David Thomas 1954 - 1958
I had been in the CCF Naval Section at George Watson’s while classmate Graham Ferguson had flown Tiger Moths in the Air Section. In 1954 we both entered the Department of Engineering at Edinburgh University and became cadet pilots in the University Air Squadron. F/O Billing introduced me to the mysteries of the Chipmunk. He did not suffer fools gladly and did not appreciate my early affinity to the ground loop on landing. However we both persevered and on a glorious sunny day at Easter Camp he released me to solo from the snow covered grass field at Scone. It was a sublime experience and that Chipmunk and I were friends for life.
Summer Camps gave the opportunity for 2 weeks of concentrated flying: RAF Horsham St. Faith in 1955, Shawbury in ’56, St Mawgan in ’57 and Hemswell in ’58. I gained my Preliminary Flying Badge at Shawbury and my White Instrument Rating at Hemswell. RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall was especially memorable when a group of us were able to hitch a ride in a Shackleton to Gibraltar for the resident squadron’s weekend “booze run”. In November ’56 I converted to the Harvard 2B, a completely different beast to the docile Chipmunk. A 600HP radial engine with a variable pitch propeller and a retracting undercarriage gave one a lot more to think about and ground loops would not have been a good idea.
In May of ’57 EUAS were the winners of the Scone Trophy. Ron Gardiner flew aerobatics, Jim Morris did the X country, N J Peet did the spot landings and Graham Ferguson, Charlie Carroll and I were the Echo formation team. We had quite a party to celebrate that one. In June ’56 I was commissioned APO which would have enabled me to continue flying during National Service but marriage with the need to earn a living trumped the attractions of peace time flying. For at least five years I was still gazing skyward and wishing I was up there! On graduation my preferred destination was BOAC but I soon realized that a mechanical engineer would be assigned to their maintenance program – not aircrew so I joined ALCAN in south Wales. Marriage, family and multiple relocations followed including a move to Texas in 1970 From 1975 I spent the next 6 years traveling the world, opening offices in Beirut, Bahrain and London.
In 1983 I moved back to Florida still traveling 2 to 3 days a week but just in the US. I retired in 2001 to the Texas Hill Country got my private license on the Cessna 150 and the 172, boring in comparison to the Chipmunk – no spins, no inversion, aerobatics or negative G and not even a stall turn to break the monotony. Now, in my late 70s I lunch monthly with the local Experimental Aviation Association, a bunch of old geezers most of whom flew in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, many of whom still fly and/or build planes and all of whom tell tall tales. Among them is 96 year old Colonel Dick Cole who in 1942 was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the famous carrier launched B-25 Tokyo raid. Also 91 year old Rosa Lee Meek, one of the first WASPs, who during the war delivered about 60 different types of aircraft from factories to squadrons all over the US in all types of weather.
Shan and I return to Scotland most years - perhaps one day we can coincide with another reunion?