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News > Your Stories > The magic of flying, the magic of the dance, Chris Hall (S: Class of 1947)

The magic of flying, the magic of the dance, Chris Hall (S: Class of 1947)

The magic of flying, the magic of the dance, Chris Hall (S: Class of 1947) shares with us how his life after Sidcot was all about 'living adventurously.'
Kathleen & Chris Hall
Kathleen & Chris Hall

The magic of flying, the magic of the dance

Chris Hall (Class of 1947)

Like so many youngsters in the 1930s, areoplanes held a particular fascination for me, and of course, I’d read all the Biggles books, so my engineering interest developed more specifically into an interest in areo-engineering. Then, at college in 1947, I found that the college supported its own Air Squadron. Not only was membership free but it offered immediate flying training – here was a golden opportunity to add an extra exciting facet to my engineering studies.

The Air Squadron operated de Havilland Tiger Moths, the standard ab-initio training aircraft of the RAF in those days. A biplane, it seemed to be held together almost entirely by wires, and I remember looking dubiously at the bolts that held the wings to fuselage: “Can those possibly be strong enough?” A special skill I always enjoyed was side - slipping steeply down towards the ground, practicing for a situation I might be in school an emergency require a landing in a too-small field. Stick hard against my thigh, rubber bar on the stops, we’re gripped in a gale of wind, the ‘plane suddenly feels quite angry. But no, I’m the master. I am in control I make the choices. The ground is coming up fast, I can pick out the daisies. Releasing stick and rubber, the ‘plane swings back to its natural balance and poise, engine quietly puttering. A burst of throttle, pull the nose up, and we cushion gently to the ground, soft wheel rumbling across the tussock grass.

In those days, the early 50s, all young men had to go through two years of ‘National Service’ in one of his Majesty’s armed forces, and of course I went straight into more flying training. No longer those draughty Tiger Moths, I’m in the all-enclosed cabin of that rugged trainer the North American Harvard. For flying at night or in bad weather I learn to fly on instruments alone. This really is a challenge, and for the old ’seat-of-the-pants-flying-by-feel’ can actually be dangerously misleading when it’s just you and the instruments and nothing but an empty void out there. A particular skill to learn, flying on instruments alone, was ‘recovery form and unusual attitude’. After the instructor had flung us all over the sky, the instruments every which wat, sometimes the easiest way out was to induce a ‘spin’, then… stick hard forward, foot hard down, watch for the key instrument to flick, centre everything, and up we zoom.

At last it’s Wings Day. We parade before the Air Vice-Marshall, and my sweetheart Kathleen is there. Smartly we marched onto the parade ground, form up, halt, and stand ‘at ease’. In turn, our names are called, my ‘Wings’ are pinned to my breast, and I salute and return smartly to the ranks. Soon it’s time for the celebratory fly-past: a box of three vicks in close formation, and two solo pilots to off their aerobatics. I settle in as number two on the second vick… But what’s this, the first vick is pulling away from us, and suddenly my number one drops out of sight calling “engine failure”. Hastily number three and I catch up with the first vick, he moves in to become my number one, one of the solo pilot’s plugs in to become my number three, and we’re a full box of three again. Meanwhile the victim of the power failure has made a safe wheels-up landing but has run out of space, striking a wall. Happily, no fire, no injury.

Having proudly gained my ‘Wings’, I was indeed a trained RAF pilot. Well, yes, but not a fully trained front-line pilot. Soon I would be flying the jet-powered de Havilland Vampire on a fighter squadron. New skills to acquire: oxygen, air-brakes, guns and rockets. And room only for me. Suddenly it’s that exciting first flight and I’m off on my own, up, up and away into the heavy old Harvard. What a joy!

Next I move into life on a front line squadron. It’s a whole new world, and there’s much to practice, new skills to learn. Exciting stuff, particularly the rocket firing, diving steeply onto the rusty old army tank that’s our target. A press of the button and off they go, a full salvo of four rockets streaming their fiery way. Practice with our guns is on a towed target, the most nerve-racking part of which is the public review each morning by our Station Commander of one’s previous day’s camera record. Heaven save you if the towing aircraft comes into view!

From these exciting days of my national service I returned to civvy street. To my great delight I was accepted into the world of scientific research, specifically research into aircraft aerodynamics in the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s High Speed Wind Tunnel. Here I probed into the ‘Sound Barrier’, helping to establish the vital importance of the integration of whole-aircraft aerodynamics into the design of a swept-wing aircraft. After a few years at the RAE my Quaker upbringing began to draw me away from this rather military-orientated work and I moved into the airline world, first into route-planning in British European Airways, then into Air Safety in the newly formed British Airways. It was out of the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of BEA that a major contribution to airline safety was developed, in the form of a continuous computer-based monitoring of every one of our aircrafts’ flight paths, from take-off to landing. Moving in the world off air safety I could give strong support to this development and share its lessons world-wide, travailing to conferences all over the world. It was a world greatly interesting to me, but the scene began to change, new faces emerged, old faces were disposed of and suddenly and totally unexpectedly I found myself retired and apparently useless.

But happily a new enthusiasm had caught me just in time, the world of music and dance.

It was indeed at a dance that Kathleen and I first fell in love. She was still ‘sweet seventeen’ and I not much older, so much water has yet to flow under the bridge. Five years later we married, and Kathleen’s world of music became part of my world, initially in choral singing, then in dance. Now thirty years on, it was the dance that saved me. With this new enthusiasm I found myself in the world of circle-dancing, and with great joy I began to share my enthusiasm, for many years leading two groups of dancers. In the course of a further thirty years our sharing has taken us to many other centres of dance, not only around England but also in Europe and in California, where our younger son is now living, and, guess what… he’s playing and teaching Jazz piano! With our elder son playing and teaching the guitar, music and dance is indeed all around us. Whatever happened to all my engineering enthusiasm? Well, a grandson seems to be developing a technical interest.

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