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photo closely to see if his wallet was there. I thought that with
time, I must have imagined the story of Sid’s wallet, but happily
it was still true.
While his wife Doreen arranged the sandwiches and tea, I
asked Sid how he had won the DFC. He said that he had been
on a 1000 bomber night raid over Germany, when another
Lancaster collided with his aircraft. With part of the right
wing torn away, and the outboard engine demolished, Sid
needed full rudder and aileron to hold height. He considered
jettisoning his bombs and returning home, but realized that this
meant flying back into the outbound bomber stream. A mid-air
collision was a certainty in the dark, so he decided it would
be safer to continue to the target with his crippled Lancaster
than risk a turn back. His big worry was that if a German night
fighter locked on to him, he would be unable to take evasive
action. In the event, he dropped his bombs on the target,
and returned safely after flying seven hours with full control
deflection. For this he was awarded the DFC.
As we talked, it was clear that his eyesight was bad, because
he was unable to see the photographs that I brought with me.
He told me that his wife read books to him, and sometimes
he obtained talking books from a Melbourne library. The time
came to say farewell, and on impulse, I asked Sid would he like
to come on a short joy flight with me before I left for Melbourne.
He was delighted with the idea, and after helping him on to
the wing of the Cherokee, I soon had him strapped into the
left seat. His wife politely declined my invitation, and told me
quietly that Sid had hoped that I would offer to take him up.
There was no way that Sid could see the instruments clearly,
although he could discern the horizon as a general blur
between sky and ground. I started the engine, and after
releasing the brakes, asked Sid to taxi the aircraft. By giving
him general directions of left rudder for five seconds, right
rudder for two seconds, now rudder central, we taxied to the
end of the field and lined up for takeoff. I could see Doreen
watching from the trees.
The Cherokee is a simple training aircraft, and with Sid at
the controls I asked him if he was happy to do the takeoff.
“Just keep an eye on me, and give me directions,” he said,
and off we went. I gave him a few minor corrections to keep
straight and as we reached rotate speed, I called for him to
place the nose just above the horizon. He flew by instinct and
experience, holding the attitude just right.
He could not see either the altimeter or airspeed indicator, so
I told him to level out while I set the throttle. He held attitude
accurately despite seeing only a blur. His turn to downwind
was smooth and beautiful to watch, and I found myself going
back in time when I had watched Sid execute a perfect
asymmetric circuit after we had lost the engine on Anzac day
in 1953. I asked him could he see the airstrip now on his left.
He had no hope, he said. Would he like to do the approach
and landing, I said. He said he would happy to give it a go, but
would need steering directions on final. By this time we had
gone a fair way downwind, and I lost sight of the grass strip
behind us. Talk about the blind leading the blind!
In the RAAF, we used to practice GCAs. These were ground
radar controlled approaches, sometimes known as a talk down.
The controller sat in a radio truck and guided the aircraft down
his screen. As the aircraft came over the threshold, the radar
Sid and John, together again and talking airplanes
controller would say, “Touch down, touch down – NOW,” and
seconds later the wheels would hit the runway. Very effective
in thick fog, but unreliable in heavy rain due attenuation of the
radar screen. Today there was no fog or rain, just a fine sunny
afternoon and perfect for a GCA. But first I had to locate the
I told Sid I would talk him down like a GCA controller using
RAAF terminology with which we were both familiar. He had
flown radar controlled approaches in Mustangs and Spitfires,
so he was no stranger to the technique. Sure, he lacked
currency after 40 years but he could still pick an attitude
despite being partially blind.
His circuit height was remarkably accurate as I asked him to
add more or less power to maintain cruise airspeed. Finally
I spotted the strip and turned Sid onto long final. He held the
nose attitude admirably as I gave him heading instructions to
keep the airstrip dead ahead. I warned him of the trim change
with lowered flaps, which he fixed with the trim wheel after a
little groping. I told him that when round out was imminent, I
would call him to flare and close the throttle. From experience,
he knew the rate at which to keep coming back on the wheel
during hold off. Any problems, and I would take over control.
Thirty seconds to round out, and I could see Doreen walk from
the shade of the trees to watch the landing. I think she knew
that Sid would be on the controls.
“Five, four, three, two, one and flare NOW, Sid,” I called,
and held my breath, hands close to the controls. “Six inches
above the grass, Sid. Hold it there.” Sid held off beautifully
then greased it, maintaining the aircraft right down the centre
of the strip. I asked him to apply the brakes gently and as we
slowed down I took control for the 180 turn. We taxied back
to the trees and shut down the engine. After the propeller had
stopped and I switched off the ignition, my mind went back in
time to when Sid had given me my first landing in a Lincoln.
I was glad that I could return the favour, albeit 40 years later.
For me it was a touching moment, and while Sid happily told
his wife about his landing, I busied myself with a walk around
before departure. Then we shook hands and said our farewells.
As I settled into the cockpit of the Cherokee, Sid touched me
on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for the landing, John.”
“That’s alright, Sid,” I replied. “It was a pleasure.”
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