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`"You are in a boat with an eminent brain surgeon, a terminally ill woman and your baby niece. The boat begins to sink and you can only save one of them. Which one would you choose?"
`The Group Captain looked over his half-rim glasses and gave his moustache a twirl as he awaited my reply. It can be imagined that whichever candidate I put forward, this could be challenged by the interrogators.
`"Well," I stuttered, "I would save the brain surgeon as he has the potential to save more lives and ..."
`"But what will you tell your sister about her baby?"
`Pause! "Well, actually ... I'll go along with whichever one you say!" This isn't quite the reply of a future Air Marshal.
`Not surprisingly I wasn't accepted for the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell.'
It is 1973. Ten men, in their forties, are sitting around a table in what appears to be a small conference room. There is one younger man present. He seems to be in his twenties but, to some extent, in charge. In the middle of the table there is a, state of the art, tape recorder. It does look as if each of the ten is contributing towards an account of the start, in 1951, of their RAF pilot training. It isn't a conversation - rather stilted - as each of them is referring to prepared notes.
Eddie had been the first to start to relate, for the record, his joining up process. Others would use their words on how they saw the 1950's selection of pilots and their basic flying training. This meeting occurred some 22 years after an event - that will be revealed - as will be the purpose of this gathering.
Eddie continues his account: `The Cranwell selection process had been lengthy - a week in all. Firstly it had to be proved that future leaders were capable and fit enough to fly an aeroplane so, for the first few days, my fellow candidates and I underwent the normal tests of potential aircrew. The medical ones were rigorous - no `ifs or buts' - one leg quarter of an inch shorter than the other, or whatever, or not able to cross one's eyes. Out!
`Then there were the aptitude tests; firstly, paper ones which bore a similarity to those Mensa type things - number sequences:
`1 1 2 3 5 8 13 ... "What is the next number in this series?"
`Five blocks of patterns: "Which one of the following four would be the sixth one?"
`And so it went on, page upon page, all to be completed within a time limit. That done, it was time to move on to the hand/eye co-ordination aptitude tests.
`Move this control to hold that light lined up with that line. One test was to keep a pointer on a wavy line on a rolling cylinder.
`The foregoing was the ability testing for all potential pilots. There would then be interviews ("Why are manhole covers round?") and then the decision, Pilot Yes/No'
For Eddie, all was not over.
`For potential Cranwell cadets, it was now time to assess our Air Rank potential and we moved from RAF Hornchurch to some country house location. Things became a bit military here. We were allocated to teams - blue, red etc, dressed in khaki overalls with an appropriate coloured top bearing a distinguishing number. That was to be our identity for the duration of the tests. These can be imagined.'
"Using these poles and pieces of rope get those drums over this imaginary river. Red Eight you are the leader."
`Red Eight would attempt to influence the activities of his fellows; some of his fellows would attempt to demonstrate their own assertiveness and ingenuity. Red Eight might not be looking too good. Half an hour of struggling with the poles etc over, it would be time to move to another imaginary obstacle for Red Six to take the helm - and so it went on.
`Less physically demanding, but intellectually so, would be discussion groups. That is where the "You are in a boat with an eminent brain surgeon, a terminally ill woman ..." came in.'
"Well, actually, I'll go along with whichever one you say."
`Whilst I didn't actually utter any such words, perhaps my demeanour suggested them. For whatever reason, a few weeks later a letter arrived home advising me that I had been unsuccessful in my application. It seemed that the second career choice, Civil Service executive officer, was on. I was a disappointed young man.
`But lo, a few days later another OHMS letter arrived: "His Majesty would be very pleased for you to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot on a short service commission (eight years)." Yippee!'