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Adrian Roberts

Did Churchill qualify as a pilot?

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Adrian Roberts

Sorry if this is not exactly related to WW1 as such, but it relates to the same period and probably draws on the same areas of expertise.

Did Winston Churchill qualify as a pilot, and if so did he do much flying?

I happened upon the Wikipedia article on Group Captain Alan Scott while pursuing another line of enquiry. He commanded 60 Sqdn RFC in the first half of 1917 (it was he who signed off Billy Bishop’s combat reports…..). During mid-late 1918 he commanded the Central Flying School, and I was intrigued to find that apparently he “taught Winston Churchill to fly”. The reference given for this leads to the website of Churchill’s archives, and this confirms that Alan Scott was his flying instructor, and that Churchill was slightly injured in an accident in July 1918, but it does not say whether he qualified.

http://www-archives.chu.cam.ac.uk/perl/nod...=CHAR%201%2F132

The only other reference to Churchill as a pilot that I could find was in his own Wikipedia article, which states that during his time as First Sea Lord, prior to WW1, he took an interest in Naval Aviation (I’ve seen other evidence of that) and that this included taking flying lessons. The reference for that leads to a thread on the aerodrome.com which turns out to be closed. So did he have two goes at learning to fly?

Cross and Cockade are publishing alphabetical lists of people who gained RAeC certificates up to 1918. I have only recently joined that organisation and I don’t have the C’s. Can anyone tell me if Churchill appears in this? (He may be listed as Spenser Churchill, and the S’s haven’t come out yet).

Of course in WW2 he was fond of wearing an Air Commodore’s uniform; I don’t know if this had official status and I can’t locate a photo that shows whether he wore a pilot’s wings. There is a famous photo of him sitting in the pilots seat of a Boeing Clipper in mid-Atlantic, with a cigar on and looking very pleased with himself, but presumably there was an anxious BOAC (or RAF Ferry Command?) captain very close to hand.

Adrian

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Starlight

The Churchill Society (London) web site states that Churchill's wife pleaded with him to stop flying after his accident at Crouson and as a result he never got his pilot's licence.

http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk

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centurion

There were also questions in asked Parliament (and then the press) as to why a Secretary of State was risking his life in the dangerous pursuit of flying. Churchill came under considerable political pressure to desist. As he was not the sort to admit to yielding to political pressure it would certainly have been consistent for him to attribute his stopping flying to a request from his wife.

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Adrian Roberts

Well, it sounds as though that is all there is to the story.

I know how he felt; I had to give up motorcycling when I met my wife. (To be fair, she doesn't mind me flying though, finances apart).

Secretaries of State were evidently considered valuable, but Royal Princes were always allowed to learn to fly. Edward, Prince of Wales was taught by William Barker VC; just recently Prince William soloed. But maybe even in the 'twenties, the feeling was that no-one would have missed a Playboy Prince or two.

Adrian

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T8HANTS

I believe in the TV series "I was Churchill's bodyguard" it was mentioned he was occasionally allowed to take the controls of his transport aircraft when he was being flown around the Middle-East. So his flying activities did not entirely cease.

Gareth

I believe in the TV series "I was Churchill's bodyguard" it was mentioned he was occasionally allowed to take the controls of his transport aircraft when he was being flown around the Middle-East. So his flying activities did not entirely cease.

Gareth

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Gibbo

Churchill was entitled to wear an Air Commodore's uniform because he was Honorary Air Commodore of 615 Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force. This is a position akin to being Colonel-in-Chief of an army regiment. In this picture he doesn't seem to have pilot's wings on it.

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Gibbo

I've just found another picture in which his RAF uniform does include pilot's wings. However, it's illustrating an article saying that in a recent suvrvey 20% of teenagers asked thought that he was a fictional character!

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Adrian Roberts
Churchill was entitled to wear an Air Commodore's uniform because he was Honorary Air Commodore of 615 Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force.

Thanks Gibbo, that is a definite peice of information that clears up something I've often wondered about.

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centurion
he was occasionally allowed to take the controls of his transport aircraft when he was being flown around the Middle-East.

I have a memory of seeing a photo of him at the controls with a lit cigar firmly clenched etc doubtless in contravention of all the rules!

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per ardua per mare per terram

Winston Churchill’s flying is well documented in both photographs and correspondence pre WWI –WW2. Some examples from old tech books:

Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill– a Photographic Portrait, revised version,1988, 104&105 show him on a practice flight at Eastchurch (Daily Sketch 24 February 1914); 113 WC in flying gear and quoting his letter 29/5/1914 to Clementine renouncing flying (Radio Times Hulton Picture Archive: P2444); 214 climbing into co-pilot’s seat of a bi-plane at Kenley 16 April 1939 on being made Honorary Air Commodore (Fox Photos: 218803).

20 January 1965 Telegraph Obituary Supplement, IV pictures him by a plane in 1914 with the caption: “As a pilot he was not a success.”

