The Biggs' Boys

By Ken Stofer

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

THE PILOT

    "If I only had wings!" was the cry of many a young man in the 1930's and 40's. So many said those words, not realizing the months and months of hard work under training required before the much coveted Flying Badge could be pinned to the left breast. And, even then, the training was far from complete. Much advanced study was necessary, and knowledge, gained only by experience, had to be accumulated before one could, in the strict sense of the word, really call himself a pilot.

    The prospective pilot may not necessarily have been a mathematical wizard, as was commonly supposed, but he had to be intelligent, quick to sum up the essential factors of any unexpected situation, and deadly accurate in all he did, both mentally and physically. Above all he had to be calm and collected at all times. He who hesitated was lost, and things happened so quickly in the air that it was the pilot's best policy to know the why and the wherefore of every problem he was likely to encounter. To be brilliant at his very responsible job, he had to think one stage AHEAD of what he was doing at any given time; then the "Gremlins" wouldn't get him!

    It was essential that a man should have these properties before being put in charge of an expensive aircraft, and an even more valuable crew. Above all things, any man who went into the air as a member of an aircrew had to be physically fit. The importance of physical training and regular exercise could not possibly be over-emphasised.

    The fully fledged pilot may have been called upon to perform one of many duties. He was invariably chosen according to his individual ability, and made into a fighter or bomber pilot. Some became staff pilots, or bus drivers, as they were sometimes very unfairly nick-named. Still others took up highly specialized duties in experimental or secret work.

    A few who had a natural flare for imparting knowledge to others, were eventually employed as instructors. Flying instructors were also people of whom very little was heard. The importance of the role they played in the war effort cannot be stressed enough.

    Probably more than that of any other flying men. They, above all people had to be psychologists, and their knowledge of flying was based on practical as well as theoretical knowledge and extensive experience on operations. The work of an instructor, especially in wartime, with the shorter period of training given to pilot trainees, was indeed a difficult one and they undoubtedly deserved great credit for their efforts, covering the whole Empire. They produced more and better pilots - pilots who flew far into enemy territory with more and bigger bombs, and even better planes, to finally blast the German Air Force out of the sky.

    Bomber pilots were not given the publicity they often deserved, but their work was extremely interesting, carrying the war into the very heart of enemy territory. Long flights under very difficult conditions; flying perhaps for many hours without ground or stars in sight. In the early stages of the war two pilots were carried in the large bombers, so that they could relieve each other at the long spells of tedious flying. Later, the new category of Flight Engineer negated the need for an extra pilot.

    It is interesting to note that N.C.O. pilots were frequently the captains of quite large bombing aircraft, and often had officers under their command. It was by no means essential to be commissioned before taking command of a bomber. The skipper, however, had to be sympathetic enough to understand perfectly the members of his crew; co-operation and understanding between all on board must be maintained if success was to be achieved. Jerry always sent up a wonderful firework display to greet the lads in the famous Wellingtons, Sterlings, Manchesters, Halifaxes and Lancaster bombers, but there was a great satisfaction in knowing that there was far more likelihood of the bombs hitting their target, than there was of the "flak" hitting one's aircraft.

    The fighter boys were nearly always young - very young; possessing that vim and vigour naturally lacking in the older men. They were good pilot-navigators; ready always to fight at ever-increasing altitudes and speeds; afraid of no one and without hesitation prepared to swiftly knock the daylights out of any enemy aircraft that should cross their path.

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

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