Chapter 7 Excerpt – “Flying Training”

“There were sixteen of us altogether learning to fly in this Initial Training School in Nairobi, and I liked every one of my companions. They were all young men like me who had come out from England to work for some large commercial concern, and who had now volunteered for flying duties. It is a fact, and I verified it carefully later, that out of those sixteen, no fewer than thirteen were killed in the air within the next two years. In retrospect, one gasps at the waste of life.

At the aerodrome we had three instructors and three planes. The instructors were civil airline pilots borrowed by the RAF from a small domestic company called Wilson Airways. The planes were Tiger Moths. The Tiger Moth is a thing of great beauty. Everybody who has ever flown a Tiger Moth has fallen in love with it. You could throw one about all over the sky and nothing ever broke. You could spin her vertically downwards for thousands of feet and then all she needed was a touch on the rudder-bar, a bit of throttle and the stick pushed forward and out she came in a couple of flips. A Tiger Moth had no vices. She never dropped a wing if you lost flying speed coming in to land, and she would suffer innumerable heavy landings from incompetent beginners without turning a hair.

There was only one runway on the little Nairobi aerodrome and this gave everyone plenty of practice at crosswind landings and take-offs. And on most mornings, before flying began, we all had to run out on the airfield and chase the zebra away.

After I had gone solo, I was allowed to go up alone for much of the time and it was wonderful. In the Great Rift Valley the big game and smaller game were as plentiful as cows on a dairy farm, and I flew low in my little Tiger Moth to look at them. Oh, the animals I saw every day from that cockpit! I would fly for long periods at a height of no more than sixty or seventy feet, gazing down at huge herds of buffalo and wildebeest which would stampede in all directions as I whizzed over. I flew over the pink flamingos on Lake Nakuru and I flew all the way round the snow summit of Mount Kenya. What a fortunate fellow I am, I kept telling myself.”