My next big thrill...
was flying around America with my future husband on a routine practice exercise with the two crews who were going to take the Queen to South America. We felt like royalty as we were the only civilians on board. To give the crews a taste of operating conditions and split second timing at high density airports we landed in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Texas, California, Colorado Springs and Canada. Wow, a week of little bore holes across the USA. I was so pleased that Don was able to accompany me. After my Singapore trip, where I also wrote my stories, I said they would get better coverage if they used a feature writer like Don. They agreed and I bet they were really pleased with all the copy he produced. In fact, they took him down to Ascension Island ten years later to cover its role during and after the Falkland war. I didn't get as many photographs as I wanted because we were landing on airfields that were under military control and I wasn't allowed to use my camera. In New York after going up the Empire State Building we checked into our large city hotel. I was happy with my room until late at night as I put my clothes in the wardrobe I discovered there was an unlocked door at the back of it. I opened it and found myself in a room with a male dressing gown on the bed. Horror. I rang down to reception and was given another room. After that I shared with an air quarter master girl. When we got to Colorado Springs we had a bit of time on our hands and I said I would like to get the view from Pikes Peak - 14,115 feet up in the Rockies. It didn’t take long to wind our way up in a couple of taxis. Interestingly it was some of the crew who suffered most from altitude sickness and one had to be put on oxygen, but my colour vision was affected and things became pixelated.
Another thrill was standing on a platform let down from the back of an Argosy from RAF Benson - and I was well harnessed - to photograph the new markings of a VC10 silhouetted against the Scilly Isles. It went up in RAF Officers’ messes all over the country (and featured as the cover story for Eynsham News when the plane was finally retired in 2013). The wretched pilot said there is Harold Wilson’s bungalow underneath us, shall we dive bomb it and there was a cheer. The sudden movement of the plane made me violently sick.
I was also sick looping the loop in an old Tiger Moth. I had to do a story on the Red Arrows when they were based at RAF Kemble in 1966. They asked if I would like to go flying in one. They then flew two-seater trainer Gnats. Wow, the thought! But I came to my senses and said: ‘I have no insurance and I get very travelsick!!’
I went to an air show at Middle Wallop. With my press accreditation they let me get close to the static displays and with the pick of the tasty buffet lunch in my bag I went to sit by myself under one of my favourite planes - a jump jet. Suddenly I was aware of the faint strains of Bach’s toccata and fugue and I noticed what looked like ants on the distant horizon. The music grew louder and louder. I realised what I was looking at was over 100 helicopters whirling towards me. They then proceeded to ‘dance‘ in front of me in time to the Bach music. I got so thrilled and immersed in it I don’t seem have taken a picture! I am so glad that no one told me beforehand that the airfield was famous for its ‘music in the air shows’. It would have spoilt the surprise and feeling of complete elation.
On other occasions I went up in several helicopters. I liked taking air-to-air photographs of gliders, the rush of air as we were being towed or winched up and then the quietness on release. I never flew in Concorde but a couple of days at Fairford waiting for its maiden flight gave me a picture (see the gallery) which made the cover of our in house journal.