you just can’t tell you’ve landed!”

As we steadily began to tick off the vital Saturdays in June, it was now becoming quite obvious that my target figure of four thousand passengers for 1963 was going to be easily beaten—to say nothing of the extra charter flights that were so profitable.

Each time a passenger was landed on his return flight from the Isles, the fare money which had been standing in the bank as payment in advance became ours, and with the season drawing steadily on, it began to dawn upon me with an increasing awareness that for the first time since we’d started, 1963 was going to show a substantial profit.

So far I had only thought of money in terms of solvency—if we could stay out of the red, then all was well. I do not possess the Midas touch and hold a firm belief that money-making is a knack with which some of the most unlikely souls are gifted. I had never belonged to that happy band and so it had never entered my head that in just the third year of operation and with only two aircraft, we could ever make any real money. But it now stood out as plain as a pikestaff that this is what was going to happen.

And already the Master Plan was in operation. Every hope I had had about traffic from Newquay was being proved justified. A local travel agent—the Land-Sea-Air Agency—was becoming really interested and beginning to sell seats like hot cakes for the Day Return excursions to the Scillies. These trips were all made by arrangement and fitted in nicely with the schedules so that on mornings when the outward traffic from Plymouth was light, both Pete and I would position at St. Mawgan in the mornings to pick up sixteen passengers between us for their day out to the Isles.

An exciting glimpse of the shape of things to come occurred one Saturday in June when a visitor on holiday in Scilly had an urgent recall to his office in Manchester. Virginia managed to book him on the Starways flight from St. Mawgan and he embarked with me at St. Mary’s on the Saturday evening flight and three hours later was in Manchester.

This apparently insignificant event was a milestone—a proof of the operational effectiveness of the Master Plan. The news quickly went round Scillies and specially excited the redoubtable Frank Cannon who pestered me to produce for him a specially printed map of the British Isles to show the 1964 Mayflower network for connections from all parts of the British Isles.

On 21st June we opened up one of the new routes with our first flight to the Isles from Cardiff—it had to be on a charter basis as our Licence for scheduled services had not then been granted. And then towards the end of this wonderful month the weather began to deteriorate and I braced myself for the battle to come.

With two and a half years of what could be called combat experience of the route, I wasn’t unduly worried about the weather. Further, it would have been quite impossible to find anyone better than Pete to fly with me, Nevertheless the economics of the remainder of the sixteen vital Saturdays were something which could never be overlooked, and now the weather had broken I prepared myself for rough times ahead. But I knew we were going to take a hell of a lot of stopping. Much more so than B.E.A. who we were told had been having a difficult season for weather with a heavy total of cancellations for the first six months of the year so far.

Saturday, 29th June, was poor and threatening but cloudbase stayed above the limits all day until late in the evening when I just scraped my way back in to Plymouth before it clamped. All schedules completed.

Saturday, 6th July, was marginal again, but although the weather threatened us with trouble all the day, not a single flight was delayed. Another hurdle cleared.

Saturday, 13th July, just for a change was clear. Pete in Lima Mike with myself in Uniform Lima, carried seventy passengers between us. Highly satisfactory and another of the vital Saturdays won for us.

Saturday, 20th July, brought once again the stomach-chilling spectre of delay. At Plymouth the weather was workable with light winds and moderate visibility, but Scillies were reporting extensive sea fog. This was a familiar situation which invariably called for all of Virginia’s charm because the early morning passengers at Plymouth, seeing the weather for themselves to be apparently all right, would become fractious and needed all the assurance she could give to convince them that St. Mary’s aerodrome was indeed fogbound and that take-off must be delayed until there was some prospect of improvement.

There was the usual loading up of baggage in both aircraft and then the deadly waiting punctuated by the half-hourly telephone calls to Scilly to assess the situation.

By ten-thirty-five we were just passing the crucial time limit beyond which there would be little hope of completing the day’s tightly knit schedules, so I told Virginia:

“Get ’em aboard—I’m going to take a look at it.”

Shortly after, I became airborne, this time in Lima Mike—one hour and twenty-five minutes behind schedule. There was little point in both aircraft taking off in such uncertainty so I’d told Pete I would fly a little way along the route and then call back and report the situation as I found it. Pete was nothing if not a press-on type and I knew he would be bound to fret at being the one to be left behind. But I could not be justified in asking another Captain to fly in weather in which I might not be able to get through myself, so it was up to me to be the one to go first.

Twenty minutes out we were still in solid cloud. On the radio I could now hear the Starways aircraft calling St. Mawgan on their way in from the Midlands and the North, and listening I thought with relish of the Master Plan. Next year, scores and scores of passengers, our passengers, would be on board those same flights and lining up to embark upon our willing Rapides as they shuttled their way continuously backwards and forwards to the Isles—tremendously satisfying prospect!

Just past St. Mawgan, I called Scillies for weather and was told that they had improved—the sea fog was beginning to dissolve and now lay scattered in patches around the Isles. That was good enough for Pete so I passed the information back to Plymouth. Too late! He’d already taken off and was now pressing on his way behind me.

Overhead Land’s End I gathered that B.E.A. had not yet been able to make a start but it looked as though there would be a chance.

When I broke cloud just short of Eastern Isles I got a surprise. Visibility had now gone up to 6 miles and the cloudbase risen to 400 feet or more. I caught my breath at the sight of the Isles in the tranquil beauty of the forenoon. Grey and hazy in the stillness of the morning air, they lay quiescent, overhung with scattered sea fog remnants, wispy, flat, motionless, suspended like translucent wraiths—the table-cloths of Neptune. If only this would hold, we’d get through the day somehow even though we were running so late.

On such occasions, Frank Cannon would excel himself, and this time the slickness of our turn-round must have been near the record for the number of bodies involved. In a matter of minutes we had Lima Mike cleared, the returning luggage stowed, and then Frank took over by himself to get the returning cheerful passengers aboard while I slipped up to Control to complete my documentation and take another look at the weather.

All of us who work so close to nature—sailors, farmers, airmen and the like—gradually acquire a special gift, a nose for weather. It is something quite outside the thousand observations of the forecaster, a deep-set instinct for the signs and portents which is beyond credible explanation, but which we seem to follow without the slightest question and for the most part, unerringly. The forecast was not encouraging but when I looked at the colour of the sky, the texture of the cloud, and then at the wind-sock swaying limply, I nodded—we were going to  make it.

As Frank Cannon drove off in his minibus to deliver the first  load of passengers, I switched on the radio just in time to hear Pete calling—he’d made good time and would be landing in a few minutes.

I taxied out to take advantage of the long slope of Runway 15—in light wind conditions the steep downhill gradient gives the advantage of a take-off performance better than the book.

