It was shortly after this time that I started to learn to fly gliders at Weston on the Green in Oxfordshire. I always had a passion for flying since a boy, but I did not do well enough at school to apply to pursue either a civil or military flying career.
My older cousin, John Giddins, had been gliding successfully for a number of years and owned a share in a performance glider and was instrumental in inviting me to the Oxford Gliding Club and getting me started. I had an absolute delight of a weekend, motoring from Hounslow to Weston on the Green in Oxfordshire in my Porsche 356B and getting a bit of gliding in and then motoring home. It was a perfect combination of total pleasure on the road and in the air.
Bill Bates had done quite of bit of flying with the RAF and was the first civilian ever to go supersonic in the only two seat English Electric Lightening flown by Wing Commander Roland Beaumont. Bill worked for Aeronautics magazine a long before I knew him and he had many of his photographs as front covers; including a picture of a squadron of Hawker Hunter aircraft flying over the Farnborough Air show taken from above. Roland Beaumont had inverted the Lightening and Bill was hanging by his harness shooting through the cockpit canopy. Bill told me a number of stories to me over the years and the two I remember most was the first time he showed up to fly with Roland Beaumont. Bill was decked out in his G-suit and cameras hanging around his neck raring to go. Roland Beaumont walked in, put a 4inch strap around his middle on top of his flying overalls (no G-suit) and laughed when Bill started discussing photographs. Bill said once they were up he could hard stop himself from throwing up all the time let alone take any pictures. However after a number of sorties over the following months, Bill and Roland got a working relationship and he managed a series of photographs.
On another occasion Bill was dropped out of a helicopter into the North Sea just off RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. The helicopter left him in a life jacket and life raft and then returned to rescue him a few minutes later. Bill got a number of pictures of folk being rescued including being rescued himself!
I kept up my gliding but I was rapidly becoming frustrated with the actual flying hours logged and achieved against the time put in. There were always a large number of people waiting to glide so you had to take your turn and in the meantime you did all sorts of ground support jobs. When you turn came around, you got into the two-seat glider with your instructor sitting behind you and you got launched. At Weston on the Green we had a very long cable and winch that literally wound up the cable quickly across the large part of the field and it pulled the gliding up into the air as it generated lift. Once you were up to 800 hundred feet, you released the cable and it fell back to earth for the ground crew to sort out. By this time we were off gliding looking for thermals. If you were lucky you got away on some thermals and could stay up for 30 minutes or even longer, but inevitably, your trip was just a few minutes so everyone got a flight.