I suppose you would have to call these writings an autobiography, but it was never my intention to produce a day-to-day record of my aviation career. I preferred to write of the moments of hilarity, danger, satisfaction, fear, exhilaration, tragedy, anger, which you will come across in these pages. But I found it necessary to write in a chronological order because one anecdote may need to be linked to another in that way. Perhaps you could say that the body of the material is an autobiographical skeleton with the flesh made up of the inside stories of certain events, which have never to my knowledge been published, although official reports of them are no doubt rotting in the archives of some of the Ministries. But these reports, albeit probably accurate, are in my view likely to be sterile.
Although my work in aviation spans 45 years from 1941 to 1986, I have limited this volume mainly to the twenty years of flying for the Royal Air Force. The remaining 25 years were spent in producing the official flying publications for each type of aircraft - the Pilot's Notes, now expanded to the Aircrew Manuals and Weapon System Manuals. These latter years were nevertheless enjoyable, although I was trapped behind a desk. I have brought them into play in a short epilogue only, because I find that you cannot write a book about writing a book, or at least, I cannot. Thus, the emphasis throughout is on my flying days.
I had been toying with the idea of producing something in print because two 50th anniversaries of events in which I was involved were to occur in 1997 and 1998, viz the first jet aerobatic team and the first jet crossing of the Atlantic. When, in the autumn of 1996, I recounted some scraps from these episodes to two friends of mine - a British Airways 757/767 Captain, and a former RAF Group Captain aerobatic team colleague - both cajoled me into putting my mutterings down on paper. Additionally, I have noted over the years that some articles in aviation magazines and some accounts in Service obituaries contained errors which annoyed and made me wish to put the record straight. The two 'cajolers' mentioned above have been of considerable help, the former in reuniting me with many of the aeroplanes I flew (by taking me around the museums at Duxford and Weybridge) and the latter in checking the accuracy of the stories of our display-flying days and in offering suggestions to make the text more understandable.
This is not another war book. I do not have the war record of a Bader, Lucas or Kingaby. It is rather a view of the aviation life of an ordinary military pilot. I hope it will be of value to anyone who may recall these times and to those younger aviators who may be interested to know about them.
Copyright William C. Wood 1997.
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