Intentionally I stopped Lima Mike a fair distance away from the runway threshold, ran up the engines and did the remainder of my take-off checks. Then a final glance up at the sky. Yes, this weather’s going to hold—I can feel it in me bones. And Pete will be here at any moment.

A quick look at my watch. Two minutes past twelve—so we've done a twenty-minute turn-round—not bad!

“Scillies, Lima Mike. Take off.”

Lima Mike, you are cleared for take-off. Watch for Uniform Lima reported inbound, clear of Eastern Isles.”

Now to get moving quickly. Briskly up the slope and hugging the boundary hedge. Now nearly opposite the runway threshold—swing her quickly round to take advantage of that little extra bit of forward momentum—a quick check on that swing as she lines up—now full throttle and off we go—come along me beauty—nicely does it—an hour and seventeen minutes late, eh?—not to worry, the weather’ll hold and we’ll make it upin fact if I can get them to organise a quick turn-round at Plymouth, I shouldn’t be surprised if . . .

The last of Lima Mike



Tuesday, 30th July, 1963

“TAKE a deep breath.”

Don’t want to take a deep breath. Don’t want to do anything.

Fog. Dark grey fog. Hazy. Thick.

But not real fog somehow. Not fog whose dampness you can feel or whose sootiness you can taste. All around a dark enveloping curtain, through which the eyes could see, if there was any will to see. Or even if there was purpose to be served in seeing.

No, not proper fog this. Just a chronic overwhelming dullness of perception.

Feel ill.

Ill and I can’t move. Wouldn’t want to move if I could.

Horrible plunging spasms. Got stung in the neck by two bees once. Allergic to bees. Quacks couldn’t make anything of it. Just like a heart attack might be—terrible suffocating spasms and a shortness of air. It’s a heart attack—I can’t breathe—I tell you I can’t breathe . . .

“Now, now. Take a deep breath. Come along now.”

Fog, and it’s dark. Somehow a light burning somewhereelectric light maybe. Doesn’t matter.

Feel sick.

No wonder. That smell! Horrible disgusting smell—enough to make anyone feel sick. What is it that smells?

Can’t seem to move somehow. Doesn’t matter.

Wish I knew what that smell was.

Rotten meat! That’s what it is. Rotten meat. Why don’t they do something about it? Leaving it about to smell. Faugh.

Curtains. Light-coloured curtains with patterns on them. What curtains? Don’t know. Must have been curtains somehow.

That smell!

Feel choked.

“Take a deep breath.”

Ah, phooey— can’t go on taking deep breaths.

Down there. In front of me. Something on a tray. Bits of broken china or something. Broken china and something black. Oh, that awful smell of rotten meat!

Dark. Just the electric light and the fog. Feel ill. Don’t know anything about anything, but I feel ill.


They’re moving me!

Don’t want to be moved, d’you hear? Keep eyes closed so I can’t see. Perhaps they’ll stop.

You’re hurting me. I tell you you’re hurting me! It’s bumpy and when it bumps it hurts me. Why do they have to move me? Now they’ve stopped. Blessed relief.

Lie still. Don’t want them to move me any more. If I keep my eyes closed, they won’t move me. Feel ill.

Open my eyes.

Light. Over on the left there. Must be a window or something.


Fog’s gone. Curtains all round. Bright yellow curtains. But no patterns on them. Why haven’t they got patterns? Doesn’t  matter.

I’m in bed. Queer bed. Rises up in front of me like a great big square box with bedclothes all over it. By the foot of the bed, a high stand thing with an inverted bottle on the top of it and a long tube . . .

There’s a man in a white coat. He’s talking to . . . to a nurse!

What’s a nurse doing here?

They’re moving the yellow screens a little. There’s another nurse. And through the chink in the curtains, another pushes a trolley past.

It’s a hospital! A hospital I tell you.

Don’t want to be in any hospital! I want . . . I . . . I . . .

“Now just relax me dear. You’re goin’ to be all right nowwe’re takin’ care of ye.”

A soft Irish brogue, kind, soothing, reassuring.

Don’t know. Don’t understand.


Open eyes again. Still no fog. But what the eyes can see doesn’t register. Sleep again. And then again ‘that vacant gaze—seeing nothing, recording nothing, inert, insensible, uncomprehending.

And nothing on the left-hand side of me would move.

Later, something touches me. On the right-hand side of the bed.

A hand—a slim dainty hand. I know that hand.


Can move my right hand. Take it in hers.

Always we have been able to communicate without the use of words. This is what happens now—just two hands clasped.

And slowly, ever so slowly out of the void, piercing the depths of nothingness, comes a tiny shaft of light.

The minutes pass, and stumbling painfully along the way, there is a slow groping return to lucidity as the picture composes itself . . . the Isles . . . the flight schedules . . . Lima Mike . . .  Pete . . . the Master Plan . . .

The Master Plan!

And then, as I try to remember, I think I wept.


Our finest hour

I SHALL never now remember just how long it was after the torment of that first harrowing return to consciousness that I was in any state to be able to talk, even for a few moments, to Virginia. Several days— perhaps a week or more—it doesn’t matter. But I do remember the distress in her eyes as she put the question.

“Don’t you remember anything?”

“No. Nothing at all. What happened?”

“You crashed on take-off. The aircraft never properly left the ground. Then it turned, crashed on the rocks, and burst into flames.”


“Now you’re not to worry. Most of them had only minor injuries and weren’t detained for very long. All except a Mr. Powell who burnt his hands getting out. He’s here with you now, but he’s going to be quite all right.”

Lima Mike?”

“Just a mass of wreckage I’m afraid—there’s practically nothing of her left.”

Poor Lima Mike.

“But . . . how?

“S’sh . . . we don’t know yet. The Accident Investigation people are still over there but so far they’ve found nothing. We’re wondering whether you might have had a black-out.”

Black-out . . . me? Never in this world. At my last medical they said I’d got the heart of a man under thirty. No, there was no black-out. Then I asked, “But . . . what’s happening with Mayflower . . . how will the passengers . . . ?”

“Now, you must keep quiet . . . there’s nothing to worry about. I’m taking care of everything and everyone is going to get there. B.E.A. are going to help us out. All you have to think about is how to get better quickly.”

That was about as much as could be told to me at the time. I was still on the danger list. They didn’t expect me to live.

