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AN AIRMAN'S ODYSSEY
on 26 October 2012
Of all the First World War pilot memoirs I've read over the years, this is one of the best. Arthur Gould Lee relates how he managed to wrangle a transfer in 1916 from his army unit to the Royal Flying Corps, where he soon discovered, flight training was haphazard and often dangerous. Most of the instructors under whom he trained (many of whom had seen active service in France) were unskilled in imparting the skills of flying to their pupils. Oftentimes, the expectation was for the pupil to get in the cockpit, remembering the few bits of advice passed on by the instructor, and get on with it! In Lee's words: "There was no instruction technique, no standard method. Nobody could explain in simple, practical terms how a plane was piloted. There was no communication between instructor and pupil in the air. It was obvious to us all that instructors should have been taught their job. There were competent instructors at the civil flying schools at Hendon and Brooklands, who were engaged mostly in teaching novice pilots to get the R.A.C. [Royal Aero Club] brevet, but these should long ago have been assembled into a school to give crash courses to R.F.C. [Royal Flying Corps] novice instructors."
Fortunately, for Lee, he had a patient instructor who freely gave him advice and helped make him a competent pilot. Furthermore, as if by a stroke of fate, Lee had fallen ill, which delayed his departure to France for several weeks. Once he got well, Lee put in some extra flying time on the Sopwith Pup, a fighter he later flew in combat over the Western Front during the spring and summer of 1917. Later his squadron converted to the redoubtable, though tricky, Sopwith Camel. (Lee served in France from May 1917 to January 1918, surviving numerous close calls.)
Lee also goes on to shed light on his duties in Britain as a flight instructor up to the Armistice. Taken in sum, this book (originally published in 1969 when Lee was in his early 70s) aptly sums up a pilot's perspective of his life in war and peace. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.