Because of this slow progress in gliding, I had decided to look into learning to pay for powered flying lessons and Mike Maltin suggested I pop into White Waltham airfield near Maidenhead. On 23 May 1975, I booked a trial lesson and the CFO (Chief Flying Officer) took me up personally and I was hooked. The CFO, who was a man called Looker, who was a much older man and probable an ex-RAF type as he had a long handle bar moustache and wore an old flying jacket. I then booked five lessons in advance, taking one lesson per week and motored to and from the airfield in my Porsche 356B weekly.
On 26 June 1975, which was my sixth lesson, I was introduced to a much younger chap of my own age called Lawrence Luscombe. Lawrence was a British Airways employed pilot but was teaching for the next 2 years. He had come through his professional training with many others at the flying college at Hamble and then British Airways had decided they had too many young pilots on their hands, so they sent them off on half pay for a year or two.
It was at this time that I pulled up one day and saw a brand new Porsche 928 sitting in the airfield car park. I parked my Porsche 356 next to this car and walked in only to find Peter Bulbeck. Peter had just finished his own lesson. We had a quick chat and I made a mental note to ask Bill, “Why was Peter was learning to fly?”
I met up with Lawrence and he told me to get my headset and go outside and do the walk around of G-AWBS, which was a Piper Cherokee PA-28. I took a training school headset and walked outside and found the correct plane. Lawrence came out 10 minutes later and saw me looking into the cockpit and then asked me if I had completed my walk around? I looked a bit vague and then the penny dropped with him and he muttered, “Not another one.” He asked me what I had done in my previous five lessons and I told him. He said basically the CFO had driven me around the sky and taught me absolutely nothing, but had relieved me of a lot of my money in the process! I was a bit taken back by this and then he said to follow him as he did the walk around. I then understood that you had a number of pre-flight safety checks to undertake which constituted your walk around. We climbed aboard and he began to tell me that the CFO was always doing this and he had come straight from a professional college into a pretty average flying club, which basically sucked. However, Lawrence told me he would then add on fifteen minutes to every future hour I paid for to make up for the five that had been wasted. I immediately warmed to him as a genuine man who had principals and a great knowledge of flying. We called for start-up and then taxi clearance and Lawrence basically did everything until we were airborne and then he let me take the controls to see what I knew. It turned out I knew very little and he said we should start over as if I had never had a single lesson so that is what we did. Back in the Clubhouse Lawrence told me that I had to make my mind up on a very important point, which was, “Do you want to learn to drive a plane around the sky or learn to fly?” I answered the latter and his reply was I needed to put in a lot of hard work from that moment on. This was a turning point for Lawrence and me and we became great friends after that.
Things progressed rapidly after that and on 12 August 1975, Lawrence told me to stop the aircraft after landing and he said he was getting out and I was to do what we had just done together on my own. I was going solo for the first time! I was not at all nervous as I carried on talking to Lawrence even though he was not in the aircraft. I made a successful circuit and landed safely ten minutes later. There is nothing quite like the feeling one gets going solo, it is something you never forget, a bit like riding a bicycle for the first time.
I eventually ended up lending Lawrence my Porsche 356B in return for his Fiat 500. This is not as daft as it sounds, as I serviced and repaired his car for him in return for a bit of cash and some additional minutes added to my flying lessons both in the air and on the ground.
When I next had a chance to sit down and talk to Bill and Amanda, I found out that Peter Bulbeck was learning to fly so that he and John Aldington could have the option of commuting in a light aircraft to and from Manston in Kent, where they were considering locating the new Porsche Cars Great Britain headquarters.
I continued learning to fly at White Waltham until 6 September 1975 when I moved to the Mercury Flying Club at Shoreham by Sea. I resumed lessons there on 28 December 1975 flying a Cessna 150 registration G-AZLK through 9 September 1976.