The accident had happened at St. Mary’s aerodrome. By a miracle, B.E.A. at the time had an experimental helicopter there which was carrying out calibration tests and they immediately made this available to fly me over to the mainland with Doctor Bell of Scillies who gave me blood transfusions on the way, so I’m told. I lay in the East Cornwall Hospital at Penzance for nine days before they would take the risk of sending me on to Bristol—apparently had I been sent sooner, I would have been dead before I arrived. On Monday, 29th July, an aircraft had been chartered to fly me to Bristol and there I was taken in by the Burns Unit at Frenchay Hospital where badly burnt cases receive the benefit of special treatment quite outside the scope of any general hospital. I have no memories at all of the Penzance Hospital except for a vague fleeting impression of light-coloured curtains with patterns on them.

During the first night at Frenchay I was kept in a corridor outside the night sister’s oflice so that she could keep an eye on me while she remained within quick reach of the telephone. It was there that the dark grey fog came as the only view of a soul that was hesitating in that shadowy twilight zone that lies between life and death.

The next day Virginia arrived and was allowed to stay all night and even given a bed so that she could stay within easy reach of the ward . . . in case.

It was shortly after that I had the first of my many operations at Frenchay. The first, and apparently the worst. I, of course, knew nothing of it, but I still have misty memories of the effect it had on those around me. The Chief Consultant, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, who afterwards bent over my bed to remark quietly, “. . . Afraid we weren't be able to do quite as much as we would have liked.”

His houseman was more explicit, “. . . My God—let’s not have that all over again.”

From Virginia I got a faint impression that it had been quite something. Like that scene beloved by American film directors. The operating theatre . . . all the surgeons bending over anxiously . . . hissing noises from something or other . . . frightening drop in pulse, blood pressure, or whatever it is . . . dramatic climax . . .

It was a long, long time before they told me the full extent of the damage. I had terrible burns. Except for my left eye which, thank God, escaped, the whole of the left-hand side of my body—toes, foot, leg, knee, thigh, ribs, arm, shoulder, ear, and the left-hand side of my face and head were all badly burnt. In addition my left arm was broken and on the inside of my left thigh, a huge gash had been repaired and stitched up—presumably at Scillies or Penzance Hospital.

Immediately after my arrival at Frenchay Sister Cooney, delightfully Irish and absurdly young-looking to be in charge of the Burns Ward, had noticed that the blood flow to my left arm which had previously been set in plaster, had stopped. She spotted the danger and broke open the plaster to reveal what I believe is one of the worst arms they’d ever seen. It looked as though it would have to be amputated, but thanks to Sister Cooney’s prompt action, I’ve still got it and can now even use it even if it is shorter than the other. It was the broken pieces of plaster that I’d mistaken for china.

Those were bad days. In the past I had never accepted the idea that a patient, lying in a hospital bed and fighting for his life, was anything more than a piece of sympathetic romanticising.

I know better now.

I fought with every bit of puny strength that was left to me. Before me was only one idea—I had to get back home to Virginia. That was all.

Months later, from all the different sources of information, from Virginia, from others who called, from others still who wrote—and they were many, even from the newspapers—I was  able to piece together the story of what was happening to my airline.

Upon this I shall dwell a little.

As soon as the news of the accident broke at Plymouth, Luke, the airport manager, immediately placed one of the aero club’s aircraft at Virginia’s disposal. She was flown down to Land’s End in this straightaway and then rushed over to Penzance by ‘Bomber’ Wells in his car to arrive in the nick of time to see the B.E.A. helicopter, which had brought me over from Scillies, touch down in the hospital grounds. I imagine at the time I must have been a gruesome sight—burnt, swollen, and apparently dying. This, I am told, is the only occasion when she was seen to break down. ‘Bomber’ Wells was wonderfully kind and asked her to stay at his house so that she could be near to me. She stayed two nights only and then returned to Plymouth to tackle Mayflower, discovering on arrival that Pete’s wife Beryl had already been rushed up from Cornwall to man the office and was gallantly coping with the incessant telephone calls. She very kindly stayed the rest of the week to help out.

The first hint of crisis came with the arrival of the Operations Inspector from the Ministry of Aviation who came down from London immediately to see what was to be done, and how the airline was to continue to operate without its Managing Director and Chief Pilot.

Pete was splendid and said he would continue to fly every hour he could to get us through to the end of the season. But because he would be spending so much of his time in the air, he could not undertake to accept the responsibilities of Chief Pilot and could only be directly answerable as Captain of the aircraft under his command. Such a decision was not only  understandable—it would have been wrong for him to have said anything else.

During those three critical days the Establishment did its very best to help us in our misfortune. Captain Sanders, the Inspector, sticking his neck out more than I would have believed possible, recommended to the Director that our Air Operators’ Certificate should remain valid until the end of the season to enable us to fulfil our commitments. It was finally agreed that Virginia should manage all operations which however must be restricted only to those carried out with Pete as Pilot and  Uniform Lima as aircraft. No other aircraft or pilots would be allowed to stand in on Mayflower routes.

And so it fell upon the slight shoulders of my wife to carry the full weight of responsibility for the conduct of an airline, and to save Mayflower.

It was a task which neither she nor I could ever possibly have contemplated as being within the remotest possibility, a task for which she had received neither training nor experience, a task for which she had only half the equipment. To run not just an airline but a badly crippled airline whose traffic had been booked almost to capacity.

But she did it.

She worked late every night to re-arrange the schedules, to write to passengers to fit them in for different flights and different days to get them over. She got Pete to run extra flights to try to catch up with the backlog. She made incessant phone calls to all the travel agents, to Frank Cannon to get them on her side. She asked B.E.A. for help and was able to persuade them to put at her disposal their aircraft during each of the Saturday maintenance hours which were kept available in case of unexpected contingencies which might arise in the operation  of their own services. Then, using the extra capacity of these B.E.A. special flights, she grouped the passengers whom she had found it impossible for Pete to carry aboard Uniform Lima, booked them onwards by train from Exeter and Plymouth to Land’s End, wrote them cheques to adjust the fares, and got  them over that way.

Having begun to solve the nightmare problem of how to get the passengers across to the Isles and back, she dealt with all the complexities, which followed the occurrence of the accident itself—with the Accident Investigation people from the Ministry, with the Operations Inspectorate, with the Insurance brokers, with the Air Transport Licensing Board, with the Air Registration Board, with the press who were issuing daily bulletins about me. She even gave one interview on B.B.C. Television to offer some reassurances about the future of the airline.

She did all this as a huge addition to all the normal traffic correspondence which before the accident was a full-time job anyway. And she did it at a time when at any hour she might expect to hear that she’d become a widow.

The first intimation I received about the battle that was being fought was when one of the nurses in hospital held in front of me to read the morning’s copy of the Daily Express. A large headline ran:


A wife is running an airline while her pilot husband is in hospital. She is Mrs. Virginia Cleife, of Ivybridge near Plymouth and she has been running Mayflower Air Services from Plymouth Airport since July 20. On that day, former Squadron Leader Cleife was seriously injured when he crashed in one of the airline’s two planes in the Scilly Isles. Mr. Cleife founded the firm and pioneered the Exeter—Plymouth—Scillies route.