As for his wings they seem to have appeared during the course of WW2: H Stafford Northcote, Winston Churchill Man of Destiny, 6 shows him visiting RAF aircrew c.1940 in his Air Commodore’s uniform without wings; p.16 patting Monty’s dog Rommel, again in A/Cde uniform he now has wings (Gilbert, Photographic Portrait, 309 dates it to 7/8/1944); p.64 shows him at the controls of Boeing 314 Flying Boat “Berwick” enroute for Bermuda 1942 (all Imperial War Museum).

Neil Ferrier, Churchill the Man of the Century, 19 shows: him “Visiting the Central Flying School, September 1912”; “A flight over Portsmouth Harbour, 1914” in aircraft 95; and “on a transatlantic flight to the Bermuda Conference” a different shot to the above.

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per ardua per mare per terram

Churchill tried to learn to fly twice in 1913-1914 and 1919. One of his early instructors (Captain Gilbert Wildman-Lushington RMA) crashed and he eventually promised to give up. His second attempt ended with a crash at Croydon 18 July 1919, with Alan John Lance Scott as instructor. Various books including Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill, II, 697-8, quoting Ivon Courtney RMLI/RAF on his ability (or lack of); 703-5; IV, 208-211; Richard Hough, Winston & Clemintine, 377

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html...9649D946296D6CF

http://www.memorials.inportsmouth.co.uk/ch...-lushington.htm

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Adrian Roberts
I have a memory of seeing a photo of him at the controls with a lit cigar firmly clenched etc doubtless in contravention of all the rules!

p.64 shows him at the controls of Boeing 314 Flying Boat “Berwick” enroute for Bermuda 1942 (all Imperial War Museum).

These are presumably the picture I mentioned in my original post.

Thanks everyone for your research and answers. He seems to have kept his taste for adventure which he had shown as a young man. In fact he seems to have been a frustrated airman all his life; he certainly seems to have identified with the RAF in WW2. With his physical bulk though, he wouldn't have found it easy to sit in the cockpit of a WW1 aircraft! And it seems his piloting skills were no better than Trenchards!

Adrian

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per ardua per mare per terram

The pics I’ve found do seem to be from that one flight and it is the one mentioned in the biographies; I’d agree that he had the flying bug and was frustrated that he never got the licence. Was his bulk any worse that Goering’s? By 1939 at Kenley he definitely looks as if he was uncomfortable getting in.

Some of the planes that Churchill flew listed in Page & Sturtivant Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units 1911-1919 No.2 Short S.38 (GV Wildman-Lushington), No.95 Maurice Farman Longhorn (AM Longmore), No.149 Sopwith “Socialble” (SDA Grey: 3 times; used by the same pilot for the raid on Cologne 22/9/1914). He is not listed in the index, so I’ve probably missed several references.

For someone to spend so long learning especially pre war suggests that Churchill was spectacularly bad at it! The difference is that Trenchard did qualify! With regards to the princes I doubt there was an instructor who wanted to be the one who let them solo and then crash. The Prince of Wales might have had a playboy image at the end of the 20s, but the Duke of York (later George VI) never did. He was not regarded as someone to wrap in cotton wool, went to Jutland and if I remember correctly learn to fly with the RNAS.

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centurion

One contribution Churchill made to aviation was the concept of training aircraft in which the pilot and instructor sat side by side rather than in tandem for ab inito training. The first such aircraft was the Sopwith Sociable, sometimes known as the Sopwith Churchill, built at his suggestion. However the idea didn't really catch on until the Bailiol. Provost and Jet Provost trainers of the post ww2 period.

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per ardua per mare per terram

By far Churchill's biggest contribution to aviation was his promotion of the Royal Naval Air Service; both the RNAS and also the RFC were founded when he was First Sea Lord so he was there at the start. He was also Secretary of State for Air 1919-21 when the RAF was making the transition to peacetime air service.

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centurion

I'd sort of assumed that we all knew that.

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per ardua per mare per terram

I didn't realise that the Sopwith “Socialble” was the first side by side trainer, I thought the Wright brothers got there first.

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Muerrisch

apropos of side-by-side instruction:

whilst serving at RAF Leeming when it was a JP training base, I was chatting to a friend, a Flt Lt instructor and remarked on his [obviously] painful arm and shoulder.

'Yes' he said 'that was a student's size 10 boot yesterday!'

The aircraft had developed problems, the instructor landed it in a hurry and, fearing fire, ordered the student out a bit sharpish.

'He got out by treading on me to get over the side!'

Side by side not always a good thing!

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centurion
I didn't realise that the Sopwith "Socialble" was the first side by side trainer, I thought the Wright brothers got there first.

side by side yes, dual controls no

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centurion
I didn't realise that the Sopwith "Socialble" was the first side by side trainer, I thought the Wright brothers got there first.

side by side yes, dual controls no

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