First (F)light

There is a measure of enlightenment bestowed upon pilots. Flying provides a different perspective on the world. It is a something difficult to describe. Fortunately, once in a while, the talents of wonderful writers such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Richard Bach and other gifted individuals provide us with the words we seek.

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum was one such individual. Sadly he passed away in July of this year at the age of 96. He left us a beautiful gift by recording some of his experiences in his marvellous book; First Light.

Here I quote from it. He describes having taken off in his Spitfire for the first time in May 1940, at the ripe old age of 19 years:

“Levelling off, we settle down and things begin to sort themselves out. Possibly I’m just beginning to get the feel of this beast. It’s about time we turned back to the vicinity of the airfield and almost before I realise it my thoughts have been transmitted to my hands and feet and we are turning, a slow and slow and easy turn, the long nose appearing to sweep round the horizon in front of me.

The Spit is beginning to feel like a friendly aeroplane. The cockpit is snug and has a homely feeling. There is a sensation of being part and parcel of the aircraft, as one. This is turning out to be a magnificent machine.

Elation! We sweep effortlessly about the sky, upwards between two towering masses of cumulus cloud and through a hole like the mouth of a cave beyond which lies a valley leading into clear sky. We climb up to the very top of the clouds which stretch away on all sides and I revel in the sheer beauty of the scene around me. Indeed, the very shape of the Spitfire wing is a thing of grace and form. I marvel at its ability to keep the machine in the air. Curved leading and trailing edges, not a straight line anywhere, it’s beautiful.

Looking out of the tiny cockpit as we flow about the cloud dappled sky I experience an exhilaration that I cannot recall ever having felt before.”

Geoffrey Wellum – First Light

Geoffrey Wellum’s book is a must read for anyone with an interest in beautiful prose, the Spitfire and flying.

Flight Lieutenant Brian Kingcome (left), commanding officer of No. 92 Squadron Royal Air Force and his wingman, Flying Officer Geoffrey Wellum, next to a Supermarine Spitfire at RAF Biggin Hill, Kent, 1941 (From Wikipedia.org and IWM, Public Domain)

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