The crash left one plane, one pilot Mr. Peter Loat and many bookings. So Mrs. Cleife took over the administration and can now report “an excellent season”. Although some bookings had to be returned not one passenger cancelled his flight because of the crash. Many of them sent letters and gifts to Mr. Cleife in hospital. Mrs. Cleife drives to Bristol every week-end to see her husband. And the firm’s plans to expand are not affected by the set-back.

As if her burden were not already overweight, an avalanche of mail descended upon Virginia in the form of letters and telegrams of sympathy. The accident seems to have touched the hearts of everybody who had been remotely concerned with our project—the Air Transport Licensing Board, the Ministry of Aviation, B.B.C. Television, Innes Lloyd the ‘On the Spot’ producer, Sir Miles Thomas, Dan-Air Services, Westpoint Aviation, Mercury Airlines, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, the Duchy of Cornwall, the various Chambers of Commerce and Rotary Clubs, the Scillies hotels and guests houses, the Plymouth Hotels and Restaurants Association, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators and an uncountable number of private individuals.

I still have an enormous file stuffed full of these very kind wishes, from our friends, our passengers, from others we knew, and even from some we’d never heard of. Some of them I found very moving. Such very kind and sincere sympathy from people one doesn’t know at all well can be embarrassingly touching. Such as one from Stirling Gordon (Whiskers of the  charter) at Co. Cork to convey sympathy from his wife, himself, the five poodles and the two cats, and another from the manager of Lloyds bank in the Isles to forward a cheque for £100—a  gift from an anonymous donor who had been one of our passengers and who had admired our struggle to build up the Company and now felt it would be a helpful way of expressing sympathy.

Of course it was impossible for Virginia to reply personally—there were too many of them. But characteristically she got the printers to produce a circular letter with a suitably worded acknowledgment. As far as I know, everybody who wrote received a reply.

Another large file holds letters of appreciation from passengers who understood the emergency and wrote in their thanks for the arrangements which had been made for them.

The work involved in keeping the airline going to deliver all those passengers must have been prodigious, and to make matters worse, the weather was frequently very bad with the inevitable delays and frustrations. Pete was magnificent and kept Uniform Lima pressing on through all the low cloud and fog I know so well. I shall never be able to thank him adequately for the superb way in which he, together with Russ Hocking and his boys, kept the Mayflower flag flying.

On top of everything else Virginia had to drive through 120 miles of congested holiday traffic to Bristol to see me in hospital and another I20 miles back again to resume the struggle. Towards the end of August I could see visible traces of the strain. But she was quick to reassure me—she could stand it until the end of the holiday season.

Nobody other than myself could have the slightest notion of the fantastic amount of work and worry that had arisen out of this catastrophic dislocation of our airline, the re-arrangement, the improvisations beyond numbers, the re-phasing of aircraft maintenance checks, the correspondence, the supervision and the sheer weight of documentation inseparable from scheduled services operation.

How she was ever able to do all this, I shall never know. But it was done and her efforts and those of Pete between them achieved the little miracle that was Mayflower’s Dunkirk. The airline was saved.

And that, when I was unable even to lift a finger to help, that was our finest hour.       


Plastic Surgery

DURING the slow months of my recovery at Frenchay Hospital I was tormented again and again by one gut-gnawing anxiety.

What had happened on that tragic morning at St. Mary’s?

I had taken off in Lima Mike thousands of times, and knew better than any performance chart just what she could do and what she could not do. Because of this I knew for certain that there was not the slightest reason why she should not have taken off. But she had never properly left the ground.

Something had gone terribly wrong—but what?

The only witness who must have known everything that happened was myself. But because of the shock and injuries I had suffered complete amnesia and to this day have no memory of anything about the crash.

Could it have been my fault? It was one of the tortures I had to bear. When at a later date Virginia told me that the Accident Investigation Branch had stripped down Lima Mike’s engines and could find nothing wrong with them, the torture became even more acute. If there was no loss of power during the take-off run, what else could it have been but my fault?

As well as this overwhelming anxiety, I had also to endure a number of successive shocksnothing in themselves that any fit man could even think of as a shock, but to a seriously injured patient that is how they came.

It was a few weeks after my arrival at Frenchay that the first occurred. Sister Cooney was due to return from her fortnight’s leave in Ireland and I had asked staff nurse when she would be back on duty.

She answered, “Oh, she’ll be here tomorrow. She’s just phoned us now to see how things are going. She always does.”

“Did she ask after me?” Your hospital patient is invariably concerned with himself.

“Yes she did. And she was very pleased to hear that you didn’t die while she was away."

Didn’t die while she was away? Had she expected me to die then?

Yes, she had expected me to die.

The next shock was rather horrible. Some of the burnt flesh had been cleaned up sufficiently for them to begin skin grafting and they were going to make a start on my arm. This was a tricky job. They couldn’t set the broken bones because of the deep burns so they had to remain as they were—broken.

They removed the bandages and the dressings and wheeled the treatment trolley alongside the bed. I was getting to know that trolley—it had on it a multitude of surgical dressings, implements, antibiotics, gauzes, and a huge brown paper bag in which they threw the mess. Staff nurse and an assistant were about to start on me, when they had to return for something to the treatment room, and I was left alone.

It was then I noticed that they’d left some of the mess on my bed lying on a green cloth. I grimaced—a sick-making and bloody mess that ought to have been thrown into the paper bag beside the trolley. Really, they ought to know better than this—not a very nice sight for a patient to have to look at!

Then I looked at it again, and very suddenly I froze with horror. This nauseating, this disgusting sight, this revolting pink mess looking like a length of cat’s meat laid out on a butcher’s slab, was my own left arm! It was frightful—I  couldn’t distinguish any fingers, thumb, or anything recognisable as an arm. I could hardly believe this raw and dreadful thing belonged to me. I turned away and closed my eyes.

My next experience hardly registered as a shock, so gradual was its arrival, but it was to prove a torment I was to suffer for a very long time.


At first, with the tissues down the whole of my left side burnt almost to destruction, there was little actual feeling left. I was dreadfully ill and in physical discomfort but cannot remember much pain. Then as the processes of healing began, the sensibility in the burnt areas began to return and with it came the most excruciating pain I have ever known.

