Stuck in the US sleeping on a derelict yacht
– My RAF Journey Part 12
I was donned in my Number One’s uniform as a fit newly commissioned officer on 29th July 1981 on leave as I headed on the London Underground to St Paul’s Cathedral, reflecting on my first travels on the tube a year before as a long-haired, spotty-faced Joburg joller. Life had changed so radically in such a short space of time, with so many adventures in between. I joined the Royal wedding festivities amongst the crowds outside the Cathedral (I had not been invited in), steeped in the Anglophile mood of a historic event. I felt as if I fitted right in with my recently defined Britishness, carried away in the patriotic fervour of the day.
Later that evening I caught a flight to Miami on a Freddie Laker’s £99 low-cost airline ticket (an exorbitant sum in retrospect, considering today’s fares), desperate for some summer warmth and simplicity after the bitterly cold and academic gruellings of Cranwell. Ronald Reagan fired all striking air traffic controllers three days later and I was stuck in the US, running out of money and sleeping on a derelict yacht in a Florida boat graveyard. It was enforced starvation for five days, but an excellent test of endurance with my LMF learnings of perfect stoicism no matter how arduous the physical or mental circumstances. I loved the complete solitude of it though: a time to regroup the soul before the flying began.
On returning to England, I was posted to Flying Selection Squadron (FSS) at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire. This Bomber Command base opened in 1940 and mainly operated the Vickers Wellington during the war.
The FSS program was a surreal oddity for many reasons. We were deliberately denied substantial flying training on the Chipmunk T10 (a Canadian de Havilland built, canvass-winged successor to the Tiger Moth biplane, first flown in 1946 and phased out of flying training services in the 1950s). The ‘instructors’ (mentioned in parentheses, as they provided only the bare minimum level of rudimentary introductions to functionality of flying) were ex-Battle of Britain Spitfire and Hurricane pilots in their 60s with the strangest mix of names – Cattle, Robinson, Winterbottom and Thorn.