I stayed on at BCAL through 1975 and into the summer of 1976. By this time I was still learning to fly aircraft and I had joined the BCAL - Mercury Flying Club at Shoreham by Sea. One of the BCAL training Captains Ken Honey ran the club with his wife Beryl who both became lifelong friends since those days.
As Ken was a Training Captain with BCAL all the instructors at the club were professional pilots, teaching in their spare time. The club was non-profit making so it was a lot cheaper that my previous lessons at White Waltham or elsewhere. The level of training was second to none and I enjoyed my Porsche 356B motoring to and from Shoreham (near Brighton) regularly.
It also turned out that Mike Maltin, whom I purchased my Porsche 356B from, had originally taught Ken Honey to fly in a Dragon Rapide at Blackbushe aerodrome. Ken was originally a steward on BOAC and he had ideas to move up to the flight deck, which was frowned upon in those days. However, Ken had made a very successful career as a pilot and the way he did things was very much out of the same mould of Mike Maltin, thoroughly! I could see the link because both men did not do things half-heartedly. I remember Mike telling me once that, “There are a lot of bold pilots and a lot of old pilots, but not a lot of old bold pilots!” Mike was one of these people that when he took a flying test, as he told me several times, “You keep on sitting the test until you got 100%, which is the only way to do things properly!”
I subsequently became very good friends with Ken and Beryl over the years and I still pop down to visit them when I can, living in their converted church Thimble Hall on the Devon - Cornwall border.
On 17 March 1977 I took my General Flying Test (GFT) at Shoreham by Sea and Ken Honey was delighted to tell me that I had passed. I had finally obtained my Private Pilot’s License (PPL).
I had previously taken my radiotelephony license (RT), navigation and air law and passed these sometime earlier. The RT license was carried out at Toon Goosh Aviation, which was another flying club at Shoreham. I arrived for my test as arranged and there was a bit of a flap on and I was asked to wait in reception. Apparently a trainee pilot of theirs called Hamed, was supposed to be flying from Shoreham to Goodwood and back but had disappeared (you can see Goodwood from Shoreham once airborne on a clear day). Eventually he was tracked and had flown through the LGW Gatwick FIR controlled airspace and then through Heathrow FIR and landed at Southend in another FIR! I could not believe how badly this club was run and operated. I found out from Ken & Beryl later that Mr Toon Goosh had been up in front of the CAA (Civil Aviation authority) previously and he was likely to be for the high jump this time, but I never found out what happened after. I had passed my RT test so I left.
Toon was one of these Indian chaps who was probably educated at Oxford or Cambridge, wore a camelhair coat with a velvet collar and used a cigarette holder when he smoked. He was obviously Indian but you would never have though so if you had spoken to him over the telephone, as he was a stiff upper British chap, if you know what I mean.
It was after this and seeing a number of other flying clubs in the England that I realised what a privilege it was to be taught at Mercury Flying Club by Ken and his team.
Shortly after, I resigned from BCAL and arranged my visit to Bahrain to stay with Saul. I got the flight booked and purchased some new clothes for the Middle East climate.
It was September 1976 and the weather in Bahrain was cooling down so Saul had told me this would be a good time to visit. I booked my flight and a few days later I went along to Heathrow to check in for the evening Gulf Air flight to Bahrain. There was pandemonium at the check in desks and instead of a Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star, Gulf Air operations had sent an older VC-10 aircraft, so a lot of us got offloaded and put in a hotel for the night. The following morning I took my seat on a brand new L-1011 Tri-Star on its first operational flight to Bahrain.
Saul met me in the arrivals hall and we went off to his flat thinking what I had let myself in for?