If someone were but to sneeze on the other side of the room it hurt me. If a nurse as much as laid a gentle hand on the surface of the bedclothes, my arm seemed to go up in flames. And when they actually moved my left arm, it produced the most shrieking agony I have ever experienced. Because the filthy burns wept so much, they made up the bed with clean sheets every morning, and had to lay me on my right side while the sheets went underneath me. They were as soft, gentle and kind as skilful nurses can be, but I would remain a shuddering wreck for over half an hour before I settled down again. Even now,  nearly two years later, my shoulder, arm and ribs still hurt a bit.

It was in Frenchay Hospital I slowly began to acquire a little of that quality I had been in need of all my life—patience. The processes of treatment seemed interminable for nothing is slower to heal than burns—the final cure for a badly burnt patient is something which is thought of in years rather than months.

The first stages of treatment for my dreadfully burnt body was the gradual cleaning up of the affected areas and the slow painstaking removal of the slough, the dead blackened residue of the burnt tissue which still clung like glue to the wounds underneath it. For this they used various techniques according to the area where they were working.

The whole of my left leg was wrapped in porous dressings and then bound with bandages into which were inserted two rubber pipes with stoppers on the ends. When the assembly was complete they would then connect a huge syringe to the ends of the rubber pipes and pump in a mixture of liquid paraffin and eusol. This process was repeated over a long period and slowly but painlessly the slough was loosened and softened by the liquid.

My foot, ribs and forearm were encased in greasy gauzes and as these were removed every other day, Sister Cooney and her nurses would, when I could stand it, remove some of the slough manually with surgical tweezers.

Quite a large area of it was taken off in the saline baths which, as soon as I was well enough, I had three or four times a week.

Throughout the course of the treatment there had to be fought the Battle of the Bugs. I have nothing in the way of medical knowledge so cannot explain why such a concentration of burns is able to spread so much infection, but it is in fact one of the operational hazards of the work. It probably explains why the Burns Unit, unlike the ward of a general hospital, is partitioned off into small rooms to reduce the spread of the bacteria with which the air is laden. For the nurses the conditions are unenviable, the work itself is terribly messy: the burns in their earlier stages discharge continuously, and the smell is vile. Never as long as I live shall I forget that filthy smell of rotten meat, not knowing when first I smelt it that the meat was me.

They fought the Battle with everything they’d got, with mops, with brooms, with polishers which made the floors like shining glass, with pills, with dope, and, dreaded memory, with the needle. Injections every six hours became part of the way of life and I felt that I must rattle with the weight of pills.

Yet in all that environment of messy wounds, of stink, and of pain, no humans that I’d ever known were brighter than the nurses of Frenchay. With all the gentle touches and tender care came ceaseless back-chat and wisecracks, sometimes prim, and sometimes downright ribald. At times I speculate with wonder at the nature of the call to which these young, attractive girls, respond with such devotion. And although I completely fail to find the answer, I thank God that they are there to carry on their noblest of professions.

In the fullness of time, stage by stage, whole areas of my body were cleared of the filthy slough and now became exposed, red, raw, but thank heavens, clean at last. Part of me was now ready to be introduced to the mysteries of plastic surgery.

The Chief Consultant at the Frenchay Department of Plastic Surgery is Mr. FitzGibbon who I believe was an assistant of Sir Archibald Mclndoe at the wartime ‘guinea pig’ Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead which is famous for its pioneering work in the field of plastic surgery. I have an idea that Mr. FitzGibbon took on all the worst burns cases himself—certainly he took on me and I remained his patient to the end.

It would be quite impossible for me ever to begin to thank him for what he did for me.

The nature of the work itself is quite extraordinary. Before each operation, Sister Cooney would arrive complete with safety razor and select that part of my body which was most likely to be chosen by the surgeons as the ‘donor area’. This can be in any part of the body which is suitable, healthy, and can yield considerable quantities of the tissue required. When the patient is burnt nearly all over, of course, there is little in the way of ‘donor area’ and survival is unlikely.

A favourite area, if it is available, is the thigh anywhere between the knee and hip. In my case, the right-hand side was quite uninjured so this was chosen, also most of the surface area of my stomach. Plying the safety razor, Sister Cooney would then shave the ‘donor area’ as part of the pre-medication before the operation.

Later, on the slab in the operating theatre, the surgeon slices and carves away the damaged areas of infected tissue which this time have been chosen for repair. He next turns his attention to the ‘donor area’—at least I presume that this is the order of things having been in no state to take any interest in the proceedings at the time. From this he proceeds to slice off long lengths of skin, more than enough to replace the areas of tissue which he has already removed elsewhere. Other people’s skin is rarely used.

The skin is sliced in whatever thickness is required, cleaned, and although some of it can be applied immediately, in most cases the area is not ready for it, so it is rolled up like bandages, put into screw-top jars, and put away to store in the refrigerator.

Some time later—it may be several days, and knowing just when is, I believe, part of the skill of the thing—the jar of skin is taken from the fridge, pieces are cut and trimmed to size, and then laid on to the area to be repaired. There are, I believe, several wrong ways and only one right way of doing this. At Frenchay, Sister Cooney was the supreme artist and I have since told her that her one omission in my own case was her failure to put her signature to her work.

During the graft itself, there is no pain, but what follows can be horrible. For five whole days, the area or limb which has been grafted must not be moved or touched, and where possible it must remain exposed to the air. According to its location the graft can remain comfortable or tormenting for the period. In the case of my left leg which was hoisted up by the foot and without support along its length, the pain although little at first, gradually became so unbearable that the night sister had to put me out twice with injections and next day the beautiful graft just underneath my knee had to be sacrificed by the positioning of a leg support. Other grafts were not so arduous.

At the end of the five days, the graft is inspected and judgment passed upon whether it has ‘taken’. If it has, all is well, but if not, the whole thing will have to be done again. I believe it is not reasonable to expect complete success the first time in more than fifty per cent of cases.

Repeat grafts never tend to raise the morale of the patient and they plunged me into the depths of depression. It is the anxiety during the five-day period which is so hard to bear, but even the failures themselves contribute to that placid acceptance of the inevitable which is in the learning of patience.

At the end of the period when it has been established that the graft has ‘taken’ the result is something rather wonderful. The skin, at first a seemingly lifeless bit of tissue, occasionally a brilliant yellow with antiseptic, actually begins to grow into the area and becomes revitalised, and all pain is gone. But the strangest part of all is that although the graft is now a living thing and part of one, it has no feeling. A lighted cigarette or needle pressed into it would produce the usual damage but no sensory reaction of any kind. It has taken me a very long time to become accustomed to this strange result and although feeling has been gradually restored to some of the grafts, there are still parts of me which remain seemingly completely dead to the touch although in fact they are quite healthily alive.

The progress of the grafts is subjected to very special inspection during that splendid hospital institution The Round which takes place on Tuesday mornings, and to a lesser extent on Thursdays. Preparation for The Round begins on Monday afternoons, and is hell. All the beds are moved to the side walls of the rooms, the mirror-like floors, already spotless, are swept, washed and polished. The beds are tidied, oddments put away in the lockers, and the entire surrounds of the ward are attacked in an attempt to remove the dirt which isn’t there.

The Round itself is an impressive procession of the surgical hierarchy of the Department, and its minions. The visitation consists principally of the Chief Surgeons and their attendant acolytes—housemen, doctors, visiting doctors, doctors under instruction, Sister Cooney, the physiotherapists, and the almoner, all in their long white coats and face-masks.

When I was well on the way to recovery, I used to enjoy the ‘patient’s eye-view’ of The Round. One overwhelming impression remains—the quite extraordinary degree of homage paid to Mr. FitzGibbon. Quite obviously, to everyone concerned in The Round, and indeed to everyone else, he was something more than the Chief Consultant, he was even something more than the Great Man. Quite simply, to all of them there, he was God.

This was not a matter of discipline, it didn’t spring from fear,  or even from any appreciation of his knowledge. It was a straightforward manifestation of the most sincere devotion I have ever seen. Had he, after examining my injuries, turned to his followers and said, “Throw him out of the window”, there is not the faintest doubt that willing hands would have seized me, and within five seconds I would have made a heavy landing in the rose bushes outside. Rarely in my life before had I been privileged to witness one man’s ability to surround himself without any apparent effort with such loyalty and affection.

There was nothing at all of the Great Surgeon about him. His manner was pleasant with all the patients and the nurses, he never to my knowledge raised his voice, and he never wasted time upon unnecessary words. It was during The Round that one got a real ‘close-up’ of the man himself. He would lift an arm or a leg, or take the hand in the grip of those powerful surgeon’s fingers, scrutinise it carefully for a few seconds and then decisively give his instructions as to what must be done.

There was no dithering, no indecision, no oscillation between alternatives—he knew precisely what was needed, and as one of his assistants used to tell me—“it’s very rarely that he’s wrong”. Along with ‘Skipper’ Hearn, I include him in that select minority of the ‘men who do’ as distinguished from the ‘men who talk’.

During the September I’d improved enough to be able to have more visitors. One unexpected one was Father Wigmore, a young and very likeable Roman Catholic priest who had been a passenger of mine on the outbound morning flight on the fateful 20th July. When in Scillies he had had a chance to hear Alec O’Connor’s account of the accident. I listened to  this—the first relayed report from an eye-witness that I’d yet received. Apparently the take-off was normal until about halfway along the take-off run when Lima Mike was seen to swing viciously to the left. I had obviously corrected the swing and straightened her up but thereafter she was noticeably reluctant to become airborne and subsequently swung to the right and crashed on to the rocks when she burst into flames.

The news heightened my anxiety. A vicious swing during the take-off run was clear-cut evidence that some mechanical fault had occurred. But what? And why had I not detected it earlier? I fretted and worried and tried a hundred explanations, but none of them seemed tenable.

In addition to this perpetual anxiety, I also had my disappointments. The worst of these was my badly damaged arm which was proving a tough proposition to repair and seemed continuously afflicted by infections which caused generations of skin grafts to break down in succession. The burns on my head which earlier had looked more promising than any, had also broken down with septic discharges and I was permanently arrayed in a huge head-dressing, and the other patients’ light-hearted references to ‘the Sheikh of Araby’ did nothing to comfort me. To make matters worse, I had been looking forward to the morale-boosting triumph of my first walk, but week after week passed by and it didn’t happen. My left leg still wasn’t good enough and even at the end of September I remained bed-ridden.

But in October, three months and six operations after the accident, came the great day at last. They got me out of bed and on to my feet for the first time and with two male nurses supporting me, I took my first walk. Of five paces. The second walk, the next day, extended to about twenty paces but it made me feel sick and ill.

Gradually I improved and two weeks later I was able to walk reasonable distances, slowly but without falling down. If that alone were not enough to make me happy, they were now well on the way to winning the battle for my arm, as one by one the skin grafts proved successful.

I could now seriously begin to think in terms of going home and was becoming excited with the prospect. But there remained one awful anxiety. My head. Time and time again it had deceived us into thinking that it was healing and then villainously would break down again. They tried every sort of treatment with every sort of dressing and just when it would appear that it was beginning to respond, it would become again a huge bloody and messy area, three inches long by two deep, all over the side of my head.

Everything comes to him who waits, and at long last came the Monday of my dreams when Sister Cooney told me that if Mr. FitzGibbon approved on the morrow, there was a good chance that I might go home that week. She took the dressings off my leg. Verdict—good. She took the dressings off my arm. Verdict—good. Then she took the dressings off my head and even now I can remember that “Oh” of dismay as once again she uncovered that raw, bleeding and infected mess.

It was shattering. When The Round came, Mr. FitzGibbon  looked at everything else and was on the point of saying I could  go home, when the bandages were taken from my head and I waited in suspense for him to pronounce judgment.

“No. It hasn’t responded to the treatment. We shall have to remove the infected area and do another graft.”

The appalling disappointment of undergoing another operation with at least another four weeks in hospital may seem childish now, but at the time it seemed almost more than I could bear.

I just couldn’t believe that there was any wound that would never heal. Surely, nature herself is the great healer? Away from the bug-laden atmosphere of the hospital, in the fresh clean country air of Devon, it would be bound to heal—and without any operation. I felt that I just couldn’t stand any more operations or disappointments. So the following day I told  them.

Mr. FitzGibbon was extremely kind.

“Yes, go home by all means. Probably do you good. And when you get fed up with it, let us know and then you can come back here and we’ll fix it for you.”

I knew he was wrong, of course. It would heal perfectly well  by itself.

The great day came and Virginia arrived to fetch me with the left-side front seat of the car reversed so that I could sit on the rear squab and put my left leg up for support on the front seat cushion. It took me nearly five minutes to get myself into the car but I didn’t mind—the unbelievable was happening and I was going home. The journey was painful even though Virginia drove slowly. But I was back in the world again, I could see people and tralfic, and I was going home!

Home was both a joy and a disappointment. A joy to be there instead of in hospital. A disappointment because my recovery and walking in the ward had convinced me that I was well again, but back in the familiar surroundings I found that I couldn’t do any of the ordinary little things I had hoped to do. I couldn’t walk upstairs without a struggle, I couldn’t bend down to put coal upon the fire, I couldn’t have a bath because  there was no way of getting in or out of it. And Virginia even had to cut my food into small pieces because I couldn’t hold a fork in my left hand.

My head began to get better. Then it got worse again. Then it seemed to respond to a new antibiotic which my doctor prescribed for me. Another few days and it would clear and dry up completely. We were all sure this time that we’d won. Virginia, who now was doing all the dressings for me, peered at it until almost hypnotised. Surely it was getting better.

Then it broke down again. This time I knew the answer. Fresh air. I would go without the dressing and expose it to the winter sunshine. I walked up our country lanes turning my gory head towards the sun each way to expose it to the rays. Sunshine is a wonderful cure. It did the trick. In only one day the wound dried up and next day a huge scab had formed over the whole area. The scab of course was the real sign of healing and when it came off there would be a beautiful new, fresh,  clean skin underneath.

I was overjoyed at my victory over this persistent burn which for many months had so demoralised me. Then five days later looking in the bathroom mirror, once again I saw the tell-tale trickle of that horrible yellow liquid running down from underneath the scab. I touched it and the whole thing came away in my hand to reveal the same raw, disgusting wound underneath.

So after Christmas, once again, I went into Frenchay Hospital. They were very sweet. No one said, “I told you so.” No one nagged me. And Mr. FitzGibbon cut away the whole filthy burnt area, helped himself to a generous thick slice off my right thigh, and later grafted it on to the side of my head. Where it still is.

The result is that no hair will grow on the left side of my head above my ear. So what is still left of male vanity makes me part my hair on the right-hand side instead of on the left and train it over to cover the grafted area. But when sometimes it falls down in front, it hides my eyes and I have to peer through it, like an Old English Sheepdog.

Since then I have been back the third time to Frenchay for another operation on my shoulder. And as I write this, Mr. FitzGibbon has just told me that I must have the little toe of my left foot removed. But notwithstanding this, I can walk now for miles, albeit with a limp, I can get about as I want to, I can cut up my own food, I can even ride a horse—if it’s quietand apart from the scars, most of which are visible only when I go swimming, there is little to show that there has ever been an  accident.

So I remain, a live and convincing demonstration of the marvels of modern plastic surgery.

And if there be those who would wish to demur, I shall say—What’s wrong with an Old English Sheepdog, or, come to that, What’s a little toe among friends?


The mystery solved

BECAUSE the operation on my head had been such a complete success, I was able to secure my discharge from my second visit to Frenchay Hospital just in time to be able to attend a very important engagement on 6th February, I964. And I had the very best of reasons for wishing to keep it.

The occasion was the Presentation of the British Empire Medals to Section Leader P. B. Daly, chief of the St. Mary’s Aerodrome Fire Service, and Mr. Charles Trezise, one of the B.E.A. handlers. It was these two very brave men who had saved my life at considerable risk to themselves, by extricating me from the fiercely burning Lima Mike. Mr. Phillips, Clerk of the Scillies Council, was very keen that Virginia and I should be present at the ceremony, but because I was in hospital when the arrangements were made, it had seemed very doubtful as to whether I should be out in time to make it.

We were flown over to St. Mary’s in a light single-engined aircraft by Captain ‘Mo’ Moorhouse who we were hoping might join us later as our new Chief Pilot. I had terrible trouble getting in and out of the aircraft, but was able to brief ‘Mo’ on the various aspects of the old familiar route as we flew over it. The flight produced some very mixed feelings—strangely nostalgic yet resentful and chilling was the mood induced by the flight as a passenger over that coastline that I knew so  well.

It was a very large audience that gathered in the Town Hall at St. Mary’s on the morning of the 6th to see Sir John Carew Pole, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, present the medals on behalf of the Queen.

As he read out the long citation, I became quite gripped with the horror of the full story as now, for the first time, I heard it properly. It appeared that the two of them had had to cover themselves with extinguisher foam in order to get anywhere near the fiercely blazing wreckage of Lima Mike. When at last the passengers were safe and they were able to get near to me in spite of the flames, they discovered that the top of the control column had broken off in the impact and the sharp jagged end had gone clean through my left thigh and was literally pinning me into the aircraft. It was impossible to get me out.

Still fighting the fire, they sent back to the Fire Station for a hacksaw and when this was brought, they sawed right through the control column and were finally able to lift me out of the flames with the top half of it still embedded in my leg. It was because of this long exposure to the blaze that I had become so badly burnt.

We were afterwards invited to the oflicial luncheon party at Tregarthen’s Hotel, and there the two heroes as well as myself were glad to find relief from the rather terrifying atmosphere of the citation. But when I tried to express myself properly to the two of them, for once I found myself to be inarticulate. It is extraordinarily difficult to thank someone for saving your life—the manner and the measure of gratitude itself seem so absurdly inadequate.

It was shortly after this visit, I started to think what preparations I could make to ‘stage a come-back’. Virginia was well ahead with the bookings and had engaged Barbara Stroud, an attractive new recruit with enormous blue eyes, as a traffic assistant to take over eventually. She was fitted out to look very glamorous in a sky-blue uniform with all the Mayflower insignia. Meantime I had arranged for Uniform Lima to be  flown away for her annual overhaul.

Towards the end of the month came the information that I had awaited anxiously since the early days of the first return to consciousness. It was the first draft of the official report on the accident by the Accident Investigation Branch of the Ministry of Aviation, and at long last my anxieties as to what had happened were laid.

It appeared that immediately after the accident, there had been discovered approximately half-way along the take-off run which I had used a small length of metal oil piping with a rubber tube extension to it. This item unquestionably belonged to Lima Mike, and was an oil drain-pipe which ran down the port wheel cowling and reached nearly to the ground. Its function was to provide a drain for surplus oil and also fuel from the engine priming.

This piece of pipe was not in itself a vital part and no harm would have been done if it had fallen off. But it hadn’t fallen off! It was subjected to a laboratory examination which showed that it had been fractured in bending and tension. There was only one possible way in which it could have been sheared off like this and that was for it to be trapped between a flat tyre and the ground. Had the tyre been normally inflated, it could never have become caught up. Inspection of the inner tube of the port tyre had shown that it had been creased during fitting, and the  crease had thinned and split.

At last the picture became clear to me. The sudden vicious swing to port which must have been caused by the rapid deflation or even bursting of the tube. The failure of the aircraft to gain sufiicient speed because of the drag of the flattened tyre. The horror of the final realisation that Lima Mike was not going to leave the ground. The agonising decision to close the throttles to abandon the take-off, knowing full well that disaster was inevitable.

Yes, it was a merciful amnesia that robbed me of that memory.

With Lima Mike running fast on the downhill slope, only three choices were open to me—I could have swung her to the left assisted by the flat tyre, when we would have either overturned on the rocky escarpment of Runway 28 or else hit the terminal building and probably killed several people either way. I could have continued straight on down the slope to finish up in the sea and drown my passengers. Or thirdly, I could swing her away to the right against the drag of the flattened tyre, where there was much more space available to turn. And this in fact was what I did. But unfortunately even then the position and speed of the aircraft were such that there was little hope of turning safely back towards the centre of the aerodrome without impact with the rocks.

So there it was.

I was appalled when I thought over the sequence of events and their consequences. Had the tyre burst at any other place—at Exeter, at Plymouth, anywhere at all—the worst consequence would have been an hour’s delay on the flight while a wheel was changed. If at St. Mary’s it had burst at the beginning of the take-off run, I could have easily stopped with room to spare. If it had burst when a strong wind was blowing, the shorter take-off run might have let me stop in time. If it had burst a second or two later, we would have built up suflicient speed to become airborne and the consequences of landing with a flat tyre at the other end would not have proved all that difficult for me to cope with. But it had done none of these things. It had burst in the right circumstances, in exactly the right position and precisely at the right moment to ensure that disaster was a certainty.

It was the Million-to-One Chance all over again.


The Reckoning

I TRIED. I tried as hard, as earnestly, and as hopefully as a sick and injured man can try, when he desperately wishes to hold on to what he has created.

Perhaps the final judgment will be that I’d become chicken-hearted, that I’d failed to face the biggest challenge of all, that having come so far, I should have held my ground and remained steadfast against all odds to finish in a blaze of glory.


Maybe if I’d had by my side an experienced Captain, to share a little of my vision, a little of my enchantment, to fly the route with a little of my purpose, to lift from my shoulders a little of the weight of things while I was getting slowly better, it might have been different.

Of course I’d tried Pete and in spite of his refusal it did me good to hear his cheerful voice when I rang him.

“No, Phil, not for me. When I looked down that day and watched you burning, I saw the red light and said to myselfthere, but for the grace of God, go I.”

During the war, I too had seen comrades trapped in a blazing wreck. I understood.

Then some time later we heard that ‘Mo’ Moorhouse had decided for domestic reasons not to move to Devon. Eventually two pilots came to help us start the services, but their engagement was short-term and on a free-lance basis only as they couldn’t stay with us for long. I briefed them as much as I could to get the schedules started for Easter and I thought that at least for the moment I was prepared and conditioned for everything.

But I was wrong. When I stood outside the oflice to watch Uniform Lima taking off on the first flight of the season, I experienced a chilling pang as it at last came home to me that never again would Mayflower passengers be flying behind me, never again would I revel in the colour and the magic of that other world. And so at last I realised that the fun had gone out of it and all that was left to me were the heartaches.

I sat down and thought it over. What was required for the Master Plan was a combination of limitless energy, dynamic management, together with the practical economics provided by myself flying as part-time Captain during the heavy weekend services.

What was available was a limping convalescent who could never fly, who couldn’t even use a typewriter with his left hand, and who tired to exhaustion after an hour or two of concentration.

No, it wouldn’t do.

And so because a tyre should choose to blow just where it did, the conception of a lifetime had to be abandoned, and Mayflower passed into other hands. I was paid for my shares, so managed to get back what I’d spent with a little to spare, but that was all.

There is little more to tell. The faithful old B.E.A. Rapides that through the years have performed such brave and yeoman service have at long last been replaced by the two new helicopters which now fly from Penzance. Land’s End aerodrome is no longer used by B.E.A. as their terminal. And the three old ladies of B.E.A.—Kilo Uniform, Sierra Hotel and Charlie Lima? It is nice to be able to say that they have been bought by the new owners of Mayflower and now fly side by side with Uniform Lima on our, no their, airway to the Isles.

And with the conclusion of my story comes the end of an era, for it is my conviction that I am the last of my line. The day is gone when the founding of an airline can ever be the creation of a single-handed dreamer. The new frontiers are those of space-flight and this time the offspring is conceived in the labour of twenty thousand scientists. A complex age now demands the diversified efforts of the many and makes futile the individuality of the few. The rate of change is sometimes slow in evidence but its effect is irresistible. What do the Russians call it? The Inevitability of Gradualness.

Probably I have quickly become outdated and a naïve pride and belief in the Personal Touch is nothing but a symptom of senility. I don’t know. But I am sure, quite sure, that I am the last of my line.

A story has been told, and now it must be ended. An evaluation must be made of what has gone before, and underneath both reckoning and result, a line must be neatly drawn. But now for the first time, the words dry up. The facts are there—perhaps it is because I am so near to them, am still concerned with them, that the answer escapes me. I know my credits and my debits, my gains and my losses, yet seem unable to arrive at an accountancy to strike a balance from them.

I have gained much for which I must be thankful. Because of the courage of two brave men, the skill of a brilliant surgeon, and wonderful hospital care, I have gained my life when it might have been taken from me. In three short years I have gained a richness of experience given only to a favoured few. I have tasted something of the sweet nectar of success and relished to the full its heady moments. I have enjoyed the deep, lasting satisfaction of creation with a fair hope that what I have created will live on. And I have gained memories to be always cherished—the wide blue sea and the cluster of the Isles glistening in their azure setting.

But as well I have had my losses. My professional pilot’s Licence is gone forever. The gateway to the playground of the gods is closed. The seat of the chairman of the Board will be someone else’s. The ball of fire is now but a smouldering ember and everything I have striven for is no longer mine.

So, what are the merits of memories? How much do I value success? What is the true worth of experience? How shall I charge up pain? And what is the real price of a dream?

These are the items to be accounted for to produce the answer with which I must end my story. But I am baflled. I do not know.

And so it seems that I have little choice but to leave the problem with my readers and to ask them to stay with me a few moments more, to ponder on what has been written and then to decide upon their own answer to the inescapable question.

Was it worth it?       


As a result of his experiences, the author has donated half the proceeds from the sale of this edition to the foundation of a Fund to relieve financial distress arising out of accidents in which the victims have been badly burned. His wife, Virginia, has also contributed.

The Fund will be administered by the Cossham and Frenchay Hospital Management Committee, the members of which have kindly volunteered to allocate awards from it in accordance with the wishes of its founder. Help given will include assistance with domestic or occupational hardship, rehabilitation of the patient, or similar instances where the need exists.

If, having finished the book, readers feel that they themselves would like to subscribe to the Fund, their donations would be most gladly received. Cheques should be made out to: The Cossham and Frenchay Hospital Management Committee, crossed ‘Philip Cleife Burns Fund’ and forwarded direct to


Editor's note: this fund is no longer extant and no donations should be forwarded.

Julien Evans
Steemrok Publishing

